19.06.2017 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

The story behind the face of every migrant and refugee

Irina Bokova © UNESCO / C. Alix

UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, together with David Malone, Rector of the United Nations University and 2017 Chair of the Global Migration Group (GMG), opened the conference on “The Human Face of Migration: Historical Perspectives, Testimonies and Policy Considerations” at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 15 June 2017.

In her opening statement, Irina Bokova highlighted the centrality of human mobility in the political debate, and warned against the hatred of “Others” and the fear of diversity in societies. Through stigmatization, men and women are no longer seen as individuals but perceived as part of a destabilizing ‘flow’. Behind the face of every migrant and refugee, there is an individual story, in many cases stories of tragedy and distress, which should be transformed into stories of hope.

“By leaving their countries of origin, many migrants and refugees have left their rights as national citizens in abeyance -- but they have not left behind their rights as human beings, their inherent dignity. This is why the current migrant and refugee crisis must be seen as an opportunity to strengthen the humanity we all share and the dignity to which we all aspire,” she said.

David Malone underscored the importance of strengthening the evidence base on migration as a sine qua non condition for a solid global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration and reiterated the role of the GMG in filling that gap. He noted that UNESCO has a unique role to play in fostering values education and thanked Ms Bokova for her leadership in that respect.

Ambassador Daniel Rondeau, representative of the United Nations University (UNU) to UNESCO, and H.E. Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador at large of the Russian Federation, both stated the importance of creating an appropriate space for open reflection and dialogue, bringing together all concerned actors - policymakers, activists, humanitarian workers and artists. State policies need to be revamped drawing on accurate migration data and governance frameworks reinforced if we are to unlock the potential of migration.

Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, emphasised the importance of cities and local institutions managing diversity and developing policies and programmes capable of upholding the rights of refugees and migrants. She presented the joint initiative undertaken with UNESCO entitled Welcoming Cities for Refugees and Migrants. Susan Asche, Head of Cultural Affairs in the City of Karlsruhe (member of the UNESCO European Coalition of Cities against Racism) shared successful practices of employing culture and the arts (for instance through visits to museums, libraries, and other cultural events) to foster inclusion and mutual understanding.

The significant lessons to be drawn from a more accurate analysis of the history of migration throughout the centuries was the key message in the interventions of Dr David Abulafia, professor at Cambridge University, and Gilles Pecout, Rector of Paris.

This analysis was enriched by testimonies of Father Najeeb Michael, a refugee himself, engaged in humanitarian work in Northern Iraq, Doctor Pietro Bartolo, medical doctor and humanitarian worker in Lampedusa, and Ms Albina du Boisrouvray, founder of the Association François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB), currently present in 13 countries around the world.

The meeting was closed with a pressing call for action by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, photographer, filmmaker and President of the GoodPlanet Foundation, reinforced by a moving clip of his latest film, Human.


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 and Migrants: Promoting Inclusion and Protecting Rights.

This initiative was launched at UNESCO Headquarters in 2016. A UNESCO publication entitled Cities Welcoming Refugees and Migrants is the first tangible output of the partnership.

Contact: Konstantinos Tararas, SHS.inclusion-rights(at)unesco.org

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