This episode of CMSOnAir features Her Excellency Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. She is only the fourth woman to hold this position in the history of the world body, and the first since 2006.
For more than 20 years, President Espinosa Garcés has worked in the areas of international negotiations, peace-building, security, defense, disarmament, human rights, indigenous peoples, gender equality, sustainable development, environment, biodiversity, climate change and multilateral cooperation. She has served her native Ecuador as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, and Coordinating Minister of Natural and Cultural Heritage. She also served as Special Adviser to the President of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of Ecuador in 2008. That same year, she became the first woman to serve as Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations in New York.
Before beginning her political and diplomatic career, President Espinosa Garcés was Associate Professor and Researcher at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Sede Ecuador. She has written over 30 academic articles about the Amazon region, culture, heritage, sustainable development, climate change, intellectual property, foreign policy, regional integration, defense and security. President Espinosa Garcés holds a master’s degree in social sciences and Amazonian studies and a postgraduate diploma in anthropology and political science from the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Sede Ecuador, as well as a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in environmental geography at Rutgers University.
In this CMSOnAir, President Espinosa Garcés speaks with Kevin Appleby, CMS’s senior director of international migration policy, on global migration issues in advance of the upcoming intergovernmental conference to adopt the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, which will be held this December in Marrakesh, Morocco.
More information about the UN General Assembly is available at www.un.org.
Rachel Reyes: Welcome to CMSOnAir – the podcast on migration, refugee and population issues brought to you by the Center for Migration Studies of New York. This is Rachel Reyes, CMS’s Director of Communications.
This episode features our interview with Her Excellency Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. She is only the fourth woman to hold this position in the history of the world body, and the first since 2006.
For more than 20 years, President Espinosa Garcés has worked in the areas of international negotiations, peace, security, defense, disarmament, human rights, indigenous peoples, gender equality, sustainable development, environment, biodiversity, climate change and multilateral cooperation. She has served her native Ecuador as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defense, and Coordinating Minister of Natural and Cultural Heritage. She also served as Special Adviser to the President of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of Ecuador in 2008. That same year, she became the first woman to become Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations in New York.
Before beginning her political and diplomatic career, President Espinosa Garcés was Associate Professor and Researcher at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Sede Ecuador. She has written over 30 academic articles about the Amazon region, culture, heritage, sustainable development, climate change, intellectual property, foreign policy, regional integration, defense and security.
In this CMSOnAir, President Espinosa Garcés speaks with Kevin Appleby, CMS’s senior director of international migration policy. They discuss global migration issues in advance of the upcoming intergovernmental conference to adopt the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration which will be held this December in Marrakesh, Morocco. Now here is our interview with President Espinosa Garcés.
Kevin Appleby: Madame President, thank you for being with us today on the Center for Migration Studies podcast. As President of the General Assembly, you’ve set seven policy priorities upon which you will focus as President. And one of those issues, of course, is migration. Could you explain why you think migration is one of the most important challenges facing the world community today?
Her Excellency Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés: Well, first of all, I think that the history of humanity is about migration, in a way. This is not a new phenomenon, but of course, in the past years, this issue has taken different proportions, and we have seen the highest number of people on the move for various reasons – because of economic hardship, because of conflict, because of climate change. And I think that what the multilateral system and the United Nations has done is to work collectively in a shared response and shared responsibility on this very important issue. And, of course, this is a very important item on our agenda – a policy priority because we are very close to adopting the Global Compact on Global Migration in the Marrakech conference. And we are very much looking forward to a very high level, solid, strong conference to adopt the Compact. And I think member states have come together to agree on this universal framework. I think that it is a very, very powerful tool.
Kevin Appleby: As a follow up, one of the disturbing elements over the last several years globally has been a rise of xenophobia and, in some cases, nationalism around the globe. It has created an environment, which has made it somewhat difficult to get to common solutions on this issue. What can be done to sort of change that narrative that we are seeing right now in a negative way against migrants? What can the global community do to sort of change the messaging on migrants in a positive way?
President Espinosa Garcés: In a way, I think that we have more success stories than sad stories about migration. The only problem is that the stories that make it to the headlines and that are used and seen by the media and by social media are the negative stories about migration. And you are right. We have seen racism, xenophobia. We have seen nationalism around the globe. It’s not an issue in one country or another. I would say it is a trend but luckily, it is a trend of the minority. The majority of the people understand how fruitful, useful, contributing it can be – the flux of people of different cultures of different beliefs but also of different skills and knowledge. And I think we have to put emphasis on these success stories. There are so many around the world that we have to build a very strong counter-narrative and that is why the United Nations are so relevant. Because if you look at the agencies and programs and countries around the globe, they are multipliers of success stories of migration. I come from a country – Ecuador – that has for decades received with open arms the displaced of the Columbian conflict. We have been for years the number one country in terms of the numbers of refugees. And we have embraced them and we have given them the services, the rights, the dignity. Now we are perhaps a better country because of that. This very country, in our host country the United States, a few weeks ago, I decided to go back to Ellis Island to look at how this country was shaped because of the enormous contribution of diverse cultures and backgrounds coming to build and to support the building of this wonderful nation. I think we have to remind ourselves where we come from. Our own nations – I would say all nations – are built because of the contribution of migrants. This is the counter-narrative that we need to build
Kevin Appleby: Yes. The harsh rhetoric seems to dehumanize migrants, and it’s important, as you say, to put a human face on the migrant as human beings. Let me just turn now to the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, which you mentioned. We are all looking forward to Morocco where the Compact will be formerly adopted in an international conference. In a recent address to the UN you stated, “The road to Marrakech is the road of hope.” Could you explain for us more what you meant by that? And, as a follow up, what can member states do to make the hope you speak of a reality?
President Espinosa Garcés: To start with the Global Compact on Migration: I think it was a tremendous effort of member states to agree on an instrument that will help them to establish partnerships, cooperation, exchange of success stories, exchange some policy challenges that they may have. It’s a platform, it’s a framework that allows countries to collaborate on an issue that is by nature, transboundary. It’s a transboundary issue. It’s a global issue that requires global responses. So the Global Compact is about that. And why is the Global Compact and Marrakech a road to hope? It’s because it is going to give us the opportunity to first of all to [raise] the political profile of migration because we really expect a good turnout of state and government. And, second, because we will adopt an instrument that would then be ready for implementation and implementation is the key. Implementation is not only about the commitment and responsibility of member states, it is also the call for partnership for engagement of the entire UN system – IOM, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of Refugees. There is a network established to support member states to implement the Compact, but, at the same time, it is a golden opportunity to have all key stakeholders involved – NGOs, the private sector, faith communities – around the issue of implementing the Compact. So it is going to be a high point on the international migration agenda, and I am very much looking to Marrakech.
Kevin Appleby: Madame President, the current reality on the ground in terms of migration management is a bit different than what the principles in the Global Compact profess. We see around the global often deterrence policies being used to manage migration and that can include interdiction and return, offshore processing, mandatory detention, externalization of borders if you will. Do you think that the Global Compact on Migration offers a different model that nations can pursue? And do you think that in its implementation that nations will sort of change these deterrence strategies and sort of make a switch toward more positive migration policies such as legal avenues for migration that help facilitate in a more humane way how migration flows develop?
President Espinosa Garcés: Yes. I think this is very, very simple. What we need to do is just to recall history. It is very simple, we need to recall history and bring past history to the present and look for examples. Again using the example of Ellis Island: From the 18th century, people from different origins have been coming to this country and contributing to the incredible industrial and economic development of this country. But take any other example around the world, very shocking examples – the second World War, the first World War, the hundreds of thousands that were displaced that came to different continents. They were really welcomed and just transformed into a living part of society and an economy. I think we need to recall that. One the second issue: you are right. It’s not that we are naïve. We know very well that there are some deterrence schemes that are going on that are really countering the fundamental human rights of people. And we have to make sure that we reverse this trend in a way that would really bring balance between sometimes national interest and some national challenges, and at the same time see that a country can be welcoming. I’m convinced that, of course, there are limits and there are schemes that need to be applied in order to have as the Compact states very clearly – “orderly, safe, predictable migration.” The only way for that to happen is with international cooperation, with dialogue, with alliances between different stakeholders. And I think that’s what we need to collectively understand. I think the Global Compact on Migration offers that golden opportunity for us to cooperate, for us to create a narrative that would just consider migration as a normal movement of people because of different reasons. We know what the reasons are. I have to tell you and remind ourselves that no one – no human being – leaves [one’s] own country, [one’s] family, [one’s] material comfort because they just want to. Most of the time it is not a voluntary decision. It is because there are some very strong structural causes that push people to look for new places, new opportunities. So if that the case, then we have to accompany these people in a way that their dignity and their rights would be complied with.
Kevin Appleby: Thank you. I would like to turn to some specific populations whose rights you have championed yourself. The first group I’d like to talk about it is women and girl migrants, who are about half of the internal and international migrants worldwide. As you know, they can be subject to human trafficking, sexual violence, and other forms of exploitation both in their home countries but also along the migration journey. What more can be done to protect women and girl migrants in the world? And do you think that the Global Compact is a good first step in that direction?
President Espinosa Garcés: You know, absolutely. I think that the Global Compact also has this advantage of looking at the migration issue from a very balanced perspective and provide the necessary guiding elements for countries of origin, countries of destination, and countries of transit. It looks at the entire equation of migration, but also it calls for a gender sensitive framework and that is very important. We know that vulnerabilities of women and girls, when large numbers of people are on the move for several reasons, they are a target sometimes, unfortunately. And we need to double our efforts and our frameworks and our policy decisions to make sure that they are properly protected. So the Global Compact on Migration calls for a gender sensitive policy and collective and shared efforts. And we have to be mindful that indeed and, unfortunately, women and girls are perhaps more vulnerable than men.
Kevin Appleby: You’ve been a strong advocate bringing attention to the effects of climate change and, during the Global Compact negotiations, the issue of climate change and migrants who are forcibly displaced by natural disasters or slow onset environmental degradation – how to respond to them? They are migrants in vulnerable situation, and it is a group that is evolving in terms of their protection needs. What can member states do to better protect migrants who are victims of climate change moving forward? I know that the GCM – the Global Compact on Migration – has several good provisions in that regard. But what would you encourage members states to really do moving forward to better protect these groups that are emerging?
President Espinosa Garcés: Well, first of all, this is yet another very important element of the Global Compact on Migration because indeed it factors in the issue of disasters – of climate effects – as causes for migration, and it addresses it in a very, I would say, complete, interesting way. The Global Compact on Migration addresses the issue of climate change and disasters related to migration. I think that we have to act in two dimensions: one is to make sure that these people that are displaced because of climate change and other disasters, they are taken care of in a way. We have so many internally displaced persons because of climate situations and shortages of food, drought, floodings – this is so evident. And the last information that we received from the IPCC clearly shows that is this a very, very pressing issue. The Global Compact on Migration provides guidance on this issue but also we have the Paris Agreement, which is a very strong multilateral agreement to deliver on both resilience but also mitigation and adaptation. And I think these are the safeguards in a way and also the commitments that members states are ready to comply with in terms of making sure that climate change does not get worse – that we can reach a balance. It is very easy to say but very difficult to do. We are a few weeks away from the next conference of the parties in Poland. And we expect that at least after three years after the Paris Agreement, we will be able to deliver on a very clear program of work. We are working toward that goal. Together, the Paris agreement [and] the Global Compact on Migration will provide the necessary guidance for member states to commit on this issue.
Kevin Appleby: Terrific, thank you. Madame President, you were elected at a time where the Global Compact on Migration had been negotiated pretty much. It will be finalized in Marrakech. But now comes the hard part – the implementation, which can certainly be challenging as well. What can be done to ensure that member states effectively implement the Compact and take its provisions seriously? And how can civil society, including faith-based organizations, contribute to that goal? In other words, what role can civil society play to help facilitate the implementation of the Compact?
President Espinosa Garcés: Well, I would say to start with, I agree with you that the Global Compact was negotiated and agreed upon in a very difficult moment on the migration agenda and that shows the willingness and the commitment of member states already. So that is a big gain for the migration agenda. We do have a Compact – a Compact that enjoyed almost unanimous support when it was adopted. And it is very important that we hold that momentum that we bring it to Marrakech and then we start working on the implementation. And, of course, implementation is about – again I repeat – coordination, collaboration, partnerships. It is not only in the hands of member states. Of course, they have perhaps the most important part, in terms of policymaking, in terms of norm setting, in terms of the operation of the implementation. But at the same time, I think there are key stakeholders that would really ensure that implementation is a success – the faith communities like you mentioned, the NGO communities. Why? Because most of the time, these NGOs and these faith communities they are the first micro level of contact with migrants. They are at the very forefront. They know the names of the migrants, they know their needs, they know what they expect, they know their shortages. So they are in the subsidiary chain in a way – they are the really very first local contact. So together with civil society, with the faith communities, with the UN migration network that was created by the Secretary General that brings all the agencies together – the idea is that this UN network will operate through the national UN offices and would just support member states in delivering the implementation of the Compact. At the same time, there is the will and the political decisions of member states to implement the Compact and this is a win-win situation, believe me. It’s going to be a win-win situation. And I forgot to mention also the role of the private sector. The role of the private sector is indeed extremely important to the implementation as well.
Kevin Appleby: Madame President, do you have any final thoughts for our listeners on how you see the future in terms of migration?
President Espinosa Garcés: Well, I am an optimist. And I think that we will see a future where migration will not stop because it is a part of the history of humanity – people on the move since the first day of humanity. So it will continue. I think that countries are going to be increasingly aware of the enormous potential and the positive contribution of migration and migrants. It’s not only about numbers because it has been proven the economic contribution of migrants but also to enrich the diversity of society and reach a better understanding, intercultural dialogue, multilingualism. All of this is wealth to humanity. And I think that there is going to be a time where migration is seen as a natural phenomenon. Let’s hope that the structural cases of migration will be tackled and addressed. Less conflict, less migration. Less climate change and adverse effects, less migration. More development, less migration. So that is what we are aiming at. If we are able to deliver on the 2030 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, I am sure we will not even be speaking about migration.
Kevin Appleby: Madame President, thank you for being with us today and for your leadership. And we look forward to seeing you in Marrakech.
President Espinosa Garcés: Well, thank you very, very much.
Rachel Reyes: You can learn more about the UN General Assembly at www.un.org. CMSOnAir’s theme music is provided by Danny Duberstein and The Music Case. To get more information on CMS’s research, publications and events, visit us at cmsny.org.