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UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants: It’s Time for Action

An op/ed by Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, on the eve of the United Nations Summit

by Francesco Rocca
rifugiati migranti
The president of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, in New York for the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, weighs in on La Voce: "The time for words is over... Member States must institute safe and legal routes for people fleeing violence, to guarantee humanitarian access to countries of origin, transit and destination, and to concretely anticipate departures, not with police operations, but with peacekeeping and development missions."

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In a few hours the General Assembly of the United Nations will convene and there will also be a High Level Summit on large movements of refugees and migrants as they are becoming more central to political debate. World humanitarian organizations will be present to pursue their demands and to try to press governments to adopt an agenda comprised of concrete priorities.

There is great expectation on our part but also a realization that the time for words is over. For years now, we have been denouncing migrant tragedies in the sea, where thousands of people are dying only because they seek a better future, to escape war, poverty, widespread violence. For years now, we have been saying that migration movements should not be treated as an emergency situation but rather an issue that will continue to carry on as long as the underlying causes persist. How can you ask a Syrian to stay with his family while being bombed in Aleppo o Raqa? Or a Somali to risk his life or hunger in the Horn of Africa? It must become clear to all that the decision of thousands of people to leave their native land, knowing they are risking their life on a long and perilous voyage is dictated by desperation and fear. Could anyone possibly blame them?

There is an urgent need to provide an international response to the migrant phenomenon that has humanity at the heart of this response, that ends the slaughters of these journeys of hope and that also combats human trafficking. When we launched our slogan “No One Is illegal,” we did it to remind everyone that people are to be treated humanely and with dignity no matter their legal status. And again when we decided to join forces with MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) and board their vessels, we did so because, in addition to providing assistance at port and at asylum centers, we wanted to help at those precise moments when the need is greatest and extreme, that is in the middle of the sea. In three months, beginning on the flagship rescue vessel Phoenix and then also on Responder, the Red Cross together with MOAS has saved 4,522 people in 44 search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean sea. Thousands of volunteers across Italy, which include volunteers of the national Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in every country of origin, transit and destination, have assisted migrants and refugees wherever it was possible without any concern for their legal status. By so doing, we seek to go out and intercept the need of the single person and the vulnerability of many who become invisible in our cities. From January 2015 to September 2016, the Italian Red Cross has assisted more than 220,000 migrants who have disembarked in Italy alone.

Francesco Rocca con Ban Ki-moon

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in January 2016

Faced with such a serious situation, we expect policy to go beyond  announcements: the time has come for facts. Member States must mobilize to provide safe and legal routes for people fleeing violence, to guarantee humanitarian access to countries of origin, transit and destination, and to concretely anticipate departures, not with police operations, but with peacekeeping and development missions in those countries where famine and widespread violence cause people to flee. One cannot expect to stop immigration with the construction of new walls or with the imposition of restrictive policies that are simply a gift for human traffickers: until we tackle the reasons that lead to migration, people will continue to flee their countries. Western governments cannot withdraw in their own political interests and forget to look at countries like Lebanon and Jordan that host millions of refugees since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The International Community must act concretely to stop wars and bring development to the poorest countries.

Finally, what is needed is a great commitment to social inclusion, to combat racism and to avoid new wars among the poor. The worst politics fan the flames of hate, not understanding that this only risks an even greater tragedy. Explaining who these people who reach our soil are, why and from what they are fleeing, to eliminate fear of other races. these must be moral imperatives not only for those in humanitarian work but also and especially for those who govern our countries. Volunteers are fundamentally important to respond to this crisis and to intercept social unrest, but they cannot and must not become a substitute for those who decide and write laws and directives.

Our hope is that the General Assembly makes concrete decisions for immediate solutions: the dignity of the human being can no longer wait!

Francesco Rocca – President, Italian Red Cross


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