On Refugee Day, Secretary-General Says Poor Countries Host ‘Vastly More’ Displaced People than Wealthier Ones, Imbalance in Sharing Global Burden Must Be Redressed

21 June 2011

On Refugee Day, Secretary-General Says Poor Countries Host ‘Vastly More’ Displaced People than Wealthier Ones, Imbalance in Sharing Global Burden Must Be Redressed

21 June 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

On Refugee Day, Secretary-General Says Poor Countries Host ‘Vastly More’ Displaced

People than Wealthier Ones, Imbalance in Sharing Global Burden Must Be Redressed

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the World Refugee Day Nansen Lecture, in New York, 20 June:

Thank you for inviting me to join you for this important event.

As you know, this is an evening for anniversaries:  the sixtieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention; sixty years since UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, was established; and one hundred and fifty years since the birth of Fridtjof Nansen, the world’s first High Commissioner for Refugees, who served the League of Nations and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Norway’s commitment to this issue runs deep.

The work of helping the world’s refugees and other forcibly displaced people has not grown easier since Nansen’s time.

Their number currently totals almost 44 million.

Then, as now, the major cause of displacement is war — from prolonged conflicts or instability in places such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan to the crises in North Africa and the Middle East.

As we will hear from Mr. Egeland, however, the reasons for displacement are growing more diverse.

Traditionally, UNHCR has been called on to help those fleeing conflict and persecution.  Today, more and more people are leaving their homes because of poverty, environmental degradation, natural disasters and climate change.

I can think of few better to speak about this complex issue than Mr. Jan Egeland.

In particular, we all recall his able leadership during the Asian tsunami.

Mr. Egeland, it is good to have you back at the UN tonight, and we look forward to your remarks.

Before turning over the floor, let me say, very briefly, that today we are facing what might be called a “protection gap”.

As the world’s population grows, as the pressure brought by climate change and environmental degradation increases, we will see more and more people driven from their communities, countries and continents.

This will present a host of new-generation challenges.

The 1951 Refugee Convention was designed, chiefly, to deal with individual persecution.

The Convention and laws surrounding it have since been expanded to include wars of national liberation and situations of gross human rights abuse.

But none of these Conventions contemplated the situation of people compelled to move by climate change and natural disasters.

Difficult as it may be, we need to find ways to close this “gap”.

We also need to recognize — and redress — the imbalance in the burden of helping displaced populations.

Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones.

Anti-refugee sentiment is often loudest in industrialized countries, yet it is actually developing countries that host 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.

Further, we need to do more to promote peace in the countries that refugees come from.  And we need to facilitate their return — under conditions that are sustainable, with guarantees of safety and dignity.

Where host countries are willing to integrate refugees locally, we need to support them as well.

I know a bit about the terrible hardships that refugees and other displaced persons face.  In fact, I was one myself.

It was during the Korean war, and I was merely a child.  One of my earliest memories is fleeing with my family into the hills surrounding my village.

As we climbed along a rocky road, in the rain and cold, we took one last look back.  Where my friends and I once played and went to school, we saw only flames — our homes and schools, our whole lives, going up in smoke.

The United Nations and international community came to help.  They fed me and my family.  They helped us to rebuild.  Today, I want to do the same for others facing similar situations.

In doing so, I will seek to bring to that work the same “can do” attitude that Fridtjof Nansen brought to every challenge he undertook.

As Nansen said in his 1922 Nobel lecture:  “We must raise our banner in every country and forge the links of brotherhood around the world.”

This evening, let us take that as our inspiration.

Let us think about the people who are going without the basics of life that we take for granted — food, shelter, warmth.

There are millions of them — children, women and men who have been forced from their homes, often at risk of their lives, and who want nothing more than to go home or start afresh.

As I see it, even one refugee left without a future is one too many.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.