Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks to the Fourth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith‑Based Organizations in International Affairs Perspectives on Migration: displacement and marginalization, inclusion and justice, in New York today:
Not since the Second World War have so many people fled their homes to seek a place of greater safety. Some 66 million people — half of them children — have fled armed conflicts, persecution, poverty, climate change and natural disasters and are now refugees or displaced within their own countries.
Around the world, faith‑based organizations are found on the front lines of crisis, providing food, shelter, education, and medical and psychological support to migrants and refugees. You work tirelessly to assert their human rights and dignity, independent from national and regional political interests. I am therefore grateful that you have organized this timely event, and I thank the many organizers and sponsors.
The suffering of migrants and refugees is extreme. On top of the trauma they may have suffered at home, thousands have died in transit, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the Sahel to reach Europe, or traversing Central America to reach the United States. In Asia, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have died on land and sea trying to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar.
Migrants and asylum seekers are often easy prey for human traffickers and other criminals. We have seen reports of extreme violence committed against them. I have been shocked by stories of Africans being sold as commodities in Libya. Such serious violations and abuses of human rights may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and those responsible should be held to account.
The world is undergoing a crisis of solidarity. Political prejudice, intolerance and xenophobia against refugees and migrants are pervasive in all regions. Some countries that had pledged to support refugees are reneging on their commitment.
While the media focus tends to be on the developed world, it is important to remember that almost 90 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. Just eight countries host more than half the world’s refugees. With equitable sharing of responsibility, there would be no challenge for host countries. All can afford to help, yet too often fear and prejudice get in the way of a common responsibility to humanity.
Far from being the threat that they are sometimes portrayed to be, refugees and migrants contribute to the growth and development of host countries as well as their countries of origin. We need to do more to tell the positive story of migration and to ensure a responsible and proportionate response from media and policymakers to migration challenges.
We must promote the social and economic inclusion of refugees and migrants. The better new arrivals are integrated, the greater their contribution to society will be. We must speak out against discrimination and intolerance, and counter those who seek to win votes through fearmongering and divisiveness.
We must strengthen the international systems that manage large movements of people so they uphold human rights norms and provide protection. And we must pay greater attention to the factors that drive migration and forced displacement.
With their strong focus on justice, human rights, strong institutions and peaceful societies, the Sustainable Development Goals provide a powerful framework. And the prevention platform that the Secretary‑General is establishing aims to strengthen the United Nations’ work to prevent conflict, resolve disputes peacefully and address violations of human rights before they escalate.
In 2018, we have an excellent opportunity to advance on these issues. In agreeing on a global compact on migration and a global compact on refugees, Member States will be recommitting to their legal and moral obligations. It is important that they identify concrete areas for international cooperation to maximize the benefits of migration, overcome the challenges and ensure that migration is undertaken in a safe, orderly and regular manner.
To that end, the Secretary‑General has recently shared his report, “Making Migration Work For All”, which serves as a key input to the forthcoming negotiations. Faith‑based organizations have much to contribute to these processes. I urge you to become involved however you can, and to bring your moral voice to bear on your leaders.
We have a unique opportunity ahead of us in 2018. We count on your support to maximize that opportunity for the rights and dignity of all migrants and refugees.
Human beings have moved from place to place since the beginning of time, by choice and under duress, and will continue to do so. Refugees and migrants are not “others”. They are “us”. They are as diverse as the human family itself.
Only by upholding our duty to protect those fleeing persecution and violence and by embracing the opportunities that refugees and migrants offer, will we be able to achieve a more prosperous, secure and equitable future for all.