18 December 2015

On World Migrants Day, Deputy Secretary-General Warns against Falling into Trap of Fear Set by Terrorists, amid Largest Exodus since Second World War

Following is the text of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks to a panel on the occasion of International Migrants Day, in New York, today:

Human mobility is a defining feature of our world today.  Exactly 25 years ago, we adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  At the time, the number of international migrants stood at 153 million.

Today, when we mark the International Migrant Day that number has reached 244 million — a 60 per cent increase.  This figure will continue to rise.  It will be fuelled by economic, demographic and environmental disparities.  It will be spurred by globalizing financial, labour and services markets.  And it will be sparked by humanity’s quest for freedom from fear and want and for a life of dignity for all.

Millions of people benefit from remittances sent home by migrants. In 2014, remittances to developing countries amounted to $400 billion, dwarfing official development assistance (ODA) by far.

As the Secretary-General emphasized at yesterday’s Security Council meeting, we must ensure that measures to counter financing of terrorism do not drive up costs of sending remittances or drive remittances underground.

We are in the midst of the largest exodus of people since the Second World War, fleeing their homes for reasons of conflict and destitute of life.  This is a day to recognize the positive and powerful contributions migrants and refugees bring to both host and home communities.

Yet, the many stories of their resilience, strength and heroism are too often eclipsed by xenophobia and pervasive anti-migrant sentiments.  This negative narrative, driven by the fear of change and fear of the unknown, must be replaced by a positive narrative, driven by the challenge of interdependence and international solidarity.

That’s where the High Representative [Nassir Abdulaziz] Al-Nasser comes.  I think he’s never been needed more than today. We have to shift to a new positive narrative, this is a huge challenge.

Migrants and refugees must not be victimized and made into scapegoats.  Migration must be safe, orderly and regular.  Proactive, transparent and evidence-based migration policies are essential for greater mobility and for creative diversity which we need in today’s society.

We should remember that those who commit acts of terror want us to be scared.  If we fall in this trap, they would succeed.  This is the commitment world leaders made in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Cross-border mobility has now been accepted as a feature of sustainable development.  Sustainability also requires us to address the scourge of irregular migration, by fighting migrant smuggling and human trafficking.  The loss of migrant lives caused by smuggling and trafficking networks is unacceptable.

We need to take greater responsibility for protecting the lives of many thousands of migrants — men, women and children — who are compelled to undertake dangerous and sometimes fatal journeys.  Those forced to flee should never be denied safe haven or rescue.  Migrants, as all people, deserve protection and empathy.

The world needs to aim for a new global compact on human mobility — a compact that is rooted in coherent, comprehensive and rights-based responses; a compact that reduces the human and financial costs of migration; a compact that prevents and goes to the roots of finding solutions for forced displacement; a compact that makes migration a vital part of sustainable development.

This global approach must be built on cooperation among countries of origin, countries of transit and countries of destination, on responsibility sharing, and on the full respect for human rights.

I am pleased that we now have a road map — articulated at a special event convened by the Secretary-General last September, and during events organized by the President of the General Assembly last month.

Next year, we plan a number of migration- and refugee-related events, culminating in a high-level meeting on 19 September on addressing large movements of migrants and refugees.

Let me conclude by paying tribute to the tireless work of United Nations colleagues; of [the] International Organization for Migration (IOM), and, in particular, my good friend Bill Swing; of delegates from Member States; and, last but not least, of our friends from civil society who are with us today and around the world working on changing the narrative to a positive one.

Next year, your support will be needed more than ever for all the migrants and refugees who have never needed us more.  But before that, I wish you all restful holidays so that we can go to work together strengthened and inspired by the challenges ahead.

For information media. Not an official record.