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10 June 2016

Ban Ki-moon: “Accepting refugees is a win for everyone”

Gordon Brown talks to Ban Ki-moon.

By Ban Ki Moon

What is your vision of global citizenship?

Many of the challenges we face are clearly ones that the governments and peoples of the world need to deal with collectively: violent extremism, climate change and the spread of infectious diseases. No one country, no matter how powerful or resourceful, can solve these problems.

Do UN member states need to strengthen the protections offered to refugees?

Yes. Refugees have a right to asylum – not bias and barbed wire. Much more needs to be done to show our solidarity, not just through relief, but through resettlement in third countries, through educational and working visas, and in other ways. I have just issued a report in preparation for the [UN’s] September meeting, in which I call for a global agreement on resettling 10 per cent of refugees annually. I hope the United Kingdom will support this plan.

When managed properly, accepting refugees is a win for everyone. Refugees are famously devoted to education and self-reliance. They bring new skills and dynamism to workforces that in some parts of the world are ageing rapidly.

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What can be done to strengthen the protections offered to children in armed conflict or those at risk from traffickers, forced labour and forced marriage?

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Grave violations against children are an affront to our common humanity around the world, including the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria. Many thousands of children have been killed, maimed, forcibly recruited, tortured and sexually abused. In recent years, groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army and Boko Haram have abducted children en masse; they know this is an effective way to destroy communities and weaken their resilience.

Tragically, some United Nations personnel have been implicated in the abuse and exploitation of the children they were sent to protect. This outrageous behaviour further victimises vulnerable children. We are working hard to support the children who have been affected, to find and punish the perpetrators, and to make sure that this can never happen again.

What are the most effective ways of combating violent extremism?

Policies to address violent extremism must start with prevention. We know that extremism flourishes when human rights are violated, aspirations for inclusion are ignored or thwarted, and too many people, especially young people, lack prospects and meaning in their lives. Violent extremism cannot be defeated by security and military responses alone. These policies may be counterproductive.

How can member states, and particularly the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council, fully establish the concept of “responsibility to protect”? How can the world extend safeguards to civilians caught up in protracted armed conflicts, as in Syria?

All member states have endorsed the responsibility to protect. When we see that people are facing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, and their government is unwilling or unable to help them – or is itself the aggressor – the international community has a duty to make sure that they are not abandoned. When we have responded to crises in a united fashion, we have protected thousands of lives; when we have failed, we see the consequences in divided and destroyed societies. I have called repeatedly on the Security Council to unite to protect the civilians of Syria, but without that unity, hundreds of thousands of people have died.

What sort of world would you wish to bequeath to your grandchildren?

I hope our grandchildren can have a better future – a future where they don’t face the worsening effects of climate change; where all their needs are met and their human rights are respected. I hope we can end the cycle of conflict.

Ban Ki-moon has served as secretary general of the UN since 2007

This article appears in the 07 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A special issue on Britain in Europe