Statement to the High Level Conference on Migration Management

Hemicycle of the European Parliament, Brussels

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting UNHCR to address the High-Level Conference on Migration Management at the European Parliament. It is an honour to be here on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Yesterday we commemorated World Refugee Day. It is also the occasion for UNHCR to issue our annual statistics.[1] They show, and are a stark reminder, that indeed the world is in disarray. The figures speak for themselves: 65.6 million people are displaced as a result of serious human rights violations, conflict, persecution and violence.  But it is also important to deconstruct these figures: two-thirds of those displaced – over 40 million – are internally displaced. They are not able to leave their country. Out of the 17 million refugees who are of concern to UNHCR, about 84 per cent live in the most destitute and impoverished parts of the world. They are not coming to Europe.

Given the time constraints, I would like to share with you three quick reflections from the perspective of UNHCR.

First, one of the great achievements of humanity is the institution of asylum and the extension of protection to people who need it.

Providing sanctuary is not just a moral, but also a legal responsibility. The 1951 Convention embodies this tradition and has literally saved millions of lives over the years. Let us not forget that it was an instrument crafted here in Europe in the wake of the Second World War.

Second, refugees remind us that we live in an interdependent world – they represent space where the local meets the global. We are aware of the many mayors and regional networks who work tirelessly at the grassroots level every day to do the necessary for refugees and migrants.

Many people have opened their hearts to refugees and the world. Others have perceived their arrival as a threat to their identity. Some of those who perceive them as a threat have probably never met a refugee. It is important to engage with everyone and to demonstrate that refugees are not people who are going to take anything away from us. They can and will contribute, if we give them the chance to do so, and if we ensure that proper integration programmes are in place.

It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that the General Assembly of the United Nations already in 1946 declared the issue of refugees a matter of international concern. This leads me to my third and last point. There is no doubt that the only way of the future is multilateralism.  It is in each and every national interest to develop a multilateral framework. Within the European Union you have shown the way, but we have also learned lessons from the situation in 2015. In fact, offering a bird’s eye view, UNHCR presented a number of proposals to the European Union and its Member States that go into some detail about the Common European Asylum System and external engagement,[2] and we look very much forward to working with you on this.

At the global level, as SRSG Arbour has mentioned, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring to life what was adopted last year at the UN General Assembly Summit in New York – the Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. UNHCR has been asked by the General Assembly to develop a Global Compact on Refugees.  We have to make it work, and we very much look forward to engaging with all of you to see how to translate the vision captured in the Declaration into a different, better reality on the ground.  This is what the future of humankind will need.

Thank you very much.


[1] UNHCR Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2016

[2] UNHCR, Better protecting refugees in the EU and globally