“Global awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin, with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers” on agenda item 131 entitled 7 April 2017, New York on STATEMENT by TURKEY

Cihad Erginay 08.04.2017

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to attend this timely meeting at the UN General Assembly.

We thank the President of the General Assembly for convening this meeting, and the Under Secretary-General, the Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees and the IOM Representative for their remarks.

Allow me to also express that Turkey welcomes the appointment of Ms. Louise Arbour as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration. She will carry out an important role in coordinating the UN system’s efforts. We would also extend our thanks to Sir Peter Sutherland who exerted every effort in his capacity as the previous Special Representative.


Today’s debate is another important step in our efforts to save the lives of migrants and refugees. It is the second time the General Assembly convenes under this agenda item, and it constitutes the first opportunity to discuss the issue of migrants and refugees in the General Assembly since the 19 September Summit. You will all recall that Turkey had proposed the inclusion of this item on the agenda of the General Assembly’s 70th Session.

The previous debate had provided the opportunity for the former Secretary-General to present his road map for addressing the issue large movements of refugees and migrants. The process that resulted in the successful adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

International migration and the ongoing refugee crisis continue to be major themes at the global and domestic levels. In the past two years, the international community has signed on to important commitments.

In September 2015, member states of the UN unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that endorses a set of goals.

Let us not forget that the 2030 Agenda included also some migration related targets. Especially the inclusion of goal 8.8, which is about migrant worker rights, and goal 10.7, concerning well-managed migration, should be considered as progress for our joint efforts.

The first ever World Humanitarian Summit, which was hosted by Turkey, focused the global attention on exploring ways and means to better deliver and harmonize humanitarian aid and development assistance. The Summit generated more than 3000 commitments. But one message resounded loud and clearly: “One Humanity: Shared Responsibility.”

Furthermore, the 19 September Summit and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants demonstrated the international community’s concrete commitments and the political will to address the needs of migrants and refugees, as well as attested the importance of responsibility and burden sharing.

Now, it is high time to put our commitments into action. We believe that our meeting today and the upcoming consultations and negotiations on the two Global Compacts constitute historical milestones.

Today, the scale of global displacement is profound. Some move of their own will but millions of people move to escape armed conflict, poverty, food and water insecurity, persecution, terrorism, or natural disasters.

The total number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide exceeds 65 million, including over 21 million refugees and 3 million asylum-seekers. These numbers are soaring every day amid lack of funding and absence of appropriate mechanisms for protection.

The conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Lake Chad Basin and several other countries and regions, as well as protracted situations like the issue of Palestinian refugees remain a source of continuous concern.

Indeed, the conflict in Syria has entered its seventh grim year. Since March 2011, Syrian people have watched huge parts of their beloved country reduced to rubble. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. More than six million people are displaced within Syria and around 5 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

The regime’s relentless attacks against its own people continue. Turkey strongly condemns the chemical weapons attacks perpetrated on 4 April by the Syrian regime in Khan Sheikhun, which claimed the lives of innocent civilians, including children. The use of toxic chemicals as weapons constitutes a war crime, crime against humanity and a violation of international law. It is a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and defies the relevant Security Council resolutions. It also constitutes a grave violation of the ceasefire regime. Erosion of the ceasefire, carries the risk of further mass movements of Syrians.

In order to save their lives and build a bright future for their children, refugees exploit desperate ways and take dangerous journeys. According to IOM data, in 2016, there was a 27 percent increase in recorded migrant deaths worldwide compared to the previous year. Sadly, over 5,000 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2016.

We cannot turn a blind eye to their plight. It is our shared responsibility first and foremost to save their lives. Since centuries, Turkey has exerted every effort to extend a helping hand to people in need and she will continue to do so. With this understanding, Turkey today hosts the highest number of refugees in the world, which is nearing almost 3.2 million.

Our efforts aim to prevent deaths while exploring ways and means to find and create better opportunities for migrants and refugees. Let me draw your kind attention to some figures. The number of irregular migrants, apprehended while attempting to cross our territory between 2005-2016, a span of ten years, has been approximately 850.000. Only in 2016, more than 170.000 irregular crossings were prevented by the Turkish authorities. In 2016, the Turkish Coast Guard has rescued approximately 40.000 migrants in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

The figures speak for themselves and show the necessity and importance of the Turkey-EU cooperation that culminated in the 18 March Agreement. We have three main humanitarian objectives in this cooperation. Those are:

- Preventing loss of lives in the Aegean Sea,
- Breaking the migrant smuggling networks and
- Replacing illegal migration with legal migration

Today, we witness that all our endeavors have borne fruit and we managed to prevent loss of lives in the Aegean, crush the migrant smuggling rings and replace irregular migration with regular migration. Since October 2016, daily average of irregular crossings decreased from 7.000 to less than 100. While from the beginning of 2015 until 18 March 2016, more than 1.000 irregular migrants died in the Aegean Sea, since the 18 March Agreement, only 31 loss of life occurred in these waters.

Overall, in one year, our efforts have generated a deterrent effect on more than one million irregular migrants targeting to reach the EU and as a result arrivals in the EU decreased by 99 percent. [In this respect, as foreseen in the 18 March Agreement, we took back 915 irregular migrants from the Aegean islands and within the “1 for 1” formula 4.215 Syrians have been regularly resettled in EU member states.]

By this agreement, we gave a clear message to the migrant smugglers that the Aegean Sea will no longer be a venue to profit from desperate people and conduct their business.

Distinguished Delegates,

The situation in Syria and the Syrian refugees is the most imminent challenge we are facing today. Despite the difficulties in terms of our national security, economy and social fabric, we maintain our “open door” policy for Syrians who have had to flee their country.

Turkey is today home to more than 2.9 million Syrians which corresponds to about 15 percent of Syria’s pre-war population. This is more than the population of around 100 states. While only 10 percent of Syrians in Turkey are accommodated in the temporary protection centers, the rest live in urban areas. Every single Syrian is under the protection regime of our Government.

Currently, there are approximately 835.000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey and 508.000 of them attend public schools.

Over the past 6 years, more than 20 million polyclinic services have been provided to Syrians and more than 1 million have received inpatient treatment. Around 200 thousand Syrian babies have been born in Turkey. This is more than the demographic increase witnessed in some European countries.

We not only provide Syrians with food, non-food items, medical and education services, but also enable them to contribute legally to our economy. For all these efforts, the Turkish Government, together with Turkish NGOs and municipalities have so far spent a total of 26 billion USD. This is nearly the total yearly budget of around 150 states. Hereby, I have to express that the international community and especially the EU have so far miserably failed the test of burden sharing.

As I have expressed, Turkey is keen to extend a helping hand to all the people in need. As a result, Turkey is actively supporting the development and humanitarian work of UNRWA for the lives of 5.3 million Palestinian refugees. The Agency’s role requires the continuing generosity of the international community.

Our motivation is simple: human dignity. That is why we call on all stakeholders to share responsibility in order to end the plight and suffering of millions of people in need, as one day it can happen to any of us.


Migration is as old as humankind. It will neither vanish nor end. Therefore, it is our collective liability and duty to work together to find correct responses to challenges. Safe, regular, orderly and legal migration paths will no doubt serve our common interests.

It is with this understanding that Turkey assumed the 2014-2015 Chairmanship of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). During our Chairmanship the concept of “forced migration” was elaborated for the first time. Moreover, we chair the Budapest Process that gathers over 50 countries and 10 international organizations in Europe and Asia.

Recently, we organized a Budapest Process consultation meeting and assessed the input that Budapest Process can deliver to the Global Compact on Migration.

In this regard, we have the pleasure to underline that as an active international actor with wide-ranging experiences in the issues of migration and refugees, Turkey is ready and keen to provide concrete contributions for the consultations and negotiations processes of the two Global Compacts. To this end, we have informed the honorable President of the General Assembly of our desire to moderate at least one of the panels at the discussions to be held during the consultations process of the Global Compact on Migration. [namely those entitled “International cooperation and governance of migration in all its dimensions, including at borders, on transit, entry, return, readmission, integration and reintegration” and “Irregular migration and regular pathways, including decent work, labor mobility, recognition of skills and qualifications, and other relevant measures”.]

The Global Compact process needs to be inclusive, transparent and comprehensive. We urge all stakeholders to work together, benefit from the expertise of the IOM and UN Secretariat units and create a favorable atmosphere for migrants, be they irregular or legal.

The same is valid for the Global Compact for Refugees. The roadmap provided by the UNHCR for the development of the Global Compact for Refugees provides a basis for inputs. The consultations on the Global Compact for Refugees must also be inclusive and take into account the views of host countries, among others.

Furthermore, we encourage successful development and implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) that also take into consideration the long-term needs of both refugees and those who host them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While working to find right and just ways to end the suffering of millions of people, what we need is comprehensive and durable migration policies.

To this effect, firstly, we should give top priority to saving lives and provide protection for those who need it. This includes better equipping ourselves to save and protect the lives of people, as well as executing functional, quick and equitable resettlement programs.

The second important aspect is responsibility and burden sharing. Let me underscore that the international responsibility for refugees and migrants stems not from geographical proximity, but from humanitarian values which are a manifestation of our collective conscience. In this respect, we believe that the international community should step up its efforts in terms of humanitarian financial aid.

Third objective should be to eliminate the “push factors” such as wars and conflicts, human rights violations, economic deprivation and the negative effects of climate change in many of the origin countries. While addressing the drivers of migration, it is of utmost importance that destination countries support peace processes and promote peaceful settlement of disputes in conflict-affected areas, as well as ensure delivering development assistance to the countries in need. International assistance should be a long-term investment into our collective security.

Fourth, we should exert every possible effort to open and secure more regular channels of migration as viable alternatives to irregular migration. It is our duty to give people at certain levels of skill the chance to migrate legally and safely. Recognition of migrants as key actors in development is a critical first step towards harnessing the potential of migrants in contributing to the development of home and host countries. In this respect, it is important to lower the costs of remittances, enhance financial literacy, portability of social benefits, and promote recognition of skills and migrants’ rights.

Lastly, we should refrain from poisonous rhetoric and approaches towards migrants and refugees. Unfortunately, in times of turmoil and uncertainty, we observe that migrants and refugees become scapegoats. We see a rising trend of discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism.

These dangerous trends, of course, affect the Mediterranean basin as much as other corners of the globe. They are fueled by populist rhetoric of the extremist/populist parties and biased media portrayals, which represent a huge challenge to democracies everywhere. Fear and rejection of refugees - especially Muslim refugees - are precisely the wrong answer to extremist threats. This is above all a battle of values. If you lose your values you lose the battle.

We can correct this negative stereotyping. We all need to push for a more forward-looking and positive understanding of migration and refugee flows. Protecting human rights, dignity and well-being of migrants is directly linked with their capacity to take active part in economic and social life of the host countries.

It is with these thoughts that we have co-sponsored the UN Alliance of Civilizations with Spain. Moreover, we believe that the “UN TOGETHER” campaign is a significant effort to mobilize the UN system to create a strong and persuasive narrative of solidarity toward refugees and migrants.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The time is ripe for taking bold decisions and putting them into action. It is the responsibility of each and every individual, as well as country, to extend a helping hand to people in need. We should work together to protect the lives and dignity of the migrants, be they regular or irregular or forced to displace. If we join our efforts, we can prevent them from taking dangerous journeys most of which cost their lives and stop smugglers to profit from the vulnerabilities of helpless people.

Thank you.