With the ongoing displacement of nearly 70 million people around the world driven mostly by conflict, the Security Council has a crucial role to play in resolving the resultant global crisis, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said as he briefed the 15-member organ today.
“If conflicts were prevented or resolved, most refugee flows would disappear,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, describing current approaches to peace-making as fragmented, addressing only symptoms rather than root causes. The Council can help to resolve security crises, support countries hosting refugees and remove obstacles, he added.
The need for unified Security Council action to end the current military escalation in Libya, he continued, is vital. He went on to recall that, in his three decades as an international civil servant working for refugees, he has seen much solidarity and heroism, but never such toxicity in the language of politics, media — including social media — and in every‑day conversations. Firm and organized responses are needed, he emphasized.
As Council members took the floor, Equatorial Guinea’s representative spoke also on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, emphasizing the need for long‑term strategies to address the structural causes that drive conflict. Noting that Africa is home to more than one third of the world’s displaced persons, he said the African Union has committed to specific measures through the decision by its Heads of State to declare 2019 the year of refugees, returnees and the internally displaced.
Some Council members stressed the link between security and development. Indonesia’s representative pointed out that his country, a non-State party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees — also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention — hosts more than 14,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from 47 countries. Resettlement is a starting point from which refugees can contribute to the development of host countries, he said, emphasizing: “Resettlement is certainly not a threat to any society.”
Other members emphasized the importance of the Global Compact on Refugees, adopted in December 2018, in promoting greater international cooperation to tackle the global refugee crisis. The representative of the United States described the Compact as vital in helping to share the displacement burden. While noting his country’s standing as the largest humanitarian donor, he pointed out that the current refugee needs outpace the capacity of any single donor.
The Russian Federation’s representative said the difficult refugee situation in Europe is due in large part to irresponsible interference in the internal affairs of States in the Middle East and North Africa. About 1,000 refugees are returning to Syria every day, mainly from Lebanon and Jordan, he noted, while emphasizing that the bulk of international assistance is going towards keeping Syrian refugees on a “humanitarian drip” within camps outside the country, including Rukban.
Also speaking today were representatives of China, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Poland, Peru, Kuwait, France, Belgium and Germany.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:02 p.m.
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said there is a sense of an overwhelming crisis, with refugees and migrants stigmatized in an unprecedented fashion. Traditional responses to the global crisis have become increasingly inadequate, he noted, while emphasizing that portraying the situation as not manageable is wrong. With political will and improved responses, as enshrined in the Global Compact on Refugees adopted in December 2018, it is possible to address the issue adequately, and the Security Council has a critical role to play in resolving security crises, supporting countries hosting refugees and removing obstacles to solutions, he stressed. Noting that the displacement of nearly 70 million people around the world is mostly driven by conflict, he declared: “If conflicts were prevented or resolved, most refugee flows would disappear.” Describing current approaches to peace-making as fragmented, he said they address only symptoms, not root causes. In Libya, for example, the Council’s unified action to end the current military escalation there and to spare civilians is vital, he said. It is also important that the international community take unified action to address causes of conflict, such as war and poverty.
He went on to emphasize the need to support host countries, noting, for instance, that 3.4 million people have fled Venezuela to neighbouring countries, including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. While Latin American solidarity is outstanding, support for host communities must be stepped up, he said. The Global Compact provides a blueprint for better support, and removing obstacles is just as crucial, he said, citing Syria as a case in point. Noting that the vast majority of Syrian refugees wish to return home, he emphasized the need to create the conditions to enable their return, including by providing shelter, services, jobs, safety and security. Regarding the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said implementation of the memorandum of understanding on the return of refugees is slow. However, returns must be voluntary, and restoring security is key in that regard, he added, stressing that there should be pathways for Rohingya to enjoy citizenship and equality before the law. He went on to recall his three decades as an international civil servant working for refugees, saying that he has seen much solidarity and heroism, but never such toxicity in the language of politics, media — including social media — and in every-day conversations. Firm and organized responses are needed, he emphasized.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), spoke also on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, describing conflict as the main driver of forced displacement. The structural causes that drive conflict must therefore be addressed through long-term strategies. Noting that Africa is home to more than one third of the world’s displaced persons, he said the African Union has committed to specific measures through its Agenda 2063 and through the decision by African Heads of State to declare 2019 the year of refugees, returnees and the internally displaced. Applauding countries that have opened their borders to refugees despite their limited resources, he called upon the international community to share their burden. He went on to ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees what would be needed to establish a strong partnership between his agency and the African Union in order to find sustainable solutions to end forced displacement in Africa.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) identified three main challenges requiring priority attention — new emerging crises, inadequately implemented solutions and significant lack of funding. Noting that his country, a non-State party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, is hosting more than 14,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from 47 countries, he said resettlement is a starting point from which refugees can contribute to the development of host countries. “Resettlement is certainly not a threat to any society,” he emphasized. Responding to the global refugee crises calls for addressing the root causes of humanitarian crises, promoting inclusive participatory processes, providing more innovative funding and using the Global Compact on Refugees as a guide to improving the management of refugees. He asked the High Commissioner what options are available when countries close their doors, leaving refugees in limbo.
YAO SHAOJUN (China) said the international refugee situation remains grim and a holistic approach to resolving it must be based on respect for national sovereignty. The international community, especially those with the capacity and responsibility to do so, should scale up assistance while also addressing xenophobia, he emphasized. Efforts must also be made to address root causes, including by eradicating extreme poverty and promoting economic development. Urging the Council to intensify its efforts to find political solutions to “hotspot issues”, he emphasized the importance of adhering to the basic principles of objectivity, neutrality and non-politicization. China will continue to strengthen its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to improve global governance of refugee issues, he stressed.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS (Dominican Republic) called for a mechanism to address human displacement and provide support for host communities. It is crucial to promote the participation of refugees themselves in the design of responses, he emphasized. Noting the plight of refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, he stressed the importance of a complementary approach that keeps human dignity at the centre of all responses. Returns must be safe, dignified and voluntary, he said, underlining the need for sustainable solutions that must also enhance the resilience of communities. Abandoning home was not the choice of Venezuelans, he noted.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), describing her country as a strong supporter of UNHCR, said the agency’s primary role is to set international standards. She went on to ask a number of questions about establishing a strong partnership between UNHCR and the African Union, immediate steps for coping with the situation in Libya, and ways to expand projects in Myanmar. Underscoring the Global Compact’s importance as a major opportunity to develop longer-term solutions and support host countries, she took note of the High Commissioner’s remarks about the “toxicity” surrounding the refugee issue.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) noted that more than two thirds of all refugees came from just five countries on the Council’s agenda — Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Emphasizing that the direct relationship between conflict and displacement around the world is indisputable, he said it is therefore of key importance to address the root causes of conflict, with emphasis on prevention.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), noted that assistance to refugees is today a necessary component in the maintenance of international peace and security. Expressing his delegation’s concern about the difficult refugee situation in Europe, he said it is due in large part to irresponsible interference in the internal affairs of States in the Middle East and North Africa. He called attention to the Russian Federation’s efforts to help refugees, including those from Ukraine, also pointing out that about 1,000 refugees are returning to Syria every day, mainly from Lebanon and Jordan. Calling upon UNHCR to intensify efforts to assist the repatriation of Syrian refugees, he said returns must be voluntary, emphasizing that they must be neither hamstrung nor politicized by artificial conditions. He went on to state that, instead of helping returns, the bulk of international assistance is going towards keeping Syrian refugees on a “humanitarian drip” in camps outside the country, including Rukban.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) asked the High Commissioner to say more about the potential role of international financial institutions, among other entities. Noting the “very serious situation” in Venezuela, he underscored the spirit of solidarity demonstrated by host countries, as well as the need to address root causes of displacement, including climate change, desertification, growing inequality, corruption, the arms race and violent extremism that leads to terrorism. He urged the Council to prioritize efforts to prevent conflict and generate sustainable peace.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) emphasized that, when the Council cannot manage conflict, it complicates the work of UNHCR and other specialized United Nations agencies, while inflicting enormous political and financial costs and generating regional instability. There is no doubt that a durable and effective response to the challenges of forced displacement will only be possible by addressing every dimension of conflict, he said, calling for compliance with international humanitarian law, international human rights law and relevant Council resolutions. States and societies hosting refugees must be supported with a great deal of solidarity and generosity, he stressed. Welcoming the role of civil society organizations, he said the United Nations and humanitarian organizations must be allowed to carry out their work and to provide assistance without hindrance. He asked the High Commissioner what the Council can do to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance, and how Rohingya refugees can return home in the absence of suitable conditions on the ground.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), noting that 2019 has set a grim record, agreed with the High Commissioner on the need to place priority on sharing responsibility, addressing the root causes of displacement and respecting the fundamental principles for the return of refugees. Describing the hosting of refugees as an international obligation and moral duty, he said France conducted protection missions in Niger and Chad, and helped displaced people relocate to France with the support of UNHCR, emphasizing that Member States must redouble efforts to implement the Global Compact. He asked the High Commissioner how to enhance cooperation between UNHCR and Libya in order to protect migrants and refugees. He went on to note that France increased its contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) pointed out that his country is the largest single humanitarian donor, but requirements outpace the capacity of a single donor. Describing the Global Compact as vital to increasing burden-sharing, he commended such host countries as Ethiopia, Jordan, Turkey, Thailand and Pakistan. Regarding Syria, he said hasty returns must be avoided since the necessary conditions have not been met. He went on to ask the High Commissioner about a non-politicized way to address the situation in the Rukban camp, while stressing the importance of ending conflicts that drive displacement in the first place. Regarding Venezuela, he said the United States continues to sound the alarm about the dire humanitarian condition there.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) noted that the number of refugees has never been so high, pointing out the link between conflict and refugees flows. He asked the High Commissioner how to strengthen early warning mechanisms monitoring the flow of refugees. UNHCR’s core mandate of protection must remain central, he said, emphasizing also that it must pay special attention to the needs of women and children. Measures must be in place to support the safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees, he said, adding that the stunning number of displaced people reaffirms the need for international cooperation.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, saying that his delegation values the efforts of such host countries as Bangladesh and the neighbours of Syria and Venezuela. However, when refugees are resettled in third countries, their chances of returning home diminish, he noted. Emphasizing that returns must be voluntary, safe, dignified and well-informed, he encouraged the Russian Federation and UNHCR to work closely on Rukban and ensure that returnees do not face arrest, forced conscription or confiscation of their homes. Describing Libya as “a dreadful situation”, he expressed support for UNHCR’s efforts to highlight the plight of women and children there. He also asked the High Commissioner to elaborate on the agency’s work with Myanmar, while inquiring about the dangers of Bangladesh possibly relocating Rohingya refugees to an island.
Mr. GRANDI took the floor a second time, reaffirming that returns must be “safe, dignified and secure”, as well as well-supported and voluntary, so as to avoid further displacement and the danger of fresh conflict. Those who return in difficult circumstances need humanitarian support, he added, urging Council members to delink politics from humanitarian needs. He went on to emphasize the importance of UNHCR’s presence in areas of return, describing it as a part of the agency’s protection mandate to convey a message of confidence by acting as a neutral and impartial observer on the ground.
He went on to emphasize the urgent need to find a solution for Rukban, saying that a survey of the camp’s inhabitants found that most wish to return home if their safety can be guaranteed. Explaining that UNHCR has taken up the issue with the authorities in Damascus, he encouraged Council members with influence to promote the agency’s presence in areas of return, such as Homs.
Responding to Indonesia’s representative, he stressed that many Afghans and Somalis, among others, have been in exile for decades, pointing out that the Global Compact applies not only to new emergencies, but also protracted ones. It creates a new paradigm, promoting alternative modes of financing, but the search for solutions must continue, he said, adding that resettlement remains important in that regard. The decline in global resettlement figures is cause for concern, but it remains a solution of choice for extremely exposed and vulnerable refugees.
Acknowledging that the United States is UNHCR’s biggest financial backer, he agreed with that country’s representative that the scope of contributors must be expanded, noting that much interest is being expressed by the private sector, including in China. He went on to suggest the creation of legal pathways for migration as a means to combat human trafficking.
Turning to the situation in Libya, he said the priority is to halt the current escalation. Council members should act in a unified manner, he said, emphasizing that humanitarian actors cannot operate in conditions of threat, intimidation and volatility. The international community must be prepared for further displacement, he warned.
On Myanmar, he said the agency has approved, through a memorandum of understanding, 34 resettlement projects with that country’s Government, stressing, however, the need to ensure freedom of movement for the Rohingya. If nothing is done to alleviate their marginalization inside the country, there will be no incentive for those outside to return, he noted, adding that he hopes to visit Myanmar, including northern Rakhine State, and that UNHCR has indicated to the Government its readiness to extend the memorandum of understanding.
Responding to Equatorial Guinea’s representative, he said UNHCR’s strong relationship with the African Union can be developed further. It is increasingly apparent that a regional approach is the right basis for addressing regional crises. Progress on the peace process in South Sudan will open the way to cooperation in dealing with returnees, he added.
As for UNRWA, he underlined the need to bear in mind that countries affected by the unresolved issue in the Middle East are also hosting Syrian refugees. He concluded by emphasizing that, in deliberating on peace and security, Council members must not forget the most marginalized and excluded, including refugees.