When we speak about asylum, it’s important to find the right words.

Refugees are not water, there are no streams, floods or tsunamis.

Refugees are fleeing war. They are not at war. They are not invaders, attackers or armies.

People are not “illegal”.

Long enough we’ve heard this stuck record that strips people of their humanity.

It’s time to flip the script on the asylum debate.

It’s not complicated.

All we need to remember is that refugees are people, human beings.

And that’s why I start today with the story of Armen.

Armen is Syrian Armenian. His Christian Orthodox family fled to Syria after the First World War.

One hundred years later, Armen himself had to flee.  Because of the war. And because he is gay.

When he came out, his family rejected him. Said he was a disgrace. Would go to hell. Was sick.

Then Daesh came to Syria. Daesh murdered gay men. By taking them to a high building.

And throwing them down the street below.

So Armen was scared.

And fled to Lebanon.

But in Lebanon. Police raided parties, bars and saunas, and put gay men in jail.

Guards stopped him at checkpoints.

Checked his phone, for gay dating apps.

He was very, very scared. To be arrested and put in prison.

Then a friend told him about UNHCR.

And he asked about resettlement.

After many interviews, one day they said: “congratulations.

The Netherlands has offered you a new home”

He moved – at the end of 2015.

Has now made many friends

Sings in a choir.

Speaks Dutch perfectly.

Just last week he graduated from his studies in hotel management.

His dream is to work in human resources.

So many congratulations Armen. And many thanks to UNHCR and the Netherlands.

For making this possible.

A safe journey to a welcome home. That is what resettlement is about.

Based on the Refugee Convention. Signed this month exactly 70 years ago.

To help refugees from a war-torn and divided Europe.

Then in 1956 – 170,000 Hungarian refugees in Austria, resettled to 37 countries around the world.

After that refugees from Uganda, Chile. Vietnam and Cambodia. The Balkan wars. And most lately from Syria, Myanmar and Iraq.

Who like Armen got a chance to rebuild their lives in peace and safety.

Just think; the first people who resettled as children or teenagers.

They are now old men and women.

Fell in love. Started families. With children and grandchildren.

Thanks to the Refugee Convention, and the political will to act.

I want us to celebrate the Refugee Convention, through action.

I called this High Level Forum on Resettlement, because there is an urgent need to act.

There are more than 82 million displaced people worldwide. More than 85 per cent of them, in developing countries.

Filippo Grandi, dear Filippo, a very warm welcome. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees you are ringing the alarm bell.

Worldwide, 1.5 million people need to be moved to safety.

We must meet this challenge as a global community.

Welcome Marco Mendicino. Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Dear Marco. It’s a great pleasure to see you again. Canada is a world leader on resettlement and community sponsorship. We cannot make progress, without you.

Alejandro Mayorkas. US Secretary of Homeland Security. A very warm welcome.

When we met in Lisbon last month, you said: the USA is back.

And I can only say, from the bottom of my heart, I am sure many will agree:

We are so happy.

Welcome back.

Welcome also to Deputy Secretary of State McKeon and the whole US team here today – you really came here in full force.

It’s great to see the US back on the stage, ready to lead on resettlement.

The time is right for democratic leadership. The time is right for a global alliance on resettlement.

I’ve called this High Level Forum, to restart resettlement.

After the pandemic pushed the pause button. And to step up other legal pathways to safety. Humanitarian admissions and community sponsorship is also important.

We cannot do this without the Member States.

So I warmly welcome

Luciana Lamorgese, Italy’s Minister of the Interior.

Maria Ohisalo, Finland’s Minister of the Interior.

Terezija Gras, State Secretary for European Affairs for Croatia.

It’s Europe’s Member States which, since 2015 granted protection to 2.5 million refugees who came to Europe. Fleeing war, terror and persecution.

Often risking their lives. Drowning at sea. Suffocating in airtight vans.

It’s the EU’s Member States which in that same period gave 80,000 people a new home through resettlement.

I want more people, to come safely to Europe. So fewer people will risk their lives.

We have some catching up to do.

Filippo, you asked Europe to resettle 36,000 people next year.

That means first of all finding the money. I am now working hard to secure 300 million euro. That will be enough to find safe new homes for 30,000 people.  

And I call on Member States to do what they can, to find additional funds.

Money is not enough. People also need a place to go.

Today I call on all EU Member States, for pledges. Pledges to offer people like Armen a safe, new home.

That’s my goal for today and the months ahead: to find the political will for pledges. Ambitious pledges.

It must also be possible to carry out those pledges.

We must build capacity.

Armen was interviewed intensively numerous times, before they approved his application.

For that you need trained staff. We need to do more, so UNHCR and Member States have the staff and facilities they need.

Finally, we neem to move from improvisation, to orderly management. So I am very glad to welcome Aleš Hojs, who for the Slovenian Presidency of the European Council, can help us to make progress on the permanent EU Resettlement Framework.

This very first High Level Forum on Resettlement, is an unprecedented gathering of forces.

I said asylum is about people.

We have all the right people also  around the table, to make a difference


The US.

The European Union

The European Parliament

Our Member States.

Our EU agencies.

Civil Society

And we’ll hear from a refugee expert. Because we can’t talk about refugees, without refugees.

Today we show the world, that Canada, the United States and the European Union are joining forces.

To show democratic leadership.

To be ambitious and bring people safely, to safety.

To bring lasting change for many more people, who need international protection.

If we show that leadership and ambition.

Then I am sure that many more will follow our lead.