19 September 2016

Millions of Refugees Are Food Insecure, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Event, Saying New York Declaration Reflects Global Community’s Moral Obligation to Help

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the high-level event, “Supporting Greater Dignity and Protection:  Enhancing Self-Reliance in Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Refugee Situations”, in New York today:

Thank you very much for inviting me to address this very important session.  Food is a matter of life and death, especially for people in need, like refugees.  Many of the millions of refugees in our world are food insecure.  They face the grave risk of malnutrition.  We have a moral obligation to help them.  This is the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Today’s Summit reaffirms that timeless pledge.  States have agreed to more equitably share the responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees.  They have identified key, life-saving sectors, including food.  And they have agreed to mobilize resources to cover humanitarian needs.

I especially welcome the focus on channelling support through host communities and using local knowledge and capacities.  These host communities are on the frontlines and they should be at the forefront in receiving global support.

I have also been to many countries of asylum.  I have seen their efforts to provide for the food and nutrition needs of refugees. I applaud this solidarity.  It saves lives, alleviates suffering, and — in the long-term — solidarity benefits refugees and host communities.

Refugees deserve sustainable livelihoods.  That is why I am speaking out for their right to access land and financial services.  And refugees deserve freedom of movement.  These are basic to earning a living.

Tragically, displacement can stretch across generations.  I have met with refugees who were born in camps.  In fact, I have met some three generations in refugee camps.  If you go to Dadaab camp — three generations; in Western Sahara, I think, three generations.  That is why I was very angry when I visited them.  I hope our refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere will not continue like that.

It is really sad when you meet third generation children.  They may not know that the world is just bounded by refugee camps.  That just saddens me very much.  They should know that the world is very wide and very big.  There are many places for them to see and live.

In fact, I myself was one of those people.  When I was six years old, as you may know, the Korean War broke out in 1950.  I had to flee my hometown.  Of course, I did not travel as far as the Syrian refugees travelled.  They risked their lives crossing over seas and Africans crossing over the Mediterranean, et cetera.  There were a lot of dangers.  But for me it was just within South Korea.

South Korea is a small country, so it was a matter of a few hundred kilometres.  The maximum was 500 kilometres.  So for me, it was 150 kilometres or something like that.  But it was not my home.  What I saw at the time was my grandfather and my father running here and there to find something to feed their children.  That is what I experienced myself.

At that time, the United Nations came and provided massively.  Fortunately, looking back, we were fortunate — Koreans — because there was only one Korean crisis.  There must have been many countries in difficulty, but mostly they were under colonies, or colonial Powers were responsible.  But there was only one war, the Korean War, at that time, while 17 wars are taking place now, producing 65 million refugees.  So, the world is at a very difficult time to manage.  The United Nations was able to focus, massively — all clothes, some food, school textbooks, we were even given toys.

So, when I went to Zaatari camp and Dadaab and elsewhere, I told them that when I was you, the United Nations was with me, so “that is why I am with you now.  Do not worry.  Do not lose hope.”

I really appreciate your strong commitment, compassionate leadership.  The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) — Ertharin Cousin — we have been talking just a few days ago about how to deliver all these trucks, these two 20-trucks [convoys].  They are fully loaded.  They are still not able to cross the line.  It is already five days.  It is totally unacceptable.  There must not be any political consideration.  There is no such politics when it comes to human lives, daily needs, life-saving humanitarian assistance — food and water.  I really condemn those people who take all this as political issues.

In any event, I thank your strong support from Governments.  I am also very much moved and touched by civil society, humanitarian workers who risk their own safety and security.  I really count on your continuing support until we will be able to say that we are in a peaceful and harmonious society.  This outcome document — [the] New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants — which was adopted today may not be perfect; it may not be ambitious enough.

We have already been criticized by some humanitarian groups.  But at this time, this is what Member States could agree on.  The Europeans could never have been able to agree.  That is why I decided to bring this matter to the United Nations.  Let’s discuss at the global level.  This has become a global issue; it is not European; it is not Asian.  Then we will work out the global compact based on global responsibility sharing.  Not a single country, however rich, can do it.

The United Nations cannot do it alone.  We need your support, yours and civil societies and business communities and so forth.  I am just coming from this Global Compact business meeting.  There were many Heads of State and Government and business leaders and they are committed.  We all talked about food and how to help refugees.  Again, I am very much grateful for your strong commitment.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.