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Elders’ Visit to UNGA High-Level Week, New York, 17-22 September 2016

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Four Elders visited New York in September 2016 to attend events in and around the UN General Assembly, including on refugees and migration, Universal Health Coverage and UN reform.

Four Elders – Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson – travelled to New York for meetings in and around the High-Level Week of the United Nations General Assembly, with a particular focus on the UN Summit on Refugees and Migration on 19 September.

This visit came just days after another delegation of Elders had visited Germany to discuss the same topic, and thus afforded continuity and a chance to advocate The Elders’ new positions on refugees and migration to a truly global audience. Three Elders spoke at the high-level Round Tables that ran in parallel with the plenary session of the Summit. Martti Ahtisaari, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson each addressed different aspects of the topic: vulnerabilities of refugees and migrants, responsibility-sharing and respect for international law, and addressing the drivers of migration, respectively.

As in Berlin, the Elders also wanted to hear directly from refugees themselves so a meeting was organised by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at their Manhattan headquarters to meet people who had been resettled by the IRC in the New York area. Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani met refugees from Iraq, Bhutan and Guatemala who had been settled in the New York area – in fact, the lady from Guatemala had only arrived in the United States some three weeks previously.

The Elders were joined by IRC President and former UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, herself a former refugee from Czechoslovakia, and afterwards gave interviews to international and digital media.

Gro Harlem Brundtland with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and dignitaries at an event on Universal Health Coverage in New York, in 2016. (Credit: @ThailandUN)

Refugees and migration was not the sole focus of the visit. The Elders’ initiative on Universal Health Coverage was discussed by Gro Harlem Brundtland at the Social Good Summit in the context of implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, agreed in New York one year previously. Gro Brundtland also gave a keynote speech outlining The Elders’ positions on Universal Health Coverage at an event organised by the Rockefeller Foundation also attended by Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, and the health ministers of South Africa and Thailand. Her speech was warmly received and singled out for specific praise by Margaret Chan, highlighting the resonance the Elders’ message on UHC has among key policymakers.

In addition, Elders were also invited to address various aspects of their proposals to strengthen the working of the UN, including restraining the use of the veto by members of the Security Council to prevent mass atrocities, and the selection process for the next Secretary-General.

In addition to UN-linked activities, Mary Robinson and Gro Brundtland also spoke at a reception to mark the fifth anniversary of Girls Not Brides, where they reflected on The Elders’ involvement in establishing the global campaign against child marriage and its success to date.

The Elders also used their time in New York to hold important bilateral meetings, including with the UN Special Envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and the Director-General of UNRWA, Pierre Krähenbühl.

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