Reports released today quote him as calling on all member nations to do their bit and saying nationalism had no place in modern society, especially when migrants’ well-being and even lives were at risk. Assisting migrants stranded out to sea is a ‘moral imperative’ at a time when ‘global challenges’ were on the table, including refugees and what is often termed ‘economic migration’, specifically coined to cover those escaping third-world poverty and seeking a better life and work in the first world so they could support their families at home.
“And a time like this does not need nationalist messages, or those that exclude – it’s time to forge a new cooperative leadership based upon the willingness not just to listen to others, but to understand their reasoning, to take on a profound feeling of empathy and to realise that no single party has a monopoly on the truth,” Sánchez said, very directly and strongly.
He called for all UN members to recognise the ‘issues’ that the ‘migration drama’ is causing in recipient countries, and commitment to those States, as well as ‘above all, justice and fair distribution of responsibility’ in which ‘everyone has the obligation to help’. Referring to xenophobic and far-right sentiments in some countries – without naming them – Sánchez reminded everyone present that Spain had been ‘battered by the financial crisis like few other nations in western Europe’, yet, despite this, ‘the immense majority of society’ has ‘never turned its back on the migration drama’.
“I feel very proud of that. I feel proud to come from a society that has never allowed itself to join in the heat of radical xenophobic discourse based upon a culture of fear of difference,” Sánchez says.
Spain is, statistically, one of the world’s most welcoming countries for refugees, socially – although its numbers have been few so far, protests in the street have been staged denouncing the State for not taking in more migrants, whilst town and city councils all over the country have been preparing themselves to take in asylum-seekers – in some cases, setting up registers of local residents with spare homes or rooms in case of a shortage of accommodation. Sánchez speculates that this positive attitude to migrants is because Spain has ‘always been a country of emigrants and refugees’ throughout its turbulent history; this said, Spain’s more populous areas have long been a magnet to literally hundreds of nationalities, from the third world to some of the richest countries on earth, and its cosmopolitan nature has not changed its identity, culture or traditions – yet expatriates from all over the world report feeling very welcome and being treated as ‘one of the crowd’, never ostracised for being foreign. The general attitude among Spaniards, when asked how they feel about immigration is: “We’re all descended from immigrants at some point in our family tree.”
“Because of all that, we’re not going to even try to escape our international commitments,” Sánchez stressed. “Our welcoming the Aquarius, a migrant ship cast adrift with 630 human beings on board, was both because international legislation requires it and because it was a moral imperative. In the face of ‘fortress countries’, xenophobic and unwelcoming ‘us-and-them’ narratives, what we need is solidarity, humanity and respect.”
Sánchez says the causes of mass migration need to be determined and pinned down to specific demographic groups and areas of output countries – such as ‘poverty, environmental degeneration, or despair’ – so that these could be tackled by working alongside migrants’ nations of origin.
Migration was the main focus of Sánchez’s UN speech, but he also campaigned for solutions to problems like discrimination against women, child poverty and climate change. “Without equality between men and women, without respect for human rights, there can never be peace, development or evolution,” the president argued. “Our societies have accepted discrimination against women for generations, and humanity cannot continue to tolerate this injustice.”
Sánchez praised the fact that the UN AGM chair this time, and for the first time, was a woman, and also described himself as a ‘feminist’, adding that it was ‘time for women now’, and: “The government I preside over is made up of 60% women, because we aspire to be an example.”
Sánchez urged other nations to continue to move forward in the fight against terrorism and stressed it was ‘essential’ to combat hate and violence in all walks of life and prevent young and vulnerable people from falling into the clutches of fanatics or being swept along by radical and ‘excluding’ discourse. The latter means UN countries being capable of ‘surmounting any sign of cracks’ and supporting terrorism victims, whilst investing in young people’s education and ‘adopting an integral focus’ towards immigration whilst ‘fighting stereotypes’.
Among other subjects covered, Sánchez, inevitably, referred to Brexit and its effects on Gibraltar: the UK’s departure from the European Union automatically means Gibraltar will be forced to leave, and the Spanish president wants to ‘make the most of these circumstances’ to create a ‘new relationship between the EU and Gibraltar’ which ‘unavoidably, will involve Spain’ and which he hopes will ‘bring prosperity’ to and ‘benefit’ the whole of the region – the Rock itself, and the border areas in the province of Cádiz.
Spain’s leader concluded his speech by stressing that the UN’s value does not lie in its past achievements, but in what it can achieve in the future, and by quoting the poet León Felipe: “What matters is not being the first to arrive alone, but everyone arriving together and in time, without leaving anyone behind.”