7 March 2016

Secretary-General, upon Receiving German Media Award, Urges Europe to Stand against Hate-Filled Rhetoric, Racist Appeals Targeting Refugees

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, upon receiving the German Media Prize in Baden-Baden, Germany, today:

Ich freue mich sehr, Baden-Baden zum ersten Mal besuchen zu dürfen. Ich bedauere, dass ich nicht die weltberühmten Thermalquellen erleben kann. Ich verspüre aber die Wärme, mit der Sie mich heute hier begrüßen, und danke Ihnen dafür!

[It is a pleasure to be visiting Baden-Baden for the first time.  I regret that I will be unable to experience the world-famous hot springs.  But I do feel the warmth of your welcome tonight; thank you!]

Es ist mir eine große Ehre, den Deutschen Medienpreis entgegennehmen zu dürfen. Im Namen der Vereinten Nationen und ihrer Mitarbeiter danke ich Ihnen für diese Anerkennung.

[It is an honour to receive the German Media Prize.  On behalf of the United Nations and its staff, I thank you for this recognition.]

When Karlheinz Kögel first contacted me, he explained that the Prize was intended to highlight the work of the United Nations on the full range of global issues.  But I know that today, in Germany and throughout Europe, one challenge is paramount:  addressing the plight of refugees fleeing war and persecution and arriving in great numbers in Europe’s ports, train stations and village squares.

People seek safe havens when conflicts make life at home untenable.  They are driven by governance failures that make societies unstable.  People also seek opportunities elsewhere because of the development shortfalls that make them feel unwanted, and the environmental pressures that render land unusable.

Such flights and journeys are linked to virtually all of the challenges on today’s international agenda.  Therefore, my message to you tonight ranges well beyond the refugee and migrant crisis:  as we ease their suffering today, we must also consider what kind of world we are building for everyone tomorrow.

Let me start right here in Baden-Baden.  I thank the authorities and people here for the hospitality towards Afghans, Syrians and other refugees, and towards migrants in need.  It cannot be easy for a relatively small municipality.  But I understand that the people of Baden-Baden have come forward with housing, medical care, schooling and other forms of support.  Such generosity in many places across Germany and Europe has been a source of inspiration.  I commend Her Excellency Angela Merkel for her leadership, compassion and solidarity.

The long caravans and odysseys continue.  But let us remember that developing countries host 86 per cent of the world’s 60 million refugees and displaced people.  In Europe, the number of arrivals is less than 0.3 per cent of the population.  The OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] has stated that “Europe has the capacity and the experience to deal with this inflow”.  Europe also has a clear interest in well-managed migration and in getting integration right.  Migrants and refugees generate economic growth and fill important gaps in the workforce — especially in countries where the population is ageing.

Yet there have been tensions and violent attacks.  We must stand against hate-filled rhetoric and racist appeals, whether they come from leaders, office-seekers, ordinary citizens or the media.  Political parties and movements that turn their back on universal rights are not alternatives, but throwbacks to the most infamous periods of this continent’s history.

The border restrictions being put in place by Governments along the Balkan land route are not a solution.  I call on all countries to keep their borders open, to expand legal pathways to asylum, and act in a spirit of solidarity.  Ahead of today’s meeting of European Union Heads of State and Turkey in Brussels, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees proposed a number of steps aimed at an equitable, managed and orderly solution.

More broadly, there is a need for greater sharing of responsibility among all States, not just those in Europe.  There is also a deeper need to recognize that in an interconnected world, societies are becoming more diverse, not less.  Individual and national identities are evolving.  This can breed discomfort and discrimination.  We must do the hard but necessary work of tolerance and mutual understanding.  On 19 September this year, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a summit to help address large movements of refugees and migrants.  I count on Europe’s leaders to live up to the principles that have guided your Union.

This crisis compels the international community to do more to address root causes.  The United Nations is focusing greater attention on the early signs of instability and atrocities through the Human Rights Up Front initiative.  We are also, through the recently launched Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, striving to get at the underlying drivers of radicalization.  Ending the nightmare in Syria could not be more urgent.  I am encouraged that the cessation of hostilities is by and large holding, despite some incidents.  All parties must allow the delivery of life-saving aid — and participate in good faith when talks resume in the days ahead.

World leaders must do more to resolve the conflicts in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan, Libya and the Sahel.  And we must invest more in conflict prevention and early action.  More than 125 million people today require humanitarian assistance.  Were these men, women and children in one place, they would make up the 11th largest country on earth.

Despite the generosity of donors, including Germany and others in Europe, shortfalls in humanitarian funding are bigger than ever.  The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, to be held in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May, will be our opportunity to take steps to end unnecessary and preventable suffering.

These are stormy times for the human family.  Yet amid the strong currents and stark divisions, the international community has taken landmark steps to ensure our future well-being.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted last September is our guide to ending poverty and building stable societies on a healthy planet.  The Paris Agreement on climate change reached last December is a potential peace pact with the planet.

I greatly appreciate Chancellor [Angela] Merkel’s leadership on this issue.  Now it is time for countries to build on the momentum from Paris and move quickly to catalyse low-carbon, climate-resilient growth.  I look forward to Germany’s national climate action plan for 2015, and I encourage Germany to phase out coal-fired power generation.  This would support the goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees.  I will also count on Germany’s support to pursue rapid ratification of the Agreement within the European Union.

Across the global agenda, the media are critical.  Yet journalists face growing efforts to silence their voices — through harassment, censorship and attacks.  Journalists are not criminals.  But they are often mistreated or even killed because they have the courage to expose criminal acts.  Last year alone, 105 journalists lost their lives.  The murders of Western journalists by Da’esh and other violent extremists claimed global attention.  But 95 per cent of the journalists killed in armed conflict are locally based.

Last month, Mexican journalist Moisés Dagdug Lutzow was killed in his home in the city of Villahermosa.  Elvis Ordaniza, a crime reporter in the Philippines, was shot.  So was Karun Misra, a district bureau chief at the Jan Sandesh Times in India.  Each time a journalist is killed, each time the press is silenced, the rule of law and democracy get weaker.  I encourage you to participate in the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.

During the past nine years as Secretary-General, I have been working hard to defend the press, both publicly and behind the scenes through discreet diplomatic efforts to free journalists who have been unjustly detained.  We must all do our part to preserve the freedom of the press, civil society and human rights defenders to do their work.

I have spent much time in recent weeks with families and children who have been forcibly displaced from their homes in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Sahel and elsewhere.  Most recently I met with Sahrawi refugees.  The plights of these men, women and children are different, but their plea is the same: safety, schooling, opportunity.

I saw in the faces of these men, women and children echoes of what I experienced as a child in war-time Korea, when my family had to flee our village.  The United Nations was our lifeline — our beacon of hope.  Throughout my tenure, I have wanted the United Nations to be a lifeline for others.  Let us all come together for the most vulnerable today – and let us work together to build a future of dignity for all.

Thank you again for recognizing the indispensable role of the United Nations in today’s world.

For information media. Not an official record.