In the face of a slew of challenges, ranging from intractable conflicts to the climate emergency, strengthened multilateral action is needed to tackle the complex issues prompting migratory flows, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, informed the Security Council today. “With such challenges, the multilateral system has never been so important; yet, the international system has never been so prone to failure,” he said.
In a sobering address, Mr. Grandi went on to depict “the many faces of failure”, which ranged from instability and insecurity to famine, disaster and State collapse, as well as forced displacement, which, he noted, tends to create headlines when it impacts countries in the global North. But failure can also look like overblown and irrational reactions, as observed at the border between Belarus and the European Union, he said. Pointing out that 90 per cent of the world’s 84 million displaced are in developing countries, he commended the solidarity shown by countries such as Niger towards those in distress, despite limited resources, and in the face of a “perfect storm” combining conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The failure of the international community to build and sustain peace forces humanitarian actors such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to operate in situations of active conflict and rampant crisis, where they deal with rising expectations and diminished possibilities to deliver, he continued. Moreover, humanitarian actors are obliged to deal with “de facto” authorities who are not recognized, in a situation further complicated by political difficulties and sanctions. This protracts and aggravates humanitarian needs, he said, pointing to Myanmar, Yemen, Libya, Ethiopia and “most starkly”, Afghanistan, where more than 23 million people face extreme levels of hunger, as examples.
In Afghanistan, he warned that slow progress around fundamental issues is very risky. Noting that there has been an uptick in Afghans trying to leave the country in recent weeks, he pointed out that a widespread implosion of States and economies will inevitably trigger an outflow of persons to neighbouring countries and beyond. While the relative stabilization of the situation following the change of authority on 15 August has permitted more than 150,000 internally displaced persons to return to their homes, more resources are needed to ensure urgent needs are met ahead of winter, he said, making a specific appeal for the widest scope to be given for humanitarian exceptions, regarding the sanctions regime.
However, he emphasized that humanitarian agencies cannot replace the role of States and are not a replacement for political solutions. Expressing concern about the increasing politicization of humanitarian and refugee-related work, which is worsening the humanitarian situation in Syria and Ethiopia, he noted that humanitarian actors operate in a context of inadequate and often dangerous access; they are also “unfairly accused of taking sides, by all sides”. Noting that UNHCR had held its annual pledging conference today, in which it appealed to donors to meet the agency’s $9 billion budget for 2022, he said: “Saving lives cannot wait for political solutions to happen. But without those solutions, without stopping conflict and violence, the efforts that humanitarians make will remain very fragile.”
In the ensuing discussion, delegates expressed concern about the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in countries, including Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia and Libya. Some emphasized the need to tackle the destabilizing factors spurring migration flows, including conflict and environmental degradation, while others stressed the need to address human rights abuses experienced by migrants in transit to Europe, including in detention centres.
The representative of Estonia was among those emphasizing the need to combat migrant smuggling and trafficking, calling for concrete actions to be taken to protect vulnerable communities, from Somalia to Central America. He condemned any attempts to instrumentalize migrants and refugees by orchestrating their flow across European Union borders for political motives.
In a similar vein, France’s delegate condemned the politicization of migratory flows on the border between Poland and Belarus, which is endangering the lives of vulnerable individuals. In line with its commitments flowing from the global compact for refugees, France is helping States build capacity in asylum and resettlement. However, in Syria and Myanmar, conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified returns do not exist, he said, citing human rights violations by the Syrian regime against refugees upon their return.
The representative of Mexico said that solidarity is the way to respond to applications for refugee status, pointing out that Mexico’s recognition rate exceeds 70 per cent. He noted that in the first six months of 2021, his country ranked third in the world in terms of refugee applications received.
Meanwhile, the representative of Niger underscored the need for mitigation strategies for climate change impacts, given that environmental degradation and natural hazards are among the largest engines of migration. The international community must redouble its efforts to build peace and make resources available for displaced communities and their hosts, he said, adding that countries with scant resources are bearing the brunt of caring for displaced persons and must be better supported.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Norway, India, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, China, United States, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Russian Federation, Kenya, Ireland and Tunisia.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 12:15 p.m.
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, briefing the Security Council via teleconference from Geneva, welcomed the exemplary role played by Niger, which holds this month’s presidency, in addressing forced displacement and showing great solidarity to those in distress despite limited resources. He pointed out that Niger, like many developing countries — 90 per cent of the world’s 84 million displaced are in developing countries — faces a perfect storm, with climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict. The situation in the Sahel, in particular, underlines the importance of putting climate emergency front and centre on the Council agenda, he said, adding: “With such challenges, the multilateral system has never been so important,” he said, “yet the international system has never been so prone to failure.”
He went on to outline “the many faces of failure”, ranging from instability and insecurity, which he pointed out the Council deals with daily; famine, disaster and the collapse of States, which the Council hears much about; but also forced displacement, which continues to draw attention, and tends to create headlines when it impacts countries in the global North. But failure can also look like overblown and irrational reactions, as observed at the border between Belarus and the European Union, he said.
He pointed out that failure and inaction on migration compels humanitarians to work in increasingly uncertain situations, where they must engage with all interlocutors, including with “de facto” authorities who are not recognized, a situation further complicated by political difficulties and sanctions. This protracts and aggravates humanitarian needs, leaving humanitarians to work alone in untenable situations, he said, pointing to Myanmar, Yemen, Sudan and “most starkly”, Afghanistan, as examples. In Afghanistan, more than 23 million people faced extreme levels of hunger, as well as a lack of clean water, housing and a host of other challenges, he said, adding that in his visit to that country in September, he saw humanitarian agencies including his own reaching as many as 60,000 displaced persons every week. However, he emphasized that humanitarian agencies cannot replace the role of States and are not a replacement for political solutions. While he appreciated those working to find a way forward to ensure the resumption of cash flow and services, he said slow progress around fundamental issues is very risky. Noting that there has been an uptick in Afghans trying to leave the country in recent weeks, he pointed out that a widespread implosion of States and economies will inevitably trigger an outflow of persons to neighbouring countries and beyond. While Afghanistan is relatively safer following the 15 August change of authority, permitting the return of an estimated 150,000 internally displaced persons to their homes, more resources are needed to ensure urgent needs are met ahead of winter, he said, making a specific appeal for more resources and for the widest scope to be given for humanitarian exceptions, with regard to the sanctions regime. Moreover, neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan, which have hosted refugees for generations, must also be supported through enhanced aid.
Turning to the increasing politicization of humanitarian and refugee-related work, which interferes with humanitarian action, he pointed to the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, where in October, he witnessed queues for bread and fuel, as well as a severe lack of services and access to livelihood, particularly outside Damascus. Noting that slow progress on political solutions is condemning millions to hard lives, he reiterated the need to remove obstacles discouraging the return of refugees through strengthened international cooperation, first and foremost from Syria — to remove human rights and legal obstacles — but also from donors to ensure the provision of basic humanitarian support. Neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, which host 6 million refugees, must also be supported.
Due to the inability of the international community to build and sustain peace, he said humanitarian actors such as his organization are increasingly obliged to operate in situations of active conflict and rampant crisis, where they deal with rising expectations and diminished possibilities to deliver. Libya, Yemen and notably Ethiopia are examples of such situations, he said. In Ethiopia, he pointed out that due to the protracted 13-month conflict, a fifth of the population — 20 million people — are in need, of whom 4 million are internally displaced. Humanitarian actors operate in a context of inadequate and often dangerous access; they are also “unfairly accused of taking sides, by all sides”, he said. Pointing out that the latest offensive in October, and the counteroffensive in the last few days, threaten a sliding back of limited gains, he stressed the need for all parties to respect the neutrality of United Nations and non-governmental organizations, and to ensure their safety, including national staff of all ethnic origins. Fuel must also be made available, he said.
Noting that he recently spent 10 days in Central America and Mexico, where he witnessed the complex factors combining to create the phenomenon of human mobility, and the complexity of political solutions, he said no effort must be spared to deliver aid in difficult circumstances. Responding to such complex situations has become more expensive, he said, recalling his appeal to donors to meet the agency’s $9 billion budget for 2022. “Saving lives cannot wait for political solutions to happen, he said, adding: “But without those solutions, without stopping conflict and violence, the efforts that humanitarians make will remain very fragile.”
ANNIKEN HUITFELDT, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said the international community must do three things to address displacement, emphasizing first, that efforts must focus on prevention in such situations as armed conflict, climate change and poverty. Strengthening links among humanitarian, development, peacebuilding and human rights work is also critical, with this approach currently being put to the test in Afghanistan. Failure will put 20 years of development gains at risk. The third area requires efforts recognizing the complex links among climate change, natural hazards, vulnerability and displacement, accompanied by better, more reliable information on climate and security risks. Turning to other actions, she said strengthening civilian protection will reduce forced displacement and urged stakeholders to recognize this connection. She said that while the challenges are enormous, “we have no other option than continuing to work better together to prevent, protect and support.”
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India), recalling his country’s assistance for refugee communities in contemporary history, including the refugee issue from Bangladesh, noted that his nation hosts a large number of refugees entirely with its own resources. India has also renewed its commitment to continue to contribute $5 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 2022. He went on to emphasize that preventing armed conflicts, countering terrorism and building and sustaining peace through facilitating sustainable development and good governance will prevent people from being forced to leave their homelands. Stressing that the primary duty and responsibility of protecting and assisting internally displaced persons lies with the States concerned, he underscored that the refugee issue is a global challenge, reiterating the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality to be upheld in dealing with such matters. He also highlighted that the pandemic has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges, and that refugees are majorly exposed to the socioeconomic impact of this crisis.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) expressed deep concerns about ongoing and increasing trends of forced displacements, including in Afghanistan, where 22 million need assistance. At the same time, reports of sexual violence and abuse are widespread in Ethiopia and Libya alongside cases of child recruitment and use in Mali and Yemen. Amid the pandemic, efforts must be scaled up to mitigate the impact on refugees together with vaccine distribution to such countries as Myanmar, Syria and Yemen. Climate change remains a powerful driver of displacement, and more concrete actions must protect vulnerable communities, from Somalia to Central America. Efforts to combat migrant smuggling and trafficking must also improve, he said, condemning any attempts to instrumentalize migrants and refugees by orchestrating their flow across European Union borders for political motives. Meanwhile, the Russian aggression in Ukraine has left 1.5 million internally displaced persons across the country, he said, noting that in recent years, nearly one third of Estonia’s humanitarian aid has been earmarked to address this concern. More evident than ever before is the need for digital solutions in improving the international community’s ability to collectively respond to crises. Recalling Estonia’s pledge made at the first Global Refugee Forum in 2019, he expressed hope that the forthcoming high-level officials’ meeting will help to identify opportunities and set priorities going forward.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) pointed out that his country has contributed over $570 million to UNHCR’s work in the last five years, as well as $970 million to support refugees in Lebanon since 2011, $424 million to the Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh since 2017 and $278 million to programmes in Uganda over a six-year period. He also emphasized that, while the Security Council’s efforts to support political solutions to humanitarian crises are essential, actors on the ground also have responsibilities in this regard. Only through demonstrated compliance with the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence can humanitarian actors build the trust necessary to gain — and maintain — access to displaced populations in need. Recalling that his country has encouraged the Council to consider the ways in which the pandemic has created socioeconomic conditions that fuel conflict, unrest and subsequent displacement, he stressed that resolutions 2565 (2021) and 2532 (2020) can help deliver equitable access to vaccines in conflict and humanitarian settings.
PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) said preventing a dramatic refugee influx requires Governments to shoulder their primary responsibility to ensure peace and security while addressing the root causes of conflict. States must provide their people with basic needs and a development-enabling environment, with the international community assisting these efforts, as required, he said, calling on all relevant stakeholders to prioritize saving lives so that no one dies crossing a border or sea. Constructive engagement and dialogue among concerned parties are the most effective ways for the safe return and reintegration of refugees. A solution must be people-centred, non-politicized and in line with the principles of respect for the sovereignty of States and non-interference in their internal affairs. Turning to emerging challenges, he emphasized the need to ensure transparency in granting refugee status to asylum seekers. In decision- and policymaking, it is necessary to differentiate between refugees and irregular migrants who migrate for economic reasons, especially in the context of emerging non-traditional security threats.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) said that although armed conflicts and violence continue to be the main cause of displacement, including in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, other factors increasingly affect the movements of people, including the effects of climate change and the impacts of the pandemic. The combination of those diverse factors requires comprehensive responses. Each situation, such as in Myanmar, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya, has its own complexities. Central America is not spared from displacement. In the first six months of 2021, Mexico ranked third in the world in terms of refugee applications received. At the end of November, it received more than 123,000 requests for refugee status. Mexico’s recognition rate exceeds 70 per cent. Solidarity is the way to respond. The global compact on refugees is one of the tools available, offering principles, mechanisms and programmes of action to respond to the flows of people seeking international protection. The Security Council must make use of the compact.
ZHANG JUN (China) said the number of people displaced is still on the rise, urging the international community to remain mobilized to support refugees in line with international law. Noting that 86 per cent of refugees are hosted by developing countries, he stressed the need to ease burdens of the host States. He went on to reject double standards and politicization in addressing displacement. As armed conflict remains the main driver of displacement, the Council must push for political settlement to conflicts and help create the conditions for the safe return of refugees. In that regard, cooperation must be promoted, and unilateral sanctions must be lifted. As for Syrian refugees, initiators of military interventions must bear their responsibility to reconstruct that country and create conditions for their return. Turning to Africa, he urged UNHCR to keep the situation on the continent as its priority. On Afghanistan, he urged the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resume their Afghan accounts to provide cash liquidity. On the Rohingyas, he encouraged Bangladesh and Myanmar to conduct bilateral talks for the return of Rohingyas. He also urged the authorities of Lithuania to investigate incidents of mistreating refugees.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) expressed her appreciation for Jordan and other countries that host Syrian refugees, also commending United Nations entities for deploying the latest technologies to support refugee camps, including cash credit and a centralized water distribution system. Recalling her visit to the largest refugee camp in Jordan, she described how a widow with 11 children who fled from Syria is rebuilding her family’s life. Her children know nothing but conflict and displacement, but they have hope. The international community must help those children achieve their dreams. Syrian refugees at the camp do not feel safe about returning to their home country. The United States will ensure that any return is safe, voluntary and dignified. The international community must be united on addressing the refugee situations, including in Venezuela and Afghanistan. COVID-19 remains a threat to the displaced. Her country will provide 1.2 billion doses of vaccines via COVAX by 2022 and has resettled more refugees than any other country.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said the socioeconomic dislocations triggered by armed conflict, exacerbated by COVID-19 and magnified by the climate crisis demand urgent, focused and well-coordinated action and a renewed multilateralism that provides, among other things, urgent humanitarian assistance and critical life-saving support. Greater political will and wide-ranging multilateral engagements are also needed, with all stakeholders, particularly the developed countries and international financial institutions, accelerating efforts to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. As rampant climate change, increased biodiversity loss and widespread environmental degradation add further strain to complex situations, stakeholders must work together to advance practical, people-centred and climate-sensitive solutions, including inclusive development plans and policies. Humanitarian operations must be tethered to precepts of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Social, economic and environmental justice serve as the primary edicts in all efforts to maintain international peace and security, she said, adding that only a comprehensive and synergistic approach can achieve the lasting peace and security everyone deserves. Global struggles are colossal, she said, “but if we work collectively, through sincere political commitments and with a steadfast resolve, a better future awaits all countries and peoples.”
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said Moscow is committed to contributing to resolving the problem of migration, including by helping countries overcoming crises. Recalling the visit of the High Commissioner to his country this June, he underscored the importance, in resolving the large-scale crisis, of renewed multilateral cooperation with the United Nations playing a central coordinating role. The most effective way to deal with forced migration is tackling its root causes, he said, adding that countries of origin must be given socioeconomic assistance and help in strengthening State institutions. However, he stressed that all external interference must be avoided, adding that countries that do so must bear the primary responsibility for mass migration flows. He expressed concern about the situation in Afghanistan, where there is an amplified potential for mass outflows, due to a lack of essential services, among other factors. He called on the international community and traditional donors to provide effective assistance to help the country rebuild, and to prevent migration. Turning to Syria, he called for efforts to be stepped up to enable the voluntary return of refugees, which is an important step towards the long-term stabilization of the country. Further, he called on UNHCR to play a more active role in ensuring the return of internally displaced persons to Nagorno-Karabakh, in a depoliticized manner that concentrates on the humanitarian aspect of the task at hand.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), detailing the challenges that the refugee problem poses to host States, pointed out that terrorist and militant groups exploit refugee camps for recruitment and indoctrination, and that such camps are also used to further the criminal economies used by such groups. It is critical that the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies charged with the care of refugee camps ensure that such criminality does not occur. Noting that Kenya continues to host refugees from neighbouring States despite these challenges, he called for concerted efforts to accord refugees basic rights within the confines of national law. Further, UNHCR has a role to play in ensuring that radicalization and support for acts of terror is eradicated from refugee camps. He stressed that the international community must honour its obligations to support refugees, including through adequate, consistent funding as requested by host countries and UNHCR. However, the wealthiest countries can do more to resettle refugees, as financing is only one pillar of the necessary response — hosting is the other.
He then addressed the High Commissioner, asking to what extent Mr. Grandi could provide figures and data on the issue of surging refugee populations due to climate change and its effects. Additionally, recalling extreme human-rights abuses suffered by those on journeys to the Mediterranean Coast, he asked the High Commissioner if it is realistic to hope that Europe’s policy towards African refugees and migrants will change. He went on to cite an article discussing secret prisons, funding decisions and local militias keeping refugees out of Europe, and inquired if the High Commissioner has any sense of whether this scandal will end in the near future.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) pointed out that, since the Council last heard from the High Commissioner, the number of those forcibly displaced has increased to a record high of 84 million. She stressed that conflict — and the Council’s collective failure to prevent or resolve the same — is the reason for this. Around 6 million Afghans are now affected by displacement, and the urgency of the Council’s response must match the level of need. The organ must act to remove barriers preventing the provision of urgent, unhindered and life-saving aid, and must keep in mind the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls — fleeing a regime that would deny them an education — when determining the future of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). She also noted that almost half of the Syrian population remain displaced — their current situation exacerbated by harsh winter conditions — and stressed that this demonstrates the fragility of that situation and the need to ensure that help can reach those most in need, regardless of political considerations. On Ethiopia, where many thousands have been left with no choice but to flee, the Council must remain united in its demand that all parties respect international humanitarian law and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. She added that, while insecurity drives displacement globally, other factors — such as hunger and climate change — must not be discounted.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said it is important to move away from continuously managing protracted crises and forced displacement based on short-term and limited humanitarian solutions, towards addressing their root causes and finding proactive and lasting solutions. This will require the Council to focus more on ending conflicts as a priority. Tunisia has supported the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Libya and received about 1 million refugees and migrants from that country. It is also necessary for the international community to provide adequate and sustainable support to developing and least developed host countries by establishing effective partnerships on sustainable development. It is also imperative to effectively tackle migration and refugee crises in accordance with human rights standards and based on the Charter of the United Nations.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that the situation regarding refugees in the Sahel is tragic and getting worse. Only a united approach will succeed in improving the care of refugees. The implementation of the global compact on refugees is a priority. France actively implements its commitments, helping States build capacity in asylum and resettlement. Returns must be voluntary, safe and dignified. In Syria and Myanmar, such conditions do not exist, he said, citing human rights violations by the Syrian regime against refugees upon their return. It is therefore essential that UNHCR must ensure effective monitoring of Syrian refugees. Condemning politicization of migratory flows on the border between Poland and Belarus, he said it is unacceptable to endanger the lives of vulnerable individuals for political purposes. It is up to the Security Council to create the conditions for a lasting settlement of the crises and respond to the root causes of displacement.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity, stressed the need for a long-term and holistic solution to the crisis in the Sahel, where security is worsening, and elsewhere. The international community must redouble its efforts to build peace and make resources available for displaced communities and their hosts, he said, adding that countries with scant resources are bearing the brunt of caring for displaced persons and must be better supported. Niger is playing a proactive role in promoting conditions for the voluntary resettlement of refugees from Libya in safety and dignity, and is working with Nigeria to ensure such conditions are met. He called on partners to help ensure support so that children who are unable to go to school don’t become a “lost generation”. In west Niger, his country is partnering with countries and UNHCR to help with resettlement. He called for the inclusion of displaced and stateless persons in national responses to sexual and gender-based violence, and to ensure health care access. He underscored the need for mitigation strategies for climate change impacts, given that environmental degradation and natural hazards are among the largest engines of migration. Further, civilians must be protected in the context of counter-terrorism measures.
Mr. GRANDI, responding to questions, recalled that two thirds of the 84 million forcibly displaced are internally displaced persons, and welcomed the renewed focus on addressing internal displacement in the Secretary-General’s report on migration. UNHCR will contribute to the follow-up report, as it is aware of the many points of contact and differences in providing solutions to both groups. In response to queries on the link between climate emergency and displacement, he called for urgent attention to be given to the complex chains of causes leading to migration, which are becoming a pattern in many parts of the world. On questions about migration in the context of the pandemic, he noted that displaced populations tended to be undervaccinated and made a strong appeal for host countries such as Iran and Bangladesh to be considered with special regard by those helping with the roll-out of vaccination programmes. In addition, he stated that conversations are being had on the economic front with the World Bank and IMF to ensure populations on the move are included in social safety nets to offset the impact of lockdowns. On Afghanistan, he said the focus must be on preventing avoidable major refugee outflows due to the collapse of State structures, pointing out that as “politically delicate” as it is, ultimately, the Taliban is in control, and the international community must therefore find a modus operandi to coexist with them. Turning to Myanmar, he expressed concern about the continuing lack of prospects for Rohingyas in the west of the country, as well as 1 million living as refugees in Bangladesh, and appealed to the international community to not lose sight of them.
Responding to questions on the European Union’s refugee policies, in particular pertaining to the role of Libya, he underlined the need to continue to engage in dialogue on the future of asylum policies with the European Commission and European Union States. In this regard, he noted that a proposal on a pact is under discussion, although it is encountering difficult obstacles. He emphasized the need for more “strategic interaction” with countries of origin and transit in Africa and the Middle East. He expressed concern about Libya, where progress by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR in extracting those held in detention centres remains fragile, due to the absence of stability. On Syria, he pointed out that the return of refugees continues to be subject to controversy and disagreement and invited States to have a more concrete, substantive debate on the issue. Further, donor countries must step up support to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, and undertake a frank discussion about creating conditions for return. Turning to Nagorno-Karabakh, he said UNHCR is engaged in “not easy” dialogue with parties to the conflict to implement the provisions of the ceasefire agreement reached more than a year ago. Noting that the agency’s annual pledging conference earlier today got initial pledges of over $1 billion — the highest ever in its history — he called for donors to continue to contribute, and to make their donations as flexible, unmarked and multi-year as possible.