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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Belizean Foreign Minister Eamon Courtenay Opening Remarks at the Anniversary Ministerial of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection


UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA:  Good afternoon, all, and thank you for joining this ministerial meeting to mark the one-year anniversary of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.  I’m Uzra Zeya, under secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State, and I have the distinct pleasure of serving as the master of ceremonies for today’s important discussion.

We’re eager to hear from you – foreign ministers, ambassadors, and distinguished representatives of endorsing countries – about your governments’ accomplishments under the Los Angeles Declaration and new commitments for the year ahead.  I’d like to extend a particular thanks to Foreign Minister Courtenay and the Government of Belize for joining the United States in co-hosting today’s meeting.  I’d also like to thank the World Bank for their generosity in allowing us to use this beautiful space.

Lastly, I’m delighted to see that we’re joined by so many of our partners from international organizations, multilateral development banks, and civil society organizations.  We look forward to hearing from all of you as well.

Now we have a very full program today and we will be counting on all of our partners here to help us stay on schedule.  So without further ado, I’d like to invite United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken to proceed with his opening remarks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much, Uzra.  It’s so wonderful to see all of our colleagues here today, especially in this magnificent space.  Eamon, thank you for bringing us together.  We couldn’t be more pleased, and I really, really want to share first of all that this entire effort has sought to bring all of us together in common cause and common purpose, and I think we’ve made a very good start at that.

So thank you to all of our partners from the region, thank you to the World Bank, thank you to its new president, Ajay Banga.  We’re delighted to be working with the president.  And of course, my friend and colleague, Secretary Mayorkas.

So one year ago, we came together and endorsed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration Protection.  And in so doing, our countries made a historic commitment to transform our region’s approach to migration and to displacement.

You all know we have a 100 million people on the move around the world, forcibly displaced from their homes, and in our own hemisphere about 20 million.  That’s the definition of a challenge that no one country can bear or solve alone, and we all joined this declaration so that none of us has to solve it alone.  We are bound together and in this together.

Our governments – together with civil society, with the private sector, with humanitarian organizations, and groups like the Organization of American States, the International Organization for Migration – we have been working to transform the declaration’s principles into real action.  Together, we are working to make migration safer, more orderly, more humane, while strengthening international protections and taking action against smugglers and criminal gangs.  And in so doing, we’re improving the lives of millions of migrants, of refugees, of stateless people, other forcibly displaced peoples, as well as citizens and host communities throughout our hemisphere.

Let me just cite a few of the ways in which we are partnering together.

First, we’re building the capacity of host governments and communities to promote integration and inclusion by providing security, fundamental services like medical care and shelter, job opportunities to migrants and refugees.  The key to unlocking these services is legal status.  So we’re helping governments regularize migrants – including in Ecuador and Peru, which will eventually provide legal status to over one million Venezuelans between them – and supporting similar programs in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica that will allow migrants to work, to study, to access public services, while contributing to their new communities.

Second, we’re working with our partners to significantly expand access to legal pathways for migration and international protection.  This month, the United States, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia came together to launch the initial phase of the Safe Mobility – or Movilidad Segura – initiative, which is improving access to refugee resettlement and other lawful pathways in the United States and other countries, including Canada and Spain.  This program, as you know, provides screening and referral information to migrants and refugees where they are, so they aren’t forced to undertake the dangerous journey or put their lives in the hands of smugglers and organized criminal groups.  We look forward to ramping up these efforts and working with additional countries to set up Safe Mobility Offices in the region.

We’re committed to expanding other legal pathways, building on the success of initiatives like the innovative parole process that we’ve put in place for those migrating from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.  We’re working with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to match qualified workers to temporary job opportunities in the United States, and we hope to roll out similar efforts with other countries very soon.  And we’re partnering with Mexico to increase opportunities for temporary workers to come to the United States while strengthening protections, including safe working conditions and fair recruitment processes, for those workers.

Third, we’re working with government and civil society partners to counter migrant smuggling and human trafficking.  Nowhere in the region is this more important than in the Darién, one of the most perilous irregular migration corridors on our planet.  We’re surging support to Colombia and Panama to enhance security, to crack down on trafficking.  And we’re leading efforts to train and support partners on the ground.  These efforts are working:  just in the first month of our partnership, irregular migration in the Darién has dropped by 50 percent.

And fourth, to reduce irregular migration, we all know that we have to address its root causes.  We’re working toward a future where, as the L.A. Declaration states, migration is a voluntary, informed choice, and not seen by migrants as a necessity.  Over the last two years, we’ve provided more than $2.4 billion in humanitarian assistance across the Western Hemisphere, which itself is helping to save lives, alleviate suffering, and also help people on the move as well as their host communities.

We’re working to mobilize resources outside of government – and this is critical as well – including with more than $4.2 billion in private sector commitments that Vice President Harris helped to secure for northern Central America.

And we continue to work to address drivers of migration like corruption, erosion of the rule of law, gender-based violence, and crises of government.  And we discussed some of these very issues a little bit earlier today at the OAS.

We’ve developed these initiatives in close cooperation with partners in the region using our shared experience, using shared lessons learned over the last decade.  And we know that other governments here have found additional ways to address the needs of migrants and host communities.  We urge all to share their experience and ideas with others endorsing – endorsing countries of the L.A. Declaration.

I think we all know very well that mass migration is going to be a long-term phenomenon in the Americas.  And again, we can best address this by working together.  This collective commitment and the concrete efforts that follow from that commitment are making a difference.  Over the next year, it is critical that we keep up the momentum, that we continue the work we’re doing, and also look for new opportunities for collaboration.

That includes on climate-related migration, which we know is a key driver in our hemisphere.  This week the United States announced a new approach to address the impacts of climate change on migration and on displacement, focusing on protecting the vulnerable and enhancing our partnership with humanitarian partners and governments.  And we’re strongly supporting incorporating addendum on climate change to the Los Angeles Declaration itself.

We’re also focused on boosting regional cooperation on statelessness, which we can combat by expanding access to birth registration, strengthening awareness of stateless populations, eliminating discrimination in nationality laws.

As President Biden said last year, it is going to take all of our countries working together in partnership to effectively address migration.  Today and over the next year and in the years to come, it’s our determination to build on our progress, to address the shared migration displacement challenge, and to advance better, more secure, more hopeful futures for all of our citizens.  I’m so grateful for all of the collaboration we’ve had and the commitment to keep this going.  Thank you.

Uzra?

UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  And now I hand the floor to Foreign Minister Courtenay.

FOREIGN MINISTER COURTENAY:  Uzra, thank you very much.  Tony, Alejandro, colleague foreign ministers, heads of delegation, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor for Belize to join the United States in cohosting this very important dialogue this afternoon.  And I want to thank you all for joining us to celebrate the first anniversary of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.

It is important for us to come together to engage in constructive dialogue concerning the issue of irregular migration in our region, to review the progress that we have made on our shared commitments, and to work towards developing long-term comprehensive migration policies.

The Los Angeles Declaration emphasize our commitment to work collaboratively to protect the dignity, life, and human rights of all migrants, regardless of migratory status.  Excellencies, it is in this vein that we open this dialogue with the intent to embrace every opportunity to improve the regional governance of migration and address the challenges associated with today’s migration.  This requires a comprehensive and collaborative response from both national and regional actors.

The flow of undocumented migrants across the region continues to increase and accelerate.  Early data for 2023 highlights that between January and March, approximately 87,390 people on their way to the U.S. made the trek across the Darién Gap, the most perilous – one of the most perilous walks on Earth.  Organized crime, corruption, and countries’ limited capacity to provide basic services have all contributed to an escalation of violence and insecurity, leading to an increased trend of forced displacement.  It is therefore essential to recognize that migration is not merely a statistical trend, it is the movement of real people with rights, aspirations, and dreams.

Respecting human rights in the context of migration is not just a moral imperative, but also a legal obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.  It is crucial that we all uphold these rights for all migrants irrespective of their country of origin or destination.

The Americas has made significant progress, as mentioned by you, Tony, in recognizing and protecting the rights of migrants.  However, despite these positive steps, challenges remain.  Migrants in the Americas continue to face obstacles that impede their access to justice, education, health care, and decent work.  Discrimination, xenophobia, and human trafficking are persistent problems that demand our attention and collective action.  It is our duty to address these issues and work towards more inclusive and equitable societies.

To effectively address the challenges associated with migration and promote the respect for human rights, a multifaceted approach is needed.

Firstly, countries in the Americas must strengthen their legal frameworks and policies, dismantle criminal networks, and ensure the protection of migrants’ rights.  This involves enacting comprehensive migration laws that align with international rights and standards, establishing transparent and efficient asylum procedures, and combating human trafficking and smuggling through enhanced cooperation and protection.

We must continue to foster partnership between governments, civil society organizations, and international organizations to develop comprehensive and humane approaches to migration.  Sharing best practices, exchanging information, and coordinating efforts can lead to more effective policies that protect human rights and promote social integration.

Secondly, regional cooperation and dialogue like today’s encounter are essential for addressing migration-related issues.  Colleagues, let us stand together in our commitment to a future where the Americas can serve as an example with migration policies that create an environment where migration becomes a force for development and more inclusive and just societies.

It is imperative that the Los Angeles Declaration recognize the intersection of migration and climate change.  This is why Belize firmly supports a decision to work on an addendum to the declaration focused on addressing climate change migration.  Climate change threatens the very existence of small island developing states and low-lying coastal regions.  This is why at COP28 we expect to see ambitious climate action – emissions reduction, climate financing, and the operationalization of the new financing facility for loss and damage.

The movement of climate change migrants necessitates a holistic approach to protect those seeking refuge from environmental harm.  We must focus on the rights and well-being of affected individuals.

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, by recognizing and harnessing the potential of migrants, we can drive innovation, fill labor market gaps, and stimulate economic growth.  It is crucial to adopt inclusive policies, invest in education and skills development, and foster international cooperation to create an environment where migration can be a force for positive change and shared prosperity.  Let us build bridges instead of walls and create an environment that respects and celebrates our shared humanity.

In closing, allow me to reiterate that Belize is ready and willing to continue working with you and our regional and international partners to find viable solutions and address the most tragic consequences of migration while upholding its human rights obligations.  I thank you all and I look forward to a constructive and fruitful dialogue.  Thank you so much.

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