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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Ministerial Meeting

UNHCR organized a highly successful ministerial meeting in Geneva on December 7-8, 2011 to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The High Commissioner

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

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

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

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