Month: September 2016
On 19 September, the United Nations will host a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim to better coordinate the international response to this challenge that has reached a global dimension.
“Since earliest times, humanity has been on the move.” These are the opening words of “The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” to be adopted next week. Indeed, migration was present all throughout the history of humankind. Humans always moved from the places where they started living, or they settled for shorter or longer periods of time, driven by hunger, by the cold or the floods, by invasions of other more powerful groups, or by fear of persecution.
In recent decades, people also migrate to experience different types of school and university education, for cultural exchanges or a better professional accomplishment. Migrations were blamed for having brought destruction of illustrious civilizations and Empires – like the Persian, the Roman or the Maya – but in other circumstances they were the engine of development of strong and rich countries, and what better example than the history of the American continent.
This phenomenon has reached now unprecedented levels: 244 million international migrants in 2015, with 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes – more than at any time since the end of the Second World War (more than 40 million displaced people within countries, over 21 million refugees and 3 million asylum seekers). Last year almost one million refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, while 3,500 died at sea. Only last week, thirteen thousand migrants and refugees dropped on the Italian shores. There are 400 refugee camps in the world. Without proper means to resolve its causes, it is to be expected that every migration wave will outrank the previous one.
The basic root-causes of such large movements can be found in conflicts, terrorism, human rights violations, poverty, growing inequalities, poor governance, climate change, environmental disasters. Many people move for a combination of these factors. Currently, 1.5 billion persons live in countries affected by violent conflict. The stabilization of conflict zones is therefore a prerequisite to bringing to an end the flow of refugees and to creating the premises for a safe return of individuals to their countries of origin. At the same time, a World Bank report released in 2016 found that water scarcity exacerbated by climate change can generate waves of migration, violence and conflicts within countries.
Romania contributes to alleviate the refugee situation by hosting, already since 2008, the Emergency Transit Center for Refugees in the city of Timisoara which, at the time of its establishment, was the first such facility in the world. Based on the principles of solidarity and shared responsibility, we are also part of the European Union efforts to relocate individuals who arrived in Europe in need of international protection. Additionally, Romania increased its financial contribution to UNHCR and the World Food Program. Many other countries do the same. But no State can manage such movements on its own. The large scale refugee crisis calls for a global approach and requires global solutions. We need a renewed multilateralism, and the best place for it is the United Nations.
The UN undertook a series of initiatives in 2016: the conference on the Syria humanitarian crisis in London (February), the Resettlement Plus conference in Geneva (March), the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May), and the High-Level Summit on managing large movements of migrants and refugees in New York, which will be the biggest issue at the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations next week.
This Summit is expected to be a historical landmark for creating a more responsible and predictable system to address the root causes of large movements of refugees, the positive contributions of migrants and the international cooperation on this issue, as well as to shape a comprehensive refugee response framework and a global compact for safe, regular and orderly migration. It will also tackle the vulnerabilities of refugees and migrants on their journeys from the countries of origin to the countries of arrival.
There are separate legal definitions for “refugees” and “migrants”. Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of persecution, violence or conflict, and they require international protection. International migrants are persons who change their country of residence, irrespective of the reason for migration or legal status. However, refugees and migrants have the same universal human rights and, as stated in the UN documents prepared for the Summit, “they face many common challenges and have similar vulnerabilities,” which may suggest that the boundaries between these groups are blurred.
65 years ago, the UN adopted the Convention related to the Status of Refugees, to protect refugees after the Second World War. Today again, the international community has to take up its responsibility to protect people on the move and find long-term solutions both for refugees and migrants, as well as for their societies. The New York Declaration mentions that “our challenge is above all moral and humanitarian”, therefore such solutions have to be inspired by the essence of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development: “to leave no one behind”. In doing so, we must keep in mind that the immigration has to be tackled first at source, that we need to develop a worldwide culture of peace and non-violence, and that this is not a task only for governments, but also for civil society organizations, the business community, refugees and migrants alike. At the same time, there is a need for more empathy with refugees and migrants. The UN is a reflection of the world as it is, and as we want it to be. We must step up with responsibility sharing, not with responsibility shifting.
Thoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations – New York, published in Nine o’Clock on 6 September 2016
If the United Nations never existed, there would be many more interstate conflicts and civil wars.
Prevention means early detection of outbreaks and potential outbreaks, mediation and finding peace-building solutions and continues, after the violence has stopped, with post-conflict normalization and sustainable development.
We, in Europe, face around one million refugees, most coming from Syria. For Europe, that is a big number, a massive influx; but worldwide there are 60 million refugees. There are over 400 refugee camps, there are countries that shelter 1.6 million, 1.1 million, 1.5 million, a million refugees. I’m not going to mention them, they’re nearby, and in some cases the number of refugees is close to the number of the local population, which causes existential problems.
On the other hand, migration is a phenomenon with many deep-rooted causes. In the last 15 years, the number of conflicts tripled. This is what the UN statistics say. If in 2000, around 12 percent of the population on the globe lived in conflict areas, today the percentage reaches 40.
Terrorism and extremism are also causes of migration, alongside weak governments, human rights violations, lack of access to resources, lack of opportunities for youth and climate change. It may seem like a paradox, but there is a tight link between climate change, migration and conflict in many areas of the world. Let’s look at the fact that 80 percent of people on the African continent live from cultivating land and climate change generated prolonged draughts in many areas. What do you think people do in this situation? They migrate to areas with more favorable climate, where the soil is more fertile. These areas, invariably I would say, are occupied by other populations and this leads to conflict.
Europe has to be aware that in a globalized world, a massive migration on a neighboring continent cannot avoid to affect it.
There are forecasts – and I hope they won’t come true – that warn against the lack of real long-term plans to solve the root causes of migration, a few tens of millions inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa might migrate in the next 20 years towards North Africa and even Europe. I know the figure sounds like fantasy. But we could wonder how a few tens of millions of people could reach Europe, if only a million reached the continent and countries are taking steps to not let them in. I wouldn’t want us to face this problem.
Regarding UN’s capacity to currently manage growing global threats and problems such as migration, the international organization’s yearly budget is just half of what the city of New York spends in a year. The UN can only do what the member countries and its budget allow it to do. Every year, the organization is asked to do more with less money. The biannual budget, a bit over 5.4 billion dollars, is 300 million lower than the previous biannual budget, and 150 million less than the Secretary General had asked for. Beyond all this, problems and challenges humanity faces – implicitly the UN faces – are growing. The UN is the only global international organization and we live in a world with growing global problems. Migration, terrorism, climate change and pandemics are four major global threats that ask for global action. The United Nations Development Program is functioning quite well. But its resources are little compared to the growing needs.
Romania is widely respected in the international organization, due to its century long experience in multilateral diplomacy. There are many instances related to the history and achievements of Romanian diplomacy that continue to give credit to our performance at the UN, in New York. For instance, I still run into people in New York, at various meetings, who come from African countries and who speak Romanian. I had a very funny episode when I presided the Commission for Social Development. (…) A minister from an African country came to me and asked “Are you the Romanian ambassador? I studied in Romania and all graduates from Romanian universities meet up once a month in my country to talk about our time in Bucharest. It should be stressed that many graduates from Romanian universities, not only in African countries, but also in Latin America and Asia, hold high-ranking positions in their countries’ governments and this could be a great advantage for Romania in terms of diplomacy.
The 28 EU member countries are one voice in New York, but Romania’s relations with Asian, Latin American and African countries become often quite important.
In most cases we have common stances, but our votes – 28 – are not enough, by far, to advance a resolution. G-77 and China counts 134 members; two thirds of the UN member states in one shot. In these situations, it’s important to find bridges and things in common. EU ambassadors and G-77 ambassadors meet periodically. On the other hand, many times European and Latin-American countries have common stances. There are 32 or 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is, again, a factor that brings us closer.
In terms of development assistance the focus is currently on Africa, and building relations based on understanding of the issues and mutual respect with the African countries is essential for the UN.