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SDGs CONFERENCE 2022: In the Margins of the UNGA77

21 September 2022, Wednesday | John Jay College of Criminal Justice

SDGs Conference 2022: In the Margins of the UNGA77 was organized on 21 September 2022 at John Jay College in partnership with 36 Global Partners from 24 countries. This global platform convened 21 speakers from 15 countries and hosted notable speakers including Ministers, UN Ambassadors, journalists, civil society leaders and academicians. 

As the SDGs Conference is back to hybrid mode, the Journalists and Writers Foundation welcomed delegations of participants from Australia, Greece, South Africa, India, Philippines, and Kenya to attend a series of side events in-person including the JWF High-Level Reception, Roundtable on Journalism and SDGs Conference. The conference live streamed was accessible both on Zoom and JWF`s YouTube channel, which received over 19,000 views from 76 countries. The diversity of the SDGs Conference`s audience and the regional representation of the panelists addressed one of the utmost important missions of this global event contributing to SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. 

Throughout the day, in three panel sessions, high-level keynotes and expert speakers unfolded the contemporary challenges that the world leaders are also addressing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and suggested innovative, inclusive, and sustainable policy suggestions for the full, effective, and timely implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Effective inclusive and gender-responsive intergovernmental responses to the challenges faced by migrants and refugees throughout the world are critical in realizing the promising motto of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Leaving No One Behind. Internal Displacement Monitoring Center has recorded 59.1 million internally displaced people: 53.2 million affected by conflict and violence while 5.9 million were impacted by climate-related disasters. On the other hand, UNHCR documented the historically high levels of refugees in the first quarter of 2002: 26.6 million refugees who were enforced to leave their homeland due to persecution, war, or systemic human rights violations. Unfortunately, women, youth, and children continue to be hidden in the shadows and unfortunately invisible in the datasets. 

The unprecedented increase of refugees enforced migrants and internally displaced individuals poses unique challenges to the full implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals. Successful resettlement of millions of individuals and protecting their right to exercise fundamental human rights is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and security. New migration trends must be analyzed thoroughly to produce comprehensive policy actions as this cross-cutting development issue requires building partnerships at the national, regional, and global levels. Refugees face many obstacles to accessing quality health services not only in their resettlements but also during their risky journey to a safe country, which usually includes crossing borders by walking. With the increasing violence and excessive state violations occurring on several frequently taken routes for refugees on European and Americas borders, women and children suffer disproportionately due to lacking health services.

Keynote for Panel Session 3 Migration and Refugee Policies: Intergovernmental Responses to Recent Displacements was H.E. Ms. Sofia Voultepsi, the Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum in charge of the Integration of Greece. Deputy Minister Voultepsi shared the best-practices of Greece for the integration of refugees, particularly Ukrainian women and unaccompanied children. She said that Greece`s refugee integration policies are based on three pillars. A pre-integration stage aims to ensure a smooth transition to full integration, which facilitates to form cohesive and inclusive societies and prevents social marginalization, poverty and radicalization. Preventative majors of violence and human trafficking is also underlined by Minister Voultepsi as the other crucial frameworks of their policies. In her remarks, she also discussed the vocational training programs offered to women refugees enabling their economic empowerment. Key sectors are listed as agriculture, tourism, construction and manufacturing. Minister Voultepsi also talked about Greece`s collaboration with UNICEF on an innovative program called “All Children in Education”.  

Migration and Refugees Session was moderated by Yuksel Durgut, the Spokesperson of the International Journalists Association from Germany. Mr. Durgut started his opening remarks by talking about the enforced migration of dissidents in Turkey as a case study. He said that as a result of the crackdown on human rights for all in Turkey, dozens of renowned journalists, including leading reporters and editors of newspapers and magazines, were placed in detention, or arrested and a total of 620 press credentials were canceled. “The scale of the roundups of jailed journalists was astonishing” underlined Mr. Durgut. He then shared his own enforced migration from Turkey to Germany, as a journalist, his own home was no longer safe for Mr. Durgut. He concluded his remarks by calling attention to the dramatically increasing authoritarian regimes across the world and underlined that enforced migration will also continue to rise as long as the international community cannot stand up to the oppressive regimes.

Marianna Kakaounaki, Journalist at eKathimerini and Documentary Producer, was the first panelist of Panel 3. Ms. Kakaounaki started her remarks by reminding the global audience with the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned three-year-old boy, who died with others trying to reach the Greek island of Kos, which was seven years ago. “Over 700 children have died since then,” Ms. Kakaounaki said. She cited Hafez, an Afghan father whose son died while seeking asylum, who then was faced with 10 years in prison because of it. “Greek authorities decided to act by charging the boy’s father for his death.” Her remarks continued highlighting the cross-cutting issue of migration, refugees, and the SDGs. 

Dr. Graham Thom, the Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, was the second panelist. Dr. Thom discussed the climate crisis inducing waves of migration. “Climate change alone does not cause displacement,” he said. “People’s reasons to move are always multi-faceted.” Dr. Thom added that climate change amplifies these waves of migration, and “sadly, things are getting worse.” The link between climate change and human rights lies in neglect. “When states fail to act, that is when climate change becomes a human rights issue.” 

In Pakistan, 80 million people have been impacted by climate change, according to Dr. Thom. Yet when people try to flee their country for safety, externalization policies spring up to keep people at bay. This makes it harder for people to flee. There is great psychological and physical harm induced by not allowing people to cross borders. He spoke of refugees dying in Eastern Europe “trapped in no man’s land last winter.” In Australia, Dr. Thom mentioned that a deterrent to seeking safety is if people try to come by boat. “We do not see countries stepping up,” he said. Instead, there is a presence of politicization of human displacement. Until governments, particularly those in Global North, allow people to cross their borders, climate displacement will be a severe issue.

Nicole Melaku, the Executive Director of the National Partnership for New Americans, was the third panelist. Ms. Melaku focused on conflict-related enforced migration. She spoke of the “right to move and the right to stay.” Her organization incorporates an inclusion strategy and climate justice collaborative driving for a policy change. Ms. Melaku mentioned the unfairness of climate change and displacement: “These are not people who are creating the climate emergencies, but they will be the most impacted.” Her organization developed a tool kit that preemptively shows an adaptation strategy. Ms. Melaku underlined that “right to move, right to stay” encompasses their main vision. She also indicated that the real changemakers are the enforced migrants and their families, and children.