UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s Remarks at IOM's 5th Global Chiefs of Mission Meeting Inaugural Dinner

Geneva - It gives me great pleasure to meet all of you and to offer some remarks at tonight’s inaugural dinner.  IOM’s Chiefs of Mission serve on the frontline. You see first-hand the challenges, as well as the achievements, of the ever important work in the field. I have personally, while on missions around the world, met many of you and very much value your work.

We meet at a historic point in time for both the United Nations and the IOM.  On the 19th of this month, at the Summit on Migration and Refugees in New York, we will formally sign the agreement which brings IOM into the UN system as a “related organization”.  This agreement will build on and strengthen our already close cooperation. 

The Member States of the UN and IOM deserve great credit for their wisdom and foresight in bringing our organizations closer together.

Let me also at the outset pay tribute to my good friend and colleague Bill Swing for leading IOM so well and wisely over the years. I commend him for skillfully guiding IOM through the process of joining the United Nations system. I have often talked about IOM being a cousin of the UN.  Now, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you into our UN family as sisters and brothers.

Global Landscape

Since you are soon entering the UN family, I thought it would be useful to use our time together tonight to give a snapshot of the United Nations at this moment of turmoil in world affairs.

So, I will start by saying a few words about the global environment in which we operate, and then comment on some of the challenges we face. In the end, I will come back to the Summit in September and our work ahead on migration and refugees. Thereafter, I hope we can have a brief, informal, interactive discussion.

The world today is more interdependent and more interconnected than ever before. People, not least young people, communicate across time zones at the tap of their fingers. Economies and markets are deeply intertwined. Goods, ideas and people move across borders with greater ease and speed than ever.

But let us remember: so do diseases and weapons, illicit financial flows and extremist propaganda. For every opportunity that our new world is producing, there is an equally serious challenge or risk.

As the line between ‘national’ and ‘international’ has become blurred, almost every issue debated at the domestic level also has an international dimension – whether it is migration, health, energy, water or climate change.

Governments cannot deliver stable, thriving or well-functioning societies at home without taking international factors and cooperation into account.

This is why we need to create and maintain the space for constructive and open dialogue between Member States in order to reach international solutions.  In today’s world, the good international approaches and solutions are basically and ultimately in the national interest of Member States.

The challenges we face today represent a severe test of multilateralism.  Many people question whether national and international institutions indeed can deliver sufficient results. This is a major challenge in today’s uncertain and turbulent world.

Here, we all have a job to do. The United Nations is a reflection of the world as it is.  But it also represents a vision of the world as it should be.  Our job and goal is to close that gap – or at least reduce this gap.

Transboundary threats and challenges increasingly define our work.  Many of them relate to unmanaged aspects of globalization due to porous borders and rapid spread of destructive forces, like illicit arms trade and financial flows, human trafficking and extremist incitement.

These new threats give rise to pressing political questions on how governments are prepared to cooperate, with each other and other actors, to protect our global commons and values.  And also whether and how they will combine the demands on sovereignty with the search for global security and solidarity.

At the same time, let us recall that some of the threats we are facing have an age-old flavour: like great power tensions, competition for resources, proxy wars and civil wars.  Indeed, internal conflicts have tripled in the last ten years, jeopardising some of our most important achievements in the post-Cold War world. 

The toll on civilians is calamitous. Protection of civilians is unacceptably lacking in many places.  And, as you well know, there are more people – over 65 million – forcibly displaced than at any time since the Second World War. 

The arc of instability stretching from the Sahel, through North Africa and the Middle East to Afghanistan is producing ever more human misery, including a desperate flow of people towards Europe in the past few years.

Solutions are not easily reached.  The conflicts are now more intractable, spreading across borders and providing fertile ground for violent extremism.  We see a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law, not just by non-state actors but by Member States as well.  We are locked in a cycle of interconnected conflicts and violence where nobody can achieve victory but where very few seem to seriously strive for political solutions. The Syria nightmare may be the most blatant case in point. 

This multiplicity of crises has stretched the UN’s response almost to a breaking point.  In 2015, UN and partner humanitarian agencies closed with a funding gap of over $10 billion, the largest ever. International donors mobilized less than 50% of the required funds for the 2015 humanitarian appeals.

Instead of throwing up our arms in despair, we must address the root causes of these global challenges.  More than ever, we must work proactively, preventively and in cooperation with others. The perhaps most important word today is, in my view, the word “together”.   

Member States drew up an impressive part of the roadmap ahead when they agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015.  The 17 new Goals (SDGs) are much more than the sum of their parts. They represent a global, holistic attempt at tackling the ills of humanity and the world today. They relate to both peace, development and human rights, the three interlinked pillars of the UN equally important.  And in December last year, Member States made a historic commitment to address climate change, our common existential challenge.

The last two years have also been a period of sustained reflection for the Organization, with three reviews of the UN’s peace and security architecture.  All of these underscored the importance of moving away from crisis management towards conflict resolution and prevention.

This was also a message at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit this past May in Istanbul.  The Summit on Refugees and Migrants in New York will again emphasize this message.

Ahead of us now is the task of moving from rhetorics to action.  This will require deepened engagement and political will, as well as concrete plans and investments, both in political, financial and moral terms.

Let me now move to migration.

For too long, international migration was outside the center of the discussions at the UN.  The Global Forum on Migration and Development, rather than the UN, was the annual high-level gathering where States discussed migration in depth. And IOM was outside the UN. 

It seemed for many that States were reluctant to bring migration into the center of the UN, since it touches on a core issue of state sovereignty – the power to decide whom to admit to one’s territory. 

However, this situation has evolved.  There is now a better understanding of the role of migration – 244 million international migrants – for social, economic and demographic development. There is growing recognition that migration has a rightful and important place in UN deliberations and work as not least the Summit preparations have proved.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights the positive role of migration.  States have committed to facilitating, and I quote, “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”.

The United Nations counts on IOM’s important contributions in implementing the migration-related elements of the new framework.

At the same time our focus should not be exclusively on migration.

The 2030 Agenda calls on us to create safety and opportunity at home, so that people can achieve well-being in their own countries.  Migration should be a choice, not a necessity. We must never lose sight of root causes and systemic solutions.

Promoting sustainable development in the global South is in the enlightened self-interest of the global North. In today’s world, we are all, in my view, developing and interrelated countries.

However – and this to me is very important – despite the manifest need for migration and its evident benefits, an increasingly toxic and xenophobic narrative on refugees and migrants has taken hold in many parts of the world. 

People seem to have lost confidence in the ability of their governments to manage cross-border flows of people.  The rise of populist and extreme nationalist movements is serious and troubling, of which we now see examples practically every day.

In countering the current negative narrative, we should follow a two-pronged approach.

First, the United Nations system should assist Member States in developing human rights-based policies to regulate the entry, stay and employment of foreign nationals. 

Second, the Secretary-General has offered to initiate a global campaign to counter xenophobia.  We must do a much better job of highlighting the contributions to society by migrants and refugees. At the same time, we must prevent harassment and violence against them.  IOM’s experience with the “I am a migrant” campaign is extremely valuable. Basically, this challenge is about standing up for the beauty of diversity in our nations and communities.

The Summit on the Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees

Now, let me say a few words about the September Summit.

The preparations were intensive and tough. They resulted in an outcome document we can be proud of.  I want to thank both Member States, the President of the General Assembly, the facilitators and all concerned entities in the UN and IOM as well as my own team led by Special Advisor Karen Abuzayd. I am glad to see her present here tonight and for parts of your meeting this week.

The New York Declaration contains bold commitments for migrants, and emphasizes the contributions of migrants to development.  It avoids linking migration and refugees with security risks and terrorism.  While the document has references to ‘irregular’ migration, it does not refer to migration as being ‘illegal.’  This positive framing of migration is an achievement at a time when extremist political forces are demonizing migrants and refugees.

The Declaration also includes concrete plans for the future.  Member States have agreed to start a process leading to a comprehensive framework for the governance of international migration in 2018.  This means that migration is to be governed by a set of common principles and approaches.  In this preparatory work, IOM will have an important role to play together with relevant UN action.       

IOM-UN Relationship Agreement

In closing, let me from the bottom of my heart say how glad I am to welcome you into the UN family.

Under this relationship agreement, IOM will be part of the UN system and become a member of UN coordination mechanisms. This will allow us to integrate migration dimensions more fully into our work, both at Headquarters and in the field.   The cooperation between you and other UN entities with their own mandates will be of crucial importance.

At the country level, the role of IOM in UN Country Teams is now formalised, as is the role which IOM plays in the development and realization of the UN Development Assistance Framework.  

So, again, let me thank you for IOM’s outstanding work on migration over the years.  At the UN, we have long admired your committed efforts. We are thrilled that you are now inside the family. Some may see this as only a formal and bureaucratic adjustment.  I see it as an enormously positive development and as a boost for our work on one of the key challenges and missions of our times. 

Thank you in advance for the ways in which I know you will enrich our work and help us serve “we the peoples”, in the words and spirit of the UN Charter.

I thank you for your attention – let us go to work together.