The European Union, Mission of Malta and IOM sponsor the event.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) launched on 2 December 2015 an initiative to curb hate speech in the media with a one-day symposium at the United Nations headquarters in New York. This event was the first of a series of international symposia for constructive dialogue on hate speech and the sharing of best practices through debates with journalists who report and investigate xenophobia, hate speech, and violent extremism.
In addition to the cycle of symposia, the UNAOC initiative consists of a strategic media campaign (#SpreadNoHate) and a complete report of the proceedings, which will be drafted at the end of the cycle and will include a set of concrete policy recommendations. The next #SpreadNoHate symposium will take place in Brussels, Belgium in fall 2016 in partnership with the European Union.
The September 15 side event opened with an opening statement by H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al–Nasser, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, followed by remarks by the event’s partners, H.E. Amb. Carmelo Inguanez, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Malta to the United Nations; H.E. Amb. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM); and H.E. Amb. João Vale de Almeida, European Union Ambassador to the United Nations; as well as keynote remarks by H.E. Mrs. Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.
REMARKS OF H.E. MR. NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER
UNITED NATIONS HIGH REPRESENTATIVE
FOR THE ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS
Opening of UNAOC Side Event
“Combating xenophobic language in the media: Fostering inclusive integration of migrants and refugees”
Thursday 15 September, 10:00 – 13:00, Conference Room 5, United Nations Headquarters
Co-sponsored by the European Union,
The International Organization for Migration &
the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Malta to the United Nations
Allow me to welcome and thank our sponsors for our side event today:
H.E. Ambassador Carmelo Inguanez, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Malta to the United Nations
H.E. Ambassador William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration
H.E. Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, European Union Ambassador to the United Nations
We are very proud of our collaboration with you in organizing this event.
Let me also say that we are deeply honored to have among us as Keynote speaker H.E. Mrs. Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These are important times for the United Nations. In just a few days, the organization will have an important opportunity to develop a blueprint for a better response to the challenges facing migrants and refugees.
Today, we are gathered to discuss xenophobic language in the media, and its impact on migrant and refugee communities.
The mass influx of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries into Europe and other regions has spawned a range of reactions, some of them extremely dangerous.
Increasingly, new migrants are seen as an economic drain and a strain on public benefits. They are perceived as unable to adapt to customs and life in receiving societies; they are associated with fears of terrorist attacks.
At the same time, an increasing number of governments are backing harsh measures targeting these migrant and refugee communities, and anti-immigrant political candidates and parties are rising in popularity.
Behind that phenomenon is fear: fear that national identities are being diluted by growing diversity; fear of the natural evolution of our modern societies towards,multi-culturalism and multi-lingualism.
In the best scenarios, the influx of migrants and refugees has forced a more honest conversation about identity. However, in many cases, hate speech has spiked, and the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim tone in the public discourse has become commonplace.
As stated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a few months ago, xenophobic and racist responses to refugees and migrants seem to be reaching “new levels of stridency, frequency and public acceptance.”
Those widespread forms of overt rhetorical violence, hate speech and discrimination are rooted in xenophobia.
As part of its mandate, UNAOC works to combat xenophobia. In the current climate of fear and suspicion that grips communities throughout the world, we believe that thought leaders and shapers of public opinion have a special responsibility to promote understanding among cultures and mutual respect of differing religious beliefs and traditions.
Since its creation, UNAOC has focused its attention on the role of the media and its impact on minority communities. The media constitutes a fundamental force that shapes the lives of individuals and impacts on the fate of peoples and nations.
Every minute of the day we are exposed to television, radio, newspapers, social media, marketing and advertising. Every minute of the day information from the media is influencing our thoughts, opinions and the way we act.
The media are a major player in society and their potential to help prevent and moderate tensions needs to be examined, evaluated, and, where appropriate, encouraged.
Today, we have a wonderful panel of media experts, as well as an NGO that does important work on the ground to help newcomers integrate into local communities.
Please note that our side event is part of the UNAOC #SpreadNoHate initiative, which is a series of international forums about Hate Speech and best practices to counter and prevent hate speech in the media.
Our next #SpreadNoHate symposium is planned for later this year in Brussels. I am very pleased to announce that the European Union has agreed to be our partner and sponsor in hosting the symposium.
Finally, we invite you to join the discussion online today by using the hashtag #SpreadNoHate.
We thank you for your participation, and we wish you a fruitful and interesting discussion.
Remarks of H.E. Ambassador William Lacy Swing
Director General, International Organization for Migration
Your Excellency, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here today on behalf of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). I applaud the UN Alliance of Civilizations for tackling the topic of Hate Speech as a timely and important topic, particularly in light of the current wave of negative sentiment we see aimed at migrants.
IOM shares the Alliance’s commitment to promoting the mobility and integration of migrants. We do so with a view to fostering socially cohesive, vibrant and participatory societies; and we do so to avert discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of vulnerable groups.
Our gathering also occurs at a time of growing anxiety when countries face the challenge of managing social diversity within their borders – and at a time when xenophobia and hate crimes can rear their ugly heads in even the most traditionally tolerant of countries.
We must fully come to terms with the reality that migration is part and parcel of the inter-connected world we have created. It is inevitable, unavoidable and for the most part desirable. We cannot afford to lose sight of this reality in times of economic uncertainty.
And yet, even while human mobility is acknowledged as one of the defining features of our contemporary world, it remains one of the most misunderstood. As we embark on this conversation about combating xenophobic language and fostering integration of migrants, I should like to make 3 points:
1. Countering the negative narrative on migration
We must protect a realistic and honest debate about the challenges stemming from migration and avoid the politicized stereotyping and scapegoating that is taking place around the world. Part of the reason for such negative perceptions is that migratory flows are more visible and more diverse than ever before, generating questions about the changing composition of our societies, and how to manage greater cultural diversity.
Misinformation and misperception can trigger a vicious cycle, influencing government policy, which in turn reinforces negative attitudes in mass media and hate speech with the community at large. Migrants are very much affected by such discourse and this has obvious consequences on migrants’ own sense of belonging and inclusion. The media and online commentary have a significant influence over public discourse, impacting all stakeholders and especially policymakers and politicians.
There is a real need to de-mythologize the discourse around migration. Everyone needs to be engaged. Media needs to have balanced reporting which avoids the single-issue headlines, or blanket labelling (victims? criminals? heroes?) of particular groups. Parliamentarians, policy makers and other government officials need to acquire understanding of the complex aspects of migration policy and migratory behavior. And people in their everyday lives need to under each other and speak out against hate.
By failing to address discriminatory and often vitriolic messages, we are in a sense condoning them. However, by promoting a culture of inclusiveness and belonging, we counter these negative messages and begin to build a welcoming society in which migrants can begin their lives anew.
A fundamental shift in public perceptions of migrants and migration needs to occur. Migration is not a problem to be solved but a beneficial process to be managed responsively and humanely. Policies and political discourse can therefore play a major role in shaping the image of migrants in host societies. One of the biggest challenges in this regard is what and how governments communicate about migrants and migration policy to the wider public. Here, we must all remember and underscore that migrant’s rights are human rights. They are entitled to the same respect and dignity to which all persons are entitled.
Social media in particular is already revolutionizing the way people and institutions communicate and interact and can help to build online communities of migrants which help these citizens stay connected to the policy process. At the same time, social media allows governments to acknowledge the most prominent and successful members of diasporas whose knowledge and expertise can advance national initiatives.
This brings me to my second point:
2. The power of multiculturalism
As more people migrate, more cultures intertwine, and more societies become diverse. If current trends in migration prevail—and there is no reason to expect that they will not—in the future, multicultural societies are likely to become the norm rather than the exception.
Migrants embody the essence of multiculturalism, often simultaneously inhabiting in the hearts and minds two or more places and serving as bridges between their countries of origin and their countries of destination.
Migrants have much to gain from their new societies, as do the new societies from migrants. Migrants send remittances to their countries of origin, and they bring skills and innovation that enrich their host countries—or in the case of permanent migration new counties— economies.
But when people move, they carry not only their skills; they also bring with them their traditions and their heritage. These new cultural mores change the composition of nation states, expanding upon existing traditions and identities.
This can be a great challenge at a time of heightened anxiety for most countries when the global economy is in decline, when some feel that their communities are being overrun by migrants, and when the very nature and composition of the “nation state” is evolving. These increased tensions can lead to a rise in xenophobia, racism, and prejudice against migrants. Yet, these changes need not be perceived as threats to national and personal identity, and should not be viewed as a zero sum outcome. The world we live in is not static; how we embrace and manage inevitable social change will determine whether it is positive or not for individuals and societies.
As people move, they seek to improve their lives. They look for new jobs, a better education, a safer place to live—new opportunities that can better not only their own lives, but the lives of their families and their communities. As such, migrants possess important roles and skills in local communities and should be considered important contributing members of society.
This brings me to my final point.
3. Social Cohesion
We all have a role to play in assuring social cohesion. Governments must ensure cultural diversity is perceived as an asset and not a liability. Governments can dispel the myths and destructive stereotypes associated with migration by educating the public about the overwhelmingly positive contributions of migrants, and by creating policies that allow and embrace orderly migration. They can ease the transition from tensions to tolerance by—for example— promoting cultural diversity in communities or choosing managed labor migration schemes that contemplate appropriate integration, even for temporary periods of stay.
Yet many governments, even those that have traditionally benefited from migration, now feel the pressure to limit migration. They are tightening visa regimes, closing their borders to migrants, and passing laws that criminalize migrants in an irregular status. But tougher migration policies and stronger controls will not cease or even slow migration. As history has shown, migration is the world’s oldest poverty adaptation strategy.
When people move, especially across borders, most choose to settle in cities. And while international migration is on the rise, so is internal migration of people moving from rural to urban areas in search of greater social and economic opportunities, or safer living environments. Cities must build adaptation strategies to manage such migration flows while creating policies that facilitate social cohesion. Communities can create mechanisms for dialogue between newcomers and the existing population. Those that do not embrace such diversity increase their vulnerabilities to crime and marginalization, and only perpetuate cycles of poverty. Access to education and health services as well as other basic rights facilitate social inclusion and greatly benefit the lives of all members of society, migrants and local communities alike.
Indeed, everyone has something to gain when migration is well managed.
Just as governments and cities have a responsibility to facilitate integration and social inclusion, migrants, too, must be held accountable to ensure that their migration is orderly. Governments create laws and policies to manage migration, and it is the responsibility of migrants to follow them. Migrants must obtain proper documents for their migration, and, once settled, must obey local laws and regulations.
But migrants must do more than simply follow laws; they also have a responsibility to engage with their new communities. They are expected to learn about their new surroundings, acclimate, and become active members of their local societies.
When people move, and when their migration is orderly, they do indeed find the means to become a part of their new societies. They learn local languages, they enroll their children in local schools, they provide skills, and they offer support to their places of origin in times of disaster and strife.
But migrants cannot engage if they are not given the opportunities to do so.
In closing, let me highlight that IOM has been actively involved in a number of campaigns and projects specifically addressing xenophobia. IOM’s I Am a Migrant campaign is a celebration of diversity and of the rich contributions which migrants make to society –they humanize individual migrants, and bring their stories to the forefront. These stories counter the myths and misperceptions that are often recklessly splashed across our front pages, and bring home the fact that we are all basically seeking the same rights and desire to reach our full human potential.
In addition, IOM and the Alliance are continuing their joint initiative, PLURAL+, which is a youth video festival on migration, diversity and social inclusion. Our festival is scheduled for the end of October and will feature a number of screenings and an awards ceremony, featuring films of over dozens of youth filmmakers from around the world. You are all invited to this festival.
We thank the Alliance for convening us today on this important and timely topic. We need to work together to achieve our common objectives of promoting social cohesion and intercultural understanding—objectives which are rooted in our shared values of a world free from discrimination.
Remarks of H.E. Ambassador João Vale de Almeida,
European Union Ambassador to the United Nations
EU – UNAOC longstanding partnership through collaboration on policy and projects.
The Baku 7th Global Forum on ‘Living Together in Inclusive Societies’ was the latest staging post in the AOC’s endeavors to promote key values that are shared also by the EU and its Member States.
This event could not be more timely.
It takes place against the backdrop of unprecedented flows of migrants and refugees in Europe and beyond, the increasing influence of right wing parties after recent elections in several EU MS and rising intolerance and xenophobia, including in the media.
In this climate, the four pillars of activity of the Alliance – youth, education, media and migration – are now more than ever, crucial areas to focus on.
Working with the media to ensure that news and events linked to migration issues are covered in a sensitive, neutral and responsible manner is one way to counter hate speech.
Through events like the one today, through targeted and sensible education measures and through collaboration with youth and media, we can promote improved understanding and acceptance for cultural, religious and linguistic differences in our societies which is the first step towards enhanced inclusion and integration.
This is why we welcome the UNAOC #SpreadNoHate initiative, launched in December 2015, and we are pleased to be able to contribute EU funding to it through a recently adopted project.
Within this joint EU-UNAOC project, a symposium will take place this autumn in Brussels to further foster international dialogue against hate speech in the media.
It will raise awareness about the issue of hate speech; sensitize participants to the need for improving the quality of media coverage of issues and events linked to migration and encourage a more ethical coverage, particularly of cross-cultural topics.
In partnership with key social media operators and IT companies, the EU has also stepped up efforts to tackle illegal online hate speech, with a signed commitment by those companies to review – and if necessary to remove – such content within 24 hours.
The far-reaching influence of social media means that such initiatives must be implemented rigorously – whilst also ensuring that the legitimate exercise of free speech is not impeded.
It is important that we continue joining efforts in these areas and we look forward to working with the AOC and others to that end.
Remarks of H.E. Mrs. Karen AbuZayd
Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants
It is my great pleasure to be here today and I thank the United Nations Alliance of Civilization, the European Union, IOM and the Permanent Mission of Malta to the UN for inviting me to speak – and to listen – and for organising this important event.
I echo the previous speakers in seeing this as a timely event because in a few days, world leaders will get together – for the first time in history – to discuss issues around large movements of refugees and migrants at the UN Summit on 19 September. A major part of the discussions will focus on today’s meeting’s theme – the integration of refugees and migrants. It is my sincere hope that leaders will express strong messages in their speeches to foster inclusive integration and promote diversity during the summit next week.
Preparations for the summit took place in politically tense times: the Secretary-General, in his report In Safety and Dignity – Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants as well as in various speaking engagements during the last months, has expressed his deep concern about the rising tide of xenophobia globally. Xenophobia and the fear of the other affects refugees and migrants alike. It leads to increasingly negative attitudes and hostile policy changes toward strangers and poses a danger for them.
This is why the Secretary General, in his report, calls on Member States to support a global campaign to combat xenophobia building on the existing campaigns of UN agencies, NGOs and others. Member States have been expressing this same opinion over the last months – a desire to stand up against xenophobia and demonstrating their strong support for an ambitious global UN-led campaign. I was very pleased that the campaign and the strong condemnation of xenophobia feature prominently in the outcome document for the Summit, entitled ‘The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’ that all 193 Member States agreed upon by consensus.
The launch of the campaign is around the corner, so I do not wish to pre-empt on-going discussions, but I will say that I firmly believe that a positive campaign can transcend political polarization on the issue and reinforce fundamental values of diversity and the benefits of migration. One aim of the campaign is to promote direct encounters between migrants, refugees and host communities as all evidence points to the fact that prejudice is diminished by direct encounters.
We also must strengthen efforts and work harder to set the facts straight and challenge and change perceptions, and sometimes even perceptions of perceptions. Too often fear is generated by incorrect facts, in particular in this context. This is where the media – and language used in and by the media – plays such an important role. I look forward to the contributions of the panellists today. Many of them I note are journalists or are linked to the media, and this is where an important part of the discussions to achieve real change towards better inclusion and integration of refugees and migrants will occur.
Words matter. And stories matter. The stories we see and tell and the language and words we use and choose to talk about migration and refugees matter. I expect to hear much more about this from our other speakers.
Policies and national action plans also matter. There is work that can be done beyond campaigns and in addition to them. Countering xenophobia and ensuring that refugees and migrants are welcomed and integrated in inclusive societies are an essential building block for successful refugee and migration policies.
Member States themselves have expressed similar sentiments as they spent the past months negotiating the text of the ‘New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’, which will be adopted formally on Monday. The text contains bold commitments for refugees and migrants and states [I quote] “Diversity enriches every society and contributes to social cohesion. Demonizing refugees or migrants offends profoundly against the values of dignity and equality for every human being […] Gathered today at the United Nations, the birthplace and custodian of these universal values, we deplore all manifestations of xenophobia, racial discrimination and intolerance…’ [Unquote]
The adoption of this strong language is one of the reasons I am eager awaiting the Summit as a first giant step to improve conditions for refugees and migrants and for the countries hosting them. The second even more important and essential step will be the implementation of the commitments following the Summit. We can achieve great things if we work TOGETHER. Hence I am keen to hear your ideas and hope to work closely with you before and after the Summit to ensure that the commitments made result in genuine, positive changes for refugees and migrants around the world!