11 January 2018, GENEVA – In response to the protracted migrant and refugee crisis that has affected primarily Europe and the MENA region, a coalition of international organizations took the initiative to adopt the 2017 Geneva Declaration entitled “Mobility and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region” pledging increased cooperation between decision-makers to address the adverse impact of the crisis.

The Geneva Declaration is the fruit of a panel debate entitled “Migration and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region” that was organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue – a think-tank holding special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council - on 14 December 2017 at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Renowned spokespersons from the Geneva Centre, IOM, UNHCR, the International Catholic Migration Commission, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the European Centre for Peace and Development and the Sovereign Order of Malta inspired the deliberations attended by diplomats, NGOs and academics.

The panel debate addressed the adverse impact of cross-border movement resulting from war-related insecurity and climate change. Violence and insecurity as well as climate change induced migration have adversely affected millions of people in the MENA region and have become issues of high importance for the countries in that region and in Europe. The debate offered a timely opportunity to address these issues in its Europe-Middle Eastern interactive dimensions rather than through focussing on the two regions separately.

The Geneva Declaration was signed by the Geneva Centre (Chairman H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim and Executive Director H. E. Ambassador Idriss Jazairy), the International Catholic Migration Commission (Secretary General Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo), the European Centre for Peace and Development (Director for International Relations & Founder of IPS Dr. Roberto Savio), the Norwegian Refugee Council (Director of Europe Office Mr. Edouard Rodier), the Sovereign Order of Malta (Permanent Observer to UN Geneva H. E. Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann), the International Press Syndicate (Director General and Chief Editor Mr. Ramesh Jaura), the European Public Law Organization (Head of EPLO’s Delegation in Geneva H. E. Ambassador George Papadatos), the African Centre against Torture (Director Mr. David Koros), Webster University (Head of the Department of International Relations and Associate Professor of International History & Politics Dr. Oreste Foppiani) and Citizens United Switzerland (Founder and President Ms. Ngoneh Panneh). 

The United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Dr. Alfred de Zayas and the Norwegian author and journalist Mr. Halle Jørn Hanssen also signed the Declaration.

The objective of this declaration is to highlight that States and decision-makers in the Arab region and the West are morally and legally bound to enhance human mobility. It calls for the need to respond with a unified voice to the tragedy of those millions of people on the move in the Middle East and North Africa region. It also makes good economic sense.

In this regard, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy – who spearheaded this initiative – stated that “the Geneva Declaration calls for concerted efforts by decision-makers in the Arab region and in the West to address the root-causes triggering the unprecedented rise of people on the move. Increased cooperation between member States of the United Nations is needed to respond to the plight of displaced people.”

He added that “a value-driven human rights system must guide decision-makers in their endeavours to identify joint solution to the largest movement of forcibly displaced people the world has ever witnessed since the end of the Second World War.”

Multilateralism and consensus building at a crossroad

The adoption of the Geneva Declaration arrived at a suitable time in view of the decision of the US government to withdraw from the Global Compact and of the numerous consultation sessions that were organized by the United Nations to contribute to the realization of the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. 

The Declaration appeals to inter alia all UN member States to contribute to the realization of these frameworks “through dialogue, consensus-building and mutual engagement” so as to “present a framework for comprehensive international cooperation on migrants and human mobility.” It also highlighted the need to eliminate policies and initiatives seeking to restrict and over-securitize migration.

During the December panel debate, IOM’s Senior Regional Advisor for the MENA region Mr. Hassan Abdel Moneim – who delivered a statement on behalf of IOM’s Director General H. E. Ambassador William Lacy-Swing – said that “we must all stand ready to aid migrants, and to ensure social inclusion into ‘all policies. Migration is not a problem to be solved, but a human reality to be managed.”

The Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Europe Office Mr. Edouard Rodier echoed these views stating that “human mobility has become a common feature, a reality on the ground.” He said that “the ‘Geneva declaration’ gives us an additional opportunity to consider the growing tensions between our Northern fortresses jealously defending their comparative advantage and the rest of the world.”

“Surely, many of us would agree that the solution cannot be about developing protectionism and championing unilateralism. Denial is rarely the answer,” concluded Mr. Rodier in his panel intervention.

In preparation for the panel debate, the Geneva Centre noted in the concept note that countries in the Middle East have carried the majority of the burden in hosting and in providing assistance and protection to refugees and migrants. Twenty-five, twenty and three percent respectively of the populations of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are made up of refugees. In the case of Europe, the arrival of displaced people only account for 0.2% of its population. 

As part of the solutions to address the migrant and refugee crisis, the co-signatories of the Declaration called for continued dialogue to identify equitable burden - and responsibility-sharing mechanisms and appealed to decision-makers to meet the funding requirements identified by the United Nations in relation to “addressing the acute humanitarian needs of refugees worldwide”. “We recall that hosting refugees is a legal and moral obligation,” added the co-signatories.

Telling examples were provided by the 14 December panellists regarding the endeavours of leading organizations to respond to the plight of people on the move. H. E. Ambassador Pictet-Althann noted that the Sovereign Order of Malta carries out its humanitarian activities in countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iraq so as to address the plight of refugees and to relieve the socio-economic pressure imposed on these countries.

UNCHR’s Senior Protection Officer on Mixed Migration Ms. Christine Goyer likewise emphasised that the world’s leading refugee agency has provided support to inter alia processing individual biometric registration for refugees, access to livelihood opportunities and the establishment of community centres and mobile teams in the region in pursuit of sustainable protection responses.

Populism and right wing extremism is once again rearing its ugly head                  

The unprecedented rise of people on the move has resulted in a populist tidal wave. Right wing and populist parties in the West are on the offensive. The rise of populism in Europe is threatening the democratic traditions of a continent referred to as the birthplace of democracy as demonstrated in the electoral outcomes in France, the Netherlands, Greece, Hungary, Austria and Poland and as expected in other countries such as Italy and Sweden. Populism in Europe is on the rise.

In this context, the Geneva Declaration emphasizes the importance of addressing the rise of populism. It warns that the “campaign of fear is growing, challenging the legitimacy and mandates of multilateral institutions, and restoring previous nationalistic reactions that constitute direct threats to peace and international cooperation.” The defamatory conflation between terrorism and refugees and asylum-seekers as well as attempts to criminalize people on the move – it cautions - threaten diverse and pluralist societies.

These views were likewise echoed by Dr. Roberto Savio in his panel intervention. He noted that “nationalism, populism and xenophobia are back with growing popular support and politicians openly riding them.” The decision of the US government to withdraw from the Global Compact on Migration – he noted - has “set a perfect example” for other countries in Europe to ignore the decisions of the European Union to address the plight of people on the move and to continue their populist path. A viable Europe relies on its ability to celebrate diversity and integrate migrants and refugees into its societies, observed Dr. Savio.   

Monsignor Roberto Vitillo also called for “dialogue and practical cooperation among Christians and Muslims” which can create points of convergence and “eliminate the tensions arising from a lack of direct familiarity with people whose cultures, faith traditions, and ethnic identities may differ from our own.” Enhanced collaboration among people of different faiths could therefore be a key entry-point to address and roll-back the rise of populism, bigotry, xenophobia and violent extremism in Europe and the MENA region. These views are echoed in the Geneva Declaration

The forgotten issue of climate change migration

In this context, the Geneva Declaration also warns “against adverse impact of climate change and environmental degradation” which could further exacerbate the living conditions of millions of people. “We call upon international decision-makers to put stronger emphasis on addressing the adverse impact of climate change on human mobility in future consultation processes related to migration and displacement,” concluded the co-signatories.

The Head of IOM’s Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division Ms. Dina Ionesco expressed disappointment with the fact that scant attention was given to the adverse impact of climate change migration during the consultation phases of the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration.

Inter Press Service has previously pointed to the disruptive effects of climate change on as many as 1 billion people worldwide by 2050. The woeful consequences of inaction in addressing the adverse impact of climate change has the potential to expose more people to environmental risks associated with global warming. These views were echoed by the Chairman of the Geneva Centre H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim who stated in his opening remarks that “climate change might stir an even bigger migrant and refugee crisis in the future.”

For more information about the 14 December panel debate and the Geneva Declaration, please consult the following documents:

The Geneva Declaration is open for signatures by international and national NGOs and civil society organizations. To discuss this, please contact the Geneva Centre’s communications officer Mr. Blerim Mustafa on bmustafa@gchragd.org or +41 (0) 22 748 27 95. 

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