PRESS RELEASE BY THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT: Building a culture of meaningful peace across our nations, our regions and our world

President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca delivered the keynote address at the 2017 edition of MOAS XChange – ‘A Forum Exploring Safe and Legal Alternatives to the Maritime Migration Route’.

President Coleiro Preca started off her contribution by thanking Chris and Regina Catrambone for putting so much energy and passion, together with their team, to help in this global humanitarian challenge. The President thanked them for the thousands of lives which they have helped save, people who have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety and a better life.

“It is overwhelming to note that, since MOAS began its operations in the Central Mediterranean, in 2014, over 30,000 people in this area,have been rescued and offered effective support”, the President stated, whilst adding that further visibility to the importance of the invaluable work that MOAS is conducting to save lives should be given when taking into consideration the fact that, according to the International Organisation for Migration, 1 in 29 migrants and refugees died attempting the Central Mediterranean crossing.

The President said that at a time when the world is facing increasing uncertainty and unease, it should be emphasised that the complex phenomenon of human migration is “fundamentally about people, about humanity, about the essential needs of whole families, communities and populations”, and about “the safeguarding of the universality of our fundamental human rights.”

“It is about the women, the men, and the children whose lives are uprooted, whose livelihoods are disrupted, who are displaced, and who in the process of all this face great danger, hardship, and even an ongoing threat to their very own lives”, the President added.

“We must continue to be proactive and seize every opportunity, to drive our authorities and the international community to take up initiatives to invest more in proactive and peaceful conflict resolution and in humanitarian aid”

The President said that the issue of migration is not one that should be tackled in a crisis management approach. Here, the President referred to one proposal which is receiving new exposure, that of the introduction of humanitarian corridors. President Coleiro Preca said that many believe that these humanitarian corridors offer a direct opportunity to combat organised crime by steering people away from smuggling networks and trafficking rings, whilst many also believe that these corridors will offer a safer, more tangible, more regularised, and a more legal alternative.

With all the above in mind, the President said that “we must not be short-sighted or one-dimensional in our discussion and in our approach”, in that humanitarian corridors should be just one aspect of a holistic strategy in a context of a multifaceted response to the phenomenon of migration.

“In our discussion on humanitarian corridors, we must also be aware of certain key concerns”

The President outlined key concerns which need to be taken into consideration when discussing the issue of humanitarian corridors:

o The limitations of geographical scope which a humanitarian corridor necessarily entails;

o Such corridors require governments to agree to such an intervention in the first place, and subsequently to abide by that agreement;

o It also raises questions about who would have to police these corridors in order to ensure the protection of a moving flow of people from one point to another;

o There will be the need for the international community, through bodies such as the United Nations, to take up such proposals through concrete resolutions and ongoing commitments from all member states;

o A global spirit of political will will be required to protect refugees fleeing armed conflict, and to take action should such protection not be forthcoming; and

o Most importantly, we cannot allow the understanding of humanitarian action to be misused, to encourage further political aims, or facilitate economic ambitions.

In light of this, the President said that the label of humanitarianism cannot be uncritically applied to militarised or politicised interventions. “Humanitarianism is a fundamental necessity for human well-being, as it ensures the universal dignity of every person, and unless the efforts of all stakeholders involved to ensure humanitarianism are perceived as impartial and stemming from this common commitment to the welfare and to the well-being of all, then we risk making the scope of our endeavours unacceptably narrow-focused”, the President said.

This will make it more difficult to bring assistance and aid to those who need it the most and will also make it more difficult “for us to be effective champions of solidarity and activists for sustainable peace”.

“We must work together, fostering synergy between national and international authorities, civil society activists and other stakeholders”

The President appealed for the continued need to formulate innovative approaches that proactively respond to the realities of migration while also challenging the status quo which has allowed this situation to escalate so dramatically. When doing so, the President said that “it is essential that we listen to the experiences of migrants and refugees themselves in order to build an effective strategy for the future to save lives”.

President Coleiro Preca encouraged those present to stand together and be vociferous when it comes to emphasising the need for policies “that are driven by our shared duty to safeguard the well-being of every individual through a fundamental human rights-based approach”. Through the process of the deliberations, the fact that many countries are still not adequately equipped to effectively address the growing numbers of refugees and migrants must be acknowledged, since, as a result of this, social tensions within our societies are increasing.

“While national and international support systems are struggling to provide effective outreach, we must continue to ensure that the fundamental human rights of the individual are never compromised”, the President said.

Women and child migrants

The President also reiterated the need to focus on the particular vulnerabilities faced by children in migration, even in light of the recent experiences shared during the international conference which was organised by Missing Children Europe in collaboration with the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.

“We heard firsthand, from migrant and refugee children, about their difficult experiences and hardships. Their participation was crucial for us to see, that even though many of our authorities believe that they have put the necessary systems in place to protect these children, we realised, how asylum-seeking children are falling out of the system and subsequently become engulfed in another set of horrific experiences and traumas”, the President said. This calls for the creation of safe spaces to bring to the discussion table migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to help us visualise their needs.

The President said that migrating children are particularly at risk of exploitation and abuses with regard to their fundamental rights. “They experience intersectional vulnerability due to their age, due to the uncertainty of their status, and due to their very position as migrants. Such children are more exposed to harm and exploitation. Furthermore, they are targets of sexual violence and contemporary forms of slavery”, the President added.

In light of this, the President advised that conversations about achieving safe and legal alternatives to the maritime route for migration must also take into account the specific contexts and situations which children are subjected to during their journeys.

Making reference to the fact that half of the 244 million international migrants in the world, as indicated by the United Nations, are women, the President also appealed that conversations about migration, at every level, must also maintain a gender-sensitive focus.

“We must tailor our strategies to support the women and girls who face added risks on their journeys, and added challenges in the process of successful inclusion within a country’s political, economic, and cultural life,” the President said.

Lastly, the President appealed to all authorities and the international community to work in synergy with NGOs and organisations such as MOAS to ensure a holistic and effective strategy to give respect and dignity to every human being by safeguarding the protection of our universal fundamental human rights. The President urged all organisations to work in synergy so as to create sustainable responses to the phenomenon of migration in order to act as catalysts in the building of a culture of meaningful peace across our nations, our regions, and our world.

Source: Government of Malta