As the Security Council gathered to discuss cooperation between the UN and regional organizations, Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative for International Migration briefed on the refugee and mixed migratory crisis in the Mediterranean, where in the first 150 days of 2015 alone, some 1,800 people drowned attempting escape to Europe from their own strife-torn homelands.He outlined priorities for the collective response to the situation, including through an urgent focus on saving lives, boosting law enforcement against smugglers, increasing safe avenues for refugee resettlements, greater solidarity with countries closer to conflict, and intensifying efforts to end conflicts that are driving people away. “The situation in the Mediterranean represents – first and foremost – a security crisis for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in harm’s way: those risking their lives to cross the seas, those trapped and abused in transit countries, those fleeing conflicts, natural disasters, and other threats to their lives and livelihoods,” Mr. Sutherland told the 15-member Council. The Security Council also heard from Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Téte António, Permanent Observer for the African Union, ahead of this week’s meeting of the European Commission that aims to approve an agenda on migration. Spotlighting the breadth of the challenge, he said the 1,800 deaths on the Mediterranean in the first month of the year represent a 20-fold increase over the same period last year – and at this pace, between 10,000 and 20,000 migrants would perish by autumn. About one third of those crossing the Mediterranean are Syrian refugees. Thousands more are from Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan and other nations. In a single weekend in April, 900 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean. “It is a collective responsibility to act,” said Mr. Sutherland, who a month ago was appointed to an informal group tasked with UN’s response to the migratory crisis.The European Union has recently pledged to triple its resources and must commit to search-and-rescue as its first priority, he said, calling on Europe and Africa to develop a common strategy to deal with smugglers and traffickers. “This will not be easy,” he said. “It demands better governance and coordinated law enforcement efforts along the entire routes of migratory movements.”The stakes are high for organized crime – moving people illegally across borders is today more lucrative than the sale of illicit arms and drugs. All enforcement measures will have to adhere to international human rights, humanitarian, maritime, and refugee law, Mr. Sutherland said. He called for more attention to the challenges of small countries like Lebanon and Jordan, which are together hosting more than 1.8 million refugees from Syria. In Lebanon’s case, this represents almost a quarter of its population and half of the refugees are children, a majority of whom are not in school. The burden cannot fall on the few.“We need more resettlement countries. We need larger resettlement quotas. Only half of the 28 EU Member States are resettlement countries,” he urged.Mr. Sutherland also spotlighted the responsibility of those countries where inequality, dysfunctional governance and poverty drive people to migrate. “They need to be accountable toward their own citizens and create conditions where everyone can benefit from economic and social advancement,” he said. In the meantime, the international community needs to offer far more aid to countries close to conflict zones, to ensure the safety of refugees and migrants, educate their children, and offer real hope for the future. Mr. Sutherland urged the need to address the larger problems we gave including the root causes –‘conflict that go on for years on end, authoritarian governments that abuse their citizens, demographic challenges that seem to grow exponentially.” While it is easy enough to turn away from troubles that seem intractable – “every problem, broken down, can be ameliorated.” At the most basic level, he said, there is a need to engage in a systematic, intense dialogue among countries of origin, transit, and destination. He also emphasized the need to include migrants and refugees in the post-2015 UN development agenda.
INSIDE THIS NEWS STORYNo one is winning, everybody is losingPledges now need to be turned into actionHave to send message to the Syrian people that they are not forgottenEarlier in the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres drew attention the plight of those suffering as a result of the conflict in the war-ravaged country and urged the international community to increase support for both people within Syria as well as for the millions seeking refuge beyond its borders and for the communities hosting them.“The need for humanitarian aid and the protection of Syrian civilians has never been greater [and] the humanitarian appeal for a single crisis has never been higher,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the opening session of the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.“UN agencies and our partners are determined to reach everyone in need, through all possible means,” he emphasized. The pledges made today will support humanitarian relief, protection and resilience-building for people in need. It will also help the war-torn country’s neighbours shoulder the heavy burden from the spill-over effects of the crisis. In its seventh year now, the conflict in Syria is the largest humanitarian challenge in the world – 13.5 million men, women and children inside the country are in need of urgent assistance and there are now more than five million Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Many more have made dangerous journey to Europe and farther afield. UN-coordinated response plans for Syria and the region require a total of $8 billion for 2017 alone, and the funding will contribute to UN and its partners efforts to reach some 12.8 million people this year. The conference – co-chaired by UN, the European Union (EU), Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar and the United Kingdom – started yesterday with thematic sessions on the humanitarian needs and challenges within the country and on ways to strengthen resilience of refugees and host communities in the context of the crisis. VIDEO: Speaking to reporters in Brussels, UN chief Guterres underscored the importance of the conference.No one is winning, everybody is losing – UN chief GuterresIn his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted that as the conflict in Syria grinded on, it continued to extract a harrowing toll on civilians. “Nobody is winning this war. Everybody is losing,” he said.Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children remain in siege-like conditions, beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance and “persistent” violations of international humanitarian law remains a reality in the country, added Mr. Guterres, noting: “as yesterday’s reports of use of chemical weapons reminded us again”. Hailing the countries hosting Syrian refugees, the UN chief also underlined the importance of building the resilience of host communities and to provide them with the support they need. “But we also must step up international budget,” he added, noting that funding remains “utterly insufficient”. He also urged developed countries, in particular, not to close borders or reduce resettlement and relocation opportunities and called on the international community to protect the integrity of the international refugee protection regime and emphasized that the world must share responsibility for Syrian refugees more equitably. “This conference must represent a moment of truth, when the international community takes decisive steps to increase its support for the victims of the Syria conflict, and for the neighbouring countries that are providing a safe haven for millions of refugees,” underscored the Secretary-General. A UN convoy drives past destroyed buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria. March 2017. Photo: UNICEF/Ebo As soon as possible, pledges must be turned into action – UN aid chiefWelcoming the pledges received today, Stephen O’Brien, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the international solidarity could not have come sooner. “Today has been a momentous opportunity for much of the world to come together to commit more support and solidarity for Syrians and those affected across the region,” he said. UN and partners have already been providing live-saving and life-sustaining food, water, medical care and shelter across the country. However, lack of humanitarian access, particularly to over 4.7 million people in besieged and hard to reach areas within the country remains a major obstacle for aid delivery.“We have today heard commitments from a wide range of countries to continue to resource principled humanitarian action through regular programmes, across conflict lines, across borders, and via air operations,” added Mr. O’Brien, calling on countries to translate the pledges into actual funds.“We now need, as soon as possible, to see these pledges turned into cash for action.” We must send a message to the Syrian people that they are not forgotten – UN envoyAlso today, Staffan De Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria and the mediator for intra-Syrian talks, who was also at the Brussels Conference, stressed the importance to sustain the momentum on Syria. “Bottom line: we need to send a constant, strong message, not to ourselves but to the Syrian people that they will not become a forgotten war,” he stated.“They need to hear that […] they can still count on us and hope is not given up. And I think this event, this important conference, is in this direction.”