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Statement by Ambassador Bhagwant S. Bishnoi, Deputy...
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Statement by Ambassador Bhagwant S. Bishnoi, Deputy Permanent Representative, on Agenda Item 130 'Global awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers' at the United Nations General Assembly on November 23, 2015 
 
 

 

Mr. President,

 

We thank you for convening this debate and giving the matter the attention it deserves.  We also thank UNHCR for the report A/70/12.

                                                                                                                      

At the outset, my delegation wishes to commend the leadership of the High Commissioner for refugees Mr. Antonio Guterres whose guidance, spanning over 10 years, has ensured that interests of refugees are given due protection.  I also take this opportunity to welcome the election of Mr. Filippo Grandi as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and assure him of our fullest support.  We are confident that the vast experience and deep understanding he brings will be extremely useful in handling refugee challenges in a humane and dignified manner. 

 

It has been noted by the High Commissioner for Refugees that the numbers have never been as staggering as now since the Second World War, with some 60 million displaced as a result of war and persecution.  Nearly 20 million are refugees, just over half of them children.  No less poignant is the number of 4,300 lives lost crossing the Mediterranean last year and more than 3,511 in this year alone.  The Mediterranean is truly the most dangerous border crossing in the world.  It is also a fact that refugee crisis may be here to stay with us for a while.  It is truly a humanitarian crisis of exceptional proportions.  The moral implications of the manner in which we handle it will be equally significant. 

 

We need to deal the issue of refugees in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1963 Refugee Protocol

 

In order to put the things in perspective, please allow me to highlight the statement of the High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Antonio Guterres of 4th September 2015 where he mentions:

 

Quote: 

This is primarily a refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon.  The vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are simply running for their lives.  All people on the move in these tragic circumstances deserve to see their human rights and dignity fully respected, independently of their legal status.  But we cannot forget the particular responsibility all states have vis a vis refugees, in accordance with international law.

Unquote.

 

Mr. President,

 

Saving lives, providing protection and upholding human dignity cannot but be the first priority.  The need is to maintain open borders and not close them.  We need to also recognize that tragic deaths at sea are only because of the lack of safe passage.  If land routes were available, asylum seekers would not have to take to the sea.  We also need to refrain from the temptation of reducing benefits available to asylum seekers in order to discourage them from seeking succour.  It is also important that we do not speak the language of racism and xenophobia. 

 

Mr. President,

 

Countries of the region have given shelter to more than 4 million refugees from Syria.  They, in fact, form a significant proportion of the population in these countries.  While these countries host the bulk of the refugees, their contributions are not monetized and there is, therefore, a tendency for them to go unrecognized.  The international community, however, needs to be conscious of the need to support those who bear the greatest burden.  The international community should match the solidarity, hospitality and compassion shown by the countries of the region with global partnership.

 

Talking of donor countries hosting refugees, we understand that support for refugees is counted as ODA by some of them.  And that some of them reduce their ODA budgets by nearly 20% on account of costs incurred in meeting their obligations under the 1951 Convention.  We know that this is permitted by the OECD.  There is, perhaps, a case for the General Assembly to take a view on this.

 

Mr. President,

 

I would like to say a few words about the UN Security Council and its resolution 2240.  One should not be faulted if reading the resolution leads one to conclude that those risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean are doing so for out of greed for pecuniary gain and not to escape persecution and death.  The boats that they use, the resolution would lead us to believe, constitute a threat to international peace and security and that they, therefore, need to be seized and destroyed.  To us it would seem that the Council has decreed that people cannot flee for their lives unless they use vessels whose sea worthiness  comes up to the standards set by the International Maritime Organization.  Is this what is meant by the R2P or Right to Protection?  By securitizing refugee movement, the Council has legitimized a response that is morally challenging in extraordinary proportions.

 

It is ironical that the crisis is actually created by the Council, through its acts of omission.  By failing to fulfill a responsibility reposed on it by the larger membership, to find a political solution to the conflict.  The need for reform speaks for itself.

 

Mr. President,

 

Erecting razor wire fences to keep out refugees undermines the notion of common humanity and strikes a blow at the very concept of the United Nations.  But we see this as an aberration which would, hopefully, only be temporary in nature.  We also see receiving countries showing empathy and compassion.   Those receiving countries will, we hope, define the international response.  By doing so, they will further validate our commitment to this organization. 

 


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