UN Secretary-General Message at the High-Level Civil Society Event of the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants, New York, 19 September 2016

Thank you very much, Ms. Susan Alzner, Head of the U N Non-Governmental Liaison Service, for organizing this dynamic event.

Distinguished heads of State and government, Excellencies, I would like to particularly recognise the participation and presence of Dr. Thomas Bach, IOC President. Thank you for your strong commitment, and also the successful completion of the Rio Olympics as well as Paralympics.

I would like to also thank Ms. Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer, and also Olympic athlete Ms. Yusra Mardini and her sister Sarah, and Muzoon Almellehan with the Malala Fund, and Esteemed representatives of civil society, philanthropists and non-governmental organizations.

And I also recognise the presence of the former Prime Minister of Denmark, Ms. [Helle] Thorning-Schmidt. She is now Save the Children’s head.

And above all, my warmest greetings to all the migrants and refugees here with us; Today’s summit meeting which we just concluded the opening ceremony – which will continue all day long today – is a great message and giving a sense of hope and encouragement and strong commitment by the world’s leaders and by the international community.

Today’s summit should make a real difference in the lives of refugees and migrants.

The New York Declaration which governments adopted today, this morning, just now, can be a turning point if leaders fulfil their commitments.

I urge you to raise your voices and push for results.

You have legitimate rights to raise your voice, and I will work for you. Members of civil society have strong and trusted voices.

Your representatives are on the frontlines rushing to the trouble spots, delivering aid and spreading hope.

I stand with refugees – and I stand with you.

I speak from my personal experience. When I was six years old, the Korean war broke out. That was one of the most terrible wars, after the Second World War. My village was burned and I had to flee my home. I was one of you.

At that time, the United Nations came with troops and humanitarian aid. I didn’t know much about war, but I knew that life was very difficult. I had to be taken by my parents. I saw that my grandparents, my parents were running here and there, to find something to feed their children. I grew up most of my life without light, without electricity, without water – without safe drinking water. We just drank well water. If it rained, it was rain water.

Whenever I travelled [as Secretary-General] to refugee camps – Syria – Zoltan, Zaatari camp,  Lebanon and Turkey and Iraq and other refugee camps…Dadaab in Kenya. I told them – I was you.

At that time the UN was with me I promised that the UN will be with me all the time. I am very much moved by the strong commitment and resilient spirit. I would not [inaudible] my duty as Secretary-General. I am aware always of this debt and gratitude to the United Nations. I am doing everything possible as Secretary-General to enable migrants and refugees to contribute to our common future. That is why I convened this summit meeting, despite a lot of difficulties and even resistance from Member States, we have adopted a good outcome document.

When I see a child in a refugee camp, I do not only see hunger and pain and fear. I see a girl or boy who deserves a chance to grow up strong and healthy, and to contribute to our world.

Tragically, children are among the hardest-hit in crises.

There is a saying that “the first casualty in war is truth.” But I worry that the real first casualty is childhood.


More than half of all refugees today are children – or one in every 200 children on earth.

One in 70 children lives outside of the country they were born in. They often leave when their families are searching for new opportunities. Thankfully, the large majority do improve their lives – and enrich their new communities.

All children are entitled to full human rights – irrespective of their status.

Whether they are labelled migrants, refugees, internally displaced or stateless, every single child, every single human being, is protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Under that treaty, countries must look beyond labels and treat children as children.

I appreciate all those countries that have shown great generosity in assisting children. And I especially thank civil society for its unwavering activism and commitment.

I have seen so many volunteers from civil society. They are not paid, but they just come and help. That is a most moving experience

Every day around the world, civil society is the ‘first responder’ in crisis.

I have seen volunteers reaching out, heart to heart, to prove we are one family.

You gain insights from those encounters. And you have brought those insights to this summit.

I thank you for sharing good practices during the General Assembly President’s information hearing on the 18th of July.

Today’s summit is confronting complex and sensitive issues – but it is also celebrating the benefits of global human mobility.

We are proving that refugees and migrants are crucial partners.

That is why I am looking forward to hearing from the young refugees here today.

They know the challenges and opportunities better than anyone.

Their calls for an education should ring out around the world.

Education is everyone’s human right.

Few are stronger than Yusra and Sarah Mardini. They helped save twenty people’s lives by pushing their boat to shore.

When I was preparing to come here, I remembered reading something that Yusra once said.

She was asked about that moment when the engine in their boat stopped and she and Sarah had to jump into the sea and push it to the shore. What courage! What courage!

Yusra said, “I wasn’t going to sit there and complain that I would drown. If I was going to drown, at least I’d drown proud of myself and my sister.”

We may never have the same courage – but we can all be inspired by this spirit. Let’s give a big round of applause.

You know what I saw at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games? At the beautiful opening ceremony; a lot of people; athletes were marching in proudly with their national flags…they were all applauded. The most-applauded – receiving a standing ovation by the 100,000 spectators, were the refugee teams – small – they didn’t even have proper shoes. That idea came from IOC President Thomas Bach. He invited them for the first time in history of the Olympic Games. They were the most-applauded, most welcomed.  Of course they were not able to get any medals, but they were already winners. That is the spirit we have to continue today and tomorrow.

I count on your strong support and strong courage.

Thank you very much.