High Commissioner for Refugees Blames Weakness in Response to Global Crisis, as Displacement Numbers Approach 66 Million

SC/13053
2 November 2017
8083rd Meeting (AM)

High Commissioner for Refugees Blames Weakness in Response to Global Crisis, as Displacement Numbers Approach 66 Million

Security Council Members Call for Adequate Funding, Greater Capacity for Agency

The number of forcibly displaced people around the world was now approaching 66 million, and that sharp rise reflected the weakness of international cooperation in responding to the crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the Security Council today.

High Commissioner Filippo Grandi pointed out that whereas many refugee‑hosting countries — particularly those adjacent to conflict zones — kept their borders open, certain others — often the wealthy States least affected by refugee flows — had closed their borders, restricting access to asylum and deterring entry.

He went on to stress that a full response to the prevailing massive displacement could only be achieved through action to restore security, resolve conflict and build peace.  Recalling that the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, adopted in 2016, called for comprehensive responses to refugee flows, he noted that important steps had been taken.  However, it was necessary to take early action to address the causes of conflict and to avoid deepening the displacement crises.

Complex migratory movements in fragile, unstable situations must also be addressed, he continued, noting that refugees and migrants continued to face grave exploitation and abuse along the Central Mediterranean route to Europe.  Strong, collective action was needed to tackle the abuses perpetrated by traffickers, he said, emphasizing the importance of sustained protection while solutions were pursued.

Millions of severely traumatized children, deprived of education and their lives blighted by atrocities, faced an uncertain future, he said.  Thousands of people were stranded at borders, and women struggled to care for their children in makeshift shelters, their partners dead or missing.  Stressing the power of international cooperation to bring about real change and avoid a repeat of the recent massive outflows, he said it ultimately came down to political will.  “We — they, the uprooted people — are counting on your leadership to help deliver those solutions,” he said.

Vincenzo Amendola, Italy’s Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Council President for November, said the refugee crisis required an urgent, coherent and collective response as well as preventive action whenever possible.  “We cannot close our eyes in front of human suffering,” he emphasized.  “We cannot hide its tragic consequences on future generations.”  The approach to human mobility must shift from an emergency approach to a long‑term perspective, he said.  Capacity must be built to tackle the root causes of the refugee crisis, and hope and dignity restored to the most vulnerable segments of populations around the world, particularly young people.

Council members pointed to such causes of forcibly displacement as conflict, terrorism, gang violence, poverty and the consequences of climate change and natural disasters.  They stressed that preventing or settling conflicts addressing their root causes was the best way to stem the flow of refugees and forcibly displaced persons.  All Member States should fulfil their obligations to refugees, they said, calling for enhanced support for host countries, and pointing out that they were mostly developing States with limited resources.

Japan’s representative emphasized that lasting solutions could not be achieved solely through emergency humanitarian assistance, because it was necessary to support refugee self-reliance for when the time came for them to decide on repatriation or resettlement.

The Russian Federation’s representative said responsibility for the refugee flows rested with those States that had intervened in the Middle East and Africa.  Stressing the importance of preventing terrorist infiltration, he said that his country hosted many refugees and forced migrants, including about 1 million Ukrainians.

Several speakers addressed the issue of Rohingya refugees, hailing Bangladesh for its handling of that situation.  China’s representative urged patience, saying the international community should allow the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to solve the problem through bilateral cooperation.

Council members expressed their deepest condolences to the families of those killed in the “cowardly and unconscionable” terrorist attack in New York City on 31 October, offering their sympathy to the people and Governments of the United States, Argentina and Belgium.  The Council observed a moment of silence for the victims.

Also speaking today were representatives of Ethiopia, United Kingdom, Sweden, France, United States, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Uruguay, Egypt and Senegal.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:24 p.m.

Briefing

FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said the number of forcibly displaced people was now approaching 66 million, and they included 17.2 million refugees under the responsibility of his office.  Syria and Iraq accounted for a quarter of all forcibly displaced people, and new crises had developed in Libya, Mali, Ukraine, Yemen and in the Lake Chad Basin area.  In Northern Central America, gang violence had become a main cause of displacement, he said, adding that protracted crises remained entrenched in Afghanistan and Somalia.

The sharp rise in forced displacement reflected weaknesses in international cooperation, he continued, noting that neglected local crises had gathered pace and taken on a transnational character.  With the global focus on short-term interests rather than long-term collective stability, weaknesses in international solidarity were eroding protections for those who had fled.  Many refugee-hosting countries, particularly those adjacent to conflict zones, had kept their borders open, but certain States — often those least impacted by refugee flows, and often wealthy ones — had closed their borders, restricting access to asylum and deterring entry, he said.

Recalling that the New York Declaration called for comprehensive responses to refugee flows, he said important steps had been taken, but a full response to the current massive displacement could only be launched through action to restore security, resolve conflict and build peace.  Prevention was possible, he said, pointing out that decisive action in January, for instance, had helped to resolve a political crisis in the Gambia, thereby enabling refugees to return home.  Early action was critical to addressing the causes of conflict and to avoid deepening displacement crises, he stressed.  As for the situations in Burundi and the Central African Republic, he said responding to refugee crises in Africa remained frustrating because they were often generated by conflicts suffering a deficit of political attention.

Emphasizing the critical role of peacekeepers in enhancing security and enabling displaced people, he said those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Darfur, Mali and the Central African Republic had contributed to the safety of humanitarian staff and helped to enhance access.  The neutral, impartial character of humanitarian action must be preserved, he said, stressing that complex migratory movements in fragile, unstable situations must also be addressed.  Refugees and migrants continued to face grave exploitation and abuse along the Central Mediterranean route to Europe, he said, adding that strong, collective action was needed to tackle the abuses perpetrated by traffickers, and to prosecute the perpetrators.

Sustainable peace was critical to securing solutions to displacement, he continued, noting that only 500,000 refugees around the world had returned home in 2016.  However, the peace process in Colombia offered hope.  In Myanmar, security and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Rakhine State would be essential prerequisites for the return of refugees, underlining that progress towards granting citizenship to the stateless Rohinghya was absolutely crucial.  Elsewhere, one third of the population of South Sudan was displaced, he added.  Emphasizing the importance of sustaining protection as solutions were sought, including by providing support to host countries, he said that despite military progress in Iraq, grave protection challenges must be overcome to prevent further displacement and allow the displaced to return.

He went on to state that many internally displaced inside Syria had returned home, as had smaller numbers of refugees, often to places devastated by the conflict.  However, significant obstacles to sustainable return persisted, including ongoing military operations and lack of legal status, he said, stressing that international protection for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries must be sustained.  Millions of severely traumatized children — their lives blighted by atrocities — were deprived of education and faced an uncertain future.  Thousands of people were stranded at borders, as women struggled to care for their children in makeshift shelters, their partners dead or missing.  Underlining the power of international cooperation to bring about real change and avoid a repeat of recent massive outflows, he said ultimately it all came down to political will.  “We — they, the uprooted people — were counting on your leadership to help deliver those solutions,” he added.

Statements

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), expressed alarm over the magnitude of the prevailing conflict-driven displacement, in Africa and around the world.  In East Africa, the surge of refugees from Somalia, South Sudan and other countries had created a record burden.  Agreeing that there was a great deficit in burden‑sharing, he affirmed that his country’s border remained open to refugees, but the Refugee Response Fund for Ethiopia had a funding gap of 75 per cent, he said, adding that opportunities for resettlement remained minimal.

It was, therefore, absolutely imperative to create suitable conditions for voluntary repatriation and reintegration, he continued.  That would mean ending conflicts and creating lasting peace, including by providing adequate support for countries emerging from conflict, particularly Somalia.  Of course, there was no better way to address the refugee challenge than to prevent conflict by addressing root causes, he said, emphasizing that the Council must redouble its efforts in that regard.  Ethiopia remained determined to maintain an open-door policy towards refugees, and to address the root causes of conflict in the subregion, he confirmed.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), also acknowledging the depth of the refugee crisis, recounted the story of a woman forced to flee Myanmar’s Rakhine State due to killings and the burning of villages.  He paid tribute to Bangladesh for the assistance it had provided to her, but expressed regret that her story was repeated over and over around the world.  The situation in Myanmar and in other conflict situations must be addressed in order for such stories to end, but the stark numbers showed that a new global approach was needed to prevent displacement and help those currently displaced.  The proposed Global Compact on Refugees could provide a comprehensive framework, he said.  The United Kingdom was putting many of its proposed programmes in place, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would have a central role in developing and putting the new framework in place.  In that context, he urged the agency to intensify its cooperation with all other partners through transparent dialogue and the use of proven best practices, including cash assistance when appropriate.

IRINA SCHOULGIN-NYONI (Sweden) affirmed the linkage between international peace and security and refugee issues, expressing deep concern over the situations in Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Sweden encouraged all Member States to ensure that UNHCR and its partners had the resources needed to respond.  Agreeing with the Secretary-General’s approach to the crisis, she emphasized the need to end the violence immediately and to ensure humanitarian access.  A political solution was essential to enabling the Rohingya refugees to return home, and the issue of citizenship must be addressed.  UNHCR retained Sweden’s full support, she stressed, encouraging all States to provide it with adequate support and to allow the agency flexibility in using such funds.  She also commended UNHCR’s work for Syrian refugees.

In order to enable refugees to return home in all cases, the Security Council must fulfil its responsibility by using all the tools available to end conflict and sustain peace, she stressed.  It was also critical to ensure that all parties to conflict abided by international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  Given their particular vulnerability, refugee children must receive a range of essential services, and all refugees needed support to retain their human dignity, she said.  Countries hosting large numbers of refugees must be provided with support to help refugees sustain themselves and contribute to their host communities.  Sweden fully supported UNHCR’s efforts in favour of adopting the proposed Global Compact on Refugees, she said, noting that it would provide an important framework for comprehensive responses to large-scale and protracted displacement.  Given the links between their concerns, Sweden encouraged greater cooperation between the Council and UNHCR, she added.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) assured UNHCR of his country’s strong support and affirmed the links between the refugee crisis and the maintenance of international peace and security.  He also acknowledged the enormous scale of the current displacement.  Reiterating his country’s condemnation of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, he called for an end to military operations there and for the creation of conditions for Rohingya refugees to return.  Commending Bangladesh, he called upon others to ensure adequate support, saying the United Kingdom had provided €3 million.  Turning to another situation, he called for greater civilian protection and reconciliation capacity within the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  France was augmenting its funding of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), he said, adding that it had also agreed to resettle 10,000 refugees from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Niger and Chad.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said the Council had an important role to play in stemming conflicts and the rise of displacement, emphasizing that it was imperative that it act on its mandate to mitigate conflict.  Referring to Myanmar, she said the Government of Bangladesh had stepped up impressively to handle the refugee problem.  The situation in South Sudan demonstrated the human cost of a Government’s failure to uphold its obligations to its citizens.  Refugees had found safety in neighbouring countries, but the latter had only limited resources, she said, noting that nearly 4 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were internally displaced.  In addition, there were now 6.3 million internally displaced persons as the civil war in Syria continued, she said, adding that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, bombed entire cities and denied humanitarian organizations access to civilian populations.  The spread of violent extremism had also created a new wave of displaced people, with Boko Haram driving the crisis in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin area.  The Council had a duty to press Member States to ensure full funding for UNHCR, she said, adding that her country had provided more than $8 billion in humanitarian assistance, including $1.5 billion to the agency.

EVGENY T. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said assistance to refugees and stateless people was a key component of support for international stability.  The refugee situation was a consequence of State interventions in the Middle East and Africa, he said, emphasizing that responsibility for the refugee flows rested with those who had intervened.  To address the problem, it was critical to establish lasting peace and to fight terrorism, he said, emphasizing that assistance to hosting States and origin countries was also critical to ensuring the return of refugees.  He also stressed the importance of preventing terrorists from infiltrating refugees.  The Russian Federation hosted many refugees and forced migrants, he said noting that some 1 million Ukrainian residents had fled to his country, and funds had been allocated to finance assistance for them.

WU HAITAO (China) noted that UNHCR had improved its emergency response, and the international community should enhance its cooperation in tackling the refugee problem, including by addressing the root causes.  Assistance to host countries should be increased and discrimination against refugees addressed.  Emphasizing the importance of upholding the principles of neutrality and non-intervention in the internal affairs of States, he said the problem in Myanmar involved complex ethnic and religious factors, and that country’s Government was now working to ease tensions.  The situation was being stabilized, he added, urging patience to allow the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to address the issue through bilateral cooperation.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said there was need to reform UNHCR, given the scale of conflicts on the global map and the constantly growing number of affected persons.  The agency’s remarkable effort to involve international development actors in the search for long-term solutions to humanitarian crises was noteworthy.  He said the historic commitments made by Member States in September 2016 in adopting the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants should lead to the successful elaboration of the Global Compact on Refugees.  That, in turn, would enable the international community to address forced displacement situations more comprehensively and provide all people of concern with better protection, he said.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) said that given the magnitude of the current refugee crisis, it was crucial to reinforce all efforts to prevent conflict and protect vulnerable populations.  Suitable conditions must be created for the return of refugees, including the removal of landmines and ensuring food security, he said, adding that there was also a need to boost civilian-protection capacity in peacekeeping situations.  UNHCR and IOM must be adequately resourced to assist both refugees and host communities, stressing that saving lives should be the key goal so that no one would die crossing a border or a body of water.  Underlining also the importance of fighting xenophobia and ethnic tensions, he said Kazakhstan had experience in fostering social harmony and was making every effort to work across borders to ensure respect for human rights across Central Asia.  In cooperation with UNHCR and IOM, Kazakhstan had developed the regional consultative Almaty process, an initiative that would extend in geographic scope with the increasing flow of populations across the region, he said.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) affirmed that the suffering of refugees did not necessarily end when they left conflict zones because they faced many difficulties in a variety of settings.  Thanking all those hosting and assisting refugees, he emphasized the need to address root causes of war and to ensure the avoidance of foreign interventions.  It must also be recognized that major Powers caused much of the displacement, which should not shrug off that responsibility.  They must welcome refugees while fighting xenophobia, he emphasized, saying Bolivia supported mechanisms that would allow freer flows of refugees across borders and a greater sharing of responsibility in assisting them.  The refugee-assistance regime had been weakened and funding was lagging behind growing needs, he said, cautioning that such needs would only increase given the growing world population and continuing displacement.  Sustainable support must be provided to countries receiving refugees, and returns must be voluntary in all cases.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said that, given the historic number of refugees fleeing war, UNHCR must brief the Council at least once a year.  The relationship between conflict and refugee flows was incontrovertible, and it was therefore critical to redouble conflict-prevention and conflict-resolution efforts.  As a supporter of the New York Declaration, Uruguay embraced the rights of refugees and migrants, he said, emphasizing that the principles of non-refoulment and confidentiality must be comprehensively applied and temporary identity documents supplied while the applicants awaited the granting of the status that would allow access to services.  Encouraging wider acceptance of such supportive policies, he called for adequate funding for UNHCR and pledged his country’s commitment to working with the agency in developing and implementing the Global Compact on Refugees.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said his country had contributed approximately $150 million to UNHCR as of October.  Considering the critical situation of refugees from Syria, Japan had also delivered assistance to host communities around the world, also accepting Syrian students who would continue their education.  Regarding the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said Japan had extended its emergency grant aid to $4 million in September, supplementing the $12 million contribution made earlier in 2017 through international organizations.  Emphasizing that no lasting solution to the refugee issue could be achieved solely through emergency humanitarian assistance, he pointed out the necessity of supporting self-reliance, which refugees would need when the time came for them to repatriate or resettle.  As such, it was essential to provide seamless assistance for reconstruction and stabilization, as well as for economic development and reducing poverty.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said forced displaced had become a global phenomenon, with millions fleeing conflict, terrorism, poverty, the negative effects of climate change or other threats.  Looking at the situation in Africa and the Middle East, one could deduce that armed conflicts, including terrorism, were the main reason for refugee flows, he said.  Elsewhere, the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar had led to the displacement of 600,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, and one could not forget the decades-long suffering of millions of Palestinians, still waiting for a settlement of their just case.  Noting that closing borders to refugees was a violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention, he said the United Nations could contribute to a solution by settling disputes and seeking lasting solutions through preventive diplomacy.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), citing “clear complementarity” between the role of the High Commissioner and that of the Council, asked for more frequent briefings, emphasizing that 20 people, mostly women and children, were becoming refugees or displaced persons every minute.  He asked why — when humanity had the resources to guarantee each individual a dignified life — the international community was still seeking solutions and funds to resolve crises caused by men.  It was incumbent upon all parties to conflict to uphold international humanitarian law and international refugee law, he said, emphasizing that the Council must prompt stakeholders to shoulder their obligations to refugees and internally displaced persons.  Turning to the issue of statelessness, he said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had recommended that the determination of nationality upon arrival must not be called into question by the State of origin.  Senegal stressed the importance of robust regional partnerships in addressing displacement, he said.

VINCENZO AMENDOLA, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, and Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity.  He said the refugee crisis called an urgent, coherent and collective response, as well as preventive action whenever possible.  “We cannot close our eyes in front of human suffering,” he emphasized.  “We cannot hide its tragic consequences on future generations.”  Pledging that Italy would continue to play its part, he assured UNHCR of its full support, saying his country would work side by side with the agency to ensure protection and assistance to refugees from Myanmar to Libya, and from Somalia to Jordan and Yemen.  Italy would also remain one of UNHCR’S main donors, he said, adding that it would raise its annual support and augment that increase by responding to specific emergencies.  Calling for greater international solidarity in that respect, he stressed that the approach to human mobility must shift from an emergency approach to a long-term perspective.

There was a need to enhance capacity to tackle the root causes of the refugee crisis, and to restore hope and dignity to the most vulnerable segments of populations around the world, particularly young people, he continued.  Describing the 2016 New York Declaration as a step forward, he said the commitments made through it should now be fully implemented through cooperation among origin, transit and destination countries as new and larger forced refugee and migrant flows occurred.  Italy was an active participant in negotiations on the Global Compact, he said, adding that its proposals were based on investing in origin and transit countries, protecting refugees and the most vulnerable migrants, and valuing the many positive aspects of migration flows.  It was particularly critical to improve access to protection and support for vulnerable persons in Libya, in light of the recent drastic sea arrivals in Italy from that country.  Scaling up the UNHCR presence in Libya was important for the protection of human rights in refugee camps, he stressed.

Mr. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) took the floor a second time in response to the anti-Russian propaganda of Kyiv, saying Ukrainian citizens had taken up residence in his country to escape the situation in their own.  That was the real cause of the mantra against Russia, he added.

Mr. GRANDI, High Commissioner for Refugees, thanked Council members for their contributions and urged them to redouble their efforts to prevent and end conflicts so that, perhaps on his next visit, he could report a decline in the figures from the record level of displacement he had reported today.  He expressed appreciation for the comments on his agency’s work and for the support expressed for the new refugee framework represented by the Global Compact.  Current applications of that framework would provide lessons that would be applied to the first draft of the Compact, he said.  Acknowledging comments on the Rohingya situation, he said he would continue to work hard with the countries involved and the international community on that crisis.  He reiterated the need for UNHCR to play a role in negotiations leading to voluntary returns to Myanmar, so as to ensure that conditions were suitable.

For information media. Not an official record.