– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly
23 September 2018
Bishop Clifton Daniel, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a very great honour to join you here today and to be able to speak to you at this, one of New York’s most loved places of worship. This cathedral has deep foundations, both literally and spiritually. It is strongly linked to this great, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city and I congratulate you on your proud and deserved tradition for cultural and civic engagement. Your long established desire to serve as a platform for sharing, discussing and deliberating on the urgent issues of our time gives many people including me, the opportunity to share our concerns and hopes with you. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
If the United Nations General Assembly represents the diversity of world leadership, this great city of New York is truly representative of the diversity of the peoples of the world. There is barely a nationality or a religion that is not represented in this city. I am proud of the fact that there are many people from my own country of Ecuador who are living and working here in New York City and elsewhere in the United States of America. I also hear that by 2050, the United States of America may well be the country with the most speakers of Spanish of anywhere in the world!
This great country was of course built on the hard work of peoples from all lands. It opened its doors to those fleeing religious and ethnic persecution, an honourable tradition that continues to this day. People have been on the move since the dawn of time. And people have moved and migrated for different reasons and continue to do so to this day. Some came as refugees, others as migrants in search of a better life for themselves and their children, fleeing poverty and hunger. But never have there been so many people on the move; not since the ending of the Second World war in Europe and Asia.
Today migration is being driven by a variety of often interlinked factors. Climate change is forcing people to move, and climate change is sometimes indirectly linked to growing conflict over scare resources. We may be experiencing fewer wars, but those wars that are taking place appear to be lasting longer are more intensive and involve more and more innocent civilians.
In July, it was revealed that over 1,000 people had lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean. A couple of weeks back, we learned of a terrible disaster with over 200 migrants losing their lives and being drowned on the high seas. Many of the people who are on the move today are fleeing conflict from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and in the Horn of Africa.
But as we know some countries are closing their doors, their ports and their hearts. The barriers are going up and the hostility towards migrants is growing. People are retreating into places of perceived safety, others look to easy ways of turning the clock back to some mythical period of continuous equanimity. Of course, we know that this golden age never really existed.