New UN Secretary General Speaks at Valdai Club on Migration, Conflict and World Order

António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was recently confirmed as the next UN Secretary-General. In June Guterres talked to the Valdai Club and gave his vision of the solution to the worldwide migrant crisis, and answered questions regarding modern migration issues, conflicts and their resolution.

“What is failing in the international community is the capacity to prevent conflicts and to timely solve them. Power relations in the world became less clear, and as power relations became less clear, we have more and more impunity and unpredictability, and leaders start conflicts everywhere, and they think they can do it and nothing can happen to them,” Guterres said.

According to Guterres, the solution lies in increased international cooperation and efforts by the UN to make the conflicts’ participants and stakeholders understand that allowing more conflicts to happen is unsustainable.

“It is my belief that the only way is to bring together those countries that have a leverage on the parts of the conflict and make them understand that now the risks for all of us are so big that it’s time for us to put an end to those contradictions and to put an end to these conflicts,” Guterres said.

According to Guterres, prevention and management of conflicts remain crucial for the reduction of refugee flows, and migration must be a conscious decision for people, rather than one driven by the need to escape war zones or economic want.

“Migration is inevitably a part of the solution, it’s not a problem in itself,” Guterres said.

Guterres also brought attention to the issue of homegrown terrorism, which he said is a considerably greater threat than infiltration. In Guterres’ view, migration is a natural activity and part of human history, which countries should seek to accommodate and regulate, rather than ban it and have the situation resign to chaos.

“If you have things organized in order to detect who can be resettled, then properly screened, and then there is a lot of intelligence available, and you concentrate your efforts on vulnerable women with children, who have lost their husbands, and you have mechanisms for proper security checks, you can resettle 100,000 people,” he added.

He also spoke of the need to promote development aid in countries, which are net sources of economic migrants, as international inequality has led to people leaving their countries out of a need to avoid poverty, rather than economic opportunity. One extreme example of this was the Syrian refugees, who were unable to stay in Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian refugee camps, and left because they were unable to find employment or education opportunities.

“If we want to address a humanitarian crisis, we need to make sure we support humanitarian needs of the refugees in the neighboring countries and at the same time we support the countries hosting them with structural development support – education, health, water, electricity, - to allow them to cope with this challenge,” he said.

Guterres mentioned the lack of refugee distribution in Europe as one issue when it came to last year’s migrant crisis, as Germany was forced to bear the majority of the burden, while other countries refused to accept refugees and toughened rules for foreigners seeking asylum. Guterres also called for a global plan for resettling refugees from war-torn countries into peaceful ones.

“The Syrian crisis became huge, so I think it would be very good if the international community as the whole would cooperate in providing a solution,” Guterres added.

On the issue of migration as a security threat, Guterres noted that he faced the problem as the UNHCR head, when an Islamist terrorist organization from Uzbekistan was able to infiltrate a refugee resettlement effort. Although that terrorist cell was exposed, there will always be security vulnerabilities in migration, as well as people who fall through the cracks, Guterres noted, although organized security checks help reduce the threat.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.