17 October 2015

Opening remarks to the press at Centre Tenda de Abramo Reception Centre

Ban Ki-moon

Good afternoon.

I am standing here with a very heavy heart.

I have had a series of moving meetings with families of refugees.

Before I say a few words, I would like to sincerely thank the great humanity and compassion showed Prof. Andrea Riccardi, the Founder of [the Community of] Sant’Egidio, and all the members of Sant’Egidio.

Having met all these family members - children and women - I was very much saddened but I was also very much heartened by the stories they told me. The stories were heart-breaking but at the same time, I really wanted to give them a sense of hope.

Very kind, warm hands, hearts, [are] shown by the Italian people, community of Italy and many people around the world and in Europe.

I know that European countries are facing many challenges. I appreciate these challenges, but this is not a crisis of numbers. If there is any crisis, this is a crisis of global solidarity.

If they show global solidarity, compassionate leadership, as the same human being, I think there is nothing that we cannot overcome.

It is important to give them, first, life-saving support: education, sanitation. These are basic necessities – needs – that every human being needs.

At this time, I am very grateful to many European leaders and countries, and people [for the] great work.

I am standing with these refugees.

I am standing with so many volunteers who have been working hard, tirelessly, day and night.

I am standing with many educators, teachers, philanthropists, who have been showing great humanity.

But most of all, we have to stand with those people who do not have any means.

I met about fifty or sixty children, that was [the] most moving. When I was six years old, I myself was one of them. It was 65 years ago. When Korean War broke out, I had to flee my village to a safer place, even though it was very remote. At that time, I did not know what politics was about. I only knew that I was hungry and needed something to eat.

I still vividly recollect what my father and my grandfather were doing. Desperately looking for something to feed me, to feed my brothers and sisters. This is what happened.

At that time the United Nations came - the blue flag of the United Nations. That was a beacon of hope. They saved us.

I am sure that one of these refugees, one day, overcoming all of these difficulties may be Secretary-General of the United Nations in the future.

They can be government and community leaders. They have great potential. The potential of refugees should be fully utilised. If they are supported, they can be honourable and very talented contributors to your societies.

The United Nations is mobilizing all necessary resources and that is why I convened a summit meeting on migration and refugees on September 30th on the margins of the General Assembly. Many European Presidents and Prime Ministers participated and I urged them to please show compassionate leadership. This is an era of global solidarity.

When Pope Francis came to [the United Nations] on September 25th he spoke to the leaders of the world and, if I may quote him, he said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That was most fitting and inspiring, especially at this time.

I really count on the compassionate leadership of leaders around the world.

I thank you very much.