Press Releases

    2 February 2004

    A Europe Open to Well Managed Migration Will Be Fairer, Richer, Stronger, Says Secretary-General in Brussels Address

    NEW YORK, 29 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the European Parliament upon receipt of the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, in Brussels, 29 January:

    I am deeply touched that you have honoured my friend and colleague, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and the many other UN staff who have lost their lives in working for peace in the world.  I am proud to accept the Andrei Sakharov Prize in memory of them.

    This Prize for Freedom of Thought is not only a worthy recognition of the ultimate sacrifice that they made in the cause of peace.  It is also a welcome acknowledgement of the kinds of people they were.  The brave men and women we lost in Baghdad on 19 August -- UN staff and others -- were free spirits and free thinkers and also soldiers of humanity and of peace.

    Earlier, President Cox and I met some of the survivors of the attack, and family members of those who were killed or injured, and, as you know, they are with us in the Chamber now.  I thank them for joining us today, and I accept this Prize in their name too.

    I also thank you, President Cox, and all of you, as Members of the European Parliament, for inviting these special people to share this occasion.  It is a gesture that speaks volumes about the solidarity of the European Union with the United Nations.

    Like many who survived the blast, the United Nations itself carries deep wounds.  But our determination is stronger than ever, and we value the solidarity of friends like you.

    You showed your commitment this morning, when you adopted a resolution to strengthen the EU’s political and financial support for the United Nations.

    In its long history, Europe has seen more than its fair share of war, tyranny, and terrible suffering.  But Europeans have replaced that with a future of hope.  You have pursued the path of peace through multilateralism.  And today, the European Union is a shining light of tolerance, human rights, and international cooperation.

    After 1 May this year, that light will shine even brighter.  When you enlarge to 25 members, you will cross a divide between east and west that once seemed unbridgeable.  Enlargement is the greatest force for peace on the European continent

    The hope of further enlargement in years to come promises to build other bridges of cooperation and understanding -- including between the West and Islam, and between peoples who have fought each other in bloody wars.

    As time goes by, the continent is also experiencing an enlargement of what it means to be European.  I look forward to the day when Europe rejoices as much in diversity within States as it does in diversity between them.

    Many of your societies are already very diverse.  But all of your societies -- and many others around the world too -- will become more diverse in the decades to come.  This is the inevitable result of the movement of people across international borders.

    That movement is not going to stop.  As an international community, we need to manage the movement of people across borders far better than we do -- not just for the sake of those who move, but for the sake of the countries they leave behind, those they travel through, and those they migrate to.

    People migrate today for the same reasons that tens of millions of Europeans once left your shores -- they flee war or oppression, or they leave in search of a better life in a new land.

    Those who are forced out of their homes -- the refugees who flee in fear for their safety -- are our collective legal and moral responsibility.  We have an agreed legal framework for their protection -- the 1951 Refugee Convention.

    However, when refugees cannot seek asylum because of offshore barriers, or are detained for excessive periods in unsatisfactory conditions, or are refused entry because of restrictive interpretations of the Convention, the asylum system is broken, and the promise of the Convention is broken, too.  Your asylum system needs the resources to process claims fairly, quickly and openly, so that refugees are protected and solutions found for them.  European States need to move towards a system of joint processing and sharing of responsibilities.

    Along with others, the EU must also help strengthen the capacity of poor countries to provide protection and solutions for refugees.  After all, seven out of 10 refugees seek refuge in developing countries, where resources are far more stretched and human rights standards more uneven.  If we ignore this fact, there is a missing link in our approach to refugees -- as Professor Gil Loescher -- he’s here with us -- one of the survivors of Baghdad -- has rightly pointed out.

    Most immigrants are not refugees.  We call them voluntary migrants -- and some of them truly are.  However, many leave their home countries not because they really want to, but because they see no future at home.  It is our shared duty to do what we can to ensure that there are more opportunities in developing countries.  If we truly forge a global partnership for development, in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals, we will do a lot to reduce the incentive for people to leave.

    Your asylum systems are overburdened precisely because many people who feel they must leave see no other channel through which to migrate.  Many others try more desperate and clandestine measures, and are sometimes injured or even killed -- suffocating in trucks, drowning at sea, or perishing in the undercarriage of aircraft.

    The lucky ones who do get in often find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous employers, and alienated from society.

    Some resort to smugglers to assist their journey.  Others fall victim to traffickers -- especially women, who are forced into prostitution in a modern form of sex slavery, and become acutely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

    This silent human rights crisis shames our world.  It also generates billions of dollars for shadowy networks of organized criminals, who subvert the rule of law in all societies where they operate.

    It is the sovereign right of all States to decide which voluntary migrants they will accept, and on what terms.  But we cannot simply close our doors, or shut our eyes to this human tragedy.

    The situation is all the more tragic given that many States which close their doors actually need immigrants.

    Here in Europe, your birth rates and death rates have dropped dramatically.  Your populations are getting smaller and growing older.  Without immigration, the population of the soon-to-be 25 member States of the EU -- 452 million in 2000 -- would drop to under 400 million people by 2050.  Some States -- such as Italy, Austria, Germany and Greece -- would see their populations drop by around a quarter. That would mean that one in three Italians, for example, would be over 65 years of age -- nearly double the proportion today.

    Were this to happen, jobs would go unfilled and services undelivered.  Your economies would shrink and your societies could stagnate.  Many other countries -- from Japan to the Russian Federation to South Korea -- face the same problem.

    There is no simple solution to this problem.  But immigration is an inevitable and important part of the solution.

    I would therefore encourage European States to open up greater avenues for legal migration -– for skilled and unskilled workers, for family reunification and economic improvement, for temporary and permanent immigrants.

    Poor countries reap benefits from migration too -- through remittances.  The amounts which migrant workers send back to their countries of origin are growing fast.  In 2002, in formal remittances alone, migrants from developing countries sent back at least $88 billion to their countries of origin -- that’s 54 per cent more than the $57 billion those same countries received in official development aid.

    Don’t get me wrong.  I do not pretend that migration is without problems.  Immigrants bring to their host communities different cultures and customs, different languages and religions.  This is a source of enrichment, but it can be a source of discomfort -- and even of division and alienation.  The challenge of integration is real.

    Almost every large new immigrant group has been reviled to some degree in the early days of its establishment.  The experience of some migrants today is reminiscent of the hostility that Huguenots once faced in England, as did Germans, Italians and Irish in the United States, and Chinese in Australia.  But the longer perspective is almost always far more positive.

    Integration is a two-way street.  Immigrants must adjust to their new societies -- and societies must adjust too. The word “integrate” literally means “to make whole”. That is the imperative for Europe today. Integration of the immigrants who have become permanent members of European societies is essential for their productivity and human dignity.

    It is also essential for the functioning of healthy, humane democracies.  They cannot extract the labour of immigrants and ignore other aspects of their humanity.  The great Swiss writer Max Frisch said of the European “guest worker programmes” of the 1960s:  “We wanted workers, but we got people.”  Acknowledging and responding to that reality is one of your central challenges -- a reality that is reflected in the United Nations Migrant Workers Convention, which I urge European States, and indeed all States, to sign and ratify.

    Migration can also cause challenges for the countries migrants leave behind.  Yes, they may gain remittances.  However, if they lose contact with their diasporas, they can lose some of their best and brightest talent.

    This opens up new vistas for international cooperation.  After all, just as developing countries often want to attract emigrants back home, developed countries often have an interest in immigrants returning home after a period of time.

    International cooperation on this and other issues is the key to managing migration better.  In the effort to build better international cooperation, you in the European Union should be where you belong -- in the lead.  You have already given more thought than most regions to this issue -- and the Tampere framework is a basis on which to forge a common European policy. 

    Combating illegal immigration should be part of a much broader agenda -- an agenda to harness the benefits of immigration, not vainly try to stop it.  But sometimes, the breadth of the agenda has been lost amidst shrill debates about clamping down on illegal immigration -- as though that were the major purpose of migration policy.  The public has been fed images of a flood of unwelcome entrants, and of threats to their societies and identities.  In the process, immigrants have sometimes been stigmatized, vilified, even dehumanized.

    In the process, an essential truth has been lost.  The vast majority of migrants are industrious, courageous, and determined.  They don’t want a free ride.  They want a fair opportunity.  They are not criminals or terrorists.  They are law-abiding.  They don’t want to live apart.  They want to integrate, while retaining their identity.

    Only through cooperation -- bilateral, regional and global -- can we build the partnerships between receiver and sender countries that are in the interests of both; explore innovations to make migration a driver of development; fight smugglers and traffickers effectively; and agree on common standards for the treatment of immigrants and the management of migration.

    That’s why I am particularly glad that, last month, the Global Commission on International Migration was established.  The Commission is itself a welcome instance of North-South cooperation, co-chaired by distinguished public figures from Sweden and South Africa.  I thank all States who are supporting its vital work.  I hope it will help promote greater public understanding.  Above all, I hope it will win broad acceptance for a better normative and institutional framework for managing migration at the global level -- a framework that has human rights at its centre.

    But the most essential ingredient of all is leadership. You, as Members of the European Parliament, have a vital role to play in providing that leadership.

    The message is clear.  Migrants need Europe.  But Europe also needs migrants.  A closed Europe would be a meaner, poorer, weaker, older Europe.  An open Europe will be a fairer, richer, stronger, younger Europe -- provided you manage migration well.

    We must not minimize the difficulties that migration can bring. But let us also rejoice in the enormous contribution that migrants have made in science, academia, sports, the arts, and government -- including some of you as Members of this Parliament. And let us remember that, without migrants, many health systems would be short-staffed; many parents would not have the home help they need to pursue careers; many jobs that provide services and generate revenue would go unfilled; and many societies would age and shrink.

    Migrants are part of the solution, not part of the problem.  They should not be made the scapegoats for a vast array of social ills.

    The European Union’s anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, speaks of the day when all humans will become brothers.  If Sergio Vieira de Mello were with us today -- and, indeed, if Andrei Sakharov were too -- they would say to you what I say to you:  the people who move across borders today, in search of a better life for themselves and their families, are our brothers -- and our sisters too.  Let us treat them that way.

    In that spirit, in all our common endeavours, let the European Union and the United Nations be beacons of hope for a better future for all mankind.

    Thank you very much.

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