OECD Secretary-General

Remarks at UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants: Strengthening the positive contribution of migrants and refugees


Roundtable remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

New York, 19 September 2016



Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


Let me start by thanking the United Nations for convening this High-Level Summit. We have a unique opportunity to shape a collective response to this humanitarian crisis, with its appalling human cost. The world has dealt with refugee crises in the past and we can learn a great deal from these experiences.


The OECD has been working on migration issues for decades, and I would like to share a few insights from our work.


The first is that effective international co-operation cannot be taken for granted. The UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention imposes no obligation to respond to appeals or to resettle refugees. Solidarity and responsibility-sharing have been disappointingly weak. Even within the EU, a burden-sharing mechanism is only emerging painfully. The Global Compact on Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees must create the conditions for co-operation.


Second, in presence of mass displacements, there is often a tendency to rely on short-term protection measures. This may discourage refugees and the host community from investing in the kinds of skills that will help refugees to find a job and contribute to society: I am referring to early investment in language, vocational training, skill recognition and schooling for their children.


The third point I would like to make is that many of the people in need of international protection turn to smugglers because they see no hope. The OECD can help countries to make aid – ODA – more effective in offering durable solutions and in addressing the root causes of conflicts, forced displacement, and refugee flows. We also need to explore ways to better use alternative legal channels, alongside resettlement. Some concrete proposals are presented in the 40th edition of the OECD International Migration Outlook - which I will present tomorrow in this building.


My fourth and final point is probably the most important one: we need to focus on integration.


We have ample evidence on the positive economic and fiscal contribution of migrants for OECD countries. Migrants add human capital to our societies. Over the last ten years, migrants accounted for 47% of the increase in the workforce in the United States and 70% in Europe.  Our evidence also shows that in most countries, migrants pay more in tax and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits.


The magnitude of migrants’ contributions, however, depends on the use of their skills and more broadly on their labour market integration. For refugees, there is still a long way to go. Recent joint work from the OECD and the European Commission shows that family migrants and refugees may need 15 to 20 years in European countries to reach labour market outcomes similar to those of the native-born – and those with low skills sometimes never catch up. Refugees with good skills are three times as likely as their native- born peers to work in a job for which they are overqualified. Language and vocational training as well as skill recognition are crucial and should be an integral part of the Global Compact on Refugees and Migrants.


Ultimately, a balanced public discourse is much needed and produces potentially valuable gains. Of course, in these difficult times, such a discourse certainly requires courageous leadership.


Today is a unique opportunity for the international community to convey this simple message: United, we can tackle the challenges that arise with large movements of migrants and refugees. Together, we can improve our policies to unleash the potential of migrants. Migration is not a threat, it is a hope, the hope of the migrants and their family for a better life and for all of us for a more prosperous and harmonious world.