Migration & Refugees

Panel debate at UN: Decision makers in the MENA region and Europe must resort to dialogue and alliance building to address the migrant and refugee crisis

GENEVA, Dec 14 2017 - Renowned global experts on the migrant and refugee crisis representing the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (hereinafter “the Geneva Centre”), the International Catholic Migration Mission (ICMC), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Permanent Delegation of the Sovereign Order of Malta have today called for increased coordination and cooperation among decision-makers in the Middle East and North Africa region and in Europe to address the causes and the consequences of the migrant and refugee crisis.

This joint call to action to dialogue and alliance building was made during a panel debate organized by the Geneva Centre on 14 December 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva on the theme of “Migration and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region.”

The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director H. E. Ambassador Idriss Jazairy acted as a moderator to the meeting and in this capacity spoke first. He called upon all member States of the United Nations to contribute to the realization of the UN Global Compact on Migration. He warned that the realization of global human mobility would fail if “multilateralism and consensus-building” would be replaced by “unilateralism and the fortification of societies”. He stated that the migrant and refugee crisis can be solved through dialogue, alliance building and multilateral diplomacy. In this regard, Ambassador Jazairy said there must “be a sharing of responsibility for hosting displaced people” to address the plight of people on the move and to support countries in the Arab region in their efforts to provide refuge and protection to people on the move.

The moderator of the panel debate invited the Chairman of the Geneva Centre H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim to open the conference. IOM’s Senior Regional Advisor for the MENA region Mr. Hassan Abdel Moneim was also invited to deliver an opening statement on behalf of IOM’s Director General H. E. Ambassador William Lacy-Swing.

Ambassador Jazairy then invited the speakers to address their guiding themes for the debate in the following order: i) Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo: “Intensifying dialogue and practical cooperation between Christians and Muslims in response to refugee movements and other forms of forced migration”; ii) the Founder of Inter Press Service and Director for International Relations of the European Center for Peace and Development Dr. Roberto Savio: “Migrants, religion and populism”; iii) the Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta H. E. Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann: “An alternative to the liquid graves of the Mediterranean” iv) The Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Europe office Mr. Edouard Rodier: “EU and the refugee and migrant crisis: Solutions and challenges ahead”; v) Head of IOM’s Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division Ms. Dina Ionesco; “Role of IOM in responding to the adverse impact of climate change” and vi) UNHCR Senior Protection Officer on Mixed Migration Ms. Christine Goyer: “Role of UNHCR in enhancing refugee protection in the Middle East.”

Migration and human mobility are permanent human realities

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim stated that the increase in the numbers of people on the move around the Mediterranean Sea is “not sustainable in the long run, either for Europe or the Arab region.” He noted that the rise of populism in Europe and the rise of violent extremism in the MENA region threaten the long-stability of the region. The “surge of violence begotten by conflict” – he said – “has resulted in the forced displacement of at least 10 million people.”

Dr. Al Qassim likewise sounded the alarm that the adverse impact of climate change and environmental degradation in the Sahel region could “stir an even bigger migrant and refugee crisis in the future.” In conclusion, the Geneva Centre’s Chairman called for a “new common agenda that unleashes the potential of global human mobility” and to coordinate the “efforts of countries in Europe and in the MENA region to respond with one voice to the current crisis.”

IOM Senior Regional Advisor for the MENA region Mr. Hassan Abdel Moneim stated in his opening intervention that the world lives in an era of unprecedented human mobility. Migration is – he said – “a fact of life and a reality as old as humankind.” He noted that IOM has more than 20 years of experience in implementing development-oriented interventions that move beyond “humanitarian response by addressing the root causes of forced migration before, during and after crisis.”

In view of these observations, Mr. Moneim added that IOM has produced strategic framework document on Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience “covering prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and partnerships.” These elements – he said – are key to IOM’s approach in providing a holistic and inclusive response to the multiple factors involving people on the move. “We must all stand ready to aid migrants, and to ensure social inclusion into ‘all policies.

Migration is not a problem to be solved, but a human reality to be managed,” concluded Mr. Moneim in his intervention.

Dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims key to address the refugee and migrant crisis

Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo assessed the need for enhanced efforts between Christians and Muslims in jointly addressing the adverse impact of the refugee and migrant crisis. He observed that “dialogue and practical cooperation among Christians and Muslims” can create points of convergence and “eliminate the tensions arising from a lack of direct familiarity with people whose cultures, faith traditions, and ethnic identities may differ from our own.”

Monsignor Vitillo remarked that HH “Pope Francis has spared no effort to join other religious leaders in a just and equitable response to forced displacement of peoples.” The efforts of HH Pope Francis to address the plight of Syrian Muslim refugee families in the Greek island of Lesbos and the human rights situation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar are concrete efforts by the Catholic Church to “put their faith into practice.” He concluded his intervention stating that the International Catholic Migration Commission is driven by the need to promote dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims.

In her intervention, H. E. Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann informed the audience regarding the Sovereign Order of Malta’s humanitarian activities in addressing the plight of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. In this regard, she noted that the medical teams of the Sovereign Order of Malta has assisted more than 50,000 people in rescue operations at sea. Ambassador Pictet-Althann also remarked that the Sovereign Order of Malta carries out humanitarian activities in countries of origin, transit and arrival such as Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It also provides counselling – she said – to refugees in overcoming challenges of daily life in host countries.

Ambassador Pictet-Althann concluded her intervention stating that “cooperation in the humanitarian field of faith-based institutions also creates a bond of mutual trust and confidence among people of different religions.”

Promoting mechanisms to protect people on the move are needed more than ever

Dr. Roberto Savio spoke on the misuse of religion and the rise of populism and xenophobia. He said that the decision of the US government to withdraw from the Global Compact on Migration contradicts the founding ideal of the US as a country built by migrants. Dr. Savio added that President Trump has “set a perfect example” for other countries in Europe to ignore the decisions of the European Union to address the plight of migrants. “Nationalism, populism and xenophobia are back with growing popular support and politicians openly riding them,” highlighted Dr. Savio. He concluded his intervention stating that a viable Europe relies on its ability to celebrate diversity and integrate migrants and refugees into its societies.

In his intervention, Mr. Edouard Rodier assessed the response of the European Union in relation to the refugee and migrant crisis. He said that people on the move leave their home societies as a result of armed conflict, violence, starvation, misery and persecutions. “Those who are reaching Europe are claiming for a better life: a life where without fear, where fundamental rights are protected, where dignity is restored,” he remarked.

Efforts to promote the protection of people on the move and contribute to the ongoing global efforts to enhance global mobility are needed more than ever. In this regard, Mr. Rodier added that “while we appreciate the political sensitivity of the topic, we need to acknowledge that solutions cannot be found in denial of this fact: migrations are here to stay.“ He concluded his intervention calling upon Europe to “take back its leading role in the defence of refugees’ rights” in light of the decision of the US government to withdraw from the Global Compact on Migration.

In this regard, the moderator of the debate Ambassador Jazairy added that the former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for her endeavours to respond to the plight of refugees and migrants and for welcoming more than one million displaced people to Germany.

In addition to these observations, Ms. Goyer observed that armed conflict, violence and sectarian strives have led to increasing levels of displacement across the Middle East and North Africa region. She underlined that 28% of displaced people worldwide are in the MENA region including 2.6 million refugees, 15.1 million IDPs and returnees, and an estimated 372,500 stateless people.

In relation to the efforts of UNHCR to address the plight of people on the move, Ms. Goyer noted that the world’s leading refugee agency has provided support to inter alia processing individual biometric registration for refugees, registration and documentation of births, enhancing national asylum legislation, access to livelihood opportunities and the establishment of community centres and mobile teams in the region in pursuit of sustainable protection responses.

In her intervention, Ms. Ionesco stated that the adverse impact of drought, environmental degradation and ecological crises in the MENA region contribute to the rise of people on the move. The multicausality of migration – she said – must be recognised by decision-makers and reflected in migration policies to address the causes and consequences of displacement of people. The Global Compact on Migration has not adequately addressed – she noted – the adverse impact of climate change.

In this regard, IOM has identified that drought, desertification, heat stress, rising sea levels and lack of water access will trigger forced population movements in the MENA region. These elements – she said – must be recognised by decision-makers in order to respond to the multidimensional factors that underpin forced climate migration.

A new system of values and principles conducive to peace and stability must guide decision-makers

Following the intervention of the panellists, the moderator opened the floor to the audience. H. E. Ambassador George Papadatos – the Head of European Public Law Organization’s delegation in Geneva – asked the participants to identify a short political message that they would send to global policy-makers. In this regard, Monsignor Vitillo referred to the message of His Holiness Pope Francis on the occasion of the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018 in which he called for the need to “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.” Ms. Ionesco added her voice to the debate stating that people’s destiny is connected. People must understand – she said – that “we have one earth but it is how we treat the planet and the people concerned that make up the connections.” Lastly, Ambassador Pictet-Althann added that all parties concerned must be on board and agree on a common framework so as to advance the agenda of the Global Compact on Migration.

In addition to these observations, the Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Sudan H. E. Ambassador Mostafa Osman Ismail Elamin noted that “migration and movement is not going to stop. It is going to continue as life is going on.” The root-causes of forced displacement of people – H. E. Ambassador Ismail Elamin said – are man-made and related to political regime changes. In this regard, he referred to the situations in Myanmar, Iraq and Syria as examples of countries facing unprecedented levels of forced displacement of people owing to political issues. He called upon the United Nations to play a stronger role in establishing peace and stability.

In relation to the observations made by the Ambassador of the Sudan, Dr. Savio said the world is undergoing a crisis of multilateralism. He called upon decision-makers to resort to alliance building and dialogue with global civil society actors to build a system of values and principles conducive to peace and stability in the world. Ambassador Jazairy noted – in this regard – that the Sudan was guided by the principles of human solidarity and international justice when Khartoum provided refuge and protection to refugees from Eritrea and South Sudan despite that the country was under heavy international sanctions.

The Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Ms. Alexandra Bilak added that the phenomenon of internally displaced persons has not received the political attention that it deserves. This issue – she noted – was excluded in the Global Compact discussions on migration and refugees. The majority of people who are displaced today are internally displaced people whom cannot benefit from an international protection framework owing to their status. In this regard, Ms. Bilak called upon decision-makers to pay greater attention to address the plight of internally displaced persons.

The Director of the African Centre Against Torture Mr. David Koros noted in his intervention that migrants and refugees face torture and other forms of ill-treatment at detention and refugee camps particularly in transit countries such as Libya. He called upon decision-makers and international organizations to not turn a blind eye to situations in which migrants and refugees face grave human rights violations.

The adoption of the Geneva declaration on “Mobility and Human Solidarity”: An additional opportunity to identify new solutions to the migrant and refugee crisis

The Geneva declaration on “Mobility and human solidarity” will be adopted on 18 December 2017 on the occasion of the 2017 International Migrants Day. This declaration has been signed by the following representatives:

Geneva Centre: H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim and H. E. Ambassador Idriss Jazairy

International Catholic Migration Commission: Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo

Norwegian Refugee Council: Mr. Edouard Rodier

European Centre for Peace and Development: Dr. Roberto Savio

Sovereign Order of Malta: H. E. Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann

International Press Syndicate: Director General and Chief Editor Mr. Ramesh Jaura

UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order: Professor Alfred de Zayas

African Centre Against Torture: Mr. David Koros

Journalist and author based in Norway: Mr. Halle Jørn Hanssen.

The Geneva Centre will issue an announcement on 18 December on the adoption of the declaration in which further details will be provided to media and other relevant stakeholders.

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