UN chief says global refugee picture changing fast, new approaches needed

News Stories, 8 December 2010

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
The opening of the High Commissioner's Dialogue in Geneva today.

GENEVA, December 8 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned on Wednesday of growing gaps in the global framework for protecting the world's millions of forcibly displaced and stateless people, and appealed to the international community to urgently adapt and respond.

In a speech to governmental and other delegates in Geneva for the annual High Commissioner's Dialogue, a landmark policy gathering held behind closed doors, Guterres said the certainties of the post-World War II and Cold War periods were no longer sufficient to ensure that everyone needing international protection gets it.

"Today's challenges are interconnected and complex," Guterres said. "Population growth, urbanization, climate change, water scarcity and food and energy insecurity are exacerbating conflict and combining in other ways that oblige people to flee their countries."

The High Commissioner, speaking just days before UNHCR's 60th birthday next Tuesday, identified three areas as demanding particular attention in the coming year and beyond: "protection gaps" in the international system for protecting displaced people; the disproportionate burden of responsibility for helping refugees that falls on poor countries; and failures by many states to tackle statelessness a scourge depriving millions of people around the world of nationalities and other human rights.

With protection gaps, Guterres said these stemmed from inadequate implementation of existing treaties, insufficient accessions to relevant instruments, and holes in the international protection framework.

He also pointed to the need for action on an expanding list of displacement problems for which no agreed international solutions currently exist, including natural disasters, climate change, economic and other man-made calamities, gang violence and vulnerability arising from the uncertainty of post-conflict situations.

With burden sharing, the High Commissioner repeated his appeal of October this year for a "new deal" geared towards ensuring that front-line countries of asylum are not left alone in dealing with displacement from neighbouring states. Currently, developing nations host around 80 per cent of the world's refugees.

Guterres said models for improved burden sharing already existed, and he pointed to regional efforts in Latin America and Asia, including South America's "solidarity cities" initiative that promotes self-sufficiency among refugees, its "borders of solidarity' initiative which is designed to ensure that mass influx situations are not damaging to the interests of the host population, and, in Asia, the Bali process which promotes a broad-based approach to complex population and refugee movements.

On statelessness, Guterres said the top priority was to ensure that more countries accede to, and implement, the two key statelessness conventions. Currently, and despite the half century or more that has passed since they were created, the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons has only 65 signatories, while just 37 countries are party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

"The lack of nationality represents the denial of a fundamental human right in itself," Guterres said. "But people unable to exercise this right inevitably find as a consequence a range of other rights impaired. They may not be able to work legally or travel. They may not be able to access health care or obtain education for themselves or their children."

The High Commissioner said UNHCR was looking to states to work together with it during 2011 with a view to achieving demonstrable progress in all these areas in time for a proposed ministerial-level meeting on international protection in December 2011. This included, he said, pledging to accede to the conventions or withdrawing reservations, introducing legislation to improve implementation of the conventions at national level, helping resolve particular protracted displacement or statelessness situations, and collaborating with other states to address regional challenges.

By Adrian Edwards in Geneva




Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

60 Years in Photos

For more than six decades UNHCR has been helping the world's uprooted peoples.

The agency's first task was to help an estimated 1 million, mainly European civilians, who remained displaced in the aftermath of World War Two.

But during the 1950s the refugee crisis spread to Africa, later to Asia and then back to Europe, becoming a global problem.

At the end of 2009, on the eve of its 60th birthday, more than 26 million forcibly displaced people were receiving protection or assistance frpm UNHCR. During its lifetime, the agency has assisted more than 50 million refugees to successfully restart their lives. More than half of the refugees the agency helps now live in urban areas.

In the past two decades, UNHCR has been helping increasing numbers of internally displaced people as part of an inter-agency approach. UNHCR has also been helping hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the crisis in Iraq, both inside and outside the country. UNHCR also has a mandate to help the world's stateless people, who number an estimated 12 million.

This is a pictorial history of those turbulent years, UNHCR's role and the struggle for survival of one of the world's most vulnerable groups of people.

60 Years in Photos

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.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.
Turkey: World Refugee Day visitsPlay video

Turkey: World Refugee Day visits

On World Refugee Day the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, along with Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, travelled to southeastern Turkey, the home of hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They were in the midyat refugee camp to see conditions for these people and to issue a warning to the world.
Kuwait donating money to UNHCRPlay video

Kuwait donating money to UNHCR

Kuwait has donated just over US$120 million to the UN refugee agency to assist its efforts in dealing with the humanitarian situation resulting from the crisis in Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warmly thanked and praised the government of Kuwait and its people for the extreme generosity when he received a cheque for the amount at a ceremony on Wednesday evening in Geneva.