High Commissioner's Dialogue on refugees in urban settings

Briefing Notes, 8 December 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 December 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Representatives of national governments, municipalities, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, academics and refugees themselves are expected to participate in the third annual "High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges," which is focusing this year on the challenges faced by millions of refugees, internally displaced people and returnees who are living in cities and towns across the globe.

Global trends of rapid urbanization are reflecting too on the number of refugees living in towns and cities, with indications of an acceleration in both trends in the coming decades. According to UNHCR's latest statistics, as many as 50 per cent of the world's 10.5 million refugees under UNHCR's mandate are now living in cities and towns across the globe. At least twice that number of internally displaced people and returnees are believed to be living in urban settings.

However, the challenge looks very different from region to region and it calls for a local response built within communities with municipal authorities and mayors having a particularly important role to play. UNHCR's new "Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas" calls on states, municipal authorities and mayors, humanitarian agencies and civil society to recognize this new reality and to join forces to meet the challenge raised by a growing refugee population living in towns and cities worldwide.

The two-day Dialogue starts tomorrow, Wednesday 9 December, at 10 a.m. in Room XIX here in the Palais, with opening remarks by High Commissioner António Guterres, statement by Syrian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Faisal Miqdad, a report from Geneva's Mayor Remy Pagani on today's roundtable meeting of mayors and a report by an NGO representative. These four addresses will be open to the media.

Today's roundtable meeting will gather mayors from some 20 cities around the world. The purpose is to promote a free and frank discussion on specific challenges faced by cities and towns around the world and to highlight specific areas of concern and identify good practices. The outcome of the roundtable gathering will feed into the High Commissioner's Dialogue.

The roundtable of mayors opens at 3 p.m. in Room XXVII with the address of High Commissioner Guterres, remarks by the mayor of Geneva and the Mayor of The Hague Jozias van Aartsen. These addresses will be open to the media who can request interviews.

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Urban Refugees

More than half the refugees UNHCR serves now live in urban areas