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Section eight of ten of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2017 peace proposal, “The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering In a New Era of Hope.”
The second priority area that I would like to focus on is the need to implement relief programs designed to enable refugees to live with hope.
It is estimated that the number of people who have been forced to leave their homes due to armed conflict or fear of persecution has grown rapidly, to approximately 65.3 million. In particular, as the civil war in Syria continues into its sixth year, the resulting humanitarian crisis has become extremely grave. To date, more than 300,000 Syrians have been killed and more than half the population displaced out of fear and want; some 4.8 million people have fled the country to seek asylum.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, after his official appointment at the General Assembly in October 2016, stated that his first priority in office would be related to peace. He noted, “a surge in diplomacy for peace is the best way to . . . help us limit human suffering in all dimensions.”
Peace Proposal 2017
The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering In a New Era of Hope by Daisaku Ikeda, President, Soka Gakkai International SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2017 peace proposal: “The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering In a New Era of Hope.” Key themes are the potential of youth in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, nuclear abolition, human rights education and gender equality. On December 30 last year, a cease-fire agreement came into effect, and the UN Security Council adopted a resolution supporting the cease-fire and calling on all parties to observe it. It is still too early, however, to say whether the civil war can be brought to an end.
New peace talks are scheduled for February under the auspices of the UN. I fervently wish that under the leadership of Secretary-General Guterres, who for many years served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the international organization and relevant nations will together work out a way to bring an end to the conflict as soon as possible.
In parallel with these diplomatic efforts, another pressing priority Mr. Guterres identifies is that all countries assume “full solidarity with those in need of protection that are fleeing those horrible conflicts.”
Such solidarity was a key focus of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May last year. As was highlighted at the Opening Ceremony, it is essential that we try to put ourselves in the place of people whose lives have been abruptly uprooted by conflict and who, day after day, find themselves facing impossible choices: Under the constant threat of airstrikes, do you choose to stay where you live or do you flee from danger and take your family great distances in search of refuge? Aware of the potentially lethal dangers of an attempted sea crossing, holding onto the faintest of hopes for a better life, do you go in search of a boat or do you stay where you are? When your children get sick as you flee, do you use your limited funds for medicine or for food for the whole family?
We must remind ourselves that these people who are living with extreme uncertainty in desperate circumstances are our fellow human beings, no different from us. It is just that they were born in different countries and have different backgrounds and life stories.
At the summit, which brought together a large number of participants from all sectors including civil society, the importance of pursuing humanitarian and development agendas in a coordinated and comprehensive manner as well as enhancing the resilience of refugee and host communities was affirmed.
Enhancing resilience is a focal point of the exhibition “Restoring Our Humanity,” produced for and first shown at the Istanbul Summit. In co-organizing this exhibition, the SGI sought to convey the message that strengthening resilience is a key element in the work of building a world where no one is left behind.
As an approach to realize that goal, I would like to propose that the United Nations take the initiative in developing a new aid architecture that would be a partnership for resolving humanitarian challenges and protecting human dignity. This would enable forcibly displaced persons to work in fields that contribute to enhancing resilience and promoting the achievement of the SDGs in host communities.
The most recent survey shows that 86 percent of the refugees receiving support from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are being hosted in developing countries located near conflict zones. These countries, which are already confronting various SDG-related challenges such as poverty, health and sanitation, now find themselves having to respond to the inflow of refugees. As was confirmed at the Humanitarian Summit last year, what is needed here is to provide integrated support in the fields of development and humanitarian assistance.
A project that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is implementing in Ethiopia provides a good model. Since last year, Ethiopia, which has accepted more than 730,000 war-affected people from neighboring countries, has been suffering from its worst drought in more than thirty years. While helping enhance local management of natural resources and supporting rehabilitation of community infrastructure, the project has been able to reduce tensions between refugees and local populations through efforts to promote peaceful coexistence.
Faced with the seemingly ceaseless growth in the size of refugee populations, it is clear that the stability and development of host societies is essential if displaced persons are to enjoy any stability in their lives.
related article Soka Gakkai in America: Focused on Servant Leadership and Dialogic Teaching by William Aiken, director of public affairs, SGI-USA Reflecting upon the SGI-USA community, William Aiken provides a Buddhist perspective on the future trends for religion in the US. In terms of confronting SDG-related challenges, developed and developing countries have much in common. In both cases, efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and prevent food shortages, to implement renewable energy infrastructure and to provide medical, healthcare and sanitation services will create new work opportunities for large numbers of people.
Last year, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder called for a “New Deal” for refugees as he reiterated the importance of providing employment opportunities for forcibly displaced persons. One form of this could bring together humanitarian and development initiatives, with the UN and member states actively cooperating to create vocational training and skill acquisition programs related to the SDGs for refugees and asylum-seekers.
Work is of course a crucial means of sustaining one’s livelihood; at the same time, it gives meaning to life and is an endeavor to inscribe positive proof of one’s existence in society.
Former Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation Dr. Stuart Rees, with whom I have recently published a dialogue, maintains that securing employment is an imperative in realizing social justice. In our dialogue, he shared his conviction that as a growing number of people are losing work, they are “being denied the profound human sense of self-worth that comes from work; either in the sense of earning one’s keep, having the satisfaction of achieving something, or making a contribution to society.” He further stated that this represents a fundamental threat to human dignity.
In our discussion, we reviewed the impact of the New Deal programs that US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) launched in response to the massive unemployment triggered by the Great Depression, which started in 1929. Under the New Deal, in addition to the building of dams and other infrastructure projects, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established to maintain and improve national parks and forests. More than three million young people participated in the program, and over two billion trees were planted. Through these activities, participants were able to regain their self-esteem and the sense of being useful to and contributing to other people and society. Further, to this day these national parks and forests continue to function to preserve biological diversity and ecological integrity while serving an important function in absorbing greenhouse gases.
Learning from such successful examples, I believe that it is time to devise a framework that will expand employment opportunities for refugees while serving to concretely advance the achievement of the SDGs.
Having experienced great difficulties and suffering, forcibly dislocated persons should have the capacity to relate to and encourage people in a variety of adverse and challenging circumstances. By having the chance to engage in work that advances SDG projects in the countries that hosted them, refugees will be able to contribute to reconstruction efforts in their countries of origin when they return after the cessation of armed conflict.
At the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants held in September last year, it was declared that global compacts on refugees and migrants should be adopted in 2018.
Without a solution to the refugee issue, which represents a humanitarian crisis of the gravest historical proportions, world peace and stability will remain unattainable, as will real progress toward the achievement of the SDGs with their vision of a world in which no one is left behind.
The Japanese government has provided financial support to the UNDP project in Ethiopia that I mentioned earlier, and it would therefore be fitting for Japan to accelerate its support for activities that integrate the humanitarian and development sectors, as the UN is advocating.
At the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis hosted by US President Barack Obama the day after the UN Summit last September, the Japanese government committed to providing educational assistance and vocational training to approximately one million people affected by conflict. Further, Japan will accept up to 150 Syrian students in the next five years. It is my sincere hope that, within the framework of these relief efforts, Japan will take the lead in promoting a partnership for providing humanitarian assistance and protecting human dignity. And I would like to restate that one approach to facilitating such initiatives is to provide forcibly dislocated persons with opportunities to acquire technical skills and work training related to the SDGs.
In this regard, I would like to call for further support of programs by which the UN and the world’s universities work together to create educational opportunities for refugee youth.
In the final analysis, resolution of the refugee crisis hinges on our ability to enable forcibly dislocated persons to regain a sense of security, hope and dignity.
The UN Academic Impact, which was launched seven years ago with the goal of linking the world’s universities with the UN, has now become established as a network of more than 1,000 institutions of higher learning in over 120 countries. Collectively, these universities research issues covering almost the entire spectrum of global concerns and represent a crucial resource that can be deployed for the benefit of humankind.
The activities of Toynbee Hall that brought relief to people struggling with poverty and the educational activities of Hull House that sought to restore dignity to impoverished immigrants—to which I referred earlier—were conducted by the members of university communities.
As these examples testify, universities have the potential to serve as havens of hope and security in society. In that sense, it is of profound significance that universities and colleges across the world are contributing to the resolution of global challenges through their research activities. They could further this contribution through providing expanded educational opportunities for refugee youth including through such means as extension courses and distance learning.
Soka University in Japan joined the UNHCR Refugee Higher Education Program last May. As the university’s founder, it is my pleasure to extend a hand of welcome to those who will be attending, starting with the 2017 academic year.
Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer and a member of the Refugee Olympic Team that participated in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, offered the following words of encouragement to her fellow refugees:
“I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days. . . I want everyone not to give up on their dreams and do what they feel in their hearts.”
For those who have been driven from their homes by conflict and are living in an unfamiliar environment, meaningful work and education are means to recover a sense of human dignity, gaining hope for the future and a purpose in life.
Therefore, I think it is critical that specific measures in securing work and educational opportunities for dislocated persons should be incorporated in the UN global compacts on refugees and migrants when they are adopted. In the final analysis, resolution of the refugee crisis hinges on our ability to enable forcibly dislocated persons to regain a sense of security, hope and dignity.