Michel Veuthey: “Migration: a challenge to our values, our communities, our civilization”

Current migration is challenging Governments, international organizations and civil society (religious leaders, private sector, opinion influencers academics). These population movements challenge us to re-evaluate, restore, and to update our standard of solidarity. Particularly cultural, democratic, economic, social, humanitarian and religious values. These values have been integrated into national, constitutional, or even international public law in order to regulate free movement, right to migration and refugee, human rights, and international humanitarian law in armed conflict. They, even in secularized Europe and North America, could also be found and reinforced in natural law of religious inspiration.

It is a multi-layered issue; migration crises should be viewed in the past, present and in future perspective. History reminds us that migration is neither new nor unique. Recent waves of migration should serve as a lesson in helping us manage population movements in progress such as: displaced populations after World War I between Greece and Turkey; Germans after 1945; Hungarian after 1956; Czechoslovakians after 1968; Indochinese “boat people” after the 1970s. We indeed need to learn from history and not repeat mistakes.

Humanitarian work should also be considered as humanitarian emergencies and security needs. Furthermore, there is a link between migration, humanitarian relief and development assistance. If displaced people inside Syria do not feel safe and if refugees in Turkey see their conditions deteriorate severely, they will be highly motivated to take the way of Europe, even at the risk of perilous crossings. Clearly, the international community needs to address these issues.

A comprehensive approach is necessary; trying to apprehend migration only from a single perspective cannot lead to a sustainable solution. By combining humanitarian, security, local, national, regional, inter-regional and universal perspectives, one can understand the root causes in countries of origin and manage migration in countries of transit and final destination. In addition, we must engage political authorities and private sector, media and opinion influencers, research institutes, religious leaders.

Demographic, economic, climatic and environmental perspectives should allow us to establish possible scenarios. Inside information, military or commercial satellites, can show the origins and progression paths of these migratory movements and even measure quantities, and sometimes identify the instigators. Two books published in 1973 could serve as a reference to possible scenarios: “The Camp of the Saints” by Jean Raspail, describing a peaceful invasion of Europe by hungry Bengalis, and “Submersion of Japan” by Sakyo Komatsu, on the Government of Japan exporting its national treasures and negotiating the admission of millions of Japanese by countries in need of labor due to scheduled catastrophe predicted by geologists.

The harmonization of migration policies requires the cooperation of countries of origin, transit and destination, within political, economic and security frameworks. Within this context, channels of legal migration must be established as migrants or asylum seekers need valid identity papers, visas, travel tickets. They should be able to appeal to all embassies and consulates in countries of origin, transit and destination, when necessary with the support of international organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or the International Labour Organization (ILO) and local and international humanitarian NGOs which advise and guide them.

The UN General Assembly opened its 70th Session in September, where Syria and migration have been at the heart of the debates. There are plenty of opportunities to come to a comprehensive approach, such as the following consultations:

  • From October 5th to 9th, held in Geneva the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, followed on 12th and 13th October, also in Geneva, a meeting of “Nansen Initiative” on IDPs by natural disasters.
  • The 13, 14, 15 and 16 October the “Global Consultations” were held in Geneva for the Global Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 2016).
  • On 26 and 27 October, will be the “Migrants and Cities” to be discussed in Geneva.
  • On 11 and 12 November a Summit of the European Union and the African Union on migration will be held in Valletta (Malta).
  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) will hold the annual session of its Council of 24 to 27 November.
  • The 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva will bring together representatives of Governments, the ICRC, the International Federation and National Societies of Red Cross and Red Crescent. Many observers, including the Sovereign Order of Malta, United Nations Organizations, NGOs, the media will follow this global humanitarian meeting, which is held every four years. Migration, its causes (armed conflict, natural disasters), and its humanitarian consequences will certainly not be absent from these debates.
  • The Paris Climate Conference (COP21), from 30 November to 11 December, could provide a begining of the solution to what will undoubtedly be a major cause of future migration, global warming.
  • On 16 and 17 December, in Geneva, the High Level Dialogue of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Protection Challenges will address the root causes of forced displacement.

In regards to this situation, one might ask what should we do. We must take action to:

  • Remember the link between security and humanity, as we did in 1988 when Turkey led the Security Council to declare the flow of population of Kurdish refugees from Iraq as “a threat to regional security”.
  • Rethink the integration of foreigners in our communities is an ongoing task
  • Reaffirm the link between universal human rights, refugee rights, International Humanitarian Law, and International Criminal Law (punishing war crimes and crimes against humanity, causes of massive population movements and creating human trafficking – often linked to other traffic – and new forms of slavery ).
  • Implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to prevent and resolve conflicts that cause displacement and humanitarian assistance and protection.
  • Strengthen national and international humanitarian organizations as needs are increasing; UNHCR cannot even cover the minimum needs of the refugees.
  • Strengthen the resilience of populations in countries of origin, transit and destination, as well as that of refugees and migrants.
  • Engage stakeholders in humanitarian assistance and development aid to stabilize the population and prevent the worsening of crises and conflicts.
  • Reassert communities of migrant destinations to enter into dialogue with migrants and countries of origin and transit on the basis of shared values and respect
  • Reinforce international governance. The Security Council could indeed gather at every moment, and make binding decisions for all States as well as non-state actors to address these migratory phenomena which are both causes and consequences of threats to regional and international security.

Migration is a revealing demographic and economic imbalances and dysfunctions of the humanitarian system and current policy. It requires a new awareness of the universal dimension of humanitarian action and principles, and effective partnerships between Governments, international organizations, private sector, religious leaders, local communities to harmonize, secure and humanize migration. The ideal approach would make it a “win-win-win” situation for migrants, Governments and civil society.

These humanitarian and security challenges ask for realistic policy decisions inspired by our values of humanity for the common good of the international community. Let’s hope that future historians will not have to judge our blindness, our hesitations, our sterile discussions.

Deputy Permanent Observer
Mission of the Sovereign Military Ordre of Malta to the United Nation Office at Geneva