Guterres says UNHCR and NGO partners must face challenges together

News Stories, 1 July 2009

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
High Commissioner António Guterres makes a closing address at the UNHCR-NGO consultations in Geneva.

GENEVA, July 1 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Wednesday outlined major challenges facing his agency, including the shrinking humanitarian space, and said it was crucial to work closely with non-governmental organizations (NGO) to tackle these obstacles.

"It is indeed essential for UNHCR to keep a very close strategic relationship ... with civil society in general, and the NGO community in particular, because when one looks at the present trends in humanitarian action it is more and more clear that the challenges we face can only be overcome if we work together," Guterres told the annual UNHCR-NGO consultations in Geneva.

In his closing address to the three-day meeting in Geneva's Palais des Nations, the High Commissioner said that the shrinking human space in which forcibly displaced people can find shelter and aid workers operate, was the "biggest concern, I feel, at the present moment."

Noting that he had discussed the issue in several fora, Guterres said: "I do believe that we are facing a very dramatic change that is affecting our capacity to deliver and unfortunately I do not see any signs that things are going to get better before they get worse."

He identified three main factors behind the shrinking humanitarian space: the changing nature of conflict, particularly the multiplicity of parties involved; a hardening of attitudes on state sovereignty; and the increasingly difficult situation where humanitarian aid workers are present in conflict areas.

"It is more and more difficult to be able to guarantee to our staff the minimum of security conditions," he said, adding that this was true for NGO partners and other UN organizations. He cited the killing of two UNHCR staff and the abduction of one more in Pakistan this year as well as the slaying in northern Afghanistan of three staff from an NGO partner of the refugee agency.

It is indeed essential for UNHCR to keep a very close strategic relationship ... with civil society in general, and the NGO community in particular.

António Guterres

Guterres also discussed the shrinking of asylum space, highlighting the development of xenophobic attitudes and its implication in the way migration and asylum are being perceived, particularly recently in Europe. "There are clear tendencies to see foreigners in general as the problem, or the enemy, and that has a serious implication for both your and our actions."

Other global challenges and "mega" trends identified by Guterres included demographic pressure; urbanization; climate change and related environmental degradation and the devastating impact of the global economic crisis on the developing world.

"With the impact of the global economic impact on our resources, and with the shrinking humanitarian space and the shrinking asylum space, I think we are in trouble," he said, adding: "To be honest, I look to 2010 as a very difficult year for our common work."

The High Commissioner outlined reforms undertaken by UNHCR to cut structural costs and channel more funds to field operations, including through NGO partners. These had helped put UNHCR in better shape to face the challenges and to enhance its partnerships in 2008, work implemented by partners for UNHCR accounted for 35 percent of the agency's budget, up from 31 percent in 2005, according to Guterres.

Some 380 people from about 140 organizations, including 70 national NGOs, attended the meeting, which began on Monday and discussed a wide range of issues of mutual concern during regional and thematic sessions.

There was particular focus this year on urban refugees, protracted refugee situations and the agency's new global assessment programme aimed at determining the real needs of refugees and internally displaced people, the costs of meeting those needs and the consequences of any gaps.

"It's a time for UNHCR and NGOs to meet at the strategic level and for the senior staff of UNHCR to be available for questions and discussion with our partners from all over, not just the partners from Geneva or the headquarters, but also from the deep field. That's what makes it unique," Bernard Doyle, head of UNHCR's inter-agency unit, said earlier this week.

NGOs are vital partners for UNHCR, implementing programmes for refugees and internally displaced people in some of the world's most remote and difficult places.




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The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th High Commissioner.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen medal to Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi in Geneva, Switzerland.

Asifi, 49, has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi - a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992 - has guided over a thousand refugee girls through primary education in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan.

Before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home. But she was determined to give these girls a chance and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. Speakers and performers at today's award ceremony include UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany, Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and singer Angelique Kidjo and visual artist Cedric Cassimo.

Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

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On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

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