Remarks of Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the European Foundation Centre Conference, Madrid, 1 June 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 21st Century is the century of people on the move. Some are moving in search of economic opportunity and better lives, but many are forced to move because of violence and persecution. If there is any single area in which the international community has demonstrated its lack of capacity, it is in the area of people on the move. I see a tremendous need for the engagement of civil society in this area, in advocacy, research and direct interventions to meet the needs of so many.
Why are people on the move? I would like to address three main causes: poverty; climate change and environmental degradation; and conflict and persecution.
Widespread poverty is clearly the main reason for migration. In the 1990s there was broad hope that globalization would bring steady growth, and would narrow the gap between rich and poor. While there are positive impacts - global trade and wealth have increased - the truth is that the gap between the worlds' rich and poor is widening. This widening gap is driving migration.
Globalization is asymmetric. Capital and goods flow more or less freely across borders. But there are many obstacles to the movement of people. Yet the labour market is increasingly global. The supply of labour will meet the demand for labour - legally if possible, illegally if necessary.
Thus, we see increasing migratory flows, and the greatest increase is in irregular migration. Irregular migration not only means that the rights of the migrants are in jeopardy, but it also offers fertile terrain for people-smugglers and -traffickers, and makes it harder to detect the persons who are refugees and are therefore entitled to protection under international law. If we look at what is happening in the Mediterranean today, we see just how difficult it can be to make this distinction. States as well as the European Union face tremendous difficulties in responding to these flows.
A second important cause of displacement is climate change and environmental degradation. Natural disasters occur ever more frequently and are of ever greater magnitude, with dramatic humanitarian consequences. When we look at the different models for the impact of climate change, the picture is very worrying. The need for people to move will keep on growing. One need only look at East Africa and the Sahel region. All predictions are that desertification will expand steadily. For the population, this means decreasing livelihood prospects and increased migration. And all of this is happening in the absence of international capacity and political will to respond.
Discussions about climate change are taking place, but there is still no real strategy for how to cope with it. We need an effective post Kyoto framework. Civil society has an important role to play here too, in advocacy, research and support of the affected populations.
"Discussions about climate change are taking place, but there is still no real strategy for how to cope with it."
People are also on the move because of a third reason: war and persecution. The international community does not know how to prevent conflicts - even when we have plenty of early warning - we only respond to the aftermath. Yet prevention is possible, is more effective and much cheaper. But prevention requires wisdom, political effort and an investment in eliminating the root causes, which invariably include socio-economic causes. Darfur is a good example. Of course the conflict there has political roots, but it is also fuelled by the fact that the traditional herders and farmers are increasingly in competition for scarce resources - especially water. When this is linked with political causes, the result is truly explosive.
We must invest in prevention. Civil society can play a role, not just in advocacy and research but even with respect to political initiatives. The peace process in Mozambique was a good example of the important which role civil society can play in promoting political solutions.
Because people are on the move, our societies are now multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural. Yet the general context in which people are on the move is one of rising intolerance in the world - in our societies as well as in places like Darfur. We must confront this. Those of us who live in Europe must be concerned about the fact that we seem to be moving into a post-Enlightenment era, where reason is losing ground to political populism, racism, religious fundamentalism and xenophobia. Governments face real difficulty in confronting these issues. I urge Foundations to play a role here, too, in advocacy, research and direct action.
"we seem to be moving into a post-Enlightenment era, where reason is losing ground to political populism, racism, religious fundamentalism and xenophobia"
In the 1990s the concept of humanitarian intervention emerged. States have the obligation to protect their citizens, it was argued, and if they are not able or willing to do this, then the international community should step in. Today, in the aftermath of events in Iraq, this concept of the international community's "responsibility to protect" is increasingly in jeopardy. Many democratic countries in the developing world are now backing away from the doctrine of the "responsibility to protect". This, in turn, makes it more difficult for my Office, in our work with persons who are displaced within the borders of their own countries. In our work with refugees, we can still rely on fundamental tenets of international law, and thus have a greater margin of manoeuvre. Protecting internally displaced people and promoting international responsibility for them is another challenge for civil society.
My final point concerns the need to sustain peace and democracy once conflicts have ended. In UNHCR we witness the strong desire of refugees to return home. Last year we helped around 750,000 to repatriate. Most refugees want to go back to their homes, but to what do they return? In places like South Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and elsewhere they go back to very little, often to insecurity and no real chance for the future. If peace is not sustained, the risk is that the will leave again. Kofi Annan has said that 50% of countries emerging from conflict fall back into conflict within a few years.
It is clear that the international community does not know how to handle the transition from war to peace and from emergency relief to development. The international financial and development institutions work too slowly for places like South Sudan. We need new forms of intervention, including the help of foundations, because the existing system is often simply too slow to benefit the people who need help.
"The two central values of Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom and compassion, are also central to our societies."
Last week I was in the Kingdom of Bhutan. There, it is not the values of the European Enlightenment which are the reference point, but the two central values of Mahayana Buddhism: wisdom and compassion. These values are also central to our societies. I urge each of us to promote them, in order to rid our world of fear, intolerance, hatred and indifference.