Addressing the meeting at the U-N headquarters in New York, Prime Minister Turnbull described Australia as an immigration nation.
“We invite 190,000 migrants each year to join our nation of 24 million, and our commitment to refugees is long-standing. Our humanitarian resettlement program dates back to 1947. This has made Australians truly global citizens, connected by family, culture and language across the globe.”
And he has described Australia’s unity in diversity as one of the country’s great strengths.
“This is not a recent development. As just one example, there is SBS, founded nearly 40 years ago, the public broadcaster, not only broadcasting in dozens languages, but interpreting and celebrating our multicultural society and the values of mutual respect to the whole society. Diversity is an investment against marginalisation and extremism. It helps our community unite rather than be divided. At a time when global concern around immigration and border control is rising, the need to build community support for migration has never been clearer.”
The high-level gathering was called by the U-N to explore solutions to the mass displacement of people around the world.
President of the United Nations General Assembly Peter Thomson says the world needs to act.
“We are witnessing the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis since the Second World War. Millions are fleeing armed conflict and the brutal effects of war. Others are escaping violence, persecution and systematic violations of their human rights. Some are uprooting their lives in response to the adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters. Others still are in search of opportunity and a better life for their children.”
Hungary’s Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto , called on leaders to find what he called “a balanced approach.”
“Instead of emotionally-led and inspired debate, we should carry out a debate based on common sense and rationality. And we have to admit that migration is a largely security issue. And putting into consideration the size and dimension of the migratory flows around the world, I think there will be no debate about the fact that what we have been facing is a global security threat. In this case, we have to avoid hypocrisy. We have to avoid bashing and accusing each other. And we have to make a clear distinction between migrants and refugees.”
He called for what he describes as “controlled” migration to tackle the issue, a views echoed by British Prime Minister, Theresa May.
“Of course, controlled, legal and safe migration benefits our economies. And there is nothing wrong with the desire to migrate for a better life. But the uncontrolled migration we see today is not in the interest of migrants, who are exposed to danger, not in the interest of the countries they are leaving, travelling through or seeking to reach. And not in the interest of refugees, for whom resources and popular support are reduced.”
Australia has been criticised by international rights groups, including the UN, for its asylum policy, which they argue violate international law.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended his government’s controversial border policies, saying they have helped curb irregular migration.
He says the international community can learn from Australia.
“Addressing irregular migration through secure borders has been essential in creating the confidence that the government can manage migration in a way that mitigates risk and focuses humanitarian assistance on those who need it most.”
But Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, argued that addressing the cause of the displacement is critical.
Greece was the main point of entry for refugees and migrants in the past year, when an estimated 1.3 million people reached the European Union.
Mr Tsipras warns a failure to reach an agreement on the issue would have serious implications.
“If we do not address the root causes of migration, if we do not accelerate the resettlement of refugees to countries around the world that can host them, we will fail. And what is worse, we will give space to nationalistic, xenophobic forces to show their face. For the first time since the Second World War, they will show their face.”
The first summit on refugees and migrants ended with a declaration by 193 U-N member states calling for respect for the human rights of refugees.
Although not legally binding, the agreement calls on countries which can resettle or reunite many more refugees to do so.
It also calls for those in richer parts of the world to recognise their responsibility to provide humanitarian funding, and invest in communities that host large numbers of refugees.