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Statement by President Higgins for World Refugee Day 2023

Date: Tue 20th Jun, 2023 | 09:00

“As the United Nations requests us, it is important for us all to have in our minds on World Refugee Day the incredible plight which so many of the displaced and migrants are currently placed.

Last week’s appalling tragedy off the coast of Greece remind us all of the horrific dangers faced by migrants and the urgency that is required in taking actions to protect the lives of so many people.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has asked Member States, and indeed all those concerned, to not simply acknowledge the dark circumstances we find ourselves in, but to make practical contributions and contacts to what might be a resolution, not only in the short term, but in the medium to long term.

Responding to Secretary General Guterres, it is in that spirit that I offer a number of suggestions as a contribution to what is now an urgent discourse that cannot be ignored any longer given the vast number of lives being lost.

As has been cited in reporting in the last week, approximately 51,000 people are said to have lost their lives trying to reach Europe since 1993, while more than 27,000 people have died or gone missing on the Mediterranean since 2014. We must remember too the work of the International Organization for Migration, which has estimated that for every migrant who dies in the Mediterranean, two die in the Sahara trying to reach Europe.

It is important that we heed the words of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who I have received in Áras an Uachtaráin both in 2019 and again last October, who speaking ahead of this year’s World Refugee Day has said, “I am struck by the alarming level of tolerance to serious human rights violations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants that has developed across Europe”.

We must all be grateful to courageous journalists such as Sally Hayden who have stayed with this issue and continue to remind us that we must respond.

It is important that we draw from the empirical experience and the research of those who have been working and carrying out detailed research amongst migrants.

I am convinced that a proposal that was briefly considered at the time of the initial movement of Syrian refugees into Turkey and Germany, that a bond be created to issue sufficient funding for a transparent, accountable system that meets with the requirements of the United Nations Charter, is worthy of further consideration.

What does the research tell us? It tells us that migrants are most likely to first move over the nearest point of their neighbouring country and that it remains their aspiration to return to their country for at least three years. The merit in having appropriate housing, health, education and skill assessments for migrants has already been proven.

The research shows that in the third year, if they have not been able to return home, and realising that returning home is not the viable option they thought it was, migrants have selected a destination country, one with which they may have had family contacts.

In the first phase of the Syrian migration to Germany, which was heavily composed of the Syrian middle class, migrants have made themselves part of the economy within two to three years. The general case is that where migrants have possibilities, their contribution to the point of destination exceeds expenditure within at most four years.

Given the scale of displacement, which we can now predict for example by consequences of climate change, conflict and fundamentalisms, it is appropriate that we consider a global response to what is now a global problem.

Given the current position with regard to floating investment funds, it is possible - in an imaginative model that brought together the IMF, the World Bank and different development banks - to create a fund that could deliver in anticipated places of migrant interest a set of structures taking account of all these empirical findings.

It is the most coherent proposal I can think of to counter illegal trafficking, it has the advantage of being a managed, transparent system, and all of the indications are that it is possible to return the investment in such bonds within 5 years, and certainly before 10 years.

When the crisis abates, one is left with a set of structures in different continents which provide opportunities for retraining, adaptation to climate change, healing and for international conferences on re-adaptation, possibilities of return and anticipation, well in advance, of difficulties of entry into different cultures.

I make this proposal with humility in response to Secretary General Guterres’ request that now is the time for us each to put our best foot forward. We cannot continue in the circumstances we find ourselves.”