Rich countries should not slam the door on refugees from Arab countries, United Nations Special Envoy to Iraq, Dutchman Ad Melkert has said. The former Labour politician told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that the Arab Spring should be seen as a wake-up call for the rich countries.
"Don't shut out refugees or migrants, but recognise what is happening in the Arab countries. They are our neighbours and therefore we have to support them. Not only by letting people in who have nowhere to go, but also by investing in the region. That's the only way to prevent people from fleeing on irresponsibly rickety boats," Mr Melkert said, speaking in Amsterdam on Monday on the occasion of International Refugee Day.
Iraq not an example
Events in the Arab world have lent extra weight to Ad Melkert's UN work. He said the Arab world has changed for good, even though no-one knows which way the cookie will crumble. The genie is out of the bottle, according to Mr Melkert, and people will no longer let themselves be bullied. Nor are they prepared to tolerate the state's information monopoly any longer.
"These developments will change the face of society in this part of the world, and the UN's role is crucial. I would not call Iraq an example, given the way we got involved. But there is a constitution now, there have been elections, all of which contains elements which are also relevant in Egypt, Tunisia and other places," the UN envoy explained.
Demos instead of bombs
The improved security situation has increased the focus on how Baghdad deals with human rights. Mr Melkert identifies a number of bottlenecks in Iraq, including press freedom, the position of women and the situation in prisons. Quite a change from two years ago when everyone was concerned about the violence and the incessant bomb attacks, he said:
"In the past two years a situation has developed which is favouring more attention for such things. The successful elections and the formation of the cabinet have raised voters' expectations of the Iraqi government, more so than in the violent period. But it's a long haul, there's no doubt about that."