TRANSCRIPT

Noon briefing press conference

Guests: Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the General Assembly, and

Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of the IOM and Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration

20 May 2022

 

 

SPOKESPERSON: Good afternoon. Welcome to this press briefing on the last day of the International Migration Review Forum.

 

We are very pleased to have with us Mr. Abdulla Shahid, the President of the 76th General Assembly. And Mr. Antonio Vitorino, the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration or IOM. Mr. Vitorino is also the Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration.

 

President Shahid will make opening remarks and then Director-General Vitorino.

 

President Shahid, you have the microphone, Sir.

 

PGA SHAHID: We are meeting just weeks after World Press Freedom Day. As I said that day, attacks against journalists and media workers are increasing.

 

I want to take this opportunity to again strongly condemn the shootings that killed Ms. Shirin Abu Akleh and injured Mr. Ali al-Samoudi.

 

Everyone, everywhere has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

 

Media freedom must not be compromised. It is the cornerstone of any robust democracy.

 

My dear friends –

 

Friends –

 

Let me turn to the subject at hand.

 

This week, I am chairing the first International Migration Review Forum, being held under the auspices of the General Assembly.

 

My sincere thanks to Director General IOM António Vitorino, who joins me today in this special briefing. t

 

I will give a big picture overview of the IMRF and then request him fill in the finer details.

 

We meet nearly four years since the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the first-ever UN global agreement on a common approach to international migration in all its dimension.

 

Now what has transpired in the last four years? By the last count, there are roughly over 281 million international migrants in the world or 3.6 per cent of the global population.

 

Many migrants leave their countries of origin for work, whereas others are forced to due to violence, poverty, environmental degradation and climate change, among other reasons. Regardless of their circumstances, the international community has a responsibility to ensure that the human rights of everyone involved are respected.

 

On Monday, I chaired an informal interactive multi-stakeholder hearing. Approximately, 250 stakeholders and 22 panelists from all the groups of stakeholders and regions participated. More than 80 stakeholders intervened from the floor.

 

They were among the almost 600 stakeholders who registered to take part in the IMRF. The OPGA with the Secretariat has worked to make sure that we make the IMRF as inclusive as possible, reflecting the whole of society approach, which is a corner stone of the Global Compact.

 

This hearing was important in that we heard from those who work on the ground, who are affected directly. As one of the participants said at the hearing, and we heard numerous times in the opening of the plenary yesterday, “nothing about us, without us”.

 

Civil society representative, Mr Colin Rajah, presented a summary of the hearing during yesterday’s plenary opening. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • the emphasis on eliminating racism and multiple forms of discrimination,
  • promoting access to justice to migrant workers and others,
  • ending immigration detention,
  • ensuring access to health care and services regardless of status, impacts of climate change on migration.

 

The International Migration Review Forum began on Tuesday, the 17th of May with the roundtables followed by the policy debate on Wednesday afternoon.

 

We have had over 50 panelists from all regions for the hearing, round tables, and policy debate.

 

All the roundtables, and the policy debate reflect the “whole-of-society”, “whole-of-Government” approach, that is intrinsic in the Global Compact on Migration.

 

We heard the voices of national governments, mayors, migrants, private sector, academia, trade unions, UN entities, civil society, among others.

 

The roundtables were designed to review the progress on the 23 objectives of the Global Compact, and the policy debate, looking ahead to new and emerging challenges.

 

Yesterday we began the two-day General Debate.

 

We have had a total number of 124 registrations, including 1 head of government, 21 ministers, 26 vice ministers, 21 high-level authorities.  I would like to note, that this high number of Ministers and high-level participation is very encouraging, not only signaling the focus and importance given to the issue by Member States, but also showing the increasing return to normalcy following two years of virtual engagements.

 

What is coming out of the IMRF?

 

What we can see clearly is that there is agreement that the international community must act now to support migrants and their host communities.

 

The Progress Declaration will go before the membership of the Forum this afternoon and it reflects a very broad consensus among Member States.

 

I want to extend my sincere thanks to co-facilitators of the intergovernmental consultations: Ambassador Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh, and Ambassador Olivier Maes, Permanent Representative Luxembourg. Since 8th of February, the co-facilitators have first and foremost made certain that the process to negotiate the Progress Declaration was extensive, open, transparent and inclusive.

 

In addition, all week we have seen national pledges stream in from Governments that are committing to upholding human rights, especially when it comes to detentions and the detention of children.    

 

There have been over 200 pledges announced this week. I want to again express my appreciation to the Member States who have examined their national policies and come up with solutions to fill the gaps, to more holistically assist migrants and their host communities.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges for migrants. They faced more difficulties accessing diagnostics, treatment, and vaccines. Compounding this, they were especially vulnerable to discrimination, job loss, and a lack of access to social safety nets.

 

The pandemic also demonstrated the integral role migrants play in our communities, including through lifesaving work in healthcare and in supporting critical supply chains.

 

As we go forward in a post-COVID-19 world, we need to rethink the sort of world that we want.

 

We have to work towards making migration safer, more orderly and more regular, while promoting social cohesion.

 

Given that it has been a few months since we last spoke, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on a few key initiatives of the Presidency of Hope.

 

First, the COVID situation. Although the rates of infection fluctuate in New York, the UN Headquarters is back and fully in-person. I had supported reopening, and I am grateful to the efforts of the Secretariat for having made it possible.

 

The first major in-person event was the 2022 Parliamentary Hearing, in February, a joint initiative of the IPU and my Office. The event really amplified the global conversation here at the UN and in capitals around the world about sustainable development amid the pandemic.

 

Earlier this month, I held a high-level event on rebooting tourism. This was the first time that a thematic debate of the General Assembly was convened on the topic of tourism. We organized it in close collaboration with UN World Tourism Organization (WTO), and other UN partners.

 

The message that emerged was that now is the time to transform the sector and to make it sustainable and resilient along the value chain.

On that note, let me update you briefly about some of my travels.

 

I just returned this past weekend from Africa where I traveled to Cote d’Ivoire and Angola.

 

I took part in the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at the invitation of the Government of Cote d’Ivoire. It was a pleasure to meet with President Alassane Ouattara and discuss with him some of the successful initiatives to help people impacted by climate change, especially women.

 

I continued my trip to Angola. I am the first President of the General Assembly to visit Angola. While there, I visited a project to transfer water from the Cunene River to several villages. The project is one of several that aim to combat the country’s drought.

 

In Angola, it was a great pleasure to speak with the UN Country teams and see how the UN agencies are working on the ground – IOM among them – to deliver to the people most in need.

 

This weekend, I am traveling once again.

 

I will be in Thailand for the opening of the 78th Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, or ESCAP, as it marks its 75th Anniversary.

 

I will then travel to Bali for the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

 

I know many of you here today covered the Global Assessment Report, or GAR2022, which the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction released ahead of this Global Platform. My trip to Bali will focus on what we, the international community, can do to prepare Member States for this possibility, and stop the spiral of disasters.

 

From there, I will travel to Brunei, where my official visit will focus on sustainable COVID recovery.

 

In terms of news here in New York, I had the privilege inaugurate the refurbished lactation rooms at the Headquarters. This was a project that I promised to do on my first day. I was honored that the Governments of El Salvador and New Zealand shared my passion for this project and took it on, as well. The First Lady of El Salvador was with me here to inaugurate the rooms. Along with Secretariat, we were able to make it a reality. And create safe, dignified spaces for families to nourish their children.

 

Before concluding, let me mention that later today, I will be issuing a presidential letter to Member States, forwarding with the letter the summaries of the five consultative rounds that I held with Member States on the OCA, Our Common Agenda. The letter is intended to convey the summaries together with the action to be taken. It would be taken as a roadmap on implementation of OCA. I wish to thank Member States for the excellent cooperation that they have given to me in making sure the process of implementing the OCA is expediated.

 

As you would know the OCA is a direct product of the 75th declaration adopted by consensus adopted by Heads of State, Heads of Government of the United Nations. So it is imperative that we need to begin the process of adopting OCA quickly. The urgency that Member States wanted in implementation and I am honoured and priviledge to lead this process. And I am delighted that I would be issuing this letter. Marking the implementation phase of Our Common Agenda.

 

Let me stop here, and turn it over to my friend, António Vitorino.

 

DG VITORINO: Thank you so much, Mr. President, and good afternoon. I would like to start by thanking you, Mr. President, for your leadership, as well as your team in bringing us together here in New York to the first ever International Migration Review forum which will be concluded this afternoon.

 

As you were mentioning, the first issue to emphasize is the intense participation of Member States and stakeholders, the high-level attendance, and the fact that from now on, it is quite clear that migration is no longer a marginal issue. It is fully enshrined in the UN agenda. From the debates that we have heard during this week, it is quite clear that there is now a capacity to address the challenges but also the opportunities of migration through cooperation: international cooperation, and the multilateral cooperation that takes place here at the UN.

 

We use lots of jargon in the UN. We say that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration has a 360 degree view. What does this mean? It means that the Global Compact addresses the challenges and opportunities of migration for countries of origin, for countries of transit, and for countries of destination.  But we all are united in the concern that migrants need to be put at the center of policies on migration, respecting their fundamental human rights, and guaranteeing the protection  of those most vulnerable —  in particular women and girls — and at the same time emphasizing that migrants are crucial elements of the social economic fabric of all our societies.

 

This has been very evident during the pandemic when migrants, who are at the frontline in guaranteeing that  cities, and countries, could go on working in spite of the virus. And now we expect that the international community has also recognized  migrants are key to socio-economic recovery after the pandemic.

 

It should not be a surprise to you, I’m sure, that the key points that I have  emphasized are precisely those  focusing on the need to guarantee regular pathways for migration. It is necessary, and complementary, in the fight against trafficking and smuggling of migrants and  the only way to respect the human dignity of all migrants, ensuring access to services, access to healthcare, access to education. All Member States have recognized that these are fundamental human rights for migrants, irrespective of their legal status.

 

Now, I think that we are confronted with some challenges.

 

To be honest, we have registered progress since Marrakesh in all areas but the progress has been uneven. In some areas we have achieved better progress than in others.

 

So, the IMRF has also allowed us to identify: what are the areas where there is a need for an extra push to make the vision of the Global Compact a reality. I’m referring to, as the President of the General Assembly has already said: respect for human rights, access to basic services, alternatives to the detention of migrants and, above all, I would emphasize, saving lives of migrants. 15 thousand migrants have died since Marrakesh in dangerous and perilous migratory tragedies. When we conclude today, we will have a progress declaration that is balanced, comprehensive, and gives us the guidelines for our action over the next four years. There is a saying in English: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Well, this first bite of the pudding has proved the value of the Global Compact. And we are ready to work over the next four years to make, each day, a difference, making outcomes better, thinking above all of the millions of lives of migrants that depend on international protection and international cooperation.

 

SPOKESPERSON: Thank you very much Director-General, President. The first question will go to Edie Lederer from the Associated Press.

 

AP: On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you for doing this briefing. My name is Edith Lederer from the Associated Press. First a housekeeping note, can you make sure that we are sent a copy of the Declaration today so that we can write about it in a timely fashion.

Secondly, you’ve talked about the proof of the podding is in the eating. What needs to be done and how are you going to do it to ensure the implementation of the document, particularly on the issues that you’ve stressed, safe migration, respect for human rights, and basically saving lives?

 

DG VITORINO: Yes, I hope that we will be able to distribute the Declaration as soon as it is endorsed in the Forum.

 

In terms of what are the practicalities of implementation. We believe that there’s a need to scale up certain rescue operations particularly to those migrants who go through the sea, through the desert, and through the jungle. We have a number of hot spots and know where the problems are. It’s the Gulf of Aden, it’s the Central Mediterranean. It’s definitely the Darién Gap Jungle in the Central America, in the South America. We encourage member states to speed up and scale up their capacity of search and rescue.

 

We need to be more effective in opening regular pathways for migrations. That’s the real alternative to letting migrants be prone to traffickers and smugglers, because trafficking and smuggling is the most obnoxious attempt against the fundamental rights of migrants.

 

We need to take into consideration the vulnerable populations. All migrants are moving in vulnerable conditions, but some are more vulnerable than others. I’m speaking about women. I’m speaking about girls. And we have seen that during the pandemic. You should not have any illusion. The pandemic did not stop migration. In spite of the closure of borders, the lockdowns, migration went on, people went on moving.

 

But we have seen that women and girls have been particularly prone to abusers, gender-based violence, rapes. And in those conditions, we think that all member states, countries of origin, and destination, have a shared responsibility to protect and provide the support and services needed to support needed for the most vulnerable migrants.

 

So, there you have 3 priorities that we should focus on, and how can we do that, by putting pressure on the member states, advocating for values and principles, and counting on the mobilization of the migrants themselves.

 

CCTV: This is Dezi Xu from China’s Central Television. I have two questions. The first one is from Mr. Vitorino. Recently, a spokesperson from the Rwanda Government said they expect a first group of 50 asylum seekers from the UK arriving in their country. And we know this is highly controversial DO between UK and Rwanda. UNHCR argued that this is a breach of the international law and contrary to the spirit of refugee convention. I just want to ask about your thoughts on this; do you think this is against the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

And my second question is for Mr. Shahid, we know that over the years, UN did a lot of work here, but more and more people feel that the UN is uncapable of acting in some key issues such as climate change, Ukraine conflict. As the President of the General Assembly, what do you think the body of the GA should do or could do to put the UN in the core or the pillar of the multilateralism?

 

DG VITORINO: I can go first because I will be very brief. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration focuses on migration. It does not include refugees, neither asylum seekers. That is clearly the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In my capacity of Coordinator of UN Migration Network and the Director General of the International Organization of Migration, the first thing that I have to fully respect the mandate of my colleague Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. So, if he stated that, we are fully behind him, but that’s his responsibility.

 

PGA SHAHID: Thank you very much. The basic question that we ask here, the 1.8 billion youth around the world ask themselves. The question on our mind is, has the UN failed? Seventy-six years into history, has the UN failed? To answer that, I think we have to also contemplate the options. What if not? What if the UN was not there? I remember speaking at the late Secretary Madeleine Albright’s memorial, the day before yesterday, and just to quote from her, she said “if there was no UN, what, and it was her thinking that we should have to invent it”. Because multilateralism is the only way forward. Because the UN is entire platform that brings the entire world community together is the only way forward. The amount of work we do depends on our commitments. But then the United Nations provides that forum for us to come together. There’s no better other option, no other better option than this forum for that.

 

The challenges that we are facing everyday showcases the importance of the United Nations, be it climate change, be it COVID pandemic, be it threats to international peace and security. Now when we look at the COVID-19 pandemic, the message that came through very loud and clear is that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Vaccination, treatment, everything. The virus was not discriminating between poor or rich, developed or developing, North or South, there was no discrimination. It kept on attacking every one of us. And unless all of us were safe, none of us were safe. The same message we are receiving loud and clear on climate change. There was thinking, that ok, the icecaps will melt, the sea levels will rise, the small islands will go under water. There are land masses where the small communities can move on, and they’ll be safe then. But this was the ‘80s and the ‘90s.

 

But what the message that we are getting now is that while the sea levels are creeping up on my country,  like in the Maldives, it is not stopping there. We can see increasing storms, storms are raging, flooding is increasing, forest fires are everywhere. The rivers are drying up. Desert is creeping up on us. It’s not only one nation. It’s not only person, everyone. Now, we have a war in Europe. The result is that whether you are in Europe or otherwise,  the entire world is facing a food crisis, an energy crisis, a financial crisis. The world today is so interconnected and there is no other option for us but to come to this platform and find solutions peacefully through negotiations and dialogue. Until such time we can come up with a better option than the United Nations, this is only what we are left with.

 

AFP: Philippe Rater from AFP. The statement of the Declaration that you are going to adopt this afternoon, it would be all the members of the GA or only members of the IMRF. How many countries and does it also include all the US. Thank you.

 

PGA SHAHID: This afternoon, we will be adopting the Political Declaration at the United Nations General Assembly, and it will be the 193 countries participating. [The International Migration Review Forum will take action on the Political Declaration in the General Assembly Hall.]  If it is to be adopted is to be seen. My hope, my wish, is that the entire 193 will come together this afternoon and send a message of unity of our commitment to the compact once again.  

AP: So the hope is that you want it adopted by consensus.

 

SPOKESPERSON: On behalf of the journalists, thank you, President Shahid and Director-General Vitorino.