Conference on Welcoming Cities for Refugees opens in Athens
On 22 November, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, opened the High-level Conference “Welcoming Cities for Refugees: Promoting Inclusion and Protecting Rights”, in Athens, Greece. The event took place in the presence of H.E. Mr Prokópis Pavlópoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic, H.E. Ms Odeta Nishani, First Lady of the Republic of Albania, H.E. Ms Andri Anastasiadis, First Lady of the Republic of Cyprus, Ms Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, Founder of the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Mr Ioannis Mouzalas, Minister of Immigration Policy of Greece, and Mr Ioannis Amanatidis, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece.
In her opening address, the Director-General stated “cities are essential actors today for positive change, for dialogue, for inclusion. This is why we have gathered, to pledge our commitment to support cities – to map challenges, to build capacities, to craft new forms of cooperation.”
Cities are on the front line of efforts to foster the wellbeing and inclusion of refugees and migrants, and today play an increasingly important role in ensuring respect for human rights and social cohesion.
Coordination and knowledge exchange between actors at all levels is required for inclusive and sustainable responses in cities.
Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, Founder of the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, echoed this message by stressing this is the time for moving towards a more profound understanding of the issue at hand, remaining vigilant to prevent phenomena of human rights abuses.
In his keynote address, Mr Prokópis Pavlópoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic, noted that the principle of solidarity is not a vague concept– it is rather a norm firmly entrenched in the European Law and traditions.
He invited UNESCO to promote the ultimate cultural value, namely that of mutual respect of the human being.
The members of the Greek government concurred on the key role of UNESCO in promoting inclusive societies.
Mr Ioannis Amanatidis, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece called upon the Organization to foster intercultural dialogue, while Mr Ioannis Mouzalas, Minister of Immigration Policy of Greece invited UNESCO to lead efforts towards safeguarding human dignity and solidarity.
For Ms Odeta Nishani, First Lady of Albania, responses must be based on the following three-prong approach: respect for human rights; respect for international law; and respect for responsibility sharing.
Ms Andri Anastasiadis, First Lady of Cyprus, insisted that diversity is not a weakness; rather it is our common strength.
It is in this spirit of cooperation and solidarity that UNESCO, the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR) – one of seven regional and national coalitions of UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR platform - have joined hands in partnership for the initiative Welcoming Cities for Refugees: Promoting Inclusion and Protecting Rights.
This initiative was launched at UNESCO Headquarters on 9 May 2016. A UNESCO publication entitled Cities Welcoming Refugees and Migrants: Enhancing effective urban governance in an age of migration is the first tangible output of the partnership, and this was launched at the Athens conference.
The publication drew upon research carried out in collaboration with ECCAR member cities. The conference was also an opportunity to exchange experience, knowledge and good practices with a view to scaling up the initiative in different world regions.
A significant instrument in this respect will be the handbook for municipal authorities and concerned stakeholders that will be discussed at the experts’ meeting taking place in connection with the conference on 23 November in Athens.
“Rising cultural diversity in cities is a reality – this requires new policies, to empower every woman and man, including migrants and refugees. This requires a new commitment by all to counter all forms of discrimination, to respond to hatred and violence, to defend human rights and meet all international obligations,” declared the Director-General.
“Today, more than ever, we must stand together for the diversity that enriches humanity and for the values that bring us together as a single family. “
This initiative resonates with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda and the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants in pursuing the empowerment of local governments as subsidiary duty-bearers for the human rights within their fields of competence – such as in the areas of housing, water and sanitation, food, health care and education.
On the same occasion, the Director-General received the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” Award 2016, in recognition of UNESCO’s action for human dignity.
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