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Refugees and migrants: part of our common humanity

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Lakhdar Brahimi calls on leaders to approach the debate on refugees and migration with care and responsibility. Reflecting on the daunting challenges ahead, he remains hopeful that a better world can be built with the passion and commitment of the young.

"We must all remember that refugees and migrants are part of our common humanity with the same rights and aspirations as you or I."

Lakhdar Brahimi

The new year has been marked by the arrival of a new Secretary-General of the United Nations and a new President of the United States. António Guterres and Donald Trump start from very different positions but both men, together with all the world’s leaders, will confront similar challenges that can ultimately only be overcome by collective action and cooperation.

One such challenge is the complex and changing relationship between migration and security. This is something The Elders have been focusing on throughout last year, and it was at the heart of the discussions I took part in at the Youth and Leaders Summit at Sciences Po, the distinguished Paris university, on 16 January 2017.

The overarching theme of the conference – the second such gathering following the inaugural event in 2016, where I spoke along with Martti Ahtisaari -- was “The Migration Crises”. Panel discussions addressed different specific aspects from the challenges facing governments and institutions; humanitarian challenges; security; and economic and demographic dynamics.

I believe the international community must both appreciate the connections between these diverse challenges, but also the necessary distinctions and the need for nuanced, long-term policymaking.

Decisions taken in Washington less than two weeks after the new US President assumed office are a source of concern for many Americans and much of the rest of the world.

The Elders share this concern; in our statement of 31 January we said that the ban on refugees and migration from Muslim countries “is at odds with the United States’ distinguished record in resettling refugees and protecting victims of conflict,” and that any actions that weaken the international system to manage and protect refugees will hurt the vulnerable, stoke resentment and threaten greater insecurity.

In our 2016 report “In Challenge Lies Opportunity: How the World Must Respond To Refugees and Mass Migration”, The Elders set out four principles which we believe should help guide policy everywhere on refugees and migrants:

  • Response mechanisms to large flows of people must be developed and properly coordinated, both regionally and internationally
  • Assistance to major refugee-hosting countries must be enhanced
  • Resettlement opportunities must be increased, along with additional pathways for admission
  • Human rights and refugee protection must be upheld and strengthened

But security cannot be overlooked in this debate, and nor can or should people’s fears be dismissed when faced with a sudden influx of migrants and refugees.

Insecurity is one of the key reasons why so some 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, be it from war in Syria and chaos in Libya to terrorism in Nigeria and across the Sahel in North Africa.

It is vital that the international community does not, in trying to tackle these threats, end up creating even greater conflict and insecurity, as was the case in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and more recently in Libya after the Western intervention against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Leaders must approach this debate with care and responsibility. Words matter, and we must all remember that refugees and migrants are part of our common humanity with the same rights and aspirations as you or I.

It is also equally important for all of us not to succumb to feelings of despair or cynicism in the face of daunting global challenges. I left the Summit at Sciences Po heartened by the informed, engaged and constructive questions from the students as well as my fellow panellists. They will be the leaders of tomorrow, and their passion and commitment to building a better world should be an inspiration to us all.

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