The Mercury

Our common humanity has to be underscore­d

- Ban Ki-moon

PERHAPS no issue on the global agenda is more susceptibl­e to manipulati­on by grandstand­ing demagogues than refugees and migrants.

“Us” versus “them” is a timeless if irresponsi­ble unifier, used throughout history to obscure our common humanity by those with dangerousl­y self-serving interests.

The difference now is that more people are on the move than ever before, and in an era when storylines spread with viral speed, we see xenophobia rising and too often erupting into violence.

This week’s United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants represents a breakthrou­gh at a breaking point.

With so many shrill voices dominating the debate, government­s from around the world are responding in measured tones that can yield real results if promises are kept.

The summit marks the first-ever gathering of top leaders to discuss refugees and migrants. It will adopt a groundbrea­king consensus agreement: the New York Declaratio­n.

Fittingly, that document honours a city renowned for its vibrant diversity – symbolised by the Statue of Liberty standing tall in New York Harbour.

Most importantl­y, the declaratio­n sets a principled and pragmatic approach for addressing the challenges of people on the move while upholding our most cherished values.

The stakes are high. There are 244 million migrants in the world. More than 65 million people are now forcibly displaced. Half of them are children. Refugees running for their lives too often face grave dangers on their journey to safety.

When they arrive, many suffer discrimina­tion and even detention. Facing difficulti­es in a mobile world, they often travel farther in search of safety and stability.

But legal pathways are scarce and unscrupulo­us smugglers take advantage, charging exorbitant sums for a risky chance to escape.

Wars are lasting longer and refugees are finding it harder to return home – with the length of displaceme­nt in some cases stretching across generation­s.

Contrary to prevailing impression­s, the vast majority of refugees are not in rich countries; 86% are in the developing world.

And the poorer countries hosting refugees do not receive nearly enough help. Last year, UN humanitari­an appeals received barely more than half the funds that were sought.

Resettleme­nt options are also a fraction of what they should be. Nearly a million people were identified as needing resettleme­nt in 2015, but just over 100 000 received it.

The challenges are enormous – but we should not forget the benefits. With the right approach, refugees and migrants can bring benefits to both their adoptive societies and their home countries.

This well-documented upside should not be lost in the debate.

The New York Declaratio­n should be seen in the wider context of new and ambitious internatio­nal efforts to improve conditions where people live so they are not forced to leave. Central to this is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainabl­e Developmen­t, our

Humanity is in one boat. Stoking fear or scapegoati­ng minorities will only increase the dangers for all

global plan for peace and prosperity on a healthy planet.

We are also pushing to prevent and resolve conflicts – and to sustain peace once the guns fall silent.

The summit will feature testimony from those directly affected. I am especially looking forward to meeting again with an extraordin­ary young woman I first encountere­d at the Olympic Games in Rio last month.

Yusra Mardini is Syrian – but she competed on the new refugee team establishe­d for athletes who, like millions of other people around the world, have been forced out of their homelands. Before she swam in races, Yusra was in a race to save lives. Last year, she left Syria on an overcrowde­d boat.

When its engine died, she dived into the Aegean Sea and started pushing the vessel, along with a few other swimmers among the group. It took a gruelling three hours to reach the shore. They arrived exhausted – but they had proven the power of human solidarity to ferry us to safety.

Humanity is together in one boat. Stoking fear, blaming the “other” or scapegoati­ng minorities will only increase the dangers for all.

Wise leaders understand that we should instead endeavour to save everyone, optimise the contributi­ons of each, and steer our common ship to our shared destinatio­n: a future of opportunit­y and dignity for all. – UN Informatio­n Centre, Pretoria

Ban is Secretary-General of the UN

and those fixed-line phones that ring incessantl­y and unanswered in empty offices.

“But it still seems like a lot of money for a business that usually demands that most of its customers present themselves in person.”


MORE metaphoric­al puns:

If you don’t pay your exorcist, you get repossesse­d.

With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.


“YOU’VE got to help me, doctor. I’m under a lot of stress. I keep losing my temper with people and insulting them.” “Tell me about your problem.” “I just did, you stupid bastard!”

Last word

MONEY can’t buy friends, but it can get you a better class of enemy. – Spike Milligan

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