12th Mediterranean Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent 26 May 2015

Publié: 1 juin 2015


Opening Remarks

12th Mediterranean Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent 26 May 2015



Buongiorno a tutti.


I am truly pleased to be with you today, and to welcome you to the 12th Mediterranean Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Let me begin by thanking the Red Cross of the Republic of San Marino, and in particular their President, Raimondo Fattori, for hosting us.

I realized, as I started preparing for this conference, that I have visited every country represented here today either in a personal or professional capacity. It is my great pleasure to be back in the Mediterranean region at this special occasion.

I realized as well, as I reflected on the challenges you face here, that we share more than this familiarity, and indeed more than our common Red Cross and Red Crescent heritage.

One of the defining experiences of my professional career was in the mid-1970s. In 1975, after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Viet Nam war, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people fled their country, cramming into tiny fishing boats, and searching for refuge and safety in countries across South-East Asia, and as far north as Japan, as far south as Australia, and eventually even beyond the Asia and Pacific region.

In total, 800,000 people reached other countries. About 14,000 Vietnamese refugees made it to Japan. I was working in the international department of the Japanese Red Cross at the time. We were an implementing partner for UNHCR and we ran 11 refugee camps in Japan.

I think the parallels between that time and the situation here in the Mediterranean today are quite clear. In the late seventies, the situation in Viet Nam had consequences for countries and communities across the region and globally. It was a reminder of our inter-connectedness, and of the need to work together as a region to respond.

This is why meetings like this are so important. The National Societies here are connected by more than the Mediterranean Sea. You are connected by a common humanitarian environment, and an understanding, reinforced by experience, that what affects one country will almost always affect others in some way.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends;

The Mediterranean region faces a growing set of humanitarian challenges. These challenges are rooted in the chronic poverty of countries that neighbour this region, in political and economic failures, in the growing number of natural disasters, and most prominently, in protracted conflicts that are at once influenced by, and influencers of, these other factors.

The continued, brutal conflict in Syria has killed more than 200,000 people, and forced millions more to flee across the border into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and beyond. Those left behind face growing fear and deprivation. We salute today the work of all National Societies responding to this crisis, and we salute their remarkable volunteers and staff, for the heroic work they are doing every day. The dedication and courage of all your volunteers lifts our entire Movement.

Recurrent conflicts and tensions in Palestine, new violence in Iraq, and the return of political upheaval and fear in Libya, also continue to displace thousands of people, and spread instability. Further afield, the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen could have consequences for countries and communities across the Mediterranean.

These conflicts on the far eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean create waves across the entire sea. In the first quarter of 2015, as many as 40,000 people, many of them from Syria, by way of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and then Libya, have taken the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and arrived mainly in southern Italy, Spain and Greece but also in smaller numbers to Cyprus and Malta. More than 1,800 people have died attempting to do so, threatening, as our Secretary General has said, to turn the sea into a vast graveyard.

They are joined from people fleeing violence, fear and deprivation in other parts of the world as well. People come from West and Central Africa, and from South Asia, searching for opportunities, taking long and dangerous journeys, putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers.

Many of the National Societies here today have been at the frontline of the humanitarian response to this migration crisis. The Red Cross Societies of Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have welcomed people as they arrived, offering medical assistance, psychosocial support, food, and help to connect with families as well. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco, Red Crescent volunteers continue to provide a range of services to migrants and their families.

Many of you are also a strong voice of the many voiceless and incredibly vulnerable people, calling on European Leaders to avoid dangerous rhetoric, and to take practical steps to ensure the safety of people on the move, including investing in search and rescue and identifying safe and legal avenues for people to claim asylum.


The Red Cross and Red Crescent has done much in response to this incredibly complex crisis. But we are meeting here today with the shared knowledge that we need to do more. We need to do more operationally to address the needs of migrants at all points of their journeys; at their points of origin, transit and destination, through international solidarity, by putting our fundamental principles into practice, as well as strong National Society services for protection and assistance at a local level.

We need to do more to advocate on their behalf. We need to rally our resources and influence to counteract the growing indifference about the plight of vulnerable migrants – irrespective of their legal status - and to remind our leaders and the public that the issue of migration is inseparable from the unresolved conflicts and unaddressed poverty that drives it. We can also remind them, respectfully, that despite the high profile of migration in Europe, that there are countries elsewhere along the shores of the Mediterranean, that shoulder the heaviest burdens.

Of course, even though we are here to discuss the humanitarian situation in the Mediterranean, we know that migration is not a uniquely Mediterranean phenomenon. It is a global issue that affects, in some way, every country on earth. Right now, in South-East Asia, hundreds of people fleeing discrimination, exclusion, and violence in Myanmar, along with people trapped in the hands of human traffickers from Bangladesh, have arrived in neighbouring Thailand, and in Indonesia and Malaysia. Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff have responded to the urgent needs of these people with relief assistance in conjunction with local stakeholders and Government agencies on the ground.


The IFRC stands ready to support you in your efforts to assist people on the move, through allocations from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund and emergency appeals that seek to rally new resources. In coordination with many of you, the Secretariat has also recently established a dedicated Movement migration cell to better support the delivery of services, and to begin to map opportunities for additional support at other points along the migration path.

Our support to migrants, and our support to all vulnerable people, is based on our commitment to three simple ideas:

-       That people have the right to live in dignity

-       That people have a right to receive humanitarian assistance

-       And that people have a right to protection and security.

These ideas are part of the DNA of the humanitarian community. They are captured in the Humanitarian Charter of the Sphere Project, a project that was driven by the IFRC and other leading humanitarian agencies. But, even simpler than that, they are ideas that speak to our own Fundamental Principles, and to our own commitment to promote cultures of non-violence and peace, fostering understanding and tolerance in the face of growing hostility and racism.

We support all people on the move and in need of our services - be they migrants, refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced - simply because they need our assistance. We deliver that assistance regardless of people’s nationality, origin, opinions or status. We are best placed to deliver that assistance, simply because we are the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement and we are there all the time to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish you the best of luck for these coming days. Thank you.