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Deputy Foreign Minister I. Amanatidis’ welcome address at the “Welcoming Cities for Refugees” meeting

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Your Excellency Mr. President of the Hellenic Republic,

Allow me to thank the Marianna Vardinoyannis Foundation and, personally, its president and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, for putting together today’s international programme on “Welcoming Cities for Refugees”. And at the same time I would like to welcome the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and the high-level guests to our country.

Her presence here today highlights the importance the United Nations Organization attaches to the refugee issue and fully underscores her personal commitment and multifaceted work, which is key not only in the areas of education, science, culture and communication, but also in dealing effectively with the contemporary humanitarian crisis.

Since the refugee flows began, and understanding the day-to-day struggle for survival of beleaguered populations, as well as their dreams for a better life, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set the management of the refugee crisis as a top priority on its agenda. The Greek people have received hundreds of thousands of refugees with love, solidarity and real generosity, setting an example for all humanity.

But as you can all see, this is a challenge. A multifaceted and intractable challenge. Refugees need food, shelter, healthcare and psychological support, which are all understandable demands, but ones that Greece cannot meet successfully without assistance from the other European countries and from international organizations.

This is because the refugee crisis is not a Greek problem. It is a European problem that reflects the crisis in Europe as a whole, and this is a fact that our country perceived from the very outset: As early as April 2015, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, was among the first European leaders to request that initiatives be undertaken to confront the refugee crisis, asking that a special EU Summit Meeting be convened.

Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has undertaken a large number of initiatives in support of the refugees. Among these, it created, in cooperation with the Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO, a multi-disciplined Committee of experts on the refugee crisis, with personnel from all the co-competent ministries. The Committee is working systematically to ensure that the refugees are cared for, that their needs are covered and that they receive support, particularly regarding education, with emphasis on women and children.

In this context, Greece was represented at the Annual Meeting of European National Commissions for UNESCO, in Krakow, Poland, setting out the existing state of affairs in our country, the steps that have been taken thus far, the difficulties and the need for the cooperation and solidarity of the European states in support of the refugees.

In closing, I would like to stress that what must be set at the very heart of handling the refugee crisis is the effort to confront the wars and conflicts in Syria and Iraq; conflicts negatively impacting, among other things, important UNESCO Monuments of World Cultural Heritage, which are the common heritage and legacy of all humanity. At the same time, monuments on the World Cultural Heritage list must be more actively protected from any alteration of their nature and identity. And the Church of Hagia Sophia is among these monuments.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Using education as its main vehicle, I believe that UNESCO can and must play a key role in promoting intercultural dialogue and consolidating world peace, an area in which Greek foreign policy has undertaken initiatives from the very outset, with a positive global response.