31 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 41st Meeting (PM)

Refugees, Migrants Branded ‘Threats’, Dehumanized in Campaigns Seeking Political Gain, High Commissioner Tells Third Committee, Appealing for Return to Dignity

Uprooted by war, today’s 68.5 million refugees are often branded as threats — turned back at borders, left to perish at sea, or detained indefinitely in horrific conditions, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as he called for a return to dignity, human rights and a sense of shared humanity.

“The language of politics has become ruthless, giving license to discrimination, racism and xenophobia”, he said.  Humanity is losing ground to trends that dehumanize refugees and migrants for the purpose of immediate political gain.

In rare cases, he said compassion has prevailed.  Bangladesh handled the 2017 outflow of Rohingya from Myanmar with “profound” generosity, buttressed by a massive humanitarian response that involved building shelters and bridges, and making land available to thousands.  “This massive effort reaffirmed what we are collectively capable of, when people desperately need our help”, he said.

More often, he said refugees and migrants fall prey to traffickers and smugglers, giving rise to complex security challenges.  As migrants leave Libya and cross the Mediterranean, rescue at sea operations are “taken hostage” by politics.  They must be restored — underpinned by a predictable disembarkation arrangement based on shared responsibility across the region.

Indeed, common purpose and multilateralism are critical in the search for solutions, he said.  UNHCR’s capacity to adapt to new dynamics is critical to its ability to leverage protection in displacement crises.  The first phase of reform — to realign Headquarters functions in support of the field — is well underway.  UNHCR is moving towards a decentralized model over the next two years, building empowered country offices by moving authority closer to the point of delivery.  Tackling sexual abuse, with an emphasis on ethical conduct, is a pillar of those efforts, he said.

In the ensuing debate, Pakistan’s delegate drew attention to protracted refugee situations, noting that his country has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for almost four decades.  The international community had an abiding responsibility to assist host countries, through burden sharing and financing, he said, rather than through “innovative financial instruments” or debt.

On that point, the European Union’s representative said that while UNHCR’s funding remains solid, with more than $3.9 billion in fresh contributions in 2017, the gap between needs and resources remains unacceptably high.  He urged UNHCR to broaden its donor base and increase efficiency.  Echoing that call, Kenya’s delegate said 85 per cent of refugees are hosted by low-and middle-income countries, while 63 per cent under UNHCR’s responsibility live in just 10 countries.

Zambia’s delegate said his country has been receiving refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo since August 2017.  If the influx persists, Zambia will host an estimated 76,000 refugees by the end this year.  Noting that the Government will require $74 million to adequately respond, he called for scaled-up international intervention to prevent the onset of a humanitarian crisis.

To handle an influx of Venezuelan nationals, Brazil’s delegate said his Government had set up an inter-ministerial committee, headed by the President’s Chief of Staff Office, to coordinate the response.  The reception centre at the border is multisectoral, including registration, documentation, food assistance, healthcare, vaccination and psychosocial support. 

Also speaking today were representatives of Switzerland, Italy, Iraq, Russian Federation, Kuwait, Viet Nam, Eritrea, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Georgia and Nigeria.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 1 November, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) met this afternoon to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  Before it was the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Part I (document A/73/12) and Part II (document A/73/12), the report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/73/12/Add.1), and the report of the Secretary‑General on Assistance to Refugees, Returnees, and Displaced Persons in Africa (document A/73/340).

Dialogue with High Commissioner for Refugees

FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said granting asylum is one of the most ancient and shared gestures in the history of humankind.  It has helped save lives, rebuild nations and preserve humanity.  But in today’s deeply divided world, humanity is losing ground.  The language of politics has become ruthless, giving licence to xenophobia.  Refugees and migrants have become the catalysts of a “dehumanization trend”, whose sole purpose is immediate political gain.  People uprooted by war are branded as a threat.  The consequences are chilling:  refugees turned back at borders, imprisoned indefinitely or left to perish at sea.  Entire groups have been pushed to the margins of society, their dignity denied and their basic human needs for sustenance and security disregarded.  Asking what could be more short-sighted — or dangerous — for the core values that knit societies together, he recalled that refugees, if given the opportunity, can be catalysts for the solidarity and shared purpose that makes the world strong.

Over the last year, he said global crises have driven the number of people forcibly displaced to 68.5 million, including 24.5 million refugees.  Political solutions have remained largely out of reach, while climate change and poverty — often at the centre of violence-related displacement — have generated population flows that are more complex in nature and difficult to address.  Neighbouring countries have struggled to absorb the impact of new arrivals.  In Myanmar, the outflow of Rohingya into Bangladesh is a case in point:  local people were the first to respond, with “profound” generosity and compassion, buttressed by a massive humanitarian response that involved building shelters and bridges, and making new land available to thousands.  “This massive effort reaffirmed what we are collectively capable of, when people desperately need our help”, he said.

However, Myanmar must also address the root causes, he said, notably discrimination, arbitrary denial of citizenship and lack of development.  In Syria, the prospect of refugee returns is emerging in discussions around the country’s future.  It must not be driven by politics, and the situation on the ground must support a sustainable return.  His Office continues to work alongside others to guarantee a safe environment.  Elsewhere, he said thousands of refugees continue to travel from Africa through Libya and across the Mediterranean, exposed to unthinkable cruelty.  Global concerns have focused on reducing arrivals in Europe.  While the Libyan Coast Guard has been reinforced, other institutions have not, meaning that when people are returned to the country, they are exploited and detained in horrific conditions.

Stabilizing Libya is essential, he said.  More solutions are needed — alternatives to detention, other evacuation options, faster resettlement and targeted investments among them.  In the Americas, approaches must encompass work in countries of origin, for example, by using the regional application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.  Regional cooperation is equally essential in handling the situation in Venezuela, where 5,000 people are leaving daily.  Together with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UNHCR has established a regional interagency coordination platform and appointed a Joint Special Representative to build regional alliances and foster support for hosting countries.  He went on to describe other instruments, such as the Comprehensive Refugee Response model, which is being used to advance Somalia’s situation, stressing that next year’s anniversaries of the Organization of African Unity Refugee Convention and the Kampala Convention on internal displacement, will galvanize solutions in Africa.

In the ensuing debate, the representative of Turkey, recalling that 68.5 million people were displaced at the end of 2017, highlighted the financial and socioeconomic hardships experienced by host and transit countries, with Turkey hosting 4 million refugees from conflict.

The representative of Mexico, referring to the Northern Triangle, said Mexico is working hand-in-hand with UNHCR to ensure that the asylum system is humane and efficient.

The representative of Iran said the responsibility to assist refugees lies not only with a few countries, stressing that there is no excuse for others to evade their obligations and “close their doors” to refugees.

The representative of Qatar asked about plans and programmes for refugees to obtain education.

The representative of Romania said the global challenge in addressing the needs of displaced persons requires a global response, noting that Romania looks forward to the formal launch of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

The representative of Libya, reminding the international community of its obligations, said that bringing about stability would make certain countries attractive for jobs.  Indeed, providing job opportunities in home countries would save lives.

The representative of Brazil, underlining that the solidarity of host countries must be matched with support and burden-sharing, stressed the importance of multilateralism and redoubling efforts.

The representative of Japan, emphasizing the link between humanitarian and development efforts, enquired about the detailed plans for UNHCR’s cooperation with humanitarian and bilateral partners.

The representative of Liechtenstein asked how to improve the situation of the Rohingya, and about what must be done for a sustainable return to Myanmar.

The representative of Myanmar, on the exodus of Rohingya, expressed deep concern about displaced women and children, noting that UNHCR’s pessimism does not contribute constructively in the search for solutions.

The representative of Comoros, speaking on behalf of the African Group, welcomed the proposed Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and noted with concern UNHCR’s 51 per cent funding gap for refugee operations in Africa during 2018.  She called on Member States to expand access to resettlement opportunities, which currently benefits only a small fraction of the population.  Sustainable voluntary repatriation and reintegration remains the preferred and lasting solution to refugee situations, she stated, drawing attention to the recent increase in mixed migration movements.  Much more must be done by destination countries to expand legal migration channels, she stressed.

The representative of Norway, calling Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework countries as vanguards, asked about widening the number of countries in resettlement efforts and ensuring meaningful participation among all stakeholders.

The representative of Ireland asked about next steps in the Global Compact’s implementation.

The representative of Afghanistan, citing the 1951 Refugee Convention and Optional Protocols, asked about additional joint measures to address the plight of refugees aside from addressing root causes.

The representative of Greece, describing an improved protective and legal framework and efforts to update the domestic asylum-seeking system, underscored the need for timely support and concerted action.

The representative of Algeria expressed concern over the lack of focus on host countries and emphasized the need for a study on the socioeconomic impacts of refugees on host countries. He expressed regret that North Africa — as transit location — is not mentioned in the report.

The representative of Nigeria, welcoming the reforms underway to make UNHCR more effective, efficient and accountable, asked about updates on the Office’s relocation to Africa.

The representative of Morocco asked about efforts to enhance cooperation with States and strengthen regional offices, as well as about efforts related to refugee registration.

The representative of Bangladesh expressed appreciation for UNHCR’s support of more than one million refugees and forcibly displaced persons from Myanmar’s Rakhine State that are currently in his country.  As Bangladesh and Myanmar recently reaffirmed the decision to begin voluntary repatriations, UNHCR’s role would be critical in verifying prospective returnees’ free will.  He asked for the High Commissioner’s views in that regard, following the assessment conducted in 23 villages.  Bangladesh is also interested in the development of a methodology that would measure and map of country contributions, based on empirical evidence.  He asked how the new division on Resilience and Solutions will help address inequities in burden-sharing and persistent funding gaps.

The representative of Sweden, recalling references to sustained measures to address sexual and gender-based violence, asked that the next report also mention boys and looked forward to seeing the benefits of the four-year multiple funding plan.

The representative of Venezuela, citing unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States, referred to the situation in Uganda, where figures are “not in tune with reality”.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United States, Republic of Korea, European Union, United Kingdom, Germany and Ethiopia.

Mr. GRANDI replied that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is not only a tool for emergency responses; it is also a means to find lasting solutions.  Responsibility must be shared, and collective responses must be implemented, he stressed, acknowledging that some countries like Turkey and Iran host more refugees than others.  Moving forward, the mobilization of additional development resources — notably those allocated to education, environment, employment and general support to host communities — will be important.  In certain countries, like Ethiopia, private sector partners were successfully involved in such initiatives.

Regarding the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, he spotlighted the memorandum of understanding that UNHCR recently signed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Myanmar.  The assessment process must be accelerated, but this requires increased access.  Further, obstacles hindering Rohingyas’ access to services and freedom of movement must be lifted, otherwise people will not make the voluntary decision to return to Myanmar.  Emphasizing that numerous Rohingyas who remained in Myanmar were internally displaced, he said properly addressing their situation could generate a positive signal for those thinking about returning to the country.

UNHCR’s restructuring plans are being designed, and more details will be provided in a few weeks, he stated.  When relocating regional bureaus, the Office will take into consideration the presence of other agencies.  He stressed that the Division on Resilience and Solutions was created to search for the sustainable solutions that many delegates have called for today.

He said UNHCR supports host countries carrying out registration, while underlining that this process remains a responsibility of States.  The regional approach currently implemented in Mexico corresponds to the principles of the Global Compact. Noting that there has been a growth in asylum requests in that county, he expressed appreciation for the Government’s collaboration.

Responding to Venezuela’ delegate, he said UNHCR rejects all accusations of politicization of its work.  Pointing out that Venezuela has been hosting a refugee population for decades, he assured that UNHCR is glad to be present in the country.

A stock-taking exercise called the Global Refugee Forum will be held one year after the adoption of the Global Compact, he said.  Gathering various stakeholders, it will examine what has been done, including good practices, and define a path forward.  The objective is to ensure that the Global Compact makes a real difference in the lives of refugees, he concluded.

EDUARDO FERNANDEZ ZINCKE (European Union) said forced displacement requires global solutions and can only be addressed effectively by the international community.  The European Union therefore supports a more equitable and predictable burden- and responsibility sharing.  Further, more must be done to prevent forced displacement and address its causes, but the humanitarian community cannot do it alone.  While noting that UNHCR’s funding remains solid, with more than $3.9 billion in fresh contributions in 2017, he stressed that the gap between needs and available resources remain unacceptably high.  He urged UNHCR to broaden its donor base and increase efficiency and effectiveness, in line with the “grand bargain” agreement, [which among other things, commits donors and aid organizations to provide 25 per cent of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders by 2020.]

GILLES DAVID CERUTTI (Switzerland) expressed regret that attempts to contain the increase of displaced persons and provide them with long-term solutions are far from adequate.  Reaffirming the right to seek asylum, the principles of non-refoulment and respect for humanitarian principles, he welcomed references in the Global Compact to other types of forced displacement, notably caused by natural disasters.  Calling for the affirmation of this text through an omnibus resolution, he underscored the need for increased investment in education, including in emergency situations, and for financial contributions, with more of 40 per cent non-earmarked.  Supporting the fight against fraud, corruption and abuse of displaced persons and sexual harassment within UNHCR itself, he quoted the High Commissioner as saying that “there is no place in the Office… for those who commit such acts”.  Referring to reforms aimed at bringing skills closer to the field, he noted the importance of technical integrity of UNHCR programmes in areas such as water, sanitation and shelter as an essential part of its protection mandate.

JOHN KYOVI MUTUA (Kenya), associating himself with the African Group, noted with concern that 85 per cent of refugees are hosted by low- and middle-income countries, while 63 per cent under UNHCR’s responsibility live in just 10 countries.  Welcoming the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework laid out in the New York Declaration — aimed, among other things, at strengthening refugee protection and making support more equitable and predictable — he said Kenya has been applying that Framework at the regional level in its support to Somali and other refugees.  Kenya is also committed to the Global Compact for Refugees, he said, drawing attention to the need to ease pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-party countries and support conditions in countries of origin.  Noting that Kenya has long hosted a large number of refugees and is home to over 431,000 — a figure that declined following a 2013 agreement between the Government, UNHR and Somalia — he said the country faces several resulting challenges, including environmental degradation, the over-exploitation of resources and the use of refugee camps as dens of terrorist recruitment.

MALECHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record:  war, human rights abuses and refugee situations are endemic.  The global refugee crisis has morphed into a catastrophe, with thousands fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Myanmar, Palestine, Afghanistan and South Sudan.  The unprecedented humanitarian challenges warrant greater commitment by the international community.  While low- and middle-income countries continue to shoulder the heaviest burden, hosting 85 per cent of refugees globally, many countries in the developed world are moving in the opposite direction — by increasing rates of rejecting asylum applications and speeding deportations.  More than 60 per cent of refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility live in only 10 countries.  Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for almost four decades, opening homes and hearts to the largest protracted refugee presence in the world.

ILARIO SCHETTINO (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said the large number of forcibly displaced people is increasing at an alarming pace, standing now at 68.5 million, including 25 million refugees.  Italy has established humanitarian corridors, welcoming over 1,500 refugees in Rome.  The international community must fulfil the commitment made two years ago through the New York Declaration, she said, adding that the Global Compact for Refugees will offer lasting solutions to both refugees and host communities.

Mr. AALMUSTAFA (Iraq) reaffirmed his Government’s position based on its Constitution, humanitarian law and instruments relating to voluntary returns.  Iraq took steps to allow voluntary returns to the country without pressure, he said, highlighting efforts to guarantee access to basic services.  Iraq opened corridors for returning refugees.  He called for serious actions against terrorism and documentation of violations against internally displaced persons.  Iraq is hosting Syrians fleeing a war marked by crimes by terrorist groups.  He stressed the importance of seeking new alternatives to allow for legal migration.

ALBERT SITNIKOV (Russian Federation), on the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons, cautioned against politicizing the process and urged support for Syrian-Russian initiatives.  The Global Compact will improve the situation of refugees, he said, welcoming the inclusion of the global agreement to politically address countries of origin and highlighting the principle of burden-sharing.  The “European situation” is the result of irresponsible interference of European countries, which destabilised countries or overthrew Governments in the Middle East and North Africa.  He stressed that host countries should take responsibility to address their own issues.  Climate change is no reason for migration.  The provisions in the Global Compact are not legally binding, thus giving no reason for fulfilling financial obligations.

TALAL ALFASSAM (Kuwait) said humanitarian crises require efforts to facilitate UNHCR’s work and limit the impact of armed conflicts.  Noting that the causes of displacement must be addressed, he urged international solidarity to protect refugees.  For decades, Kuwait has worked to establish stability in Yemen and, this year, it pledged $250 million to assist that country.  Kuwait also hosted three international donor conferences, and contributed more than $1.6 billion, to support Syrians.  He condemned violence against the Rohingyas and expressed concern about their displacement to Bangladesh.

DANG TRUONG SON (Viet Nam) said the current large-scale flows of refugees are exceeding the capacity of many countries.  Outlining various causes driving the phenomenon, he said that, while the soon-to-be-adopted Global Compact on Refugees is a non-legally binding document, it nevertheless reflects the international political will and aspirations to enhance cooperation and solidarity in support of both refugees and host communities.  Recalling that Viet Nam contributed to the Global Compact’s negotiation process, he underscored the importance of transparency in granting refugee status and the need to clearly distinguish between refugees and migrants who flee their countries of origin for economic purposes.  In addition, he recommended the establishment of a mechanism to better share the burden of hosting refugees, as well as more effective solutions in the areas of finance and resource distribution.

AMANUEL GIORGIO (Eritrea) said the surge in forced displacement has a destabilizing impact on regional security and development.  The issue of refugees cannot be addressed without dealing with underlying causes of climate change, conflict and global imbalance.  Better coordination between UNHCR and development agencies could contribute to the long-term solution.  Countries of origin, transit and destination must bear their responsibilities, based on their international obligations and respective capacities.  Given the limited resources available, the core mandate should be to provide protection to refugees.  On the issue of abuse in transit countries, he urged attention to all Eritrean nationals stranded in conflict areas of Libya.  Eritrea maintains a voluntary repatriation policy of its nationals and opposes forced repatriation or expulsion.

MIN THIEN (Myanmar) said the Global Compact is an important guideline addressing the most serious challenge of refugee crisis, which requires improved cooperation.  He also stressed the importance of supporting countries to where internally displaced persons return.  Noting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist attack in 2017, he said the refugee problem between Bangladesh and Myanmar has reached an international dimension, expressing particular concern about women and children refugees.  Referring to three memoranda signed with UNHCR and UNDP, he stressed the need to build trust, underlining the importance of informed consent and voluntary return.  “Every caution should be observed that United Nations agencies do not harm indigenous people”, he said, highlighting the creation of new jobs for local people in Rakhine.

RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil) said the final text of the Global Compact for Refugees reflects a delicate balance for equitable responsibility sharing.  Brazil helped to elaborate the Compact constructively, and insisted on the need to consider national needs, he said, calling for third country solutions and highlighting the inclusion of refugees in national systems.  Some elements contained in the Global Compact are already a reality in Brazil, following a whole-of-Government approach.  Brazil established an inter-ministerial committee, headed by the President’s Chief of Staff Office, to coordinate the response to Venezuelan nationals.  The reception centre at the border is multisectoral, including registration, documentation, food assistance, healthcare, vaccination and psychosocial support.  All asylum seekers enjoy free access to health and education.  Vulnerable persons are hosted in 12 shelters, and to alleviate pressure on the border State of Raraima, Brazil is providing assistance to Venezuelans who wish to be relocated elsewhere in the country.

BEKZHAN BAIZHANOV (Kazakhstan), voicing support for the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees in December, echoed other speakers in stressing that — while not legally binding — that document will represent international political will, support for strengthened cooperation on and solidarity with refugees and affected host communities.  One of the Compact’s objectives is to facilitate access to durable solutions, he said, noting that voluntary repatriation in conditions of safety and dignity remains the preferred solution for most refugees.  As a Central Asian country, Kazakhstan supports the promotion of conditions that enable the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland.  To that end, the Government provides technical and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, aimed at stabilizing the situation there.  Among other things, it invests more than $50 million to educate Afghan students, build schools, develop roads and provide humanitarian assistance.  In addition, he said, Kazakhstan provides UNHCR voluntary contributions, and increased those funds to $100,000 in 2018.

LESETLA ANDREAS TEFFO (South Africa) voiced concern about the consequences of refugee outflows, which continue to fall disproportionately on developing countries.  The protracted nature of displaced persons is another issue that requires urgent attention.  On funding models to assist in implementation of the Global Compact of Refugees, he recommended the development of progressive strategies for the disbursement of funds, coupled with quality assurance mechanisms to ensure that funds are meticulously managed.  He trusted that World Bank initiatives do not add to the debt burden of host countries and stressed that implementation of the Global Compact must maintain its non-legally binding and voluntary nature.  South Africa also calls on its partners to invest in voluntary returns of refugees, in particular to their countries of origin.

ELENE AGLADZE (Georgia) said the soaring number of internally displaced persons and refugees highlight the need to address this phenomenon comprehensively.  The Government continues to implement national programmes and action plans aimed at improving the living conditions of refugees and internally displaced persons, such as the 2016 law on international protection.  Georgia also seeks to improve the living conditions of “internally displaced persons from “Abkhazia and Tskhinvali”.  Since the mid-1990s, long-term housing solutions were thus provided to 40,000 families.  Despite the international community’s firm stance regarding the plight of Georgia’s internally displaced persons and refugees, the fundamental right of return is neglected and ignored by the Russian Federation, which exercises effective control over Georgian occupied territories.

HELLEN MKHWEO CHIFWAILA (Zambia), associating herself with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said her country has been receiving refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2017.  If the influx persists, it is estimated that Zambia will host up to 76,000 refugees by the end of 2018.  Pointing out that the Government will require over $74 million to adequately respond to the situation, she called on the international community to scale up interventions to prevent the development of a humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the country.  Conditions that exacerbate large movements of refugees must be addressed, based in the principle of shared responsibility, she stressed.

ALEXANDER TEMITOP AJAYI (Nigeria) said that no doubt Nigeria has been affected by the global refugee crisis, but beyond the phenomenon of refugees is the reality of internally displaced persons due to terrorist attacks, climate change, and the scramble for water and pasture.  However, Nigeria recognizes that the Government is responsible for handling the situation, and thus reaffirms its commitment, known as the “Buhari Plan”, a Presidential initiative that rests on the principles of reconstruction, rehabilitation, resettlement, reintegration and reconciliation.  It provides immediate relief to people of the northeast, rehabilitation for internally displaced persons, and support for livelihoods.  Further, children in armed conflict are victims; they are not persons in conflict with Nigerian law.  The Government is working to improve civilian military relations so as not to compound the plight of innocent victims.

For information media. Not an official record.