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Global awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Monsieur le Président ,

Au tout début de mon intervention, je voudrais condamner les récentes attentats terroristes et présenter au nom de la Grèce notre profonde solidarité et nos condoléances aux familles des victimes. 

As a frontline and most affected country, Mr President, Greece welcomes this exchange of views to raise global awareness on the tragedies of refugees and irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin with emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers, in the most appropriate forum to deal with global challenges namely the United Nations.

Greece aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union which is indeed a major destination for mixed migratory flows.

I would like to thank High Commissioner Antonio Guterres for his comprehensive statement and take the opportunity to thank him for his leadership as head of the UNHCR and for his valuable support and cooperation with the Greek government.

The unprecedented migratory and refugee crisis we are now facing has witnessed a sharp increase along the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Balkans, in parallel with a constant flow along the Central Mediterranean route. Situated at EU’s external border, Greece has been experiencing influxes for quite some time, but nothing compared to those of the past few months: Since January 1, 2015, more than 600.000 people originating from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq have crossed the Greek borders with Turkey on their way to European countries, most of them landing on Greek islands. Most of these people, 75-80%, are refugees.

Although asymmetrically burdened during the past months, Greece, nevertheless, did and still does its utmost to rescue refugees fleeing from war, while they struggle in boats in the Aegean Sea. We have put tremendous efforts to save thousands of lives, including in search and rescue operations at sea, and to receive them in a humane way in our frontline islands, with the aid and mobilization of the local population.

As Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated in his intervention at the high level event organized by the Secretary General on September 30, “these migratory flows have a cause: wars and conflicts which – no matter what their internal causes are – we as  global community  did not  manage to resolve effectively”.

Notwithstanding their complicated nature, these conflicts need to be addressed politically, with full commitment of major and regional players. The fight against criminal networks of traffickers and smugglers that take advantage of people in need and in distress remains a priority together with the suppression of other illegal activities -such as the illicit traffic of cultural objects - which provide financial resources for armed conflict.

Mr. President,

The challenge that we will be facing in the years to come will be to deal with the underlying causes of migration which in most cases are to be found in hardship and lack of opportunity and to provide safe and stable environments where people could live without fear and thrive. In this context, we also agree that the implementation of Agenda 2030 must be a priority.

No person should have to flee because the situation in their own country has become so untenable that it is impossible to live in dignity. This is what we, the United Nations, have a collective obligation to tackle. At the same time, we should strive to address the migration crisis. Addressing the migration and refugee crisis is a common obligation which requires a comprehensive strategy and a determined effort over time in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility.

Greece considers the protection of the refugees and of human life in general to be a fundamental element of the European and international system of values and principles.  It is our responsibility to respect international obligations and human rights. As European and African leaders declared at the Valetta Summit, international protection has to be strengthened and assistance, including its humanitarian dimension, has to be stepped up. Solidarity, responsibility, humanity and close cooperation should be guiding our actions in the days and months to come.

Today, we face an international humanitarian crisis, which calls for a collective response. The United Nations and the international community must step up efforts for resolving the conflicts in Syria and Libya as well as countering violent extremism. Supporting the countries hosting a large number of refugees, as well as the UN agencies which do so much to alleviate the human pain, should be one of our shared goals. Encouraging a more generous resettlement scheme whereby numerous countries from several regions, in a spirit of shared responsibility, would participate more actively is an approach which may be timely to examine.

Thank you Mr. President

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