Horrific refugee crisis washes up on G20’s agenda


A few hundred kilometres from where G20 Labour and Finance Ministers were meeting in Turkey, the body of a little Syrian Kurdish boy washed ashore. The images shocked people around the world.

Three-year-old Alan Kurdi (Editor’s note: His name was initially reported as Aylan), his five-year-old brother Galip and his mother Rehan all died trying to reach safety from the war in Syria. All the more tragic that they could have fled to relatives in Canada.

For many G20 countries the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War is not recognised as an economy-related issue, which defines the mandate of those 20 nations representing 85 per cent of the global economy and two-thirds of the world’s population.

This year Turkey hosts the G20 and two million Syrian refugees who have been given safe haven. Enormous numbers have been welcomed into homes and communities throughout the country and given water, food, clothing and work.

The Turkish Presidency has issued a leadership call, a government’s group diplomatic cable to Presidents and Prime Ministers around the world for action on refugees. It is yet to be heard.

There is no doubt this year’s G20 meetings occur at a bleak time. World trade suffered its biggest fall since 2009 in the first half of this year.

Jobs are being shed in emerging economies and social unrest is growing while in many developed economies, youth unemployment is becoming structural with signs of social breakdown.

Informal work is increasing. Inequality is increasing.

The wage share for millions of workers has failed to rebound since the onset of the global financial crisis, with stagnation and attacks on minimum wages and collective bargaining shoving more families below the poverty line.

Social protection is under attack at a time when it is desperately needed. Along with the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, climate instability is trending, while freedom of association and democratic space are shrinking.

Our global economic interdependence cannot ignore the threats of conflict and climate change, both of which require commitments which are economic as well as political, where we need to raise the floor of living and working conditions in every single country around the world.


Don’t overlook the human link. Remember Alan.

But as critical as these issues are, there seems today an empty soul in these discussions.

Humanity demands commitments to resettle refugees and that asylum seekers are afforded the right to work. Work in the formal economy with associated labour, social political and cultural rights is the first response to rebuilding a just and stable economy.

We urge the G20 leaders to take hold of this issue and not to sit back and watch governments be complicit in the loss of dignity for our people and the deaths of refugees.

From Canada to Hungary, borders are being closed which threaten humanity. Alan lifeless on the beach, and his father’s accounts, have made made the millions of displaced around the world that much more real to us.

In Europe, the EU’s Dublin Accord on handling migrant flows must be re-thought. Refugees should not be forced on journeys across Europe to try and reach countries offering decent living like Germany and Sweden - like the one that killed 71 Syrians in an old chicken truck last week.

All EU and industrialised economies countries should support the social protection measures needed and increase their resettlement quota to share the burden more equally between countries. The reality is that the burden of 80 per cent of the world’s refugees is in developing countries.

In Iceland, people are pushing their government take in Syrian refugees as more than 11,000 Icelanders offer to open their homes to the people fleeing the conflict.

And governments could do more to end the conflict in Syria and Libya. 70 per cent of refugees that landed in Greece last month were Syrian. If we don’t stop the barrel bombs and chemical attacks, the refugees won’t stop fleeing for their lives.

As leaders fall out of step with their people, they put at risk their own political future. Another reason the G20 should take concerted, decisive action on a crisis that is clearly joined at the hip with the global economy.