UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants

Keywords: Asylum

Speeches, FDJP, 19.09.2016. Federal councillor Simonetta Sommaruga. Check against delivery. Unofficial translation.

Statement by the Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, head of the federal department of justice and police DFJP

Mr President, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year, Europe experienced what many countries in Africa and in the Middle East have been experiencing for decades: the daily arrival of thousands of people seeking protection or a better life.

How did Europe react to this – admittedly very big – challenge? We have seen it: Europe was not well prepared and often overwhelmed.

We were not able to provide a common European response to this crisis.

The crisis has unfortunately also shown that in situations of emergency, many – but luckily not all - tend to only look after themselves.

Today, there is still no common European asylum policy, but the arrival of thousands of people fleeing their war-torn countries did trigger joint action in Europe: The European Resettlement and Relocation

programs, that were adopted under high political pressure, do certainly not go far enough – but they are one important step in the right direction – namely towards shared responsibility.

Let us therefore make sure that migration is not used by populist parties for purely domestic political purposes.

Having said this, what exactly is the task of the global community with regards to large movements of refugees and migrants? Let me mention five points:

First of all, we need to defend past achievements. The 1951 Refugee Convention and the core Human Rights Treaties are still the best tools to guarantee the protection of refugees and migrants. If all 147 member states of the Geneva Convention fully complied with their commitments, we would already have achieved a great deal.

Second: we need to find solutions to equally share the responsibility for international challenges globally: If individual States are unable to comply with their obligations in terms of protecting refugees and migrants, the international community must step forward and assist.

Third: We need to find answers to new forms of forced displacement – for example caused by climate change. Switzerland therefore particularly welcomes the integration of IOM into the UN-System. We consider this step as an occasion to strengthen cooperation between the key players in the area of migration and forced displacement and to develop new protection tools.

Fourth: migration must be considered as an opportunity. In most cases, immigrants contribute through their labour force to the prosperity of both their country of residence and their country of origin. It was therefore crucial that we managed to include migration in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last year.

And fifth: the multilateral migration dialogue needs platforms fostering exchange and cooperation among states. For a long time this was not possible, as it was feared that no common ground would be found because of opposing interests.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For all these reasons, Switzerland supports with great conviction the declaration we adopted today. This declaration furthermore underscores three of Switzerland’s key priorities for the way ahead:

  • Strengthening the protection for refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations.
  • Preventing forced displacement by addressing its root causes, and
  • Promoting economic and social self-reliance of displaced persons while taking into account the interests and needs of the local population.

Switzerland particularly supports the planned elaboration of the two Global Compacts on migration and refugees until 2018. Switzerland is convinced: For these initiatives to be successful, all actors – states, international organisations, the civil society and the private sector – must work together.

It will be equally important that these initiatives can fully benefit from the extensive expertise present in Geneva as the global hub for migration and refugee issues. Switzerland will fully support these processes and stands ready to play an active and leading role.

Ladies and gentlemen,

history shows again and again that there are two possible answers to major international challenges and crises:

On one hand, one can retreat behind strictly national approaches – on the other hand, governments can take courageous and innovative steps towards increased multilateral cooperation.

In the area of migration, crises were often at the origin of major multilateral achievements – for instance the development of the Geneva Convention after World War II.

Let’s be clear: multilateral dialogues and processes alone will not solve all problems. But I am convinced that they are now more important than ever before.

Many unanswered questions remain in the area of migration and refugee policy and there are many different – often also antagonistic – interests. But there can only be one compass guiding us: it is the compass of human dignity.

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