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Lecture at Darwin College, Cambridge: Refugees and Migration

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Lecture at Darwin College, Cambridge: Refugees and Migration

9 February 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening.

Let me tell you about two young Eritrean women, Mariam and Semira. They were born and grew up in Eritrea – a country which they describe as beautiful, but where ‘security and hope are scarce for most people’.  In Eritrea, military service is compulsory, and in practice, for many, extends for years on end. Mariam and Semira, like tens of thousands of young Eritreans before them, escaped after five years of service, their requests for demobilization denied. They embarked on a dangerous journey through Sudan, where they first met, and across the border to Libya, travelling at high speed on pick-up trucks for a month through the harsh desert, watching others fall off and die of injuries or thirst, themselves surviving on biscuits and water.

Once inside Libya, they were put into what they describe as a ‘people store’ – a holding pen run by an armed group, where people were squeezed into small spaces on top of one another, in atrocious conditions with no hygiene facilities, with no air or natural light for months on end. Together with others held there, they were repeatedly tortured so they would seek money for their release from their families. Even those able to raise the money, from their families or through charity at home, were transferred to other groups, where the process of ransom would start again. The two women were kidnapped and sold between three groups of smugglers during their time in Libya.

After some time, Mariam, Semira and six other women were taken from their ‘people store’ and taken to Misrata, a city on the Libyan coast. They thought they might finally make it across the sea to Europe. Instead, they were separated from the other women and for two weeks, locked in a room together and repeatedly raped – their rapists wearing masks, so it was impossible to know what they looked like or even how many they were. Two weeks of – in their own words - staring at the door and not knowing whose turn it was to be assaulted next. Two weeks of fear, shame and sustained, brutal, sexual violence. When it came to an end, they were once more crammed into another ‘people store’, but eventually managed to escape through the window of a filthy toilet. Overcoming their terror, they sought refuge in a mosque, where they were handed over to the police, arrested and transferred to a government detention centre in Tripoli. There, they found themselves again in indefinite captivity, in a deeply fractured country affected by widespread insecurity, in the hands of a government with limited authority and capacity to exercise its responsibilities. 

It’s a horrific story, and regrettably one that reflects the experiences of tens of thousands of women, men and children who make the journey across the Sahel, through North Africa, towards Europe every year. Some are refugees, driven by violence in Somalia and other countries blighted by deep-rooted conflict, or like Mariam and Semira, by state repression and persecution - moving in search of safety and a solution to their plight. Others are propelled forward by a complex mix of factors – poor governance, deep-seated inequality, resource scarcity, food insecurity, social and economic exclusion, stalled development, a collapse of traditional livelihoods, and the consequences of climate change – which in combination are driving migration in search of better opportunities, as well as fueling the conflicts that lead to refugee flows. 

But regardless of how we categorise people on the move through Libya, the same question forces itself into our consciousness. How, in a world of modern nation states, shared prosperity, and boundless capabilities can people today still find themselves repeatedly exposed to the horrors of kidnapping for ransom, of imprisonment, of torture and rape, that Mariam, Semira and countless others experience? What is wrong with our modern system of international cooperation, so painstakingly built from the ashes of the second world war in pursuit of peace, security, human rights and development, that it is so badly failing so many of those who are moving in search of safety, stability, and opportunity across the globe? And - most importantly - how can and should the world respond?

In reflecting on these questions, my lecture this evening will focus on the intersection between refugee movements and the broader dynamics of human mobility and migration today. I'm grateful to Professor Fowler and to Darwin College for giving me this opportunity.

It's a particularly urgent issue. In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration on refugees and migrants - a series of political commitments to which Heads of State round the world signed up, aimed at delivering a more coherent, comprehensive response to large-scale population flows. Among other things, the Declaration called for the development of two global compacts - one on safe, orderly and regular migration, and one on refugees - to be adopted in 2018. The 'zero drafts' of the two compacts were issued this week, and an intensive period of consultations is about to begin. UNHCR is developing the refugee compact, in consultation with states and others, drawing extensively on experience in our field operations, where we work directly with refugees, internally displaced and stateless people in 130 countries around the world. 

Refuge and the protection of exiles are matters intimately intertwined with our history. They even bear some relevance to the history of Cambridge University itself – founded in 1209 by scholars fleeing persecution in Oxford! Overcoming initial hostility from the local population (they were accused of creating disturbances and scapegoated for crimes), they were later granted protection by Henry III, and the long and distinguished history of Cambridge took its course.

It’s an interesting story – but also echoes what we see in many parts of the world today, as local tensions intersect with wider regional and global power struggles to drive and shape forced displacement and refugee outflows. The move to seek refuge in Cambridge took place at a time when the power struggle between church and secular authority in Europe was fueling conflict across Europe, and was being instrumentalised to mobilise persecution on the basis of religion, gender and other forms of identity. And the rejection of those early scholars by local Cambridge townspeople has echoes in the hurdles that refugees and migrants face in integrating into new communities today.

Closer to us, in 1950, when the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established, the distinction between refugees and migrants was fairly clear. The first High Commissioner, my predecessor Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, was a Dutch journalist and politician who had been active in the resistance during the Second World War. Describing the dozen or so million people who were left scattered across Europe, far from their homes and countries at the end of the war, he noted that this 'was not a movement of people, trekking with their families and chattels from one destination to another, but the movement of uprooted individuals.'[1]

By 1953, around 7 million had been repatriated, and one million had found homes in new countries. In surveying the task ahead, he noted that resettlement opportunities for the remaining refugees were narrowing, and set out proposals for their assimilation in the communities in Europe where they were living, with a particular focus on economic integration - a successful project that led to UNHCR being awarded its first Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

Fast-forwarding to 2017, the categorisations that characterised the post-war years are still relevant, but sometimes less evident. However, this is important. Refugees do not move out of choice - they are forced from their countries in search of safety, owing to conflict, violence and persecution. When more than half a million ethnic Rohingya fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in the space of a month last September, there could be no illusion that they were moving voluntarily, in search of a better life. The same applies to the 2 million South Sudanese who have fled vicious fighting in their country over the last 4 years, or the 5.5 million Syrian refugees scattered across the Middle East and beyond. The flow of refugees, alas, is not ‘orderly’. Fleeing for their lives, their movement is often chaotic and improvised, their assets left behind, and they are rarely able to cross borders through regular immigration procedures. Millions more remain internally displaced within their own countries.

For most of the world's migrants, on the other hand, it is hope, rather than despair that motivates their decision to move. The vast majority of the 247 million people living outside their country of birth today have moved through regular migration channels, their decisions shaped by migration policies and labour demand in destination countries rather than war, repression and violence at home. And while the absolute number of international migrants is higher than ever before, as a proportion of the world's population, at 3.4% it has increased only marginally since the 1960s. In short, migration is an intrinsic aspect of social and economic development, not a problem to be solved.[2]

And yet, the causes in which conflict and persecution take root and flourish often overlap with factors that shape migration flows: weak governance, impoverishment, deep inequalities, environmental degradation, lack of resources, water scarcity and food insecurity. Climate change is an increasingly prominent driver of many of these trends. And in a world in which greater overall prosperity has been accompanied by deepening inequality (as documented by Thomas Piketty and others in the 2018 World Inequality Report),[3] it is precisely those most affected by lack of development who, even if they can find the means to move, are likely to be excluded from legal channels and compelled to embark on irregular migration pathways. In addition, for those countries that are transitioning out of conflict, and may have in the past generated refugee outflows, human mobility may emerge as an important coping mechanism, linked to poor governance, collapsed economies, and a lack of jobs and services.

The phenomenon of 'mixed' migratory flows has therefore become increasingly prominent, with refugees and migrants often moving together across spaces on land and at sea in which power is exercised not by the state, but by parallel forms of authority that have filled governance vacuums, including transnational armed groups, and smuggling and trafficking networks. In other regions, including parts of Europe today, the overriding logic of deterrence and control, and the heavy apparatus of enforcement that goes with this, forces migrants and refugees beyond the reach of the state, propelling them into exploitative situations and dangerous journeys across mountains and seas.

The refugee dimension of these flows varies. In some cases - for example, the surge in arrivals in Europe by boat in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2015, the vast majority are refugees. In others - including those risking their lives clinging to trains across northern Central America, and crossing the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea by boat - the composition is much more mixed. The current movements through sub-Saharan Africa into Libya, on which Mariam and Semira embarked, consist primarily of migrants, with a smaller but significant refugee component.

Yet, once on these journeys, the risks to which refugees and migrants are exposed are often the same - as we were starkly reminded in the case of the 30 Somalis and Ethiopians who drowned after their boat capsized on the way from southern Yemen to Djibouti last week, and the loss of 90 lives off the coast of Libya a few days ago. The growing number of unaccompanied and separated children making these journeys is of deep concern - a phenomenon which UNHCR has documented in a number of regions over the last few years, from northern Central America, to the overland route taken by young Afghans across Central Asia to Europe, to the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes. Of the 119,000 people who arrived on Italy's shores last year, 13% were children unaccompanied by an adult or separated from their families.[4] 

Despite the complex dynamics driving today's population flows, and the common dangers to which so many of those on the move are exposed, it remains critical to avoid blurring the lines between refugees and migrants. Refugees move because of a failure of protection in their own countries. They have fled war, violence and persecution. Many have been displaced inside their own countries first, or have been trapped in enclaves or besieged areas, sometimes for years. Returning home, without a resolution of the conflict or repression that drove them from their countries in the first place, is not an option. Deprived of the protection of their own governments, refugees are considered to be of international concern, and the obligation to provide international protection lies at the heart of the 1951 Refugee Convention, for which UNHCR exercises a supervisory role, as well as its 1967 Protocol and later regional instruments.

It is important to understand the background to this framework. The first mechanisms for international cooperation to address the situation of refugees were established by the League of Nations in the interwar years. International protection was extended to specific groups, including Russians, Armenians and Assyrians, who were outside their states of origin and were politically excluded. Impoverished and denied the possibility to return home, the introduction of the Nansen passport in 1922 enabled many to move onwards to join family and pursue labour opportunities in new countries, including through schemes administered by the International Labour Office. Nansen passports were eventually recognised by fifty-two governments. Facilitating refugees’ freedom of movement operated as a form of international burden-sharing, and migration became part of the solution.[5] But international protection was the cornerstone on which those solutions were ultimately built.

By the 1930s, as the impact of the Great Depression hit, both asylum and migration frameworks had effectively collapsed. Without international cooperation to ensure protection, increasingly restrictive, state-by-state immigration policies proved a devastatingly inadequate response to the tragedy of Nazi Germany. Solidarity failed, and as a result, millions perished, because they were unable to flee the Third Reich, or were not given asylum, leaving a stain on the world’s collective conscience that we would be well-advised to recall today - when the very principle of international refugee protection is being called into question, including by some of its traditional champions in Europe, where the Holocaust unfolded.

It was this experience that drove the United Nations, in one of its earliest acts, to adopt a resolution recognising refugees as a matter of international concern in December 1946, and to the international protection mandate entrusted to UNHCR just a few years later.

The inability of refugees to return home because of conflict or persecution, and the failure of national protection, are at the heart of their specific status, and the internationally agreed framework of rights and obligations that applies. Treating them as a sub-group of irregular migrants risks obscuring their distinct status and rights in international law, and facilitates an approach in which control takes precedence over protection. Coming from countries affected by conflict, violence and for some, violent extremism and terrorism, failure to pay attention to the causes of their flight and the reasons why they have been forced into travelling through 'illegal' means, also risks their being perceived as a potential security threat, rather than people who have fled insecurity, in search of refuge. 

It is also important to recall that the vast majority of refugees are hosted in countries neighbouring their own, and don't move further afield. Our latest figures, for mid-2017, show a global total of some 24 million refugees, of whom more than 20 million are hosted in developing countries. Seven countries host almost two thirds of the world's refugees - and none of them are in the high or upper middle-income bracket.

Compare for example, the one million refugees who in 2015 arrived in Europe, with a combined population of 500 million people, to the one million refugees who have fled from South Sudan to just one country, Uganda, with a local population of just 43 million. The vast majority of refugees are not 'on the move' but struggling to survive in countries bordering their own, trying to rebuild their lives in anticipation of the day when they will (hopefully) be able to return home.

With effective conflict resolution increasingly a rarity, for many that day becomes more and more distant. Around the world today, tens of thousands of refugees are weighing the difficult choice between staying in tough circumstances in exile, or returning home to a still-risky situation, often amidst widespread destruction.    

When protection fails, or the prospect of a solution back home fades, the decision to move in search of greater protection and stability becomes more likely. The movement of Syrian refugees towards Europe coincided with a moment in which food rations in Lebanon and Jordan were being cut, only 50% of refugee children were in primary school, and the war in Syria had entered a new and devastating phase. It is also no coincidence that two of the world's 'global' refugee populations, frequently to be found in 'mixed' migratory movements are Somalis and Afghans – both from fragile countries where opportunities remain few.

Turning to Mariam and Semira - in choosing not to remain in the refugee camps in Eastern Sudan, they would have been profoundly aware of the bleak prospects of a life stretching ahead there, confined to a camp that was established up to 50 years ago, with no prospects to work or build a future, and exposed to the many risks associated with long-term confinement, frustration and lack of hope. They may also have been aware of a string of incidents of abductions and disappearances of Eritrean refugees there, allegedly involving border tribes, held for ransom or trafficked onwards for the purpose or forced marriage, sexual exploitation or bonded labour, as well as reports of attacks and deportations.[6]

Approaching refugees through an 'immigration' lens obscures this broader context and the reasons that force refugees to flee. It allows irresponsible political leaders to exploit genuine public concerns generated by haphazard and reactive responses to refugee flows. And the practice of branding refugees as 'illegal immigrants' or otherwise avoiding the 'refugee' terminology, and the rights and obligations that it implies, is one which some large-refugee hosting countries have closely watched, if not emulated.

I have taken some time to set out the background to today's refugee flows, and why it is important that the international refugee protection regime remains at the forefront of the international response. Yet, as we have already seen, there is an important intersection between refugee protection and migration, especially in 'mixed' migratory flows: the causes are often intertwined, they may be exposed to the same appalling risks en route, and as they progress towards their eventual destinations face the same consequences of xenophobia, nationalist sentiment, and dehumanisation. Addressing the situation of people on the move, and protecting their rights and welfare, calls for a range of responses, some common to all, some differentiated according to status and protection needs.

What, then, are the fundamental considerations that should shape our response to all people on the move, and especially those travelling in today's 'mixed' migratory flows?  

First and foremost, protecting the lives and dignity of all must be at the centre of the response. Rescue at sea, for example, is a humanitarian imperative, as well as a binding obligation. In 2015, UNHCR, the International Maritime Organisation and the International Chamber of Shipping issued guidelines for conducting search and rescue operations in line with international legal standards.  But for this to be truly effective, states need to share responsibility for deploying search and rescue operations and disembarking those rescued - either on a temporary basis, until they can be evacuated onwards or helped to return home, or by admitting them into their own asylum procedures.

Alternatively, and especially in exceptional circumstances when mixed migratory routes converge - as for example, in the case of the Mediterranean - regional mechanisms to relocate those disembarked could significantly alleviate the pressure on those countries most affected. In 2017 for example, more than two thirds of the 172,000 people arriving by sea in Europe were disembarked in Italy, with the remainder split more or less equally between Greece and Spain. As in 2015, when the bulk of the arrivals reached Germany, Sweden and Austria, European solidarity failed to materialize, leaving a few countries to bear the brunt of the situation.

Second, misconceptions and myths around refugees and migrants must be challenged and countered. This must be done more vigorously, by governments and leaders that often appear frightened by populist rhetoric. It must also rest on evidence-based reporting and policy-making.

Let me mention a few of those misconceptions.

I have already flagged that while migration is increasing in absolute terms, the number of those living outside their own countries as a proportion of the global population has remained at more or less the same level (around 3%) for the last 60 years. Around half of migrants globally have moved from developing to developed regions, but there is also a sizeable south-south movement, with one third of the world's migrants having moved from one developing country to another.[7]

Similarly, while the proliferation of armed conflict that we observe today has resulted in a massive upsurge in forced displacement, and the persistence of perpetual refugee situations that show little prospect of being resolved, the impact is overwhelmingly absorbed by the developing world.

Of the 66 million refugees and displaced people around the world today, more than two thirds are internally displaced within the borders of their own countries - unable to leave owing to increasingly restrictive border policies or because the brutal way in which today's wars are waged, with little regard for the lives of civilians, means that their path to safety is blocked.

And while the number of refugees worldwide is approaching the levels of the 1990s, as an overall percentage of the world's population, it remains somewhat lower, at 0.2%, compare to 0.3% in the 1990s. The desperate situation of the world's refugees, and the pressures on the countries hosting them, compel international attention and support. But this is achievable; it is not a matter that is beyond our shared capabilities - provided that states collectively step up to the challenge.

Migration and refugee flows are therefore not 'out of control' as some politicians would like us to believe. However, poor management, and reactive, improvised and piecemeal responses, and inadequate integration measures, can give the impression that this is the case. As we have seen in the European Union over the last few years, this can foster genuine fears regarding jobs, identity and security - which are easily manipulated to allow xenophobia and racism to flourish - including, and sometimes especially, in those countries that have in reality received the smallest numbers.

Third, responses to mixed migratory movements must be based on a real understanding of what is driving and shaping these flows - and a comprehensive response that engages with these elements, in all their complexity. This means listening - to refugees and migrants themselves, to the governments and communities in countries that host refugees and through which they transit, and understanding the local political economies that allow trafficking, smuggling and the small arms trade to flourish.

An imbalanced emphasis on closed borders, containment and deterrence - what one analyst has called 'violent humanitarianism' as the response to the abuses perpetrated by traffickers and smugglers, is not the answer. It simply drives refugees and migrants further into the hands of those who seek to exploit and abuse them. The more opportunities for people to migrate regularly, including through migration schemes that meet labour market needs, the less need for them to move irregularly.

Certainly, strong, collective action is needed to tackle the horrific abuses perpetrated by traffickers and to identify and prosecute them. Important initiatives have been undertaken by UNODC, EUROPOL, EUNAVOR the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and others. UNHCR has also made specific recommendations to tackle trafficking, including by freezing assets, travel bans, disrupting the supply of revenues and materials, robust prosecutions and sanctions against known senior figures and companies engaged in trafficking – action however has been fairly limited so far.

And as we are seeing now in the Agadez region of Niger, hard security measures can create instability if not matched with adequate development investments that provide a real alternative to the smuggling industry - which is estimated to have offered direct jobs for more than 6,000 people, and to have indirectly benefited more than half of all households in Agadez. They may also expose refugees and migrants to greater danger as the cost of journeys goes up and the risk of being abandoned in the desert is heightened, with more vehicle breakdowns as smugglers take less travelled routes to evade law enforcement.[8]

For refugees, fleeing for their lives, a comprehensive approach is needed that addresses conditions in countries of origin, neighbouring countries, and in transit. Strengthening refugee protection and offering solutions along the routes - including in countries such as Niger and Libya - is key. For this to work, partnership - across regions, and institutions - is critical.

I referred earlier to the New York Declaration, a document which is not widely known, but is important. It proposes a more comprehensive and effective refugee response model, based on sharing responsibility with refugee-hosting states through forms of support that move beyond humanitarian aid and early investment in solutions.

The model is already being applied in a dozen countries, and two regional situations, with a particular focus on shifting away from encampment, and fostering the inclusion of refugees in local communities and economies. Development investments are integral to the new model; the World Bank has been heavily involved and is rolling out important new financing instruments for refugee hosting countries, and a number of bilateral development agencies are also engaged.[9] There is also an important role for development aid in supporting the drive for solutions in countries of origin, by addressing the causes of conflict and fragility.[10]

This 'comprehensive' model has enormous potential and if properly resourced and applied, including in protracted situations, will help obviate the need for refugees to embark on dangerous onward journeys. The model also incorporates an important focus on pursuing political solutions and the resolution of conflict inside countries of origin, to enable refugees to return home. It also has an important emphasis on providing solutions beyond countries of first asylum - a point that I will return to in a moment. It is already being applied - with some success - to address the mixed migratory movements currently affecting Central America and Mexico, with the United States and Canada as cooperating actors. 

Fourth, investments in strengthening protection and support for refugees and their hosts in host countries and along mixed migration routes must be matched by access to protection and humane treatment wherever they find themselves - including in destination countries. UNHCR has issued guidance on how to respond to mixed migration situations in a protection-sensitive manner - including on how best to facilitate entry and reception, using screening mechanisms and differentiated procedures to channel people into appropriate processes, so that asylum systems don't become overwhelmed.

It includes practical mechanisms for identifying and protecting refugees and migrants with specific needs, including unaccompanied and separated children, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, people with disabilities and victims of trafficking. Migrants as well as refugees may find themselves in vulnerable situations requiring protection and assistance - given the circumstances they encounter during their journeys or in destination countries, or because of their individual characteristics or traumatic experiences. Migrants may even find themselves trapped and exposed to danger when conflict breaks out in a country where they were residing - as in Libya.

The human rights of all those in vulnerable situations need to be respected, and their immediate and specific needs met. In certain cases, people who do not fall within the scope of the refugee definition may therefore be granted permission to remain in the countries where they arrive for compassionate or practical reasons.

The 1951 Convention has proven to be a resilient and adaptable instrument, applicable to situations and forms of persecution not explicitly envisaged at the time of its drafting, such as those related to gender, age and sexual orientation, and gang violence. Those fleeing armed conflict and other violent crises generally fall squarely within the Convention’s scope, and in some parts of the world, the Convention has been complemented and reinforced by regional instruments.

In addition, certain people who are outside their country of origin but who do not qualify as a refugee may in certain circumstances also require international protection, on a short or long-term basis, where their country is unable to protect them from serious harm. This might – for example - include those displaced across an international border as a result of disasters, but are not refugees.   

Arrangements for the return and readmission of people who do not qualify for international protection or meet other entry requirements are also an important part of a well-functioning migration management system, as well as a credible asylum process. Wherever possible, voluntary return should be pursued, accompanied by support for reintegration, and in all cases returns should be carried out in accordance with human rights standards.

Last - and most importantly - we must strive to restore a sense of solidarity. Over the years, there have been important examples in which energy, creativity and political commitment have converged and states have collectively mobilised to address large-scale displacement crises through a range of instruments including the transfer of refugees to other countries. States joined together to resettle Hungarian refugees in 1956, to respond to the Indochinese crisis (including through an innovative orderly departure scheme from Vietnam), and to address the successive outflows from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Refugee resettlement has remained an important instrument, allowing for refugees with particular protection needs, including women at risk and survivors of torture, to be resettled to third countries where they and their families are able to build a future. Yet, while the number of places available rose steadily over much of the current decade, and a growing number of states have been engaged, including the United Kingdom, the number of refugees resettled annually has remained well under 1% of the global total - a relatively insignificant number. Following a sharp reduction in the number of places made available in 2017 by the United States, traditionally a global leader on resettlement, the number of refugees able to benefit from UNHCR resettlement referrals dropped by more than 50% to 75,000 in 2017 - a significant setback.

In another example of how migration and refugee protection intersect, resettlement opportunities could and should be complemented by labour migration, family reunion, scholarships and other migration avenues.  This is not a new idea – migration schemes were a key aspect of international efforts in support of High Commissioner van Heuven Goedhart's work to resolve the situation of the millions who remained displaced in Europe in the early 1950s. There are a number of initiatives already under way or in development, and while their scope remain limited for now, which if brought to scale, could provide a powerful tool for international responsibility sharing in support of refugee hosting states.[11] 

There is, quite simply, no other way to address the phenomena of large-scale refugee flows and mixed migration, except through international cooperation. In the case of Libya, this is now being pursued through a joint AU-EU-UN Taskforce to Address the Migrant Situation in Libya set up in December.

In October, the International Organisation for Migration stepped up its efforts to facilitate the voluntary return of migrants from Libya to their home countries, helping more than 13,000 return home to date.

UNHCR has secured the release of over 1,700 detained asylum seekers and refugees since the beginning of 2017, and last November, we embarked on a major effort to relocate asylum seekers and refugees out of detention centres, to emergency evacuation facilities in Niger and Italy – an enormously complex, but potentially life-saving, exercise, involving the cooperation of a number of states.

Unable to return home owing to conflict and persecution, the solutions for this group will of necessity be different to those for migrants, who form the vast majority of those detained. Already, 676 men, women and children have been evacuated, and some of those have already been resettled onwards to France from the evacuation facility in Niger. Another 150 refugees will fly from Libya to Niger next Sunday.

If we are serious about addressing mixed migratory flows, resettlement and other pathways for admission to other countries must figure prominently as part of a comprehensive response. In September, I called for an additional 40,000 resettlement places for 15 priority countries along the Central Mediterranean route, and to date almost 17,000 places have been pledged. This is encouraging, but not nearly enough.

Ladies and GentIemen,

When Mariam and Semira were in the government detention centre in Libya, they came to the attention of a UNHCR protection team who negotiated their release and arranged for their evacuation from Libya to Niger in December last year. They flew to Niamey along with 72 other refugees and asylum-seekers – mainly Somalis and Eritreans under the age of 18 – and are now in a guesthouse there, supported by UNHCR and waiting to hear what the future holds for them.

When my colleagues spoke to them last week, they shared their relief at finally having escaped the traumatic situation that they had endured for so long. 'We just want to close the door on this experience and move on to a new and peaceful life, Mariam said. 'We don't want much - just to be educated so that we can work to help our families. And we want to be safe.'

Her words, and the hope and expectations of those two young women, need no further comment. Simply put, we cannot let them down.


Watch the video of the lecture

[1] Van Heuven Goedhart, G.J, People Adrift (1953) Journal of International Affairs, 7:1 7-29

[2] People on the Move: Global Migration’s Impact and Opportunity, McKinsey Global Institute, December 2016

[3] World Inequality Report, World Inequality Lab, December 2017

[4] UNHCR Italy Operational Update December 2017

[5] Long, Katy, When refugees stopped being migrants: movement, labour and humanitarian protection (2013) Migration studies Volume 1 Number 1 4-26

[6] Briefing note: "UNHCR concern at refugee kidnappings, disappearances in eastern Sudan" ; Briefing note: "UNHCR deeply concerned about abduction of asylum-seekers in eastern Sudan" ; Reliefweb article: "22 Eritrean refugees freed by traffickers in Sudan"

[7] McKinsey, op. cit.

[8] Roadmap for sustainable migration management in Agadez, Clingendael Institute (October 2017)

[9] The relationship between development and migration is complicated -  the evidence suggests that migration initially increases as economic development takes off, falling when per capita income (PPP) reaches USD 7,000-8,000 (Clemens, M., Does Development Reduce Migration? Centre for Global Development, Working Paper 359 (2014). Development will not stop migration, but it can help make it an option rather than a desperate need.

[10] World Development Report, World Bank (2011)

[11] See Long, K and Rosgaertner, S, Protection through Mobility: Opening Labor and Study Migration Channels to Refugees, Transatlantic Council on Migration, Migration Policy Institute, October 2016