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UN Secretary-General's Remarks at Peace Day Student Observance

15 September 2017

Remarks at Peace Day Student Observance

António Guterres

I am very happy to see so many youth, so many young people here at the United Nations. I think the United Nations has not been able until now to truly reengage with young generations. We have a number of rituals and ways of doing things that sometimes makes it difficult for us to engage with young people and for young people to understand what United Nations is about and what we are really doing here.
 
But, one thing is clear - the International Day of Peace is of special significance and I believe that if there is something that is a very strong ideal of us all when we are young, it is peace.
 
Peace is the raison d’etre of the United Nations. The United Nations was created after the second world war exactly to avoid the possibility of another catastrophic war like the second world war. That is why in the Charter, in the preamble and the first chapter, the word ‘peace’ appears ten times. I believe that your generation will be able to do much better than my generation in relation to peace and that is why I’m so excited to be with all of you here today.
 
I’m also proud to share this podium with one of our Messengers of Peace.  Professor Jane Goodall is a world-renowned scientist, leading advocate for endangered species but also for peaceful coexistence and she works with young people around the globe. You are very much welcome and I’m very happy that you are with us today.
 
As I told you, the United Nations has not been very effective in engaging with youth. You are the first digital youth of the world and we are still very analogic. We still have many ways of doing things that do not fully understand that the world is changing very quickly and you really represent a quantum leap in relation to past generations, including mine.
 
That is why I’m very happy to present to you our recently appointed envoy on youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake. She is working to expand our engagement with youth and to do effective advocacy across all areas of our work including, of course, peace and security, because peace and security are the very reasons why the United Nations exist.
 
It’s extremely important to have all of you engaged in our work to advance peace in the world. But sometimes it’s not clear what peace means. Some might believe that peace is just the absence of war, but it’s more than that. To avoid war, we need to be able to build bridges, to combat discrimination, to struggle for justice and human rights for all, to make people respect each other, to make people see their identities respected but at the same time feel that they belong to the larger community where they are integrated. Look at the tragedy in Myanmar, you have two communities that are totally apart and one of them being dramatically sacrificed at the present moment.
 
The theme for this year’s International Day of Peace is together for peace, respect, safety and dignity for all.
 
And it highlights the plight of refugees and migrants. I’ve been for ten years High Commissioner for Refugees and I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people fleeing conflict; they’ve doubled since I began my functions. Today 65 million people have been displaced by war and conflict by crossing borders – refugees - or within the borders of their own countries, as internally displaced people.
 
Their tragedy is immense but their courage and resilience is also inspiring. I’ve met many of them and heard their dramatic stories and I’ve seen how their already difficult circumstances have been worsened by discrimination during their journeys and many times, by the way they are rejected by the countries where they seek refuge.
 
We see many borders closed today to those fleeing conflict and persecution and sometimes it’s in the richer countries that you see borders more easily closed. Look at what is happening in Bangladesh, a very poor country, they are receiving almost half a million people from Myanmar. Look at Lebanon or Jordan; in the case of Lebanon there are more than one million Syrian refugees, in Turkey there are more than one million Syrian refugees. And you see some rich countries and the doors are closed.
 
This is something that we need to change, and we need to start by making sure that solidarity is given to all in need by all countries of the world.
 
For this International Day of Peace, the United Nations has chosen to highlight the global ‘Together’ initiative. This is an initiative to promote respect, safety and dignity for all. Especially for those who have been forced by conflict to flee their homes, and in other circumstances that are desperately moving in search of a better life because of extreme poverty, desertification and other factors that are now making life so difficult for so many people in so many parts of the world.
 
It is an occasion to show solidarity and to show that we can share the benefits of migration for all. Migration can be positive for the countries where migrants come into. In my country, Portugal, we have a fertility index of 1.3. Our society is not sustainable without migrants, so migrants are necessary for the country to survive.
 
I always tell the story of my mother. My mother is ninety-four years old. Because of health problems she always has one person taking care of her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Of course, these people rotate; they are employed by a company that provides these services. I have never seen a Portuguese taking care of my mother.
 
So, when for instance, in Europe people reject migration, there’s no way Europe can take care of elderly people without migrants. Migrants are needed, they are part of the solution of world problems. They are not an additional problem. But, of course, we need to have regular migration. We need to have migration done in a way in which international population allows for people to move without having to be submitted to the horrible oppression that they face with smugglers and traffickers, that are the worst criminals in today’s world.
 
Today and everyday let us not focus on what separates us but what binds us as a human family. Opening our hearts, joining hands and reaching out to refugees and migrants we can move closer to obtaining peace, prosperity and protection for all. I really trust that your generation will be able to do it much better than mine.
 
Thank you very much.