29 February 2016

Deputy Secretary-General, at Migration Dialogue, Contrasts Existence of Rules for Moving Capital, Service with ‘Striking’ Absence of Human-Mobility Systems

Following are UN Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the International Dialogue on Migration, in New York today:

I am delighted to be with you at this International Dialogue on Migration.  I want to thank Director-General [William Lacy] Swing, of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), for inviting me to address this forum.  Bill Swing’s lifelong dedication to public service and to the plight of migrants is an inspiration to all of us.  It is a true personal and professional pleasure to work with him and the IOM on the crucial and burning issues of migration and human mobility.

I cannot recall a time when the issue of mass displacement, refugees and migratory movements was as high on the agenda of the international community as it is today.  The numbers speak for themselves.  International migrants who reside outside their country of birth or citizenship rose from some 170 million in 2000 to nearly 250 million in 2015 — an increase of 41 per cent.

Seven out of every 10 international migrants reside in high-income countries.  Without migration, the population of Europe would have fallen in the past 15 years.  Generally, we need to recognize what migrants and refugees contribute to our societies.  We have an obligation to counter the negative narrative that characterizes the present public discourse.

Trade, services, capital, and people are increasingly crossing international borders.  While we have been building a rules-based system for cross-border trade, services and capital for decades, it is striking that global rules for human mobility barely exist.  The promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is that well-managed migration and mobility will benefit migrants and their families as well as countries of origin and destination.  We must all work together to make sure that this promise becomes a reality.

More than 60 million people are currently displaced — the highest figure since the end of the Second World War.  This includes 20 million refugees, which means that 8 out of every 100 international migrants are now refugees.  The large majority of these refugees are hosted by developing countries.  But the traditional solutions for refugees — voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement — are at historically low levels.  With new waves of refugees becoming displaced and few refugees finding a lasting solution to their plight, the average duration of displacement is longer than 15 years.

These differing narratives of migrants and refugees have some very important points in common.

First, irrespective of the motives people have for crossing international borders, all migrants have basic human rights, which are often not respected.  Abuse and discrimination are rampant both during dangerous journeys and upon uncertain arrival.

Second, migrants and refugees increasingly move together as part of mixed migratory flows.  In the absence of channels for safe, orderly and regular migration, as stated in Sustainable Development Goal 10, target number 10.7, smugglers and traffickers exact obscenely high fees and often take advantage of the migrants and refugees.

Third, we must address the root causes that drive both refugees and migrants from their homes.  We must do more to prevent and resolve conflicts which give rise to forced displacement.  Syria is the most blatant case in point.  We must also deliver on the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind.  We must improve the conditions for a life of dignity and fulfilment at home.  We must reduce inequalities and promote peaceful and inclusive societies.

And fourth, let us recall that all refugees are protected from forcible return by the 1951 Refugee Convention.  We must reaffirm this specific right of refugees.  At the same time, we must protect the basic human rights of all migrants.

There is a pressing need to increase humanitarian financing.  The Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing has made proposals which will be taken further at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23-24 May.  I urge Governments to increase their humanitarian contributions, but not at the expense of development aid.  I also urge Governments to ensure high-level attendance at this first Humanitarian Summit, placing the human being in the centre.

Earlier this month, at an informal meeting of the General Assembly on follow-up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, I presented four conditions for success.  I believe these apply equally to preparations for the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on 19 September on large-scale refugee and migratory movements.

First, leadership:  Member States and other actors must be fully committed to develop predictable and equitable responses to mass population movements.

Second, ownership:  Our actions must be inclusive and cut across silos.  For example, United Nations and non-United Nations actors like the International Organization of Migration and the Global Forum on Migration must work closely together.

Third, partnerships:  Civil society is making a great contribution to supporting refugees and migrants.  We must do better in involving the private sector in practical projects and solutions.

Fourth, collaboration:  The United Nations system stands ready to serve Member States and others in preparation and follow-up to the 19 September event.  A global approach at the United Nations must be complemented by regional and national contributions.

Many countries are struggling to deal with issues of displacement, migration and refugees.  The United Nations must not remain on the sidelines.  These issues are complex.  This will not prevent us from developing responses, searching for solutions, identifying good practices and putting well-financing systems and institutions in place.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the high-level meeting on refugees and migrants offer historic opportunities to improve the lives of millions of people.  We must not fail them.  I count on all of you to make this happen for “we the peoples” in the world.

For information media. Not an official record.