Do More to Promote Positive, Comprehensive Narrative on Effects of International Migration, Deputy Secretary-General Urges at Coordination Event

DSG/SM/944-REF/1225
26 February 2016

Do More to Promote Positive, Comprehensive Narrative on Effects of International Migration, Deputy Secretary-General Urges at Coordination Event

Following are UN Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks to the fourteenth Coordination Meeting on International Migration, in New York today:

During the last few years, large movement of refugees and migrants have become a prominent feature of the emerging global landscape.  This development has had important consequences on political, economic and social life around the globe.  It has presented Member States and international institutions with challenges of historic significance.  The trends are clear.  The challenges are real and in some cases, overwhelming.

I have just come back from Turkey, the country with the greatest numbers of refugees in the world.  I have met and talked to displaced men, women and children in camps and communities strained by the huge influx of Syrians, fleeing the nightmare in their own country.  I was inspired by the organization of this enterprise and of the generosity from the host country and its citizens.  I know similar solidarity is demonstrated by Jordan and Lebanon, which the Secretary-General and I have several times witnessed during the past few years.  For this, the world community should be grateful.

The United Nations is committed to confronting and helping deal with these challenges, and by that, improving millions of lives.  The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda promises to leave no one behind, and to help those farthest behind first.  Many of those farthest behind are migrants, refugees, displaced and Stateless people who are moving to escape the devastating effects of conflict, abject poverty and natural disasters due to climate change.

Many of the countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East hosting large numbers of refugees and displaced people face important development challenges and are in grave need of resources to thrive and grow.  If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that we must start by tackling these issues which are so relevant for the societies most in need.

In contrast, and paradoxically, the international community has often shown ignorance and even hostility and xenophobia towards migrants and refugees.  Our global response has often been uncoordinated and lacking appropriate burden-sharing.  It is deeply worrying and indeed dangerous, that the large flow of migrants and refugees to a great extent is seen as a problem and peril and not as a potential and possibility.  We must move from the present prevailing negative narrative on this global phenomenon, which has so many positive dimensions.  I merely point to demographic effects.  To the importance of remittances and the positive role, I would even say the beauty, of diversity in our societies.

Last year, refugee and migratory crises around the world spurred the international community into action.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Peter Sutherland, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for migration and development, have worked together with other actors inside and outside the United Nations to raise the profile of and to find sustainable solutions for these issues.

On 20 November last year, as several of you recall, the Secretary-General proposed a high-level meeting on these issues in New York on 19 September, and he also presented a road map to guide us towards that date.  We are encouraged by the positive reactions from the President of the General Assembly and Member States, manifested by their consensus resolution on 22 December.

The Secretary-General set out five priority areas.  First, he called for root causes to be addressed, from conflict to poor governance, inequalities, human rights violations and the suppression of women.  He cited the Sustainable Development Goals as key tools and stated that development is both a moral imperative and a strategic bulwark against instability.

Second, the Secretary-General called for better management of large flows of refugees and migrants, as well as more safe and legal pathways to deal with migration and refugee flows.

Third, he emphasized the protection of human rights, especially in the face of growing polarization and discrimination.  Let us also recall that migrants and refugees are among those who have suffered most from terrorism.  It is outrageous, in my view, that they by some are held responsible for acts which, in fact, have forced them to flee.  Fourth, he highlighted the need for increased humanitarian financing to bridge the growing gap between needs and resources.  Finally, he called for a coordinated global approach to large refugee and migratory movements.

The Secretary-General also set out a road map towards the summit in September.  First, at the London conference, 4 February, donors pledged more than $11 billion to support vulnerable people in Syria and countries bearing the greatest burden in hosting Syrian refugees.  I was particularly satisfied that at this meeting, there were pledges to improve infrastructure in neighbouring countries hosting the refugees.

On 30 March, the High Commissioner for Refugees is hosting a conference in Geneva to facilitate the admission of Syrian refugees through resettlement and other legal pathways.  This conference, to be opened by the Secretary-General, complements the London conference outcomes, as well as aims to reduce the risky journeys that refugees are prepared to embark upon in order to have better lives.

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23-2 May could also have a significant impact on addressing the plight of displaced people.  The Summit will focus on improving global preparedness and response to humanitarian crises.  Key priorities will be, one, addressing the root causes of displacement.

Two, reaffirming the normative framework and respect for international humanitarian law.  I must say, I am astonished and perplexed by the many violations of international humanitarian law.  We must send a strong message about the need to respect international humanitarian law.

Three, the nexus between humanitarian actions and development.  Four, the relationship to the Sustainable Development Goals.  And five, moving forward on humanitarian financing.  We have new tool in our hand presented by the high-level panel on humanitarian financing.

Preparations for the 19 September summit are already under way.  I urge all of you to engage with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Karen AbuZayd, and her team.  It is vital that the report and recommendations to be presented by the Secretary-General early in May, which Karen and her team are working on, are well grounded and receive wide support.  I will close with a few words about the normative basis for our response.

We must strictly uphold the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Additional Protocol.  These are our legal framework, as well as a universal expression of our common humanity demonstrated to refugees.  It may sometimes be difficult — as we see on the ground and in practice — to distinguish between refugees and migrants, particularly as they often move in parallel.  But let us remember that human rights apply to all human beings.  States are to meet their responsibilities under core international human rights instruments to protect the dignity and rights of migrants, irrespective of their status.

And we must do more in today’s world to promote a positive, and comprehensive, narrative on the effects of migration.  The World Bank has repeatedly underlined that managed migration could help bring an end to extreme poverty as well as increase global prosperity.  Some countries and regions would have difficulty sustaining economic growth without migration.  If you look at demographic trends, you’ll see the importance.  The remittances sent back to home countries represent more than double the amount of all official development assistance (ODA) in the world.

In closing, let me express the hope that 2016 will be remembered as the year when the world took joint responsibility, also as a realization of enlightened self-interest, for giving migrants and refugees the support they need and deserve.  In 2016, we must galvanize the political will to agree on a comprehensive approach to human mobility in the twenty-first century.  This will make it possible for migrants, refugees, host communities and our nations to together help secure our common future.

For information media. Not an official record.