Heads of States and Governments,
Excellencies and distinguished delegates,
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
The issue that confronts us is one of the most vexed and painful for any nation that values human rights – the great suffering we have all witnessed as a result of the mass movement of refugees and migrants from troubled parts of the world.
I come from a nation that markets itself as the “place where happiness finds you”. And we pride ourselves as a people who have big hearts and caring natures, especially for those in distress.
Fiji makes a disproportionate contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping because we feel very strongly about the need to protect defenceless ordinary people in trouble parts of the world. So the tragedy that has unfolded as large numbers seek refuge from areas of conflict tugs at the heartstrings of every Fijian.
On their behalf, I appeal to the world to approach this crisis in a manner that places human rights and human dignity above all else. The defence of borders and the orderly flow of people are important considerations. But the welfare of ordinary men, women and children caught up in events beyond their control and seeking better lives elsewhere must be uppermost in all our minds.
Last September, when we unanimously endorsed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we committed ourselves to quote -“facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”. Unquote.
Distinguished delegates, we clearly need a more concerted and more holistic global approach if we are to have any hope of achieving this goal. And address the growing crisis of large movements of people in various parts of the world who are escaping violent conflict, poverty and inequality.
First and foremost, we need maximum cooperation between governments and multilateral agencies to work closely with those nations that are affected to improve conditions for their citizens and stem the flow of people in the first place.
The great powers have a special responsibility in this area – to use their influence to promote stability in areas of conflict and refrain from using them for wider strategic advantage. In the case of Syria, we are now seeing a degree of cooperation between the United States and Russia to address the crisis there and Fiji warmly welcomes this development.
As time goes by, we are also bound to see greater movements of refugees and migrants triggered by climate change, disasters and environmental degradation. The issue of climate change displacing large numbers of people is of particular concern to Fiji.
We are in a region of the world that is especially vulnerable to the extreme weather events and rising sea levels caused by global warming. And we are already beginning to consider a worse-case scenario in which three low-lying Pacific nations – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – are submerged altogether.
Fiji has offered to give refuge to the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu – our closest neighbours – if that worse case scenario eventuates. But we are clearly going to need the assistance of the rest of the world to do so.
As a global community, we also face the complex task of establishing a legal framework for these mass movements of climate refugees to take place. Fiji has set up a modest specialist unit – funded by itself – to research the various legal issues arising from climate change refugees. And I urge you all to support this initiative and come and work with us and complement the resources we have already allocated to this project. There is a clear imperative to do so.
Distinguished delegates, I repeat: only by working together in a more concerted manner can the global community tackle the grave crisis that now confronts us.
The mass movement of refugees and migrants in various parts of the world poses one of the greatest challenges of modern times. We need to engage proactively with those governments whose policies are forcing their people to leave. We need to do all we can to head off conflict before hostilities erupt and people feel that they have no choice but to leave. We must do more to assist those countries that are struggling economically and create the jobs and opportunities that keep people where they are. And where we cannot do so, we must work together more effectively to minimize the disorderly flow of refugees and migrants and maximise their orderly resettlement.
We must develop safe, legal and regular avenues for ordinary people in need to find refuge for themselves and their families. And develop better ways to integrate them into other societies and become valued citizens of their adopted homes.
Governments must also work together more effectively to confront the people smugglers, those who prey on the hopes and dreams of ordinary people for commercial gain. Along with the drug trade, the pernicious trade in people across borders is a grave threat to international security and demands zero tolerance the world over.
Excellencies, Fiji commends those nations that have opened their doors to large numbers of refugees. We especially commend those governments that have shown leadership on this issue at great political risk and have come down on the side of conscience and have upheld humanitarian values rather than give way to expediency. We must listen to those voices who preach compassion and inclusion rather than those who preach xenophobia and call for doors to be shut.
Our common humanity demands a much better response to this crisis than the world has displayed thus far. Even in the far off Pacific, we hear the cries of the displaced. Those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their futures in their own countries and have set out to find better lives elsewhere.
We hear the cries of those who have lost their loved ones before they reach safety, including the untold thousands who have drowned in the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans. And we hear the cries of those who are unfairly treated in detention centres – including in our own region – with no hope and no way out.
Excellencies: our common humanity demands that we must heed these cries and work together more holistically and more effectively to address this crisis. And to do so with the utmost urgency.
I thank you.