Recalling recent Lesbos visit, Ban urges European leaders to act with ‘compassion and foresight’ on refugee issue

28 June 2016

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged European leaders meeting in Brussels today to act with “compassion and foresight,” and find humane solutions for refugees that not only uphold international law and protect human rights, but also save lives.

“We need to help human beings caught up in horrendous circumstances, which they had no role in creating and have no power to change,” the Secretary-General noted in an opinion piece published today in Belgian French-language newspaper, Le Soir, and other media outlets in Europe.

In the opinion piece, the Secretary-General looked back to his recent visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, which is where many refugees and migrants first arrive when entering Europe and where he saw and heard first-hand their plight at the island’s Kara Tepe and Moria locations.

“The waters were calm the day I visited. But not so long ago, the horizon was filled with flimsy, overcrowded boats making their way across cold and choppy waters. People arrived by the thousands, some still with shrapnel wounds from the fighting they had fled just days earlier,” he wrote.

“I spoke with Syrians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and others. I sensed immense gratitude for their temporary haven,” he added. “But I also saw simmering frustration at their uncertain futures, causing tensions within and beyond the facilities. As one person said, ‘it is the waiting that is killing everyone inside.’”

Mr. Ban highlighted that the people of Greece and Lesbos had responded “admirably” to the influx of so many people in need, adding that, “If tiny Lesbos can do so much, surely others can do more.”

In that vein, the UN chief urged world leaders to uphold their political, moral and legal obligations by taking the following five steps: relocate more people, protect people, provide more resettlement as well as humanitarian and complementary pathways for admission, fight xenophobia and hatred, and address the root causes of forced displacement.

“The situation is complex, yet simple, in its fundamentals: we need to help human beings caught up in horrendous circumstances, which they had no role in creating and have no power to change,” he wrote. “Large movements of people have occurred before and we have coped. With the world now richer than ever and more knowledgeable than ever, we should be able to cope better than ever, and do right for today’s and future generations.”

The Secretary-General also urged all world leaders to attend the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants taking place at UN Headquarters in New York in September, and for which the goal is a new global compact on responsibility-sharing for refugees and another one for safe, orderly and regular migration.


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