New York

30 September 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at High-Level Meeting on Migration and Refugee Flows

We face the biggest refugee and migration crisis since World War II.  Over the last year, more than 60 million people have been forced from their homes.
Desperate conditions are compelling people around the world to move.  The Syria crisis is a tragic and dramatic illustration of this. 
When migration takes place as a matter of genuine choice, it boosts human development potential.  It benefits host and home societies alike. 
Yet, too often, distortions and prejudice form the basis of migration and refugee debates.  The future does not belong to those who seek to build walls or exploit fears.
Migration and refugee flows are a global challenge.  We have a responsibility to define a clear path forward guided by international refugee law, human rights and humanitarian law.
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development sets goals and targets to better reap the benefits of migration.  We must advance it with creativity, compassion and courage. 
In recent months, we have seen regions divided in their policy approaches, struggling to find common responses.  But we have also witnessed an impressive outpouring of solidarity and generosity.
We must build on this foundation. 
Of course, the best solution for refugees is voluntarily returning home, in dignified and safe conditions. 
We must step up our work to prevent and stop wars and persecution.  But we know that conflicts will not disappear overnight.  More people will flee crisis, and people will keep moving in search of better opportunities.  We must be better prepared. 
Let me briefly point to eight guiding principles.
First, saving lives.  The preservation of life must guide all our efforts, from asylum policies to robust search and rescue mechanisms. 
Second, protection.  Refugees have the right to seek asylum in safety.  The principle of non-refoulement must be fully upheld.
Third, non-discrimination. Migrants and refugees must be treated with dignity and respect.
Fourth, preparedness.  We must strengthen reception centres and asylum systems to adjudicate claims.
Fifth, responsibility sharing.  States must significantly boost the number of refugee resettlement places – and share equitably in this effort. 
Sixth, cooperation. We need much better cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination.  Each have their challenges, and we must work together to address these.
Seventh, managed migration.  We must create more safe and legal channels for refugees and labour migration at all skills levels.  We must join forces to eradicate ruthless criminal networks of human traffickers and smugglers.
Eighth, we must anticipate future challenges – including the plight of those escaping areas progressively ravaged by climate change.
Together, we must translate these principles into reality.
Epic tragedies are sometimes distilled into a single image. 
The haunting photograph of a lifeless young boy on a beach has come to symbolize the greed and cynicism of smuggling human beings.  It also symbolized the deficiencies and failures of broken migration policies, as well as our impotence to resolve conflict and address the desperation and dashed hope of millions. 
But let us also remember:  Such an image can also catalyze solutions.
Let us make sure that the heartbreaking death of Aylan Kurdi – and so many other nameless tragedies – compel us to move forward together and see the long-term benefits of integrating refugees and migrants.
Thank you for your leadership and for taking part in this important meeting. I know that regional organizations – the European Union and ASEAN and elsewhere – the African Union – you are taking your own integrated mechanisms and solutions. But, on the margins of the General Assembly, I really wanted to have some global discussions on how we can bring a sense of hope to those helpless people, millions of helpless people.  I think if we are united, we can do it.
This may be a crisis of numbers, but I think it may be a crisis of global solidarity. If we have global solidarity, we can overcome these tragic scenes.  And I really count on your strong leadership and compassionate leadership.