Remarks at the Karinthy Model United Nations 2016 Conference

Thank you, Madame Chairwoman, Model UN delegates, and distinguished guests.  It is an honor to be here and I am delighted to speak with you today.  I’d like to welcome the delegates from the United States, and also from Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Serbia, and Germany.

Congratulations to Karinthy High School for hosting such an excellent conference.

This opening ceremony will, I hope, be the last time during this conference when this brilliant group of 300 students, visiting from six countries, will be silent.  After the conference has begun then delegates will take the floor.

You will discuss international affairs, you will consider great ideas, you will decide the fate of nations – and you will talk.  A lot.

You will talk and discuss and debate for the duration of this conference.  You will talk late into the night, I imagine.  You may even lose your voice, having talked that much.

And that is the great gift of Model UN.  You are here to represent a country, to be alert to ideas, to express yourselves with passion and commitment, and often to disagree.

To do all those things, you have to speak up.  You have to find your voice and use it.  You may even have to get loud.

I am personally a big fan of Model United Nations because I know what it does for young people.  Being here in Budapest, in this glorious gold and red building, a place dedicated to democratic values and traditions, I think you already know that you won’t go home the same person.

You will be different.  You can’t help it.  The work you do as a Model UN delegate will make that happen.  You have traveled a long way and prepared for weeks and months – in order to sit in this room, to debate, to disagree, to persuade, and to find consensus.

And it will happen.  Nelson Mandela knew about this when he said, “Engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end you and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger.  You don’t have that when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”

The whole process of debating each other means you reject arrogance, and instead embrace your opponent’s dignity.  You leave behind the superficial, and see complexity and depth.  You stop being uninformed, and you find your way to judgment, reason, and passion.

In other words, debating means you do what we all do in democracy: you care, and you act.  As Jesse Jackson put it, “Debate is the way you stir the soul of democracy.”

I have big ambitions for you.  I am so pleased to welcome you because here, in one of the centers of Europe, is where your debates will come to life.  You are tasked this week with the biggest global phenomenon of the region – migration.

In Europe, the issue of migration is not abstract.  It’s not theoretical.  It is not far away.  Antony Blinken, who is America’s Deputy Secretary of State, spoke recently to a group of students, a group just like you, at Stanford University in California.

He said: “We throw around terms like crisis and historic every day—but this is historic; this is a crisis.…

This great wave of displacement is fundamentally remaking the world we live in—changing our economies, putting pressure on national borders, affecting our sense of security, and most of all, challenging all of us to live up to our common humanity.”

He added: “One in every 122 people on this planet today have fled their homes from conflict, violence, or persecution—traveling possibly along the very same pathways that some of our own parents or grandparents or great-grandparents took to find sanctuary from war and a future for all of us.”

It is no wonder this issue is yours to grapple with, then.  It’s an issue the United Nations, of all institutions on this planet, has to take on.  The UN has been there from the beginning; on the ground in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.

The UNHCR, whose representative is here with us today, is just one example of the way the UN is saving lives and changing the course of young people’s futures, every day.  That is what the Model UN can do, too.

The policies and resolutions that you debate here this week could not be more real, or more important.  Those of us in the diplomatic world, in governments and in international organizations, need your ingenuity and your ideas.

As Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, what we found out over the past year is that, despite a massive effort, our existing resources and responses to migration are simply not enough.  The magnitude of the problem of migration and refugees is greater than the solutions that we have brought to bear.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the United States has worked with our partners across the region, and across the globe to provide over $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to help alleviate suffering, expand access to education, and strengthen the resilience of host communities that have so generously opened their doors.

We continue to support the efforts of the EU to find humane and comprehensive solutions – and a consensus – to this crisis.

We know that some countries are cautious due to social, economic, or other concerns, but we are confident that the member states will rise to the challenge and find solutions and consensus.

When comprehensive solutions are reached—and they will be—it will mean more than the end of war in Syria.  It will be the beginning of an effort to rebuild a nation, a monumental task that will fall to millions of people whose existence is so fragile today.

No single government, organization, or country can address this challenge alone.  In this time of unparalleled need, we all have a role and a responsibility to respond.  So does the Model UN.  So do you.

As I conclude, let me ask you students – you delegates – a few questions.  I hope this will highlight opportunities that are often overlooked.

How many of you have an iPhone?

Who makes the iPhone?

Who founded Apple?

And one more question.  Where was Steve Jobs’ father from?

The answer is: Steve Jobs’ father came from Syria.

In addition to the moral and legal imperatives under international law to protect refugees, countries benefit from diverse strengths, skills and viewpoints.  Our job is to give the next Steve Jobs an opportunity.

Please remember as you debate and argue about policies and resolutions this week, to take international law and diplomatic precedent into consideration, but also to measure your choices in human terms.  Please remember what we do in democracies – we care, and we act.

I wish you the best of luck in your conference.  Thank you very much.