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At UN, European leaders call to 'halt atrocities' and find political solution to crisis in Syria

2 October 2015 – On the fifth day of the United Nations General Assembly's debate, European countries took to the podium delivering remarks focused on the importance of diplomacy, the need to address the refugee and migrant crisis affecting their continent, and the urgency with which the war in Syria needs to be brought to end.

Opening the floor today, Andorra's Head of Government, Antoni Marti Petit, said that when it comes to the crisis in Syria, to date, "we have not been able to provide effective and just responses. We are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. And the international community must always, always be part of the solution."

Sadly, the failure to provide a response on the Syrian crisis "is evident at the borders of Europe every day where thousands of refugees arrive after fleeing a massacre," he said. "They are not looking for a better life;" they are simply trying to stay alive.

Mr. Petit said his Government was very keen to help address the situation and had decided to join in hosting refugees, "wishing to be part of a balanced solution" within the European framework. "We hear the desperate cries of the refugees, wherever they may be from, calling us all to action," he declared, adding that while developed countries had been slow to act on Syria, they should in the future move more quickly to halt "atrocities."

Meanwhile the Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) said the region is facing two key strategic and global challenges: the refugee and migrant crisis, and the "aspirations for a stronger penetration of ISIS [the Islamic State or Iraq and the Levant] into Europe."

"Since the beginning [of] this year almost 160,000 people, mainly Syrians, have transited through the Republic of Macedonia," said Nikola Gruevski. "For our part, we will do everything in our power to help these people who have needs." But he stressed that his nation "cannot do this alone," and the "problem assumes stronger engagement from the European Union in cooperation with the Balkan countries."

"The only way to resolve the refugee crisis is for Europe to urgently address the main reason for their suffering – in this case the Syrian conflict," Minister Gruevski continued. He underlined that the global community needs unity and a concerted position by both the United Nations and the Security Council, similarly to how a "positive result" was reached through diplomatic means on the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons.

Turning to another "unresolved" issue, Minister Gruevski said the difference with Greece over the name of his country "unfortunately stands in the way of the permanent stabilization of his region. "Our position is well-known. The resolution of differences with our Southern neighbour is our priority within the frames of the UN resolutions and pursuant to international law."

In Iceland's address to the General Assembly, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade said the "smallness of our world is starkly highlighted by the ongoing migrant and refugee situation."

"The search for a better life is nothing new," Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said. "About one fifth of the Icelandic population left our country in the late 19th century in the face of extreme poverty and harsh weather conditions." He underlined that the term "migration" hardly captures the severity of the current situation, stating "this is an exodus."

Turning to the issue of climate change, Minister Sveinsson said it is particularly revealing in the Arctic region, with temperatures increasing more than twice the average global rate. "There is still time to turn things around," he insisted. "COP21[the climate change conference] in Paris will be our chance, maybe our last one, to put us on track towards a sustainable future and take decisions based on best available science."

Also speaking today was the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein, Aurelia Frick, who said the world's primary objective must be to prevent mass atrocities from happening.

"This is a complex and long-term task, involving all parts of the UN system," she said. "But when volatile situations move closer to escalation, preventive diplomacy remains a most powerful tool at our disposal. But clearly, we need to make much stronger investments in it–politically and financially." She further noted that as the global community considers how to sharpen these tools, it must "get better at including women and their perspectives in these processes."

Minister Frick also expressed that despite Liechtenstein not being part of the European Union, it feels strongly that Europe is not just a continent – it's also a "symbol of common values and a promise to address challenges together, irrespective of our models of political and economic integration."

For his part, Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, said his country would include a charter of values similar to that found in the Sustainable Development Goals in its new school curricula. Such measures would be effective if everyone played a part. In an era facing such serious challenges, he said the future should be ensured by teaching the young the value of tolerance.

Noting that Winston Churchill had said that only words remained forever, he called for tolerance and respect for diversity to be put in "black and white" as well as recognition that the common humanity shared by all should be taught in schools. While words would not eliminate violence and intolerance in and of themselves, if the young were shown the right way they would take it.

"Let us show them that men, women and all peoples of the world were joined by their common humanity, no matter the language, religion, colour or nationality," he declared.

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