New York

20 September 2017

Secretary-General's remarks to General Assembly side event on Refugees and Migrants “follow-up to the New York Declaration: one year on” [as delivered]

I would like to express my deep solidarity to the government and the people of Mexico. Unfortunately, we are having every day a new dramatic event in this part of the world. This time we cannot blame climate change; it is an earthquake.  It is a devastating one. I want to express my very deep solidarity to the government and to the people of Mexico.

One year ago, the Member States of the United Nations came together unanimously to adopt the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

This declaration was a strong endorsement of the need for greater international cooperation on this issue. It was a landmark in our efforts to find compassionate and people-centred solutions to the challenges we face.

And it provided a pathway towards two global compacts to be adopted in 2018; one for refugees and the other for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The global compact on refugees will help the global community find more equitable ways to share the responsibility for refugees, including support to the countries and communities who host them. It will build on the commitments for refugees in the New York Declaration, particularly the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, and will aim to enhance the international community’s response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations.

The global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration will seek to enhance international cooperation in governing migration and focus attention on migrants, the people they leave behind and the communities they join. It will aim to protect the vulnerable; leverage the many benefits migrants bring to their host and home countries; and tackle the drivers of irregular and forced migration. Nearly half of all migrants are women and girls, and the global compact must be fully responsive to their needs and to their voices.

We are now at the halfway point towards agreeing on these compacts. While much has been accomplished, a lot of work remains.

I believe there are five priority areas for our efforts in the next year.

First, we need to re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime.

Refugee protection is not a matter of generosity or a show of solidarity. It is an obligation under international law, starting with the 1951 Convention and encompassing many other binding instruments. But we have seen more and more borders closed and asylum claims rejected. Safe and dignified return home is not possible for most refugees, but those from the Global South in particular are facing severe restrictions on their resettlement opportunities.

All countries have the right to manage their borders in a responsible way. But they also have a duty to protect the rights of refugees, and also the human rights of all people on the move, rather than abandoning them to overcrowded camps and abject poverty.

Second, we need to develop national and international cooperation mechanisms that take human mobility into account. Migration is not a new phenomenon; nor is it creating the dramatic threat many talk about. Most migrants move in an orderly way between countries and make an overwhelmingly positive contribution to their host countries and their homelands.

It is unregulated and forced migration that creates problems especially for migrants, who take life-threatening risks and are exploited by traffickers and smugglers, but also for host countries who are concerned about the control over their borders.

The solution to these problems is to take migration into account in all policy-making and international cooperation mechanisms; from the humanitarian, human rights, demographic and development points of view, as well as the economic, environmental and political aspects of this issue.  

Third, we need greater accountability for the human traffickers and smugglers who profit from exploiting the despair of the most vulnerable. These criminals often enjoy impunity as they work across borders, using the international financial system for their own advantage. Treating human beings as cargo and contraband is completely unacceptable, and those who do so must face the full force of the law. We must simultaneously provide adequate protection for their victims, who are many times treated as if they were criminals themselves.

Fourth, we will not end the tragedies we see on the Mediterranean, the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere without creating more opportunities for regular, safe, legal migration and cooperating more effectively.

As I told the General Assembly yesterday: I myself am a migrant. I am working now in the United States of America. Many of my staff and the ambassadors around can only be considered as such. But we arrived in comfort and safety, on regular scheduled flights with our suitcases and everything was fine. We didn’t have to pay traffickers or risk our lives to find employment outside our countries of birth.  

As I said yesterday, safe migration cannot be limited to the global elite.

Rather than denial and stigmatization, we need a realistic approach that includes increased opportunities and legal pathways, which would bring great benefits to both migrants and the societies they join.

Fifth and finally, we are facing a rapidly changing global employment landscape that will drastically alter labour markets. We must think seriously about the effects of skills shortages and automation. Any new cooperation mechanism on migration must be future-focused and take these transformational changes into account. The artificial intelligence impact will dramatically change labour markets in the year to come and will also change international relations and the fabric of society. This is something we need to start thinking about before we suffer the consequences.

Of the many global challenges we face, human mobility is one of the most paradoxical and misrepresented.

To take just one example: the number of refugees that entered Uganda from South Sudan last year was three times greater than the number of those who crossed the central Mediterranean. But we all know that the movement across the central Mediterranean led to a crisis in public confidence and political debate in many countries, while the situation in Uganda – a relatively small country with enormously generous people – went largely unreported by the global media.

The vast majority of refugees are hosted by developing countries. Likewise, South-South migration now exceeds South-North. Many of the negative perceptions about so-called “economic migrants” fuel xenophobia and intolerance, but are based on false assumptions and poor analysis.

The media has a critical role to play here, distinguishing fact from fiction and deconstructing stereotypes that have long outgrown any basis in reality.

I believe we can and must find a way through, based on a humane, compassionate, people-centred approach that recognizes every individual’s right to safety, protection and opportunity.

I thank everyone involved for their work so far, particularly Special Representative Arbour, High Commissioner Grandi and Director-General Swing.  

And I call on all to continue your efforts in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation and ambition. Knowing that, with Mexico and [Switzerland] leading the General Assembly procedure, we are on the right track.

Thank you very much.