Ministers in Geneva for landmark meeting on the displaced and stateless

News Stories, 6 December 2011

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
UNHCR staff help Somali refugees in Kenya. The ministerial meeting in Geneva will address the plight of the forcibly displaced, like these Somalis.

GENEVA, December 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency caps its 60th year this week with a ministerial meeting in Geneva, the highest-level conference in its history on the issues of refugees and stateless people.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will on Wednesday open the two-day meeting, which celebrates key UN conventions in refugees and statelessness. Guterres will deliver an address on proposed measures the international community must take to protect and assist millions of forcibly displaced and stateless people in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Senior government officials from almost 150 countries have confirmed their attendance, including about 70 ministers or vice-ministers, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The conference is the culmination of political and diplomatic efforts over many years by UNHCR to rally renewed support and commitments for the fundamental legal treaties that enable the agency to provide protection and assistance to people worldwide.

In a year of commemorations, UNHCR has celebrated important milestones for two of those treaties the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The UN refugee agency reached its own 60th birthday last December.

The gathering will enable states and other actors to make concrete pledges to address specific forced displacement and/or statelessness issues, as well as broader, forward-looking recommendations. This will allow states and others to identify challenges of particular relevance in their respective national and regional contexts, as well as realistic ways to resolve them.

Some 40 states have confirmed that they will make pledges of policy and other action, with many more expected to announce pledges. These will address a broad range of issues, including commitments to accede to one or more of the conventions, or to review their reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

A number of states will pledge to work towards reviewing, amending or adopting national asylum laws and policies, to bring them more in line with their international obligations and current realities. Others will take steps to improve the quality of refugee status determination, particularly through increasing capacity and expertise.

In addition, ministers will adopt a communiqué a short, non-binding, political statement capturing the main challenges relating to statelessness and refugee protection today, ad looking to the future.

During a special treaty event on Thursday, countries will deposit instruments of accession to one of the conventions. Those doing so will be joined by other states that have acceded during the current year, as well as countries expected to accede soon.

Aside from the opening address by Guterres, there will be a video message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Among other speakers are Secretary of State Clinton, former Finnish president and Nobel peace laureate, Martti Ahtisaari, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey and former UNHCR chief Sadako Ogata.

Preparations for this meeting have taken place in Geneva and field locations and have included consultations with states, non-governmental organizations, experts, refugees and stateless people. Special efforts have been made to ensure that the views and hopes of refugee women and children are taken into account.

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The High Commissioner

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

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.
Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."