Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN, United States

Speech of Saya Abdullah, Youth representative of the Netherlands

Dear Mr. chair, distinguished delegates, honored guests.


Queuing up to receive water, sleeping under the open air or having to walk for days and holding on the hand of my little brother so that he would not get lost: experiences that marked my childhood. Yet, those experiences are nothing compared to the fate and plight of some nowadays.

It seems like the day of yesterday that I got the chance to start a new life in the Netherlands as a Dutch citizen. Exactly sixteen years ago, in the early days of autumn, as a little Kurdish boy, I was forced to seek shelter in a refugee-camp in the Middle East. 

My parents wondered, as most of the nearly sixty million forcibly displaced persons we have right now, when their safety and when their life-prospects would be guaranteed.
There was not a simple answer to this question, so we embarked on a long and uncertain journey, eventually reaching the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands where I grew up with the 'Dutch-down-to-earthness', and where I experienced the definition of tolerance in society. And now, I can sit here with pride and represent all the young voices from the Netherlands.
Some people call this mass-migration we see nowadays a human right, some call it a natural process and some see it as a danger to the nation. Refugees, as a vulnerable group of foreigners, often become the primary targets of racist hatred.

Political debates in some countries have blurred all the issues that relate to foreigners. Asylum-seekers, refugees, economic migrants, immigrants and seasonal workers are often lumped together. The response of too many governments has been to protect borders and neglect the people in need. But it cannot be solved with higher walls.

Because of the heated discussions we forgot the human face of the issue. It took us a picture of little Aylan al Kurdi from Kobani with his face lying in the sand, to see the real face of this humanitarian crisis again.

Over the past year I spoke to thousands of young people in the Netherlands, I debated with Dutch students and visited youngsters in refugee camps in conflict areas.

Together with my colleagues from Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria and Austria we have brought our hearts and minds together in tackling this humanitarian crisis. The situation right now shows us the interdependence of the international community. It shows us how the problems of one country can have immediate consequences for other countries.

More than half of the refugees are below the age of 18, and are forced to live in insecure situations. They lack access to underlying determinants of health such as food, water, sanitation and security, and to essential health care services such as psychosocial healthcare.

We recently adopted the Sustainable Development agenda. Half of the world is under 25 years old, and 90% of young people live in developing countries, we cannot achieve the SDGs without them.

As the Secretary General recognized that the biggest shortfall in achieving the Millennium Development goals was a lack of strong accountability at both national and international levels. We can’t make the same mistake again and we can’t continue to overlook the power of young people in this process.
As it stands, young people are being consistently overlooked as powerful agents to hold global leaders to account.

Dear chair
As a little boy I never could have imagined that one day I would get the chance to address the same organization that once gave me shelter.

Sixteen years ago I asked you for safety, water and food, today I ask you to show your solidarity with one of the largest populations of refugees the world has ever seen.
I ask this for Kewan, a twenty year old boy who I recently met in a refugee camp.

I ask this for Payam, who arrived a week ago in the Netherlands and who I spoke to in a migrant centre.
I ask it for Janneke, Mirjam, Roos and Sanne, four young Dutch volunteers who I met and who have opened their houses for new immigrants.

We as young people can be local changers, by handing out a blanket or sometimes just a smile; we can show that the power of people is stronger than the people in power.

And not to forget I want to ask it for a whole new generation of young people who deserve to grow up in a multicultural society like the one I grew up in, because youth is not the future, youth is the present.

Thank you.