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Salam-meets- Ban-Ki-Moon press confSecretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for countries around the world to accept around half a million Syrian refugees, criticizing political leaders who have responded to the migrant crisis by demonizing asylum-seekers.

Opening a one-day ministerial conference in Geneva convened by the United Nations refugee agency, Mr. Ban called for “an exponential increase in global solidarity” in urging countries to accept about 480,000 Syrians over the next three years.

“Neighboring countries have done far more than their share,” Mr. Ban said, alluding to the nearly five million refugees taken in by Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. “Others must now step up.”

More than a million migrants reached European shores last year, and the European Union has struggled to come up with a coherent and effective response to the huge influx of people fleeing conflict and persecution, most notably in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Attempts to criticize such people were “not only demeaning, offensive and counterproductive. They are factually wrong,” Mr. Ban said, stressing the skills and human resources they bring to host countries. “I call on leaders to counter fear-mongering with reassurance, and to fight inaccurate information with the truth.”

The United Nations refugee agency said it had already received pledges to resettle 179,000 people over the past two years, so the target would require places for about 300,000 more.

“We are here today to appeal for additional and more diverse legal avenues for admission of Syrian refugees into different countries,” Filippo Grandi, the head of the refugee agency, said at the meeting, using the occasion to spotlight failings in the international response.

International donors meeting in London in February pledged $12 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and the countries receiving them, but less than half the funds had been allocated so far, he said, calling for speedier disbursement.

Moreover, Mr. Grandi said, “much more is needed.”

European Union countries had not shown “the required solidarity” to share the resettlement of refugees, he said. “We cannot respond to a global refugee crisis by closing doors and building fences,” he said.

United Nations officials have cautiously refrained from setting any targets for resettlement pledges at the Geneva conference, a reflection of the political sensitivities surrounding the issue and have emphasized that the meeting was only the start of a process intended to recalibrate the international response to movements of refugees and migrants.

Mr. Ban pointed out that a follow-up to the Geneva meeting will include the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May, a summit on the refugee crisis at the General Assembly in New York in September and a summit meeting that President Obama will convene in September on strengthening the global response to the refugee crisis.

The only durable solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, however, was a political solution to the conflict, Mr. Ban said.

“There is no alternative to negotiating a political transition that will lead to a new Syria,” he said.

New York Times

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