High Level Segment UN Human Rights Council

Geneva , 

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We occupy an international order increasingly dominated by national self-interest. Nowhere have the consequences been more dire than in Syria, where the conflict has been allowed to develop into the gravest human rights catastrophe since the Second World War.

This is despite the fact that this war is destroying a nation; destabilising a region; and causing tremors around the world – through the refugee crisis and by helping radicalise a new generation of extremists.

And it is despite the fact that the major world powers have a clear responsibility to do everything they can to bring about peace. That responsibility can be found in black and white, in Article 24 of the UN Charter, in which its members explicitly confer on the Security Council “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Because of this crisis and others we live in an age of the mass displacement of people.

In the last two years, one and a half million refugees and other migrants have entered the EU.

It’s estimated that over 3 million are in Turkey, alone.

1 million IDPs live in Eastern Ukraine

A quarter of a million people are expected to flee Western Mosul in the coming weeks.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a further 9 million refugees and IDPs are in the Sahel and Great Lakes regions in Africa. Many of them are still too weak or vulnerable to cross the Sahara, but eventually many will choose to head north, towards Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants are already in camps in Libya, many waiting to cross the Mediterranean, or die trying.

So we can continue to obsess over what-percentage-of-GDP governments should spend on their defence budgets – as though the right number will magically solve our security concerns.

Or we can recognize that these debates, while important, do not take us to the heart of the biggest security question facing us today: how can our governments prevent such vast numbers of people from being on the move?

At the beginning of this decade, the UNHCR and the World Food Programme asked the world for help to support refugees living in Lebanon and Jordan. Despite many pledges and promises, they didn’t receive what they needed. From Europe’s point of view, it was a self-inflicted wound. Aid and food had to be cut back. Life in the camps became even harder. These people’s hope that they would eventually return home diminished. For many, heading to Europe became the only way out. The rest you know.

But Europe will not cope with a repeat of history.

We have a duty to refugees fleeing conflict and poverty  – of course. But the only sustainable solution – for their futures and our stability – is reducing their reasons to run.

Large-scale arrivals to Europe have severely tested, and continue to test, political and social solidarity. A small number of countries, including Italy and Greece, are bearing too great a burden. And the big winners are the populists, nationalists and xenophobes who use this crisis to stoke division and fear in our societies.

Some people like to think that Europe’s populist problem began with Donald Trump’s twitter account, or can be blamed on the rise of fake news, or else a masterplan by the Kremlin.

But the truth is that Europe is experiencing a populist renaissance because we have not yet built inclusive and fair societies, because we did not see the migrant crisis coming, and because the eventual response which came was too little and too late.  

Now is the moment to learn those lessons. To support, all of us, peace in Syria, and other parts of the region experiencing turmoil, with the UN Security Council doing its duty. We must support the UNHCR and World Food Programme; and we must do much more to relocate and integrate those who continue to arrive in our nations.

Friends, it is the only path to stability, that much is clear. We have the means. We have the imagination. The question is, simply: do we have the will?