António Guterres
1,166,500 views • 19:54

Bruno Giussani: Commissioner, thank you for coming to TED.

António Guterres: Pleasure.

BG: Let's start with a figure. During 2015, almost one million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe from many different countries, of course, from Syria and Iraq, but also from Afghanistan and Bangladesh and Eritrea and elsewhere. And there have been reactions of two different kinds: welcoming parties and border fences. But I want to look at it a little bit from the short-term and the long-term perspective. And the first question is very simple: Why has the movement of refugees spiked so fast in the last six months?

AG: Well, I think, basically, what triggered this huge increase was the Syrian refugee group. There has been an increased movement into Europe from Africa, from Asia, but slowly growing, and all of a sudden we had this massive increase in the first months of this year. Why? I think there are three reasons, two long-term ones and the trigger. The long-term ones, in relation to Syrians, is that hope is less and less clear for people. I mean, they look at their own country and they don't see much hope to go back home, because there is no political solution, so there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Second, the living conditions of the Syrians in the neighboring countries have been deteriorating. We just had research with the World Bank, and 87 percent of the Syrians in Jordan and 93 percent of the Syrians in Lebanon live below the national poverty lines. Only half of the children go to school, which means that people are living very badly. Not only are they refugees, out of home, not only have they suffered what they have suffered, but they are living in very, very dramatic conditions.

And then the trigger was when all of a sudden, international aid decreased. The World Food Programme was forced, for lack of resources, to cut by 30 percent food support to the Syrian refugees. They're not allowed to work, so they are totally dependent on international support, and they felt, "The world is abandoning us." And that, in my opinion, was the trigger. All of a sudden, there was a rush, and people started to move in large numbers and, to be absolutely honest, if I had been in the same situation and I would have been brave enough to do it, I think I would have done the same.

BG: But I think what surprised many people is it's not only sudden, but it wasn't supposed to be sudden. The war in Syria has been happening for five years. Millions of refugees are in camps and villages and towns around Syria. You have yourself warned about the situation and about the consequences of a breakdown of Libya, for example, and yet Europe looked totally unprepared.

AG: Well, unprepared because divided, and when you are divided, you don't want to recognize the reality. You prefer to postpone decisions, because you do not have the capacity to make them. And the proof is that even when the spike occurred, Europe remained divided and was unable to put in place a mechanism to manage the situation. You talk about one million people. It looks enormous, but the population of the European Union is 550 million people, which means we are talking about one per every [550] Europeans. Now, in Lebanon, we have one refugee per three Lebanese. And Lebanon? Struggling, of course, but it's managing. So, the question is: is this something that could have been managed if — not mentioning the most important thing, which would have been addressing the root causes, but forgetting about root causes for now, looking at the phenomenon as it is — if Europe were able to come together in solidarity to create an adequate reception capacity of entry points? But for that, the countries at entry points need to be massively supported, and then screening the people with security checks and all the other mechanisms, distributing those that are coming into all European countries, according to the possibilities of each country. I mean, if you look at the relocation program that was approved by the Commission, always too little too late, or by the Council, too little too late —

BG: It's already breaking down.

AG: My country is supposed to receive four thousand. Four thousand in Portugal means nothing. So this is perfectly manageable if it is managed, but in the present circumstances, the pressure is at the point of entry, and then, as people move in this chaotic way through the Balkans, then they come to Germany, Sweden, basically, and Austria. They are the three countries that are, in the end, receiving the refugees. The rest of Europe is looking without doing much.

BG: Let me try to bring up three questions, playing a bit devil's advocate. I'll try to ask them, make them blunt. But I think the questions are very present in the minds of many people in Europe right now, The first, of course, is about numbers. You say 550 million versus one million is not much, but realistically, how many people can Europe take?

AG: Well, that is a question that has no answer, because refugees have the right to be protected. And there is such a thing as international law, so there is no way you can say, "I take 10,000 and that's finished." I remind you of one thing: in Turkey, at the beginning of the crisis, I remember one minister saying, "Turkey will be able to receive up to 100,000 people." Turkey has now two million three-hundred thousand or something of the sort, if you count all refugees.

So I don't think it's fair to say how many we can take. What it is fair to say is: how we can we organize ourselves to assume our international responsibilities? And Europe has not been able to do so, because basically, Europe is divided because there is no solidarity in the European project. And it's not only about refugees; there are many other areas. And let's be honest, this is the moment in which we need more Europe instead of less Europe. But as the public less and less believes in European institutions, it is also each time more difficult to convince the public that we need more Europe to solve these problems.

BG: We seem to be at the point where the numbers turn into political shifts, particularly domestically. We saw it again this weekend in France, but we have seen it over and over in many countries: in Poland and in Denmark and in Switzerland and elsewhere, where the mood changes radically because of the numbers, although they are not very significant in absolute numbers. The Prime Minister of —

AG: But, if I may, on these: I mean, what does a European see at home in a village where there are no migrants? What a European sees is, on television, every single day, a few months ago, opening the news every single day, a crowd coming, uncontrolled, moving from border to border, and the images on television were of hundreds or thousands of people moving. And the idea is that nobody is taking care of it — this is happening without any kind of management. And so their idea was, "They are coming to my village." So there was this completely false idea that Europe was being invaded and our way of life is going to change, and everything will — And the problem is that if this had been properly managed, if people had been properly received, welcomed, sheltered at point of entry, screened at point of entry, and the moved by plane to different European countries, this would not have scared people. But, unfortunately, we have a lot of people scared, just because Europe was not able to do the job properly.

BG: But there are villages in Germany with 300 inhabitants and 1,000 refugees. So, what's your position? How do you imagine these people reacting?

AG: If there would be a proper management of the situation and the proper distribution of people all over Europe, you would always have the percentage that I mentioned: one per each 2,000. It is because things are not properly managed that in the end we have situations that are totally impossible to live with, and of course if you have a village — in Lebanon, there are many villages that have more Syrians than Lebanese; Lebanon has been living with that. I'm not asking for the same to happen in Europe, for all European villages to have more refugees than inhabitants. What I am asking is for Europe to do the job properly, and to be able to organize itself to receive people as other countries in the world were forced to do in the past.

BG: So, if you look at the global situation not only at Europe —

(Applause)

BG: Yes!

(Applause)

BG: If you look at the global situation, so, not only at Europe, I know you can make a long list of countries that are not really stepping up, but I'm more interested in the other part — is there somebody who's doing the right thing?

AG: Well, 86 percent of the refugees in the world are in the developing world. And if you look at countries like Ethiopia — Ethiopia has received more than 600,000 refugees. All the borders in Ethiopia are open. And they have, as a policy, they call the "people to people" policy that every refugee should be received. And they have South Sudanese, they have Sudanese, they have Somalis. They have all the neighbors. They have Eritreans. And, in general, African countries are extremely welcoming of refugees coming, and I would say that in the Middle East and in Asia, we have seen a tendency for borders to be open.

Now we see some problems with the Syrian situation, as the Syrian situation evolved into also a major security crisis, but the truth is that for a large period, all borders in the Middle East were open. The truth is that for Afghans, the borders of Pakistan and Iran were open for, at the time, six million Afghans that came. So I would say that even today, the trend in the developing world has been for borders to be open. The trend in the developed world is for these questions to become more and more complex, especially when there is, in the public opinion, a mixture of discussions between refugee protections on one side and security questions — in my opinion, misinterpreted — on the other side.

BG: We'll come back to that too, but you mentioned the cutting of funding and the vouchers from the World Food Programme. That reflects the general underfunding of the organizations working on these issues. Now that the world seems to have woken up, are you getting more funding and more support, or it's still the same?

AG: We are getting more support. I would say that we are coming close to the levels of last year. We were much worse during the summer. But that is clearly insufficient to address the needs of the people and address the needs of the countries that are supporting the people. And here we have a basic review of the criteria, the objectives, the priorities of development cooperation that is required.

For instance, Lebanon and Jordan are middle-income countries. Because they are middle-income countries, they cannot receive soft loans or grants from the World Bank. Now, today this doesn't make any sense, because they are providing a global public good. They have millions of refugees there, and to be honest, they are pillars of stability in the region, with all the difficulties they face, and the first line of defense of our collective security. So it doesn't make sense that these countries are not a first priority in development cooperation policies. And they are not. And not only do the refugees live in very dramatic circumstances inside those countries, but the local communities themselves are suffering, because salaries went down, because there are more unemployed, because prices and rents went up. And, of course, if you look at today's situation of the indicators in these countries, it is clear that, especially their poor groups of the population, are living worse and worse because of the crisis they are facing.

BG: Who should be providing this support? Country by country, international organizations, the European Union? Who should be coming up with this support?

AG: We need to join all efforts. It's clear that bilateral cooperation is essential. It's clear that multilateral cooperation is essential. It's clear that international financial institutions should have flexibility in order to be able to invest more massively in support to these countries. We need to combine all the instruments and to understand that today, in protracted situations, at a certain moment, that it doesn't make sense anymore to make a distinction between humanitarian aid and development aid or development processes. Because you are talking about children in school, you are talking about health, you are talking about infrastructure that is overcrowded. You are talking about things that require a long-term perspective, a development perspective and not only an emergency humanitarian aid perspective.

BG: I would like your comment on something that was in newspapers this morning. It is a statement made by the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for US President, Donald Trump. Yesterday, he said this.

(Laughter)

No, listen to this. It's interesting. I quote: "I am calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US, until our country's representatives can figure out what's going on." How do you react to that?

AG: Well, it's not only Donald Trump. We have seen several people around the world with political responsibility saying, for instance, that Muslims refugees should not be received. And the reason why they say this is because they think that by doing or saying this, they are protecting the security of their countries. Now, I've been in government. I am very keen on the need for governments to protect the security of their countries and their people. But if you say, like that, in the US or in any European country, "We are going to close our doors to Muslim refugees," what you are saying is the best possible help for the propaganda of terrorist organizations. Because what you are saying —

(Applause)

What you are saying will be heard by all the Muslims in your own country, and it will pave the way for the recruitment and the mechanisms that, through technology, Daesh and al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, and all those other groups are today penetrating in our societies. And it's just telling them, "You are right, we are against you." So obviously, this is creating in societies that are all multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural, this is creating a situation in which, really, it is much easier for the propaganda of these terrorist organizations to be effective in recruiting people for terror acts within the countries where these kinds of sentences are expressed.

BG: Have the recent attacks in Paris and the reactions to them made your job more difficult?

AG: Undoubtedly.

BG: In what sense?

AG: In the sense that, I mean, for many people the first reaction in relation to these kinds of terrorist attacks is: close all borders — not understanding that the terrorist problem in Europe is largely homegrown. We have thousands and thousands of European fighters in Syria and in Iraq, so this is not something that you solve by just not allowing Syrians to come in. And I must say, I am convinced that the passport that appeared, I believe, was put by the person who has blown —

BG: — himself up, yeah.

AG: [I believe] it was on purpose, because part of the strategies of Daesh is against refugees, because they see refugees as people that should be with the caliphate and are fleeing to the crusaders. And I think that is part of Daesh's strategy to make Europe react, closing its doors to Muslim refugees and having an hostility towards Muslims inside Europe, exactly to facilitate Daesh's work.

And my deep belief is that it was not the refugee movement that triggered terrorism. I think, as I said, essentially terrorism in Europe is today a homegrown movement in relation to the global situation that we are facing, and what we need is exactly to prove these groups wrong, by welcoming and integrating effectively those that are coming from that part of the world.

And another thing that I believe is that to a large extent, what we are today paying for in Europe is the failures of integration models that didn't work in the '60s, in the '70s, in the '80s, in relation to big migration flows that took place at that time and generated what is today in many of the people, for instance, of the second generation of communities, a situation of feeling marginalized, having no jobs, having improper education, living in some of the neighborhoods that are not adequately provided by public infrastructure. And this kind of uneasiness, sometimes even anger, that exists in this second generation is largely due to the failure of integration policies, to the failure of what should have been a much stronger investment in creating the conditions for people to live together and respect each other. For me it is clear.

(Applause)

For me it is clear that all societies will be multiethnic, multicultural, multi-religious in the future. To try to avoid it is, in my opinion, impossible. And for me it's a good thing that they will be like that, but I also recognize that, for that to work properly, you need a huge investment in the social cohesion of your own societies. And Europe, to a large extent, failed in that investment in the past few decades.

BG: Question: You are stepping down from your job at the end of the year, after 10 years. If you look back at 2005, when you entered that office for the first time, what do you see?

AG: Well, look: In 2005, we were helping one million people go back home in safety and dignity, because conflicts had ended. Last year, we helped 124,000. In 2005, we had about 38 million people displaced by conflict in the world. Today, we have more than 60 million. At that time, we had had, recently, some conflicts that were solved. Now, we see a multiplication of new conflicts and the old conflicts never died: Afghanistan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo. It is clear that the world today is much more dangerous than it was. It is clear that the capacity of the international community to prevent conflicts and to timely solve them, is, unfortunately, much worse than what it was 10 years ago. There are no clear power relations in the world, no global governance mechanisms that work, which means that we live in a situation where impunity and unpredictability tend to prevail, and that means that more and more people suffer, namely those that are displaced by conflicts.

BG: It's a tradition in American politics that when a President leaves the Oval Office for the last time, he leaves a handwritten note on the desk for his successor that walks in a couple of hours later. If you had to write such a note to your successor, Filippo Grandi, what would you write?

AG: Well, I don't think I would write any message. You know, one of the terrible things when one leaves an office is to try to become the backseat driver, always telling the new one what to do. So that, I will not do. If I had to say something to him, it would be, "Be yourself, and do your best."

BG: Commissioner, thank you for the job you do. Thank you for coming to TED.

(Applause)