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Top UNHCR Official, at General Assembly, Stresses Need to Counter Isolationist Rhetoric Surrounding Refugees in Mediterranean, Reframe Narrative

Speakers underscored a need to reframe the narrative surrounding refugees and irregular migration in the Mediterranean basin, as well as the importance of addressing root causes, as the General Assembly today took up the issue against the backdrop of a chemical weapons attack in Syria this week and an ensuing air strike by the United States.

Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the Mediterranean had become a symbol of forced displacement.  While the number of arrivals in Europe had fallen in the last year, he said, both migrants and refugees had continued to cross the Mediterranean, with UNHCR registering some 905 deaths so far in 2017.

“It is essential that we counter the narrative of unmanageable crises and the rhetoric of isolationism and reframe our understanding of the situation in the Mediterranean,” he said.  Recalling the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted by world leaders in 2016, he suggested it was time to explore prospects for a comprehensive regional approach, particularly for the Central Mediterranean.

He went on to say that the security situation in Libya must be addressed, as refugees and migrants had reported being kidnapped or exploited before being smuggled across the Central Mediterranean.  He also emphasized that refugees must be able to access asylum systems everywhere.  “Without safety, access to basic rights and regularization of their status, they will be compelled to move onward to other countries,” he said.

Ashraf el Nour, Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Office to the United Nations, said global population displacement was at a record high and that the tragedy facing the Syrian people was horrific.  The Mediterranean continued to be at the forefront of such movements, he said, with more than 1 million people arriving in 2015 alone and more than 29,000 from January to March 2017, with women and children faced particular vulnerabilities.

Recalling that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had recognized the contributions made by migrants, he said safe and orderly migration was imperative.  Moving forward, stakeholders must work together for progress, he said, adding that IOM was set to work with States to stamp out negative actions against refugees and migrants.

Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General, speaking on his behalf, said the suffering of the Syrian people was especially appalling.  However, there were also signs of hope, with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan hosting the largest number of refugees in the Middle East and openness elsewhere in the world providing glimmers of hope in an environment of intensifying xenophobic rhetoric and restrictive policies.  “When we protect human rights and defend human dignity, we will enable people to flourish where they are,” she said.

Elliston Rahming (Bahamas), Vice-President of the General Assembly, put today’s meeting in the context of the New York Declaration, through which Member States agreed to develop global compacts for refugees and for safe, orderly and regular migration.  He encouraged delegations to think of the people of Syria and beyond, to recall the tragic events that drove so many to flee, to understand the impact on neighbouring countries and to bring to the consultations a spirit of humanity, solidarity, and above all, respect for the human rights of all migrants.

During the ensuing debate, several speakers voiced deep concern over the plight of Syrian asylum refugees and other migrants in the Mediterranean basin.  Several condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria this week and called for the perpetrators to be held to account.  Some criticized the United States for its ensuing strike on a Syrian military airfield.  Delegates also emphasized the need to address root causes behind displacement, and summarized the contributions their respective countries had made to humanitarian efforts.

Turkey’s representative, urging the international community not to turn a blind eye to those fleeing conflict, said his country hosted the largest number of refugees in the world.  It would continue to help, he said, adding that an agreement reached between Turkey and the European Union in March would focus on preventing loss of life in the Aegean Sea, breaking migrant smuggling networks and replacing illegal migration with legal migration.  Pledging to keep Turkey’s doors open to Syrians fleeing their country, he described his country’s efforts to provide them with food and medical and educational services, and to enable them to contribute legally to the economy.

Syria’s representative — condemning the United States’ attack as a violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, and affirming that her country had no chemical weapons — asked why the debate was focused on her nation.  Some countries wanted to prolong the crisis and exaggerate the number of refugees for economic and political reasons, she said, adding that Syria had been fulfilling its responsibility for protecting its people, as well as providing the best circumstances for refugees to return.

Her counterpart from the United States said her country was horrified by this week’s chemical weapons attack, which bore all the hallmarks of the Assad regime’s cruelty.  Emphasizing that humanitarian assistance contributed to stability and strengthened collective security, she said the United States had announced this week $566 million in additional life-saving assistance for Syria and Syrian refugees, bringing to more than $6.5 billion the amount of humanitarian assistance it had extended since the start of the Syrian crisis.  That reflected American compassion and leadership, she said.

The European Union’s delegate said innovative approaches to the refugee crisis and irregular migration flows were essential.  Putting forward concrete actions to save lives, stemming human trafficking and building close relations with countries of origin were at the centre of the Union’s efforts.  Migration was both inevitable, and if managed in an orderly way, beneficial, he said, adding that the Union was firmly committed to the New York Declaration.

The representative of Kenya called the 2030 Agenda a framework to address root causes, adding that his country — as one of origin, transit and destination of irregular migrants — believed that creating a humane and efficient asylum system was key for the situation in the Mediterranean basin.

In a similar vein, Malaysia’s delegate said other regions — including South-East Asia — were not immune to the challenge of refugees and irregular migration.  Takeaways from today’s Assembly debate would help address irregular migration in his region, he added.

Also speaking today were representatives of Japan, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Liechtenstein, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, China, Iran, Colombia, Venezuela and Greece.

Syria, Russian Federation and Israel spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

Opening Remarks

ELLISTON RAHMING (Bahamas), Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of the President of the Assembly, said there had been a continuous flow of irregular migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea since the last time the Assembly met to discuss the situation.  Thousands had made the journey and hundreds had lost their lives, he said, adding that the drivers of such migration had continued unabated.  “Indeed, indiscriminate attacks against civilians, such as the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria earlier this week — remind us all of the climate of fear that people seek to escape,” he said.  In such a context, discussions such as the one today were essential, he added.

He acknowledged Turkey’s leadership in bringing to the Assembly the agenda item on irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basis with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers.  That agenda item served to launch the United Nations intergovernmental process that led to the adoption in September 2016 of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, through which Member States agreed to develop global compacts for refugees and for safe, orderly and regular migration.  He encouraged delegations to remember why the Assembly was undertaking that process, to think of the people of Syria and beyond, to recall the tragic events that drove so many to flee, to understand the impact on neighbouring countries and to bring to the consultations a spirit of humanity, solidarity, and above all, respect for the human rights of all migrants.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI, Chef de Cabinet, speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, said the Secretary-General — who spent a decade on the front lines of the global refugee crisis — met last week with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Iraq, where he called on the wider international community to increase humanitarian support and to provide more opportunities to refugees.  Noting that refugees and migrants often moved along the same routes and faced the same risks and human rights violations, he said the suffering of the Syrian people — now in its seventh year — was especially appalling.  “The misery is immense, but there are also signs of humanity and solidarity,” she said, noting that Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan hosted the largest number of refugees in the Middle East region.  Openness in other parts of the world provided glimmers of hope in an environment of intensifying xenophobic rhetoric and restrictive policies.

Calling for all acts of violence and discrimination to be firmly condemned, she said migrants and refugees, while poor in material terms, had energy, intelligence, skills and culture.  It was in everyone’s interest to show empathy and celebrate diversity.  The United Nations “TOGETHER” campaign for respect, safety and dignity for all went to the heart of the Organization’s mission, with Governments being its real stakeholders.  Investing in inclusivity and cohesion, prioritizing development, protecting human rights and enabling all people to realize their potential was a shared responsibility that required mediation and peace and security efforts together with investments in sustainable development and human rights.  “When we protect human rights and defend human dignity, we will enable people to flourish where they are,” she said.  “They can help build a future of peace and sustainable development.”

ASHRAF EL NOUR of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said global population displacement was at a record high and the tragedy facing the Syrian people was horrific.  Those situations required urgent attention and action.  “The human cost is no longer bearable,” he said.  The Mediterranean continued to be at the forefront of such movements, with more than 1 million people arriving in 2015 alone and more than 29,000 from January to March 2017.  Irregular migration was one of the most invisible movements with women and children facing particular vulnerabilities, given the numbers of unaccompanied minors.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said, recognized the contributions migrants made as agents of development.  Safe and orderly migration was imperative, he said, noting that IOM stood ready to work with Governments to ensure that.  The 2016 United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants was a critical juncture.  Moving forward, stakeholders must work together to achieve progress.  IOM was set to work with States to stamp out negative actions against refugees and migrants and to change the current toxic narrative on migration into something positive.

VOLKER TÜRK, Assistant High Commission for Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the Mediterranean had become a symbol of forced displacement, epitomizing both the hopes and losses that came with flight from one’s community and search for safety across borders.  More than 1 million refugees had crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 alone hoping to find a solution to their plight, the majority of whom had originated in Syria, where nearly one half of the population was now displaced.

While the number of arrivals in Europe had fallen by nearly two thirds in the last year, he said both migrants and refugees continued to cross the Mediterranean.  Last year, more people had died in the crossing than in 2015 at the height of the movements; UNHCR had already registered some 905 deaths in 2017.  “It is essential that we counter the narrative of unmanageable crises and the rhetoric of isolationism and reframe our understanding of the situation in the Mediterranean,” he said.

It was possible to address the situation with the right systems and a willingness to cooperate, he said.  UNHCR had made proposals to better protect refugees in the European Union and globally, by focusing on external engagement to resolve conflicts, addressing the drivers of displacement, and stabilizing refugee situations in host countries.  UNHCR also had suggested internal approaches to contingency planning, common registration and asylum processing.

Such cooperation was needed, he said, and building on the New York Declaration, it might be timely to explore prospects for developing a comprehensive regional approach to the situation of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean, particularly needed for the Central Mediterranean, where the number of arrivals this year was higher than at this time in 2016.  Seventy‑three per cent of new arrivals to Europe in 2016 had passed through that route; more than 31,000 migrants and had arrived in Europe by sea during the first quarter this year.

He said the situation in the Central Mediterranean spoke to the reasons why resettlement, humanitarian admission, family reunification and building dignified lives in countries beyond the immediate region were essential.  A regional approach would need to address those goals, as well as stabilize the situations in countries where refugees first sought protection or through which they were transiting.  The security situation in Libya must be addressed, as refugees and migrants had reported being kidnapped or exploited before being smuggled across the Central Mediterranean.

Emphasizing that refugees must be able to access asylum systems everywhere, he said that “without safety, access to basic rights and regularization of their status, they will be compelled to move onward to other countries”.  Refugee children must attend school and adults must be able to support their families through work opportunities.  Many host countries required continued support.

Through timelier financial support, the international community could play a key role in ensuring that critical needs were met, he said.  Moreover, States on both sides of the Mediterranean could formulate a regional mechanism for search and rescue, which would include sharing responsibility for ship deployment, and committing to receive people who had been rescued.

Statements

ANTONIO PARENTI of the European Union said the current crisis required a collective response.  A new approach to address those challenges had been put in place, with a view to stemming irregular migration flows in full respect for human rights.  Appreciating actions that had been taken by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to host refugees, he said the European Union had provided assistance to them.  Discussions were ongoing to establish a humanitarian framework.  With that in mind, the European Union had co-chaired a meeting with the United Nations and a number of countries to discuss what was required, recognizing that the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people had never been greater.  Innovative approaches were essential.  That conference had welcomed progress in, among other areas, job creation programmes in line with the host countries’ relevant situations.

But, the current challenge went beyond the Syrian crisis and the long-term root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement must be addressed, he said.  Holistic and tailored approaches helped countries to do so.  Putting forward concrete actions to save lives, stemming trafficking and building close relations with countries of origin were at the centre of the European Union’s efforts.  Large movements of refugees and migrants posed a global challenge and an opportunity.  Migration was both inevitable, and if managed in an orderly way, beneficial.  Concerned about negative trends against refugees and migrants, the European Union had firmly committed to the Declaration.  Those collective goals could only be achieved through effective multilateralism.

CIHAD ERGINAY (Turkey) outlined recent progress at the international level in focusing attention on the large movements of refugees and migrants, recalling in particular that the 2030 Agenda included a number of migration-related targets.  Turkey had hosted the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, which had generated more than 3,000 commitments to action and launched more than a dozen new partnerships.  “It is high time to put our commitments into action,” he stressed, noting that the upcoming consultations and negotiations on the two Global Compacts on migration and refugees would constitute historic milestones.

Describing several situations that were driving millions around the world to flee armed conflict, poverty, food and water insecurity, persecution, terrorism and natural disaster, he noted the conflict in Syria, in particular, which had now entered its seventh grim year.  Hundreds of thousands had been killed, more than 6 million were displaced within Syria and some 5 million had sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  Stressing that the regime’s relentless attacks against its own people continued, he strongly condemned the chemical weapons attack perpetrated by that regime on 4 April in Khan Shaykhun, which constituted a war crime, a crime against humanity and a violation of international law.

Urging the international community not to turn a blind eye to the plight of those seeking to escape such conflicts, he noted that Turkey currently hosted the largest number of refugees in the world — almost 3.2 million  — and would continue to extend that helping hand.  In that context, an agreement reached between his country and the European Union on 18 March would focus on preventing loss of lives in the Aegean Sea, breaking the migrant smuggling networks and replacing illegal migration with legal migration.  Pledging to keep Turkey’s doors open to Syrians feeling their country, he went on to describe Turkey’s efforts to provide them with food and medical and educational services and to enable them to contribute legally to the economy.

“Migration is as old as humankind, it will neither vanish nor end,” he said, adding that it was therefore the world’s collective duty to find appropriate responses to its challenges.  Both Global Compacts needed to be inclusive, transparent and comprehensive, taking into account the views of host countries.  In that regard, he called for the global response to give priority to saving lives; ensure responsibility and burden sharing; eliminate “push” factors such as wars, conflicts, human right violations, economic deprivation and climate change; and promote more regular channels of migration.  Refraining from poisonous rhetoric and approaches towards refugees and migrants was also critical, he said.

ROUA SHURBAJI (Syria) said her country condemned the act of aggression that the United States had committed against it this morning.  Such action violated the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as the United States role as a permanent member of the Security Council.  Syria had no chemical weapons, did not employ such weapons in operations against armed terrorist groups, and condemned their use everywhere, she said.  Acts of aggression like the one today could lead to worldwide chaos, with international crises being addressed through the law of the jungle.

She expressed appreciation for any serious effort to find solutions and realistic approaches for dealing with the question of refugees and migrants. However, she added, only 20 per cent of the refugees and migrants who passed through Turkey came from Syria.  Why the concentration on her country, she asked.  Some countries wanted to prolong the crisis and exaggerate the number of refugees for economic and political reasons.  The Turkish Government had politicized the issue of refugees in its discussions with the European Union.  Making the issue an agenda item demonstrated a contradiction between some countries’ expressed concern for the Syrian people and their use of illegal practices, including unilateral measures and support for terrorists.

Factors that pushed people to leave their homes needed to be recognized, she said, citing terrorism, conflict and unilateral economic pressures imposed on developing countries with the aim of imposing a political agenda.  She said Syria had been fulfilling its responsibility for protecting its people and providing the best circumstances for refugees to return.  The Government was renewing its call for all Syrians outside the country to return to their homeland and it was ready to cooperate with host countries to allow their return.  Finding a solution would also involve other measures, including implementation of Security Council resolution 2253 (2015), combating terrorism, controlling borders, halting the cross-border flow of terrorist fighters, lifting unilateral economic measures and working towards a political solution.  Under such circumstances, the majority of Syrians would prefer to return to their homeland in a situation of peace and prosperity, she said.

HIROSHI MINAMI (Japan) stressed that the international community must bear in mind that those who crossed the Mediterranean Sea were not risking their lives for fun; but were obliged to take on such a dire risk in an attempt to escape even greater and more immediate threats behind them.  Every step must be taken to alleviate the suffering and risks of vulnerable migrants who were forced to flee their homelands.  Last year, Japan had committed to provide an assistance package of about $2.8 billion between 2016 and 2018 as humanitarian and self-reliance assistance to refugees and migrants, as well as assistance to host countries and communities.  Although cross-border movements of people predominantly attracted the attention of the international community, it was important to recall that there were in fact many more internally displaced persons who were forced to flee conflict and violence, yet remained within the borders of their home countries.

MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil) said the challenging situation in the Mediterranean was a matter of concern to Europe and the world that could be addressed with solidarity and respect for international law.  Although their treatment was governed by separate legal frameworks, refugees and migrants had the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.  They had shaped societies across the American continent, including in Brazil.  Pacts between countries must honour their human rights, with special attention paid to unaccompanied children.  The Global Compact on Migration should prioritize the expansion of regular channels for migration and Governments should refrain from using restrictive admission policies.  For its part, Brazil had seen refugee applications rise exponentially and had established a humanitarian visa programme, allowing 2,500 Syrian refugees to have their status recognized.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said national policies had sent a message that people smugglers did not offer a path to her country.  Large-scale migration and resettlement was not possible unless the community was assured that it was orderly and controlled, which yielded positive economic, social and cultural outcomes.  Since September 2015, Australia had issued humanitarian resettlement visas to 12,000 people that had been displaced by conflicts in Iraq and Syria and remained committed to increase that level to 18,750 places from 2018 onward.  Australia had also contributed providing humanitarian assistance and protection services for people in Syria and neighbouring countries.  Committed to global compacts on refugees and safe, orderly migration, she said those efforts should address, among other things, human trafficking.  Such compacts were a turning point in how Governments, international organizations, the private sector and non-governmental organizations responded to mass displacement and could increase clarity, predictability and global cooperation.

MICHAEL GRANT (Canada) said ambitious and constructive leadership was particularly critical now as sentiments of xenophobia spread across the world.  Member States must develop comprehensive national systems of migration.  That included diversifying and expanding regular pathways for migration, including refugee resettlement.  Improving regular pathways, while not a panacea, could help to reduce human tragedies and harness the human potential currently being untapped or lost.  Engaging diverse stakeholders in planning and contributing to various stages of migration and refugee processes was key in Canada’s comprehensive approach.  He called for a redoubling of efforts to mobilize the political will and resources required to translate commitments into significantly improved realities for refugees and host communities.  He also underscored that challenges faced by source, transit and destination countries responding to large movements, those along the Mediterranean and beyond.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), deeply concerned about the Syrian crisis, said a political solution was the only way to end the violence.  The crisis in the Mediterranean was a humanitarian emergency and the international community had a responsibility to act.  Argentina had implemented a humanitarian visa programme for those affected by the Syrian crisis and created a working group to addressed forced displacement, with the ultimate goal being their integration into society in a coordinated manner.  Special attention must be paid to the most vulnerable groups, he said, hailing the work of the White Helmets in providing assistance to those in need.  Efforts must also centre on respecting the dignity and rights of all refugees, which should not be confused with migrants.  Amid daily news of suffering, the world could not be indifferent and must commit to action.

GEORG SPARBER (Liechtenstein) said this week’s chemical weapons attack was an abhorrent example of the disregard for international law that had characterized the Syrian conflict.  The perpetrators needed to be held to account, he said, adding that the Security Council had failed to assume its responsibilities.  Combating impunity for human rights violations was a priority for Liechtenstein.  Applauding the immense display of solidarity demonstrated by countries neighbouring Syria, he outlined the support that his country had extended for Syrian refugees.  An innovative programme taught asylum seekers in Liechtenstein the basics of the German language, enabling them to interact with the local population and administration within a matter of weeks.

NIZAR AMER (Israel) said 2016 had been the deadliest year for refugees fleeing war and conflict zones.  “The Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard for countless migrants,” particularly children, he said.  Given the increasing number of refugees and the suffering in the countries they were fleeing, much more remained to be done.  Syria had continued to bleed, but the international community had failed to stop the Assad regime’s brutality. Quoting his country’s President, he said reports of chemical weapon massacres were a stain on all humanity.

Three of the four previous chemical weapons attacks in Syria had been conducted by the Assad regime, with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) responsible for the fourth, he said.  Now, more than ever, the international community must fulfil its obligations and remove such horrible weapons from Syria.  Israel, a State founded by refugees, had been doing its part for those in need, he said, describing the work of Israeli non-governmental organizations and the medical care given to Syrians by Israeli hospitals.  Not a single governorate, city or neighbourhood in Syria had been spared an Assad massacre.  “This regime will not stop bombing, shelling, impoverishing, killing and maiming on its own,” he said.  Things had crossed all limits and a clear message had to be sent to the Assad regime that enough was enough.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said that after adopting the Declaration, efforts had been made to address life-and-death situations for millions of people.  Mexico supported the rights of migrants, who were agents of progress and development.  Deploring the humanitarian crisis in Syria, he said migrants and asylum seekers were not threats, but faced grim scenarios amid traffickers and dangerous and sometimes deadly journeys.  Thousands of volunteers on land and sea were saving lives and their work was restoring faith in humanity.  A people-centred approach must be adopted to tap the potential of refugees and migrants.  An inclusive, open and transparent dialogue must advance progress.  Meanwhile, all States must stamp out xenophobia, hatred and other negative trends against refugees and migrants, who were not risk factors, but assets ready to contribute to host countries.

GILLES CERUTTI (Switzerland), stressing that the scale of the crisis and human tragedies was deeply concerning, said that efforts to prevent future tragedies must be identified and the fates of those who had been forced to leave their countries must be improved.  Prevention should be at the heart of the international community’s concerns.  The lack of respect for international humanitarian law was a major cause of forced displacement.  That was especially true in the case of Syria.  Switzerland reiterated the need for international law to be respected in the first countries of asylum and countries transited by migrants and refugees.

REINHARD KRAPP (Germany) said the ongoing tragedy in the Mediterranean had led many countries to host large numbers of refugees and migrants, but it was clear that no single nation or region could tackle the crisis on its own.  Germany strongly welcomed progress towards establishing global compacts on refugees and migration.  While Germany would work towards supporting their implementation, steps must be taken now to address the humanitarian situation in Syria.  Germany was hosting thousands of refugees and contributing to humanitarian efforts to support those fleeing the Syrian conflict to neighbouring countries.  Humanitarian funding was important and aid must reach those most in need through efforts to ensure access to besieged areas.  Host communities were, however, reaching their limits.  At the centre of assistance initiatives was Germany’s desire that people could regain control of their lives, with prospects for a better future.  As such, education, vocational training and job creation programme had been prioritized.  Germany supported a political solution to the Syrian conflict to end the suffering and make it possible for refugees to return to their homes.

MACHARIA KAMAU (Kenya) said the 2030 Agenda provided a framework to address the root causes of conflict and involuntary movements of refugees and migrants.  It did so by integrating migration into its goals and targets, he said, adding that the Declaration committed Member States to a shared responsibility to manage large movements of refugees and migrants in a humane, sensitive and people-centred manner.  Kenya — a country of origin, transit and destination of irregular migrants — believed that creating a humane and efficient asylum system was key in addressing the problems of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean basis, whether they were from Syria or elsewhere.

WU HAITAO (China) said the fundamental solution to the problem was peace, stability, development, international cooperation and global governance.  All countries should adhere to the United Nations Charter and resolve their disputes through dialogue, with the Organization playing a leading role.  The capacity of developing countries should be strengthened through full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and more official development assistance (ODA), he said, adding that all States should carry out the New York Declaration with a greater voice being given to developing countries, which hosted the majority of refugees.  He said his President’s proposal for a Community of Shared Future for Mankind, delivered in Geneva on 18 January, would help address the challenges of an interconnected world, including the situation of refugees and migrants.  He added that China had provided 619 million renminbi in money and in kind to assist Syrian refugees, in addition to $1 million to the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNHCR respectively.

DATO’ MUHAMMAD SHAHRUL IKRAM BIN YAAKOB (Malaysia), strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons, called for a swift investigation into this week’s incident in Syria that would hold the perpetrators to account.  Citing harrowing images of migrants in the Mediterranean basin who had failed to make it to shore, he condemned human smugglers who fed off the vulnerabilities of those seeking a better life and urged implementation of Security Council resolution 2240 (2015).  He also expressed concern at xenophobic attacks on refugees, as well as racial and ethnic profiling at border crossings.  His delegation welcomed the readiness of the European Union and African Union to address the situation.  While deliberations today were focused on Syrian asylum seekers, other regions including South-East Asia were not immune to the challenge, he said, citing the situation that had taken place in the Anderman Sea two years ago.  Takeaways today would help address irregular migration in South-East Asia.  He added that 79 refugees had been welcomed in Malaysia and that processing of another 200 was under way.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said the international community must do everything it could to relieve the plight of refugees and migrants and protect them and their rights.  Iran had hosted many refugees with minimal international assistance.  In the Mediterranean situation, he said all refugees and the countries hosting them deserved attention, with the international community providing assistance in an equal manner.  Root causes must also be addressed, he said, pointing to the Israeli occupation and the outburst of terrorism and extremism.  Waging a global, concerted fight against intervention, occupation, terrorism and violent extremism required a coordinated approach.  The missile attacks on Syria had forced even more people into displacement, he said, strongly condemning the unilateral action and act of aggression.  That action was a grave violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter and complicated the situation in Syria and the region.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia) said the unprecedented mass movements of refugees and migrants called for a concerted commitment that kept human rights at the forefront.  Vulnerable groups must be assisted using an effective people-centred approach.  Globalization had seen contributions of migration, which had transformed the lives of societies in origin and destination countries, he said, condemning trends of xenophobia against refugees and migrants.  Through global compacts on refugees and migration, a framework would be established to uphold human rights for all.  The compacts would also contribute to the ongoing dialogue to find a comprehensive approach to those phenomena.  For its part, Colombia had experienced periods of violence and had adopted legislation to address human rights issues.

STEFANIE AMADEO (United States) said that multiple parties to the conflict in Syria, principally the regime and its backers, had continued to block aid deliveries to people in need.  That was unacceptable and there needed to be a genuine ceasefire and real humanitarian access with all parties with influence over the combatants ensuring compliance.  Syria’s regime, supported by Russia and Iran had committed atrocities against its people for more than six years.  The United States was horrified by this week’s chemical weapons attack, which bore all the hallmarks of the Assad regime’s cruelty, she said.  Anyone who inflicted such suffering on his own people was a criminal who must be held accountable.

She said Assad had made it clear that he did not want to participate in a meaningful political process.  Iran and Russia had emboldened him on the battlefield, while Russia had shielded his regime from United Nations sanctions for its use of chemical weapons.  As a result of the most recent atrocity, in Khan Shaykhun, the United States had initiated a strike against the Al-Shayrat airfield in Syria, which was associated with that country’s chemical-weapons programme and directly linked to that incident.  Emphasizing that humanitarian assistance contributed to stability and strengthened collective security, she said the United States had announced, at a donor conference in Brussels this week, more than $566 million in additional life-saving assistance for Syria and Syrian refugees, bringing to more than $6.5 billion the amount of humanitarian assistance it had extended since the start of the Syrian crisis.  That reflected American compassion and leadership, she said, adding that such funding also helped to mitigate the impact on Governments and communities in the region.

Her country, she continued, supported the United Nations-led peace process for Syria and the efforts of the Organization’s Special Envoy for Syria to bring all sides in the conflict together.  Concluding, she said:  “We call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking an end to this terrible conflict in Syria and to end terrorism in all its forms.”

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), expressing deep concern at the humanitarian emergency of asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced persons, said that focusing only on Syria ran counter to the need to take a comprehensive and integrated approach to the issue.  According to estimates, Syrians accounted for about 21 per cent of those who had died or went missing in the Mediterranean basin.  Others came from Africa and other parts of the Middle East.  He said his country rejected the politicization of the humanitarian situation by countries that were upsetting stability in the region.  There was also a lack of will to find a real political solution, he said, urging good-faith efforts that would lead to peace with no preconditions.  In many countries in Europe and America, public discourse had given rise to discrimination and violence against migrants, as well as national policies that undermined the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.  Building walls and invoking Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter would not remove the underlying root causes of refugee and migrant flows.  He went on to express his country’s deep concern over the recent use of chemical weapons, as well as its rejection of unilateral bombings that had been carried out by a permanent member of the Security Council.  Military escalation would only postpone a political solution, he said, adding that history had shown that unilateralism was ineffective, leading only to desolation and barbarism.

DIONYSSIS KALAMVREZOS (Greece) said his country’s priority was respecting the rights and dignity of those who had been forced to leave their homes.  About 28 per cent of asylum seekers in Greece were Syrian, he said, underlining that a system had been established in that regard.  While flows from the eastern Mediterranean route had diminished, they had not ceased.  The root causes of irregular migration must be examined and addressed, he said, expressing support for the new partnership framework to manage migration among countries of origin and transit.  Preventing the further loss of life was another priority.  Migration was global issues that must be guided by close, coordinated approaches.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, exercising the right of reply, denounced the statement made by a permanent member of the Security Council to use the Assembly as a podium for propaganda to discuss its attacks on her country.  Syria stood against the use of chemical weapons, she said, stressing her country’s intention of honouring all its commitments and fighting terrorism.  Responding to comments that had been made by the representative of Israel, she wondered about his statement’s veracity with regard to the numbers of refugees when Israel had caused the creation of refugees.  Israel should withdraw to the 1967 borders and allow all the refugees to return to their homes.

The representative of the Russian Federation responded to the statement made by his United States counterpart.  The attacks in Syria were an act of open aggression against a sovereign State.  The use of chemical weapons by anyone was totally unacceptable.  The incident should be investigated, but instead of waiting for that investigation, the United States had launched attacks and was acting as though it did not understand such situations, having closed its eyes to the use of chemical weapons in Iraq.  The attacks were also a distraction over what was happening in Mosul, where many had died and hundreds of thousands of civilians had become refugees.

The representative of Israel said he did not want to answer to a regime of atrocity.  What was happening in Syria was one of the worst humanitarian crises in the region, he said, asking when the violence would be stopped.

The representative of Syria said Israel was only an occupying Power that committed new crimes daily against the Palestinians and the Syrians.  That was a well-known fact that required no confirmation.  International law obliged it to withdraw from the lands it had occupied and return them to their owners.

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