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Deputy Secretary-General, Opening Population and Development Commission, Calls for Tolerant Migration Policies, Stresses ‘Human Story Is a Mobile One’


Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the opening of the fifty-first session on the Commission on Population and Development in New York today:

I am delighted to be with you for the fifty-first session of the Commission on Population and Development.  This year’s theme — “sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration” — speaks to our shared commitment to a more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable world.  I am grateful to the Commission for its timely attention to these issues, which complement the focus on rural women at last month’s Commission on the Status of Women.

We live in a demographically diverse and dynamic world.  Our populations are linked as never before, through information and communication, trade and mobility.  They are also distinct and often changing rapidly.

As we heard at this Commission last year, countries are further apart in their age structures than they have ever been — some younger, some older, some moving rapidly in between.  We see steady, high levels of urbanization in Europe and the Americas, and rapid urban growth in Asia and Africa.  People are moving at high rates within national borders, and international migration is growing more complex, with more countries serving simultaneously as countries of origin, transit and destination.

These dynamics are shaped by many factors.  Some of the rapid population change we observe is due to growing drivers of displacement, including conflict, poor economic prospects and, in some cases, climate-related hazards.  A record number of people around the world face severe insecurity and are forced to make gut-wrenching decisions to move.

But, much of the mobility we see also stems from people seeking new opportunities — better jobs, education and training, expanded social and family connections and more.  As the Secretary-General indicated in his “Making Migration Work for All” report, migration is an essential feature of our globalized world and, on the whole, migrants make a positive contribution to our societies.

Yet, there are deep concerns in our world today, whether related to security, fears of being left behind or the pace of global change, that have seen the emergence of polarizing debates around migration, an increase in xenophobic rhetoric, and at times, ill-thought-out policies born more of fear than facts.

The challenge for the Commission during this session, is to consider this year’s theme in all its complexity.  In many cases, for example, as young people seek a better life in cities, the potential loss to communities and countries of origin can be significant.  That is why questions of migration and urbanization cannot be distinguished from those of sustainable development and the need for Governments and the international community to invest in people, and in forging inclusive and sustainable cities and human settlements.

If countries can secure peace, invest in health and education for all and promote productive employment, they can reap long-term benefits for generations to come.  The migration of people to cities can enhance diversity and integration that can contribute to well-being and innovation.

There is good evidence that cities that provide opportunities for genuine integration through day-to-day interactions are communities with greater tolerance and less discrimination.  For example, since 2013, São Paulo has become an example of a city successfully managing migration through its governance structure and institutions, policies and legislation.  An awareness-raising campaign in the city focused on ending xenophobia.  Policy coordination for migrants was strengthened in the municipal government and assistance facilities were established.  These measures have helped São Paulo embrace its migrant community, and helped migrants and their families to receive qualified assistance and protect their human rights.

Cities are also at the forefront of receiving, assisting and integrating refugees, a majority of whom reside in urban areas.  In London, for example, the Home Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury have launched a new scheme to encourage community groups to sponsor a refugee family.  An online service for refugees in the United Kingdom now makes it easier for any individual to support refugees, allowing local authorities to focus on the provision of public goods and services.

The vision and values affirmed by the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action provide a powerful foundation for advancing the dignity and rights of all persons, and especially for safeguarding the health and rights of all women and girls.  The Programme of Action acknowledges our shared obligation to protect those in transit, to provide for the security and well-being of refugees and to build urban-rural linkages that enable all people to benefit from the fruits of urban development.

These issues, which you are deliberating on this week, are of paramount importance.  They are reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities, Goal 10 on inequalities, Goal 1 on poverty and many more.  They are well represented in the New Urban Agenda.  And they are also part of the negotiations for the Global Compact for Migration, where the approach taken in the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and by this Commission over the years can make a vital contribution to a strong and forward-looking consensus.

To help us move in that direction, we need to improve our collective understanding of the changing situation we are operating in.  It is essential that we generate and use data that enable better integration of population change into planning and interventions.

For instance, the Government of Zambia has partnered with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to generate district-level development indicators.  Analysis showed that young people are clustering in urban areas, and that they face risks related to child, early and forced marriage, adolescent pregnancy, school dropout and unemployment.  This information and analysis has been used to inform the seventh National Development Plan and to mobilize investments in health and education for children and youth.

Another good example is a study in the Dominican Republic that highlighted the contributions of Haitian migrants to gross domestic product (GDP), as well as the limited services they received.  Because gaps in understanding are easily filled by myths and misperceptions, better data can usefully inform global discussions of migration and related issues.

It is for this reason that the Commission on Population and Development, with its focus on population data and its emphasis on evidence-based policymaking, plays such a vital role.

The reform of the United Nations development system will help us to better support Governments in addressing these issues.  The Secretary-General’s reforms will empower United Nations Resident Coordinators to put the best skills of the development system at the service of Member States.  They will improve the ability of a new generation of United Nations country teams to support planning and programming based on complex and fast-moving population changes, including through working with Governments to strengthen the collection, analysis and use of population data.

The reforms will also help us to work more effectively with national Governments to support urban planning and governance, to help ensure that cities are sites of diversity, integration and tolerance.

We are now at crunch time for the United Nations development system reforms.  It is critical that Member States seize this opportunity to ensure the United Nations evolves to help them respond to today’s demographically diverse and dynamic world.

Let me close by reminding us that our shared human story is a mobile one, including a long history of people migrating in search of a better life - whether that means better material living conditions, access to quality education, decent jobs or greater protection of personal freedom.  How many of us have a family history that includes more than one story of migration that enriched our heritage and made us who we are today?

With these thoughts in mind, I wish you a successful fifty-first session of this Commission — one that will provide concrete, action-oriented recommendations that protect all those on the move, and help to create cities that are welcoming and inclusive of new arrivals.

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