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Statement on the occasion of the Global Refugee Forum

Date: Mon 16th Dec, 2019 | 22:00

“I would like to commend UNHCR for convening this first Global Forum on Refugees. I regret circumstances prevented me being with you except in spirit.

In our history, Ireland has known the pain of famine, hardship and displacement. The memory of the famine, and those who were forced to flee Ireland, continues to resonate strongly in Irish society. Migration, particularly of an involuntary kind, is embedded in our folk memory.

Today, Ireland seeks to be a country of refuge and welcome. It was my great pleasure to welcome High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi to Áras an Uachtaráin in July, and meet together with four families of refugees who had travelled to Ireland across different decades. Each of these families had their own stories, and each of them had come through significant challenges. The one characteristic they all had in common was a courage and determination to build better lives for their families. Their endeavour, ideas and experiences help to enrich Irish society.

It is important to recognise that migration is a phenomenon as old as human life itself on our planet. Its greatest negative impact, in human terms, is when it is involuntary.

Globally, we are faced with record levels of displacement, with over 70 million people forced to flee their homes. In 2018 the international community came together to endorse the Global Compact for Refugees. It represented a commitment to demonstrate solidarity to countries hosting refugees, those seeking to provide support for them, and above all, to indicate support for refugees themselves. This Global Forum is a concrete expression of collective efforts to turn the promise of the Global Compact into practical action.

The scale of the current displacement crisis compels us to act, with urgency, and determination. We must demonstrate compassion for those experiencing migration in desperate, often life-threatening, conditions, and we must resist the invocations of fear of ‘The Other’, and instead open our countries to refugees.

Too often, countries have acted, at best with indifference, to those in greatest need. In too many other places we have seen hostile, dangerous political rhetoric targeting refugee populations. It is a duty that arises from our collective humanity that we assist those in most need, and create a place of welcome to the most vulnerable.

We must also support – both financially and politically – those courageous individuals who work in our name in some of the most challenging contexts around the world, to assist those in greatest need. I would like to commend the work of UNHCR, the wider UN system, and those working for NGOs, who bring hope and assistance to those who need it most.

We must, I believe, make far more serious efforts to understand and manage the structural sources of migration, the circumstances of transience, and what is required to enable anticipation of the challenges of entering new cultures, societies and economies, at points of destination. This will require us to see issues of Development, Climate Change, Global Poverty, Human Need and Migration as inextricably linked. Our best hope, in terms of response, must surely lie in a response that is integrated across these dimensions.

We must redouble efforts to address the underlying causes of displacement, above all conflict. Conflict is the single greatest driver of humanitarian need, as well as undermining the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals. We must get better at anticipating conflict and addressing its sources. All of us in the international community must come together in the pursuit of a peaceful co-existence in sustainable economies that can carry a respect for cultural diversity, and that allow for local agency.

Given our acknowledgement of what is a shared challenge and a shared responsibility in relation to the global nature of migration, is it not time to place it alongside Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals as a challenge, currently underfunded that is needing, and capable of being funded from a UN initiated Global Migration Fund.

Is it not possible to address it and the underfunding of the climate and sustainability agreements from initiatives that can also address the capital that is seeking investment? So many funds, be it sovereign funds or pension funds, or private funds, are seeking a return that is not now available to them due to the crisis of dead capital that is not being invested, and indeed that may be dangerously engaged in increasing speculatively the value of shares and that have no ultimate collateral. A similar circumstance prevails in relation to credit. All of these sources of credit and capital, currently not being used should be available to create a Green Economy, a just transition, sustainable development and solutions to migration issues in a way that is accountable, transparent, efficient and consistent with the UN Charter. Integrating a response to interacting crises makes sense. The UN realised a circumstance such as this when it responded in the 1940s.

In relation to migratory flows – they are predictable. Does it not make sense then to draw on the empirical facts that are available to us?

For example, the locus of migration is often the nearest border. When interviewed in the first years, migrants state their primary vision is to be able to return. Can the sources at point of origin not be anticipated in some circumstances? Those not seeking return can be helped in terms of anticipating what is required at point of destination? Loci of destination can be assisted. We can turn what is perceived as a threat into the orderly movement of fellow humans into economies and societies.

Managing migration is possible not only in terms of health, housing, education, and upskilling but the needs at origin, point of transition and destination can be anticipated.

Given that migrants who are integrated into the labour force within three years pay more in tax than the costs of integration in the previous years, a global fund can be self-financing.

The ideal of course, would be an integrated fund dealing with climate change, sustainability and migration.

We must act with urgency to work against the factors driving this new escalated displacement. In addition to other factors is the impact of climate change intensifying is the single greatest threat facing humanity, and the huge flows of displaced populations we are facing today may be mere presages of the catastrophes that await in the 21st century, should we not heed the warning to act now.

These challenges we face demand, I suggest, a collective global response with new initiatives which most draw on capital and credit seeking a new return that has the benefit of being sustainable economically and humanitarian in consequence. This Global Forum can be a crucial milestone in generating new initiatives. It is a moment, an opportunity not to be lost, when the world comes together, and offers its support to those in greatest need. I wish you every success in your endeavours.”