Statement by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Conférence ministerielle Euro-Africaine sur la migration et le développement, Rabat, Morocco, 10-11 juillet 2006
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be with you today and to participate in this Euro-African Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development.
It is particularly appropriate that this meeting should be taking place in Morocco - a country which has close connections with Europe and the rest of Africa, a country which has experienced an impressive level of development in the past few years, a country which has a significant proportion of its citizens living and working abroad, and which in recent times has also become a place of transit and destination for growing numbers of migrants from other states.
I also consider this meeting to be particularly timely. The current movement of people from Africa towards Europe, due to its irregular nature, presents a number of important challenges to the states represented here today. I hope that this conference will provide us with an opportunity to establish how this worrying situation can be addressed in a coherent and comprehensive manner.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
As our time this morning is somewhat limited, I would like to make six brief comments concerning the specific interests of my Office in relation to the issue of migration and development.
First, I believe that the notion of development should be interpreted in a broad and inclusive sense, and not as a simple synonym for economic growth. In this context, allow me to remind you of the definition that is to be found in the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, which states that the right to development is "an inalienable right, by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized."
Second, it is precisely because they are unable to exercise their right to development that so many people - including migrants who are looking for a better standard of living, and refugees who are looking for safety and security - feel obliged to leave their own country and move elsewhere.
While we must maintain this fundamental distinction between refugees and migrants, we must also recognize that both forms of mobility are often rooted in the broader problem of underdevelopment. I hope that this conference will enable the states of Africa and Europe to formulate cooperative approaches to the challenge of development - approaches which can help us to create the conditions that enable people to migrate out of choice, rather than from necessity.
Third, and perhaps most importantly in the current context, we must focus special attention on the phenomenon known as 'mixed movements', whereby migrants and refugees move alongside each other, usually in an irregular manner, making use of similar routes and modes of transport.
While recognizing the difficulties that such movements can pose for states in terms of national and local security, we must ensure that the measures taken to curb irregular migration do not prevent refugees from gaining the international protection which they need and to which they are entitled.
We must ensure that the measures taken to curb irregular migration do not prevent refugees from gaining the international protection which they need and to which they are entitled.
At the same time, we must ensure that both refugees and migrants are able to find a timely solution to their plight. There is a particular need to provide refugees with protection and solutions in areas close to their countries of origin. No-one should be obliged to make hazardous and costly journeys from one continent to another in order to find safety and security.
There is a particular need to provide refugees with protection and solutions in areas close to their countries of origin.
These are particularly complex challenges which require cooperative and coordinated action by a range of different actors. To facilitate such action, UNHCR has recently produced a 10-Point Plan of Action to Address Mixed Migratory Movements, which I would be happy to share and discuss with you. It provides an innovative approach to the issue, involving a coherent and consistent set of measures to be agreed by countries of origin, transit and destination and supported by all relevant international organizations.
UNHCR is not - and does not intend to become - a migration agency. But if my Office is to exercise its mandate for the protection of refugees, then it must also become involved in the broader issue of international migration. Our Plan of Action shows how the mandate, competencies and resources of my Office might be used to assist states in their efforts to address this issue in an effective and equitable manner.
I recognize that some states represented here today may have some hesitation concerning the involvement of my Office in the issue of mixed and irregular movements of people. I ask you to reconsider that position. UNHCR, it must be said, cannot resolve the problem for you. But it is my firm belief that my Office can help you to address the issue in a way which is in accordance with international standards and which does not entail any threat to your security or sovereign authority.
I also consider it essential to state that in our efforts to address this issue, we must avoid any suggestion that the problem of mixed and irregular movements is the sole responsibility of states located south of the Mediterranean Sea. Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants will continue to enter Europe. Indeed, the logic of globalization and demographic change is such that their numbers seem certain to increase in the years to come.
I encourage our European partners to respond to this situation in a positive manner, by contributing to responsibility-sharing arrangements, by providing protection to those people who need it, and by ensuring that the public debate on asylum and migration issues is conducted in a calm and rational manner.
May I also suggest that the issue of capacity-building is just as relevant to countries north of the Mediterranean as to those of the Mahgreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout much of Europe, I feel obliged to point out, states have failed to formulate migration, refugee and asylum policies that are commensurate with the growing scale and complexity of human mobility.
Throughout much of Europe, I feel obliged to point out, states have failed to formulate migration, refugee and asylum policies that are commensurate with the growing scale and complexity of human mobility.
Moving on to my fourth point, I would like to encourage this conference, as well as the forthcoming High Level Dialogue on International Migration, to examine ways of maximizing the contribution that refugees can make to the development process.
When given the opportunity to do so, refugees can become agents of development. Refugee influxes, especially when they are large in size and concentrated in specific locations, can have negative consequences for the development of host countries and communities. At the same time, our experience has demonstrated that refugees can contribute to local economies if they are allowed to participate in the labour market, if they have access to agricultural land and if they are able to engage in income-generating and trading activities. Unfortunately, that is not the case in many countries.
Refugees can contribute to local economies if they are allowed to participate in the labour market, if they have access to agricultural land and if they are able to engage in income-generating and trading activities.
If refugees are to make a contribution to their countries of asylum, then we must establish the right conditions for them to become self-reliant. I do not consider that it is in anyone's interest for refugees to be deprived and destitute.
To avert such a scenario, I encourage states to re-examine the services and livelihoods opportunities that are provided to refugees. I also call on the international community to target development assistance at refugee-populated areas and to ensure that such areas are incorporated in national development plans and poverty-reduction strategies. Refugees as well as citizens must be able to benefit from our efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals.
Fifth, I believe that we must seize the opportunities presented for peacebuilding when armed conflicts come to an end and when large numbers of refugees and displaced people return to their homes. In particular, I would like to underline the need for the early involvement of the development community in planning for return and reintegration, so that short-term humanitarian aid is linked more effectively to longer-term development initiatives in returnee-populated areas.
Finally, I would like to suggest that promoting social inclusion and tolerance can maximize the development impact of migration. Refugees and migrants are confronted with xenophobia in many parts of the world, and are often at risk of becoming marginalized in society and the economy.
I feel obliged to draw your attention to the dangers of this situation, both for the rights and well-being of refugees and migrants themselves, and for the cohesion of the societies in which they live. I therefore encourage all states participating in this important conference to counter all forms of intolerance and to take active measures to promote the inclusion and economic participation of refugees and migrants.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I mentioned earlier in my presentation, the Euro-Africa region is currently confronted with some complex problems related to the mixed and irregular movement of people. I would like to reiterate my belief that UNHCR has the expertise and competence required to assist you in addressing this issue.
This is not at its essence a refugee situation. But asylum is a feature of it. It is not an unmanageable situation, but it needs to be managed. It is a problem for individual states but it has no specific geographic borders. We all in our respective and different ways have a responsibility for an aspect of the problem. A collaborative response has the best chance of success.
Thank you very much.