In an era where people are crossing borders in greater numbers seeking better opportunities, it is more vital than ever that States safeguard the rights of migrants, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level gathering in Athens today.
“Let us never forget than in the end, policies and laws are really about people and values,” he said in his remarks to the opening of the third Global Forum on Migration and Development.
The Secretary-General noted that the number of international migrants today is greater than at anytime in history, with 214 million people living outside their country of birth.
Highlighting the good that such mobility can generate, he said that, when managed well, global migration greatly improves human welfare and development. Also, migrants contribute to development in their homelands by transferring remittances and transmitting new ideas and technologies.
Meanwhile, in countries of destination, migrants fill gaps in labour demand and skills to make the economy more productive.
“But we have work ahead of us,” he told the gathering. “Around the world, migration is often the subject of shrill debate – a wedge to provoke social tensions, drive political extremes, fan the flames of discrimination and hatred.
“We cannot yet say that the development potential of international migration is being fully realized. We cannot yet declare that the rights of migrants are being fully respected.”
He noted that the conditions in which many migrants move and live continue to be “treacherous,” that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are disturbing realities and, in many parts of the world, migrant workers still face appalling working conditions.
Mr. Ban called on all countries to work together to tackle migration, highlighting three challenges that add to the urgency for action – the economic crisis, climate change, and the scourge of human trafficking, particularly of women and girls.
“As we look to these challenges, we recognize that in many ways, migration is not just a journey of people – it is a journey of policy,” he said.
“Our destination is a global system of mobility that allows people to move in legal, safe and orderly ways – with full respect for their dignity.”
The Secretary-General reiterated the importance of promoting and protecting the basic human rights of all migrants, regardless of their legal status, during a press conference with Teodora Tzakri, the Deputy Minister of Interior, Decentralization and E-Governance of Greece.
“Providing basic rights, access to education, social safety networks, sanitation and health – these are basic, which each and every country should provide,” he stated.
Mr. Ban also met with Prime Minister George Papandreou, with whom he discussed a number of regional and global issues, including climate change, migration and development, Cyprus, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, UN peacekeeping operations and reform, and also piracy and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the global anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Secretary-General said he will spare no effort to facilitate progress on the UN-backed talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders aimed at unifying the Mediterranean island.
“The international community has invested a great deal in this Cypriot-driven process, and has high expectations. I believe the talks are making reasonably good progress, and this momentum must be kept up.”
He also noted that his Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, is set to restart discussions on the name issue – as soon as both parties are ready.
He said he was encouraged that the Greek Prime Minister had told him that Greece is ready and will fully support Mr. Nimetz’s ongoing facilitation role. In that regard, Mr. Nimetz reports that he is in touch with the parties and has proposed to them the holding of meetings – either joint or separate – in New York at a time to be determined.
Also today, Mr. Ban attended a luncheon hosted by Greek President Karolos Papoulias. He is scheduled to address the Greek Parliament tomorrow before returning to New York.