A comprehensive new approach requiring the efforts of the entire international community was needed to tackle the dramatic and unprecedented refugee crisis in the Mediterranean basin, the General Assembly heard today, as it held a day-long debate on the subject, with a particular focus on the plight of Syrian asylum seekers.
Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft opened the meeting, in which over 40 speakers participated, by saying that the more than 12 million displaced Syrians deserved the world’s attention, as did the country’s neighbours — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Most of those refugees were fleeing conflict, violence, persecution and some had become victims for a second time due to migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also drew attention to the plight of Syria’s neighbours, who were hosting 4.3 million desperate people. He applauded their efforts but underscored that such few countries could not continue to shoulder the world’s responsibility. “We need a new approach to manage global mobility, built on equitable responsibility sharing,” he said, calling for more resources and political will to address the root causes of the Syrian crisis and regional tensions, such as poor governance and human rights violations.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned by “misplaced suspicions” about migrants and refugees, especially those who were Muslim. “We must respond not by closing doors but by opening our hearts with unity, tolerance, pluralism and compassion,” he said, adding that rights to asylum and non-refoulement must be upheld.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe in 2015 stood at almost 850,000 and was growing rapidly. “The international humanitarian response system does not have the capacity to meet even the most basic needs of all the people we are supposed to help, and unless something changes dramatically in the way we finance humanitarian responses, more lives will be lost and more desperate people will see no choice but to move on in search of safety and a minimum of human dignity,” he said. Establishing a much closer link between humanitarian assistance and development was key to bringing about that change.
According to the High Commissioner, the humanitarian crisis had created huge structural problems for host countries most of which were middle-income nations and therefore excluded from many instruments of development cooperation. He called for a fundamental review of strategies. The chaotic movement of people from Greece through the Western Balkans and northwards was also largely a result of a lack of a united and comprehensive European response to the crisis.
Representatives of the neighbouring countries bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis said that it was placing a huge strain on their economies and jeopardizing their internal security.
Lebanon’s representative said that 1.2 million Syrian refugees were registered in his country and that accounted for more than 25 per cent of its population, making it the nation with the highest concentration of refugees per capita worldwide. The high number of refugees had stretched the country’s public services beyond capacity and poverty had increased by about 60 per cent. Fearing the destabilizing impact of the protracted Syrian conflict on its fragile institutions, as well as the radicalization of segments of the refugee population, Lebanon called on the World Bank and other international financial institutions to give it and other neighbouring countries adequate development aid to meet their new needs.
Jordan, which also had opened its doors to refugees and would continue to do so, was spending 35 per cent — or more than one-quarter — of its national budget to aid refugees, according to its representative. Member States must step in financially and devise a political solution that countered terrorism, enabled stability and security in Syria, as well as preserved the country’s independence and territorial integrity, he said.
Turkey’s representative said his country was hosting 2.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, the highest number in the world. Every day an average of 110 babies were born in its in-protection centres alone. The country would continue to aid people in need, but it and other forefront countries could no longer cope with the crisis alone.
However, Syria’s representative questioned the way Turkey was handling Syrian refugees. He also said that Turkish Government was facilitating the sale of petroleum by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) and was turning a blind eye to Turkish mafia forging Syrian passports. He added that refugees were a global phenomenon, necessitating an objective approach from the international community to find solutions instead of pronouncements against individual countries. Only 20 per cent of those migrating from the Middle East to Europe through Turkey were Syrians, he said, adding that the rest were Asians or Africans, some of whom had forged Syrian passports.
The fact that not all refugees in the Mediterranean basin were from Syria was also highlighted by Germany’s representative, who said that Europe should strengthen its cooperation with Africa, as migration was the shared responsibility of countries of origin, transit and destination.
Greece’s representative, whose country was also at the fore-front of the Mediterranean refugee crisis given its location, said that since January, more than 600,000 people had crossed its borders with Turkey. Apart from Syrians, the refuges were from Afghanistan and Iraq. He added that no one should have to flee because the situation in their country was so untenable that it was impossible to live there in dignity. It was timely to consider a generous resettlement scheme, whereby numerous countries from several regions participated in a spirit of shared responsibility.
Egypt’s representative said that since March 2011, more than 300,000 Syrians had found their way into his country, with about 130,000 officially registered as refugees with UNHCR. Unlike other countries, Egypt had no refugee camps, and Syrians lived within host communities.
The representative of the European Union said the body’s membership was mobilizing all efforts to respond to the crisis, first and foremost, by saving the lives of thousands of people at sea every week. However, regular channels for migration and mobility could only be advanced in parallel to effective measures to stem migration flows.
The handling of the refugee crisis in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks was highlighted by some delegations with Pakistan’s representative saying that after the terrorist attacks in Paris, fear was being fanned to spread hate and Islamophobia. Some nations had blatantly declared they would not accept Muslim refugees, but “compassion has no religion”.
The United States representative said that the recent terrorist attacks had necessitated proper border screening, however, terrorist threats should galvanize the international community into finding solutions while maintaining compassion. The United States was intent on safeguarding people from terrorists while also providing vulnerable people with a safe haven. Anti-immigrant sentiment only fuelled further violence.
The Permanent Observer for the International Organization for Migration welcomed the call from delegates for a comprehensive, durable response to migration challenges and long-term strategies to help take migrants out of the hands of smugglers. The inclusion of migration-related targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development broke new ground for more effective cooperation between migration and development, and created the necessary space for migrants to be agents of development and socioeconomic exchange between host and origin countries.
Also speaking were the representatives of the Republic of Korea, Iceland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Afghanistan, China, Slovakia, France, Mexico, Italy, Israel, United Kingdom, Kenya, Kuwait, Malta, Tunisia, Cyprus, Australia, Croatia, Estonia, Austria, Qatar, Libya, Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway and the United Republic of Tanzania.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 23 November to conclude its debate on the Mediterranean refugee and migrant crisis as well as to discuss the question of Palestine.
MOGENS LYKKETOFT, President of the General Assembly, said more than 880,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe since January, and more than 3,500 of them had already died on route. Most were fleeing conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations; some had become “victims for the second time” due to migrant smuggling and human trafficking. The more than 12 million displaced Syrians deserved special attention, as did Syrian’s neighbours — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq — and other nations in the region that had borne the brunt of the crisis since it started. The situation in the Mediterranean affected countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, East and West Africa and the horn of Africa, in different ways. But its resolution required a collective response from the international community encompassing different policies and measures ranging from the protection of human rights to humanitarian and development cooperation, and from institution-building to security and justice.
States hosting large numbers and receiving large influxes of refugees were struggling under a heavy burden, he said. Fear had naturally increased in light of the recent terrorist attacks perpetrated by Daesh, but that fear must not be allowed to turn into prejudice, irrationality or xenophobia. “During such moments, Governments must lead by example, by meeting their moral and legal obligations, thereby demonstrating to the world that compassion and unity will ultimately always trump hatred and division,” he said.
That was the key message of the previous day’s informal meeting on the broader global humanitarian and refugee crisis, he said. Among other issues, the meeting had focused on protection, with calls for giving priority to the most vulnerable displaced persons, particularly women and children; securing access to education and health care; for the integrity of the refugee system to be respected and for third-country resettlement to be seen as a central part of the humanitarian response. It had also taken up the issue of financing, including how to fill the current gap by mobilizing resources from traditional donors, the private sector, innovative instruments and new donors. On supporting countries shouldering the greatest burden in the crisis, there was a need to adapt humanitarian and development responses to the fact that most of those countries were middle-income and most of the crises were protracted in nature and existed alongside traditional development challenges.
BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said that 60 million people had been forced from their homes, with tragic consequences especially for the Syrian people. He applauded Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey for supported millions of desperate people. But having such few countries bear the global responsibility was not a sustainable solution. “We need a new approach to manage global mobility, built on equitable responsibility sharing,” he said, calling for more resources and political will for conflict prevention and to address the root causes of the Syrian crisis and regional tensions, such as poor governance, growing inequalities and human rights violations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development could dramatically advance progress and all Member States should see development as a moral imperative and bulwark against instability. Better ways to receive and process the claims of large flows of migrants and refugees were vital. Shorter and better managed transits, more safe and legal paths such as family unification, humanitarian visas and labour mobility schemes should be implemented.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned by “misplaced suspicions” about migrants and refugees, especially those who were Muslim. “We must respond not by closing doors but by opening our hearts with unity, tolerance, pluralism and compassion. This will foster true security,” he said. The rights to asylum and non-refoulement must be upheld. The fears that terrorists were hiding among refugees supported the argument for a managed approach. Millions of refugees who had lost everything to violence and oppression could be a major constituency in combating violence and extremism. Humanitarian financing should be increased, the Secretary-General said, adding that was why he had set up the High-level Panel on Humanitarian Financing. Member States should be generous at the current time of immense need and should fund all underfunded humanitarian appeals, with such donations not coming at the expense of development aid. The refugee and migrant crisis was a global problem and a solution could be found through a collective push that transcended “narrow, short-term interests”.
The road ahead was fraught with challenges, but the international community had a map to navigate them, he said. The Vienna negotiating track was moving forward to address the catastrophic conflict in Syria. On 4 February, the Secretary-General would co-host, with the United Kingdom, Norway, Kuwait and Germany, a conference on the Syrian humanitarian crisis to raise significant new funding for Syria and its neighbouring countries. The High Commissioner for Refugees would convene a Resettlement Plus conference in March to galvanize pledges to resettle 3 million people displaced in the region due to the Syrian conflict. In May 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul would address financing and humanitarian challenges. He proposed that a high-level summit on managing large-scale movements of migrants and refugees be held in September 2016. To guide its discussions, the Secretary-General would submit a report to the Assembly on models for comprehensive solutions based on global responsibility sharing.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe this year, which stood at almost 850,000 was growing rapidly. Handling the situation effectively required addressing the root causes of displacement everywhere, not just looking to Europe. There were almost 4.3 million registered refugees in countries surrounding Syria. Many refugees had lost all hope the fighting would stop. After years in exile, many had exhausted their savings and their living conditions had deteriorated rapidly. In Lebanon, 70 per cent lived in extreme poverty; in Jordan, 86 per cent of refugees in urban areas lived in poverty. Half of all Syrian refugee children were not getting an education. The large shortfall in humanitarian funding had led to reduced food aid and other support. Many refugees felt they had been abandoned by the international community.
“The international humanitarian response system does not have the capacity to meet even the most basic needs of all the people we are supposed to help, and unless something changes dramatically in the way we finance humanitarian responses, more lives will be lost and more desperate people will see no choice but to move on in search of safety and a minimum of human dignity,” he said. Establishing a much closer link between humanitarian and development interventions was a key factor in bringing about that change. The humanitarian crisis had created huge structural problems for host countries, but most were middle-income countries and therefore, forgotten or excluded from many instruments of development cooperation. “This has to change,” he said, calling for a fundamental review of strategies. Refugee host countries — a “first line of defence for all of us in regions troubled by conflict and terrorism” — needed prioritization in international development cooperation.
Turning to security, he said that every Government had a strict obligation to care for the security of its citizens. However, refugee flows had resulted from war and terror, not caused it — they had been fleeing events much like those of Paris or Beirut in their home towns every week for the past few years. Fear and rejection of those refugees — especially Muslim refugees — provided extremists with the best propaganda tool in the recruitment of new supporters, including many inside countries that closed their borders to refugees. “Refugees should not divert the attention from the risks created by homegrown radical movements,” he said.
The chaotic movement of people from Greece through the Western Balkans and northwards also largely resulted from the absence of a united and comprehensive European response to the crisis, he said. Since the beginning, UNHCR had insisted on establishing the required reception capacity at points of entry to allow for the humane and effective accommodation, registration and screening of the thousands of people arriving daily. As long as the robust reception and screening capacity did not exist, the only parties in control were the smuggling networks, whose unscrupulous activities had already cost the lives of nearly 3,500 people in the Mediterranean Sea this year. Safe, legal alternatives to the chaos meant more resettlement and humanitarian admission, more flexible visa arrangements and more private sponsorship programmes. As much more was needed, UNHCR would convene a high-level meeting on global responsibility sharing and other forms of admission for the Syrian refugees early next year, in consultation with the Secretary-General, to mobilize significant additional commitments.
NACI KORU, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, said 12 million Syrians were currently displaced, with 4 million living in neighbouring countries. Turkey was deeply affected by that tragedy and it continued an “open door” policy towards all Syrians. Turkey had hosted the largest number of refugees — 2.5 million Syrians and Iraqis — in the world. On average 110 babies were born daily in the country’s in-protection centres alone. As the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe swelled, the Turkish coastguard’s rescue operations had increased five-fold compared to 2014. Syrians in Turkish protection centres and urban areas were given food, non-food items, health care, education, psychological support and vocational training. Turkey would continue to aid people in need, but it and other forefront countries could no longer cope with the crisis alone. There was a lack of solidarity in the international community and it should face up to its responsibility in sharing the refugee burden. Sustainable solutions could only be found if the root causes were addressed. Other factors such as climate change and preventive measures had a bearing on the refugee issue.
The current way in which humanitarian assistance was structured would not lead to a solution to the refugee issue, he said. A long-term view of humanitarian aid as a tool for collective security, peace and prosperity should be taken without overlooking development assistance, he said. The Syria donor conference to be held in London in February 2016 should provide new and meaningful funding. International migration could not be managed by Governments alone. Civil society and the private sector should contribute. The United Nations efforts to address the refugee problem should be enhanced. The Secretariat should provide recommendations, and links between various initiatives such as the Valletta Summit on Migration held in November 2015 and the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit should be explored. Forward-looking initiatives on the migration issues should be developed while recognizing the valuable contributions that refugees and migrants made to societies.
SHIN DONG-IK, Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs of the Republic of Korea, said that even while stepping up counter-terrorism efforts in the wake of several recent tragic attacks, it should not be forgotten that many refugees were also the victims of those events. Growing concerns over accepting refugees were disheartening, and due presently to news that an attacker in Paris might have entered Europe disguised as a refugee. Rejecting refugees and asylum seekers out of fear of terrorism would not help to defeat that scourge. It was the international community’s moral obligation to provide them protection and humanitarian assistance. In that regard, new ways were needed to reinforce security while ensuring the refugee protection by putting in place robust screening mechanisms. He highly commended Syria’s neighbouring countries and European nations who were spearheading massive relief efforts and hosting large-scale refugee populations. Meanwhile, a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which continued to escalate, was urgently needed. He echoed the sentiment that people needed the “possibility of a future” in their home country, and that migration should be a matter of choice and not of desperation, hope or despair.
JOÃO VALE DE ALMEIDA, the representative of the European Union, said that the dramatic and unprecedented migratory and refugee crisis was not only a European challenge, but a global one. Sixty million displaced persons by the end of 2014 was the highest number ever recorded. The European Union and its member States were mobilizing all efforts to respond to the crisis, first and most urgently, by saving the lives of thousands of people at sea every week. He reaffirmed the Union’s commitment to address the root causes of refugee flows, which included the conflicts in Syria and Libya, for which solutions must be found through diplomatic initiatives at the United Nations.
Regular channels for migration and mobility could only be advanced in parallel to effective measures to stem migration flows. Improved cooperation on returns and sustainable reintegration of irregular migrants, in line with international law obligations and mutually agreed arrangements, in full respect of human dignity and the principle of non-refoulement, was a necessary element of enhanced migration and mobility policies. It was time for the international community to act together in support of the world’s refugees and others who had been forcibly displaced.
RAGNHILDUR ARNLJOTSDOTTIR, State Secretary of Iceland, said that the vicious, cowardly and indiscriminate targeting of people as seen in Paris, and Beirut and Ankara before that, were shocking and duplicated what many Syrians had suffered on a daily basis for years. He warned against the tendency to put the burden of such crimes on the shoulders of refugees. Certainly the massive flow of migrants over recent months had provided opportunities for those who seek to infiltrate societies in order to carry out criminal acts. That must be counteracted with effective security measures. While it was a legal and moral duty to provide aid and shelter to those legitimate refugees who had made the hazardous journey to Europe, it was important to save as many as possible from making such trips in the first place. For that reason, Iceland would focus on contributing to international organizations working with refugees. It was increasing significantly the number of refugees it received that had been processed by UNHCR, with a focus on aiding Syrians and people in high-risk categories.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the limited title of the item under discussion proclaimed that it had been submitted based on political and not humanitarian reasons. Refugees were phenomena all around the world, requiring the international community to have an objective approach to find solutions instead of pronouncements against individual countries. Absent from the Secretary-General’s statement was the continued Israeli occupation, as well as what had happened in Iraq and Libya, under foreign interference and coercive economic measures, which some called sanctions. Only 20 per cent of those migrating from the Middle East to Europe through Turkey were Syrians; the rest were Asians or Africans, and some of them had forged Syrian passports. Terrorism targeted the Syrian people and territory, and worked to destroy the infrastructure, and even all civilization and cultural heritage in Syria. It had become an international scourge that threatened the world at large, and Syria was constantly warning against it.
He said that Turkey’s way of handling refugees made Syria ask why there were waves of refugees now, and via Turkish territory in particular, and what interest the Turkish regime had in the agenda item. He asked how the Turkish Government was facilitating ISIL’s sale of petroleum, and why it was allowing the Gulf region to buy Toyota cars and transport them along borders to ISIL gangs inside Syria and Iraq. He also asked why they were turning a blind eye to Turkish mafia forging Syrian passports, and to the movement of refugees, which had led to the loss of thousands of lives, including that of the Syrian child Aylan. Syria was striving to ensure that every Syrian was able to return to his homeland and assist in the rebuilding. The gates of Syria were open for all its sons and daughters abroad. He urged that efforts be undertaken towards a peaceful settlement consisting of a Syrian-Syrian dialogue, without foreign interference.
HARALD BRAUN (Germany) said addressing the refugee crisis, taking into consideration the dramatic situation of people who had fled their homes and the resources of host countries, was one of the most crucial and urgent issues on the global agenda. No country or region could tackle the global crisis alone because it required global solutions. In describing what those solutions could look like, he set out six points. First, he noted the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees as a legal basis for global refugee protection, adding that all Member States must respect the Geneva Convention. Second, support must be increased for international humanitarian aid organizations providing urgent refugee assistance. Germany was one of the three biggest bilateral donors of humanitarian aid in the world, and it had organized a G7+ donor conference in September that raised $1.8 billion. But much of those funds were currently just pledges. The flow of money must be expedited to close the gap between rising humanitarian needs and available financial resources.
In a third point, he stressed the need to support neighbouring countries shouldering the greatest burden of Syrian refugees: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Turkey had absorbed the most — more than 2 million in the past few years — and it was a major transit country for refugees on their way to the European Union. In that regard, Germany was engaged in bilateral migration dialogue with Turkey. Fourth, Europe needed to strengthen cooperation with Africa. The Valletta Summit on Migration last week had brought together European and African countries, recognizing that migration was the shared responsibility of countries of origin, transit and destination. Fifth, a global resettlement scheme that could contribute to burden-sharing should be examined. Sixth, the causes of flight and migration in the countries of origin and transit must be tackled. Hope and prospects for a better life must be created, especially for the younger generation. With the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations had presented a blueprint to address those root causes, and he called for its serious implementation.
PAUL MENKVELD (Netherlands), associating with the European Union, said that in line with last week’s Valletta Summit outcome — in which European and Africa leaders had focused on joint efforts to combat criminal networks and address the root causes of irregular migration — the Netherlands wished to emphasize the importance of true partnerships. Those should be based, not only on shared interests and responsibilities between countries of origin, transit and destination, but also on the inclusion of international organizations, the private sector and civil society. Alliances concerning migration should also encompass other relevant policy fields, such as development, trade and investment relations, justice and home affairs. To that end, the Netherlands had increased its contribution to humanitarian efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries by 110 million Euros and was looking for other ways to support refugees and host communities in the long term. However, the agreement in Vienna on a political road map must translate into a ceasefire and United Nations-led negotiations with the Syrians, following which was agreement on a framework that allowed Syrian parties to connect with or become a formal part of the political process.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that over the past few weeks, his country had received 50,000 asylum seekers, of whom a significant number had been unaccompanied minors. He told the Assembly that Sweden did everything possible to ensure that each person received a dignified reception, but the massive influx had put his country under severe strain. The international community’s response must be shaped by shared responsibility based on a humanitarian refugee policy. What was needed most was a political solution as well as intra-Syrian talks, which should include women. Expanding legal avenues for migration was central to sustainable migration policies. He reminded the Assembly not to forget that migration was a driver of human progress and development. While putting forward ideas on the future humanitarian system, the short-term crisis had to be addressed while sight must never be lost of the longer-term picture.
NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) said most refugees had remained close to home “in the hope of a cherished return in a near future”. Over the past four years, the number of registered Syrian refugees had increased in Lebanon to about 1.2 million, about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the Lebanese population. Lebanon, which already hosted about 350,000 to 400,000 Palestinian refugees and was the region’s smallest country in population and geography, had the highest concentration of refugees per capita not only in the region but worldwide. And the 1.2 million was only the number of registered Syrian refugees. Beyond the humanitarian catastrophe, the Syrian crisis was a huge economic and social burden and a source of serious political concern for Lebanon. Public services — including education, health, sanitation, energy and water infrastructure — were stretched beyond capacity and economic growth had stumbled. Poverty had increased by about 60 per cent and unemployment levels had doubled. Lebanese workers and Syrian refugees were directly competing for scarce jobs. Lebanon feared the destabilizing impact of the protracted Syrian conflict on its fragile institutions, as well as the radicalization of segments of the refugee population.
Lebanon could not cope by itself with the humanitarian rights and needs of Syrian refugees or the detrimental socio-economic effects, he said. It had called for burden-sharing through relocation programmes and greater direct assistance to host Lebanese communities. It also had called on the World Bank and international financial institutions to review their policies to provide countries like Lebanon and Jordan with adequate development aid to meet their new needs. In 2013, 71 per cent of the amount needed for humanitarian aid for the Syrians was raised; that figure fell to 57 per cent in 2014 and 42 per cent this year. The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, developed by the Lebanese Government and its international partners, was funded at only 39 per cent, according to 24 September 2015 figures. The international community needed to show real solidarity, especially as the World Food Programme’s (WFP) lack of funding had reduced food vouchers available to Syrian refugees since January 2015. It was time to establish a follow-up mechanism to the annual donor conferences.
MAHMOUD SAIKAL (Afghanistan) said that Afghans made up the second largest group, after Syrians, in the current migrant crisis in Europe. Vilifying that group of refugees by equating them with terrorists was factually incorrect and highly counterproductive, because most of them were victims of terrorism, fleeing violent extremism. The current rhetoric among xenophobic political groups for screening refugees based on religion was despicable and against the core values of the United Nations. Almost all Afghan refugees and Diaspora were the victims of foreign invasion and terrorism, not the perpetrators. By equating those categories and creating an environment of suspicion, the world would play into the extremists’ narrative, namely that Muslim refugees were not welcome in the West, and that there was a wider civilizational clash between the West and Islam.
MICHELE SISON (United States) said the solution to the refugee crisis should take into account saving and protecting lives and respect for human rights. The attacks in Paris necessitated proper border screening, but people in Syria were fleeing terrorism as well. Terrorist threats should galvanize the international community into finding solutions while maintaining compassion. The United States was intent on safeguarding people from terrorists while also providing vulnerable people with a safe haven. The Syrian refugee crisis and the challenges it posed to Europe required a global response. Anti-immigrant sentiment only fuelled further violence. There was a much broader understanding among donor countries and the international community at large that the private sector and individuals should contribute towards finding solutions. The United States was on target to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees and 85,000 refugees worldwide in 2016 and 100,000 refugees from all over the world in 2017.
LIU JIEYI (China) said that, in light of today’s large refugee crisis, some European States had seen an uptick of xenophobic sentiments against refugees and migrants, and humanitarian relief work on the ground was buckling under severe pressure. The root causes of the current refugee and migrant crisis in the Mediterranean region lay in regional instability and uneven development, he said, stressing that the fundamental way out was to seek peace, realize development and take an integrated approach to address the root causes as well as the symptoms. First, efforts must be stepped up to realize stability in the Middle East and other regions. In the face of the new round of threats from terrorism, the leading role of the United Nations should be fully realized. In Syria, the key was to implement common understandings in order to start the political process under United Nations’ auspices and create favourable conditions for the return of Syrian refugees. Also, the international community must help African countries achieve development, which was the only way to provide people with reliable livelihoods and decent jobs, safeguard their rights and reduce the number of migrants. Also crucial was to adhere to the principle of shared responsibility and strengthen international cooperation on the question of refugees and migrants. As the recipient of around 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, developing countries had made important contributions to their settlement; origin, transit and destination countries should strengthen solidarity and share responsibilities.
FRANTIŠEK RUŽIČKA (Slovakia), expressing deepest sympathy and condolences for the families of the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, said his Government stood with both countries and would stand with any that suffered from today’s life-threatening environment. Violent terrorism and cowardly attacks were becoming a part of life, but “we must not surrender”, or allow such attacks to fuel hatred towards those in need. Migration and terrorism were clearly interlinked, and the current migration crisis was unprecedented and complex, and should be addressed jointly in cooperation between the countries of origin, transit and destination, as well as international organizations. The crisis must be met with a coherent response. There was no quick fix or “magic panacea”, and without targeting the root causes, lasting results would never be achieved.
FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France), thanking all delegations who had expressed friendliness and warmth from around the world in the wake of the terrorist attacks, noted that France was not the only country to suffer such attacks. Many were leaving their homes because of natural disasters and climate change, and Syrian refugees were fleeing the barbarism of Daesh and conditions of life which were difficult after four years of conflict. In the Middle East, France advocated a collective solidarity-based approach. France would reinforce efforts to host refugees and asylum seekers, and would devote additional funds to lodging and hosting them. Paying tribute to countries in Africa and the Middle East that were hosting the largest numbers of refugees, he noted that no country could face the challenges of migration alone. Fighting the suffering of displaced people involved fighting human traffickers.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said that the international community was not dealing with a passing trend or anomaly, but a structural issue which was defining its international reality. Mexico had often repeated that the international community needed to address migration comprehensively. Throughout history, migration flows had built nations. It was clear that migration and refugees were better addressed from a pro-human rights perspective. The international community needed to agree on actions, public policies, and legally binding clearly defined commitments. The United Nations was the ideal forum for agreeing on comprehensive future-looking strategies. In 1990, Mexico had worked hard on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families. Today that should be adhered to by all; there was also a need to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of migrants.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy), aligning himself with the European Union, said that from the outset the international community should avoid associating migrants with terrorists — the former were victims, the latter murders. As Italy continued to rescue more than 50 per cent of migrants crossing the Mediterranean for Europe, he said that when aid workers faced a person drowning at sea, they didn’t ask if he or she was a migrant, they saved the person first. However, the crisis did not only pose a challenge to Europe, but to the world. There was no quick fix. At the European level, countries needed to make strides in development, and from a political perspective, they must find a solution to the crisis causing people to flee. Countries must work in cooperation with migrants’ countries of origin, and dismantle the business model that supported the organized crime of illegal migration. Only such an integrated approach could present a long-term solution. The United Nations humanitarian response was a concrete way to address the crisis, and a specific area in which countries could provide useful. Therefore, Italy would donate $10 million to the Organization’s efforts, and boost resilience in action. Refugees were persons with high potential, and most came motivated in the hope of a better future.
DAVID ROET (Israel) called for condemning all types of terrorism and making clear that “terror is terror” no matter the location or identity of the victims. All were seeing the consequences of oppression go unchallenged in failed States, and yet the global community was still grappling with the question of the origins of the atrocities. In 2010, Syria, Libya and Yemen had been ranked bottom on a “freedom scale”, but the world had looked on in silence as those “engines of autocracy and fundamentalism” ruled their people with fear and violated human rights with impunity. In Syria, the Bashar al-Assad regime was competing with ISIS/ISIL in devising the most brutal ways of massacring innocent people. Humanitarian aid was crucial in assisting refugees, which knew no borders, religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. Isra-aid, an Israeli non-governmental organization, had helped thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Eastern Europe. Having absorbed hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors, Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Israel knew well the needs of refugees and immigrants. Experience had taught that only a united community could save the lives of those desperately seeking shelter.
MARTIN SHEARMAN (United Kingdom) expressed his country’s commitment to a comprehensive response to the tragedy in the Mediterranean. The international community had to recognize that the vast majority of Syrians had not crossed the Mediterranean, but remained in neighbouring countries. Paying tribute to efforts by those countries that had accepted them, he said that the international community must match their efforts. That was essential to tackling the drivers of irregular migration. The picture in Syria was unspeakably bleak. The United Nations Syria appeal was not halfway funded and more needed to be done. Next year, the United Kingdom would, with partners, host a Syria donors’ conference in London. Long-term funding and solutions, which moved from relief to development, must be found. The conflict required a political solution, and all had to commit to achieving it.
ANTHONY ANDANJE (Kenya) said that the fighting in Syria had become less a product of political conflict and more a cultural battlefield. The international community must lead a humanitarian response without rejecting its responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of migrants. "What is required is solidarity, not fences, deportations or amending national asylum laws," he stressed. As host to more than 600,000 persons of concern and as a victim of terrorist attacks itself, Kenya shared the national security concern, however, it would not victimize people who were victims themselves. Restrictive measures such as fast-tracking screening of asylum seekers without due process; sending them back to third countries or even detaining them were not solutions. What was needed was an efficient asylum system to address the problem of migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean basin, regardless of whether they were specifically from Syria or elsewhere.
CATHERINE BOURA (Greece), associating with the European Union, said the unprecedented migratory and refugee crisis had witnessed a sharp increase along the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans, in parallel with a constant flow along the central Mediterranean route. Situated on the European Union’s external border, Greece had been experiencing influxes for quite some time, but nothing compared to that of the past few months. Since January, more than 600,000 people originating from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq had crossed the Greek borders with Turkey on their way to European countries, most of them landing on Greek islands. Some 75-80 per cent of them were refugees. Although asymmetrically burdened in recent months, Greece nevertheless had done and would continue to do its utmost to rescue refugees fleeing from war, while they struggled in their borders in the Aegean Sea. No person should have to flee because the situation in their country was so untenable that it was impossible to live there in dignity. Addressing the migration and refugee crisis was a common obligation that required a comprehensive strategy and determined effort over time. It might be timely to examine a generous resettlement scheme, whereby numerous countries from several regions participated in a spirit of shared responsibility.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH A ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the Assembly’s informal session yesterday provided an opportunity to listen to views of all countries addressing the humanitarian crises across the world, and that today brought an opening for solutions. The Syrian crisis had gone beyond the capacity of nearby countries to respond, hindering infrastructure and security. Since the inception of the Syrian crisis, the Security Council had adopted three resolutions that dealt with the humanitarian situation in the country, permitting the free movement of humanitarian aid. Kuwait had spared no effort in facilitating a solution to the Syrian crisis. It had hosted three donor conferences which raised more than $7 billion in pledges, of which 90 per cent went to United Nations agencies. Despite its small size, Kuwait had hosted Syrians, which had comprised 11 per cent of the country’s population. Kuwait would participate in the humanitarian conference on Syria to be held in London in February. He expressed hope that it would spur long-term financing solutions if a political solution had not been found.
CHRISTOPHER GRIMA (Malta) said that Europe was witnessing a surge in migrants and refugees that was unparalleled in recent memory. That phenomenon was not entirely new to a number of countries in Europe, especially those bordering the Mediterranean. As wave after wave of men, women and children made their way towards Europe, from the South and from the East, it had become increasingly clear that the magnitude of the migration challenge required solutions that went beyond regional efforts towards a broader international response. The solution was complex and would require action on many levels. European countries were already engaged, almost on a daily basis, in search and rescue operations, saving the lives of thousands of people at sea. Better cooperation was needed between the countries of origin, transit and destination, including in border management and in taking on the ruthless smugglers and criminal networks. That meant putting in place systems that would allow for the orderly processing of asylum seekers, acceptance of genuine refugees, and return of those that were not. There was increasing recognition of the need to combine refugee assistance with support for host communities. The only way to manage migration was to work together and turn principles into action.
RIADH BEN SLIMAN (Tunisia) said that there had been significant influxes in Tunisia over the past few years of refugees fleeing Libya, and the country was hosting over a million people despite a difficult domestic situation. The protracted humanitarian crisis had a negative impact, he said, thanking donors for their solidarity in helping Tunisia build democracy. That was critical as it helped the country focus on sustainable development and build bridges. The influx of migration made all barriers collapse between origin, transit and destination countries. Stressing the importance of conducting search operations in the Mediterranean, he said that “dinghies of death” and the people they were taking aboard required the international community to scale up its efforts to fulfil immediate humanitarian needs.
MENELAOS MENELAOU (Cyprus), associating with the European Union, said his country’s efforts in response to the crisis were primarily focused on humanism and its international law obligations. The people concerned were not “just a bunch of potential illegal migrants”, but human beings, and they must not be victimized a second time. Cyprus was cooperating with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), particularly with regard to voluntary returns and trafficking in persons. There was no effective response to the challenge without peace. Being in the vicinity of ongoing wars, Cyprus had on several occasions voiced its deep concern over the danger of infiltration. The recent attacks in Paris were transforming the migration crisis into a security debate in Europe. However, the real danger that terrorists might be among the thousands of migrants arriving daily should not confuse the debates on migration and terror.
GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said the cost of the conflict in Syria was borne by the hundreds of thousands who had lost their lives, the millions more displaced, and by a generation of children facing interrupted schooling, under-vaccination, malnutrition, injury, trauma and death. The need to help those suffering was evident, and so too was the need to address the root causes of the conflict, which was now in its fifth year. A political solution was desperately needed, and she hoped the International Syria Support Group’s talk in Vienna could pave the way to such a resolution. For those who had been forced to flee, safe and legal migration pathways were required. The number of lives lost in the Mediterranean continued to grow, and she recognized the tremendous efforts of those countries neighbouring the conflict in Syria to host refugees, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The first refugees arrived in Australia earlier this week as part of the Government’s commitment to resettle 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq, in addition to the 13,750 people settled under Australia’s humanitarian resettlement programme this year. A joint international effort was required that bridged humanitarian, development, security and political agendas to provide safe, legal and orderly avenues for migration.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), aligning with the European Union’s statement, said the migratory and refugee crisis represented an unprecedented challenge affecting Member States regardless of their size, level of development or geographical position. Since September, more than 400,000 migrants and refugees had passed through Croatia, coming through the so-called Western-Balkans route and entering the European Union on their way to Western and Northern Europe. For its part, the country had established transit and reception canters that provided migrants and refugees with food, heated tents, free Wi-Fi and medical care. Workers in Croatia were also registering the migrants and tending to vulnerable groups. In finding appropriate and operative solutions to the current crises, international actors must join forces and act together to intensify diplomatic engagements to resolve conflicts in Syria and Libya, as well as provide long-term stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. Member States must also allocate appropriate resources towards countries hosting the vast majority of Syrian refugees, and intensify the fight against organized crime, migrant smuggling and trafficking. Although migrants and refugees had been an inseparable part of human history, the international community could not stay oblivious to their suffering.
SVEN JÜRGENSON(Estonia) associating with the European Union, said that as the migrant crisis was a global challenge, which needed to be addressed in a collective manner, resulting in common, sustainable solutions. The primary aim of Estonia’s action — in accordance with the European Union — was to save lives and ensure migrants’ protection, in addition to addressing the root causes of the migratory flows. His country would also join in the fight against organized crime responsible for smuggling and illicit trafficking.
JAN KICKERT (Austria) said that his country was one of the European countries most affected by the current migration crisis, both as a transit and a destination nation. Since protracted crisis situations were becoming the norm, the need for strengthened cooperation between development and humanitarian actors had increased. One reason people were being forced to leave their homes was the use of indiscriminate weapons. Austria called on the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The international community needed to cooperate globally on durable solutions and create opportunities for displaced populations in areas such as income generation. Comprehensive approaches were needed, such as information campaigns raising awareness of the high risks of the sea crossing, as well as information expressing a more realistic picture of living conditions in destination countries.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) said that the painful images of refugees symbolized their desperation and quest for a decent life. There was a need to address root causes of what led people to flee their homes. The state of Qatar cautioned that since the inception of the Syrian crisis, delays in addressing it had caused the situation to deteriorate. Qatar was committed to helping the Syrian people, she said, noting that the number of Syrians residing in Qatar had exceeded 54,000. Looking forward to the upcoming donor conference in London, she said that Qatar had pushed for international efforts towards a solution and would continue to support international and regional steps that addressed root causes.
ELMAHDI S. ELMAJERBI (Libya) said that although the United Nations could not diminish the role of countries of origin, countries of destination had a moral and human duty to receive refugees, stand by them, respect their rights and provide them a life of dignity. The United Nations, however, had to address the problems in refugees’ home countries and help bring back social security and development there. He looked forward to the help of advanced nations in settling the conflicts that caused people to flee. However, any intervention had to respect state sovereignty and abide by the non-interference of other countries. The opportunity to curb illegal migration through the Mediterranean without further armament still stood, although it required coordination throughout the European Union and with the Libyan Government. Libyan authorities were fully committed to protect the lives of migrants, as the safety and stability of the European Union relied on it. Libya was once a country of destination for migrants, but had become a transit country. It could become a country of destination again once its infrastructure was restored.
OLIVIER MARC ZEHNDER (Switzerland) said the implications of forced displacement and migration raised four essential points as the international community discussed potential action to the crisis. From the outset, respect for human rights, international humanitarian and refugee law must remain at the centre of Governments’ concerns. Secondly, no State or organization could single-handedly meet the complex challenges raised by human mobility: constructive approaches required a spirit of cooperation among all actors, including States, civil society and the migrants, themselves. In that regard, he welcomed the political leadership of the Quartet. States must adopt a comprehensive approach to migration that took into account its opportunities, as well as its challenges, and avoid silo-based approaches. The United Nations must develop a long-term vision that went beyond immediate actions aimed at preventing further human tragedies — a vision in which “migration is a choice and not a necessity”.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that humanitarian suffering was increasingly being pitted against religious and ethnic prejudice. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, fear was being fanned by some to spread hate and Islamophobia. Some had blatantly declared they would not accept Muslim refugees, but “compassion has no religion”. A series of interlocking crises and conflicts raging across the Middle East and Africa had been precipitated by misguided military interventions in the internal affairs of several States in the region. As history and current events attested, “foreign intervention begets more chaos and violence” breaking down established structures, destroying States and displacing people. “The flow of humanity to European shores must be met with humanity,” she said, endorsing the generosity of those States which had kept their borders and hearts open. But the crisis was beyond any single country’s capacity and States where refugees were seeking sanctuary would need to share the burden equitably. Fixed ceilings on accepting people in need of urgent protection were unacceptable, legally and morally. To stem the tide of refugees to Europe, urgent aid was needed to care for the millions crowded in countries neighbouring the conflict. That also applied to the 3 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan, because 20 per cent of refugees arriving in Europe were Afghans. Political solutions had to be promoted to halt conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
OSAMA ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt) said that, since the onset of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, more than 300,000 Syrians had found their way to Egypt, with about 130,000 officially registered as refugees with UNHCR. Despite its already overburdened economy and infrastructure, Egypt’s Government and people had decided to provide those migrants with full care and free access to public services. Unlike other countries, Egypt had no refugee camps, and Syrians lived within host communities. Saving the lives of Syrians fleeing the atrocities of war should be the international community’s top priority. Shortfalls in funding of the concerned international agencies and programmes remained a large challenge that needed to be addressed. Previous years had proven that the Syrian conflict could not, and should not, be resolved through military means in favour of a specific party. A political solution to the crisis was urgently needed and a long-awaited window of opportunity had been opened during the recent Vienna meetings. Therefore, Egypt strongly encouraged the parties to Vienna, and the entire international community, to fully adhere to the process and keep in mind that every step forward and every compromise reached would save thousands of lives.
HIROSHI MINAMI (Japan) said Japan would become a member of the Security Council next year and was ready to make a maximum effort to help find a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis during its terms. There needed to be a new way of thinking of peace, security and sustainable development. It was a remarkable achievement that promoting a peaceful and inclusive society for sustainable development was agreed as Goal 16 in the 2030 Agenda. Consistency and coherence had to be maintained in the discussions in the Security Council, Assembly, Economic and Social Council, the boards of the United Nations funds and programmes, Peacebuilding Committee and the Human Rights Council. “To do so, we have to abolish the silo approach,” he said. The Security Council, which had the main responsibility for peace and security issues, had to take the leading role. The responsibility of the Assembly was immense. Japan had announced during the Assembly’s General Debate that it would contribute about $810 million this year for assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons from Syria and Iraq. Japan would continue to focus linking its humanitarian and development and creating an environment in which donors and host communities could collaborate closely.
BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET (Belgium) said that the deaths of thousands in the Mediterranean could not leave the international community unmoved; a coordinated global response was needed. Belgium was hosting a significant number of refugees, she said, some of them redistributed from other points of entry into the European Union. In addition to humanitarian aid, it was important to focus on capacity-building for destination countries. Today in Brussels, an event in coordination with the International Organization for Migration explored sustainable solutions to the migration crisis. There could be no sustainable solution without dealing with the root causes. She appealed for vigilance and watchfulness, noting that terrorists and migrants should not be painted with the same brush. A huge number of men, women and children had no alternative other than fleeing their country of origin. It was the responsibility of the international community to provide them with protection, as was mandatory under signed agreements.
MUAZ M.A.K. AL-OTOOM (Jordan) called for raising awareness on migration and asylum nationally. Member States needed to recognize challenges faced by host countries so all could share the burden equally. It was no longer enough to just keep up with the rapid escalation of refugees. The United Nations should work with Member States to raise awareness and help host countries adapt their strategies as the crisis was now protracted. United Nations agencies must move away from emergency relief toward resilience programmes that allowed refugees to live in dignity and facilitated their eventual return. The Organization must also raise awareness of the profile of refugees to avoid stereotypes that linked them to extremism and its agencies must explain the situations refugees faced and the suffering they endured. Jordan had opened its doors to refugees and would continue to take that approach. But each year it had contributed 35 per cent — or more than one-quarter — of its national budget went to aid refugees. Member States had to step in financially and devise a political solution that countered terrorism, enabled stability and security in Syria, and preserved the country’s independence and territorial integrity.
ZSOLT HETESY (Hungary), aligning himself with the European Union, said Heads of State and Government engaged in the highest-level dialogue possible on migration and refugee crises two months ago in New York. Since then, more people had left their homes either fleeing persecution, or in search of a better future. Lives were still lost as thousands without hope or other options took the journey through the Mediterranean daily. Meanwhile, vital systems in the receiving countries were crumbling from the financial, logistical and security toll of the increased flows of refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants. Member States should respond decisively and in a spirit of togetherness to manage and end the crisis. The United Nations needed global and comprehensive action on the following fronts: tackling the root causes of the refugee crisis; addressing global migration; providing humanitarian aid and development to host countries; and achieving synergy, especially by investing in sustainable development.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said that only a sustainable solution could end the conflict in Syria and halt the large-scale movement of people. Recent momentum created by the Vienna process, as well as the role that had been envisioned for the United Nations, was encouraging. In the interim, the international community should work towards alleviating the suffering of the displaced. The burden that was borne by Syria’s neighbours, in particular Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, must be shared. New and innovative approaches were needed in such areas as resilience-building and funding. Long-term commitments also were required. Additionally, more needed to be done to protect displaced persons from migrant smugglers and human traffickers. Criminal networks must be dismantled and pathways for regular, documented migration must be identified. New Zealand would be welcoming an additional 750 Syrian refugees. It might be a long way from the Middle East, but it intended to play its part.
GEIR O. PEDERSEN (Norway), emphasizing the importance of increasing humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons and host communities, stated that his country, in cooperation with the United Nations, United Kingdom, Germany and Kuwait, had taken the initiative to host an international donor conference for Syria in London in February 2016. The magnitude of the refugee influx was challenging the management of European external borders, but migration could also be a driver for development and growth. It was necessary to integrate refugees into the countries that were welcoming them, while also stabilizing fragile States. The action plan from the Valletta Summit on Migration, held earlier this month, was a good starting point. “We need a stronger United Nations in these discussions,” he said, adding that Norway stood ready to support the Organization in finding a more comprehensive approach to migration.
TUVAKO N. MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania) said that as the number of refugees seeking protection remained alarmingly high, international solidarity and burden sharing were essential. However, there were some other important lessons from the humanitarian crisis. There was a need for greater acknowledgement that prevention was always better than the cure — the United Nations should never allow conflicts to ensue and escalate to unmanageable proportions. Secondly, the Council could have averted the crisis. That body’s “systemic handicaps” required reform to preserve its legitimacy. Member States must forge stronger cooperation and partnerships with regional actors, such as the African Union, aimed at building capacity to deal with future and current complex crises. Finally, he said, the international community needed to respect and uphold the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Continued contempt for the Charter had serious repercussions to many.
ASHRAF EL-NOOR, Permanent Observer for the International Organization for Migration, said that migration was a human reality and could not be stopped. He welcomed the call for a comprehensive response to migration challenges, firstly to shift from a crisis mode response, which was short-term, partial and ad-hoc, to a more comprehensive, inclusive and durable approach. Secondly, he welcomed the call to develop long-term strategies to help take migrants out of the hands of smugglers. The inclusion of migration-related targets in the 2030 Agenda broke new ground for more effective cooperation between migration and development, and created the necessary space for migrants to be agents of development and facilitate socioeconomic exchanges between host and origin countries.
Right of Reply
The representative of Turkey said that while the Assembly was holding a significant debate on the current tragedy, another attempt was seen to divert attention. Turkey’s aim was to find a solution to irregular migration, focusing on ways forward. A total of 350,000 people had lost their lives in Syria, and four million had sought refuge. The regime was killing its own people. Barrel bombs, targeted killings and forced displacement, as well as the indiscriminate use of aerial weapons were occurring. The use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon had been established by two independent bodies. Widespread attacks on the civilian population had occurred. While the regime killed its own, Turkey hosted huge numbers of Syrian refugees. Viable responses to the current crisis needed to be discussed. That was why Turkey had proposed the inclusion of the agenda item.