Cultural diversity is key to overcoming the crisis

05'05" 15/09/2015
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Destruction of cultural artefacts and refugees' lack of education are also humanitarian and security questions, emphasises UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
The old city of Aleppo and Palmyra are only a few examples. With the destruction of cultural objects and the art trade in the Middle East, an entire chapter of the history of humankind is disappearing. For Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, intercultural dialogue and education are key elements to a sustainable solution to the flow of refugees and the advance of Daesh. Irina Bokova, hello. Welcome to the Parliament. When you see how the few hundred thousand, 160,000 refugees, are treated, that the EU states cannot agree amongst themselves, what is your reaction? Can we still talk about intercultural dialogue in Europe? I believe this question of cultural diversity and of living together will arise with force after this crisis, this tragedy of the refugees, because we are talking about tolerance, mutual understanding, respect, about how to live in democratic societies with respect towards others.

And about living as neighbours, that's what's most difficult. But what is your analysis of the situation? 28 Member States finding it very hard to agree over the distribution of some 160,000 refugees. It's not easy for me to judge, because it's a European debate. There are many aspects. Legal aspects and others. Political - obviously there are different levels of development. I believe that the European spirit is a human, humanitarian approach. It's the spirit of supporting democratic claims and of supporting and respecting human dignity.

I believe Europe is unique in the world in passing strong messages of values and of support for refugees. Let's stay on the situation of the refugees in the Middle East. How can UNESCO react? It doesn't have soldiers to send there. You have other weapons, let's call them like that. You know, for us the first priority was to anchor this debate on the destruction of cultural heritage in the debate over humanitarian and security questions. It was not easy at first, but now it's understood that we cannot choose between humanitarian questions and destruction.

Either we support the population or we support destruction. Because it's part of the human spirit. It's part of their identity. You talked about this diversity, the importance of bringing some education to the refugee camps, whether in Turkey or in Lebanon, so that these people can understand their history. What can you do? I believe it's key. It's crucial to incorporate education into all humanitarian responses. Unfortunately we know that only 2% of humanitarian aid is allocated to education. And we can see - I've visited Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon... I know how much the children, the families suffer, because a great majority of these children have not been going to school for five years.

So it could be a lost generation for Syria, for Iraq, but it also represents a security threat, because without education, without skills they won't find work or integrate into the society. They will be marginalised. And that's a threat to security. Last question. How to respond to the art traffic? You talked about Daesh, about al-Nusra, yet they are not the only ones. It's clear that in Syria, Bashar al-Assad is also involved in the traffic. How do you plan to end this traffic? We have worked with the Security Council.

They adopted an extremely important resolution, 2199, on 12 February this year, in which they make UNESCO and Interpol responsible for cooperating with the partners and neighbouring countries to end the illicit traffic in cultural objects with which they finance extremism. What we have done, and we're continuing the work, is to create a platform for Interpol and the World Customs Organization to put experts in the field, to cooperate with the countries. We have already encouraged over 30 countries, mostly neighbouring countries and the European countries, to revise their legislation, to put greater emphasis on importation rules, because it's not only a question of exports but also of imports of trafficked cultural objects from Syria and Iraq.

It's our common heritage. Irina Bokova, thank you.