UNHCR Intergovernmental meeting at Ministerial level; Closing remarks by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Statements by High Commissioner, 8 December 2011

8 December 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking the three co-chairs of this meeting, Sweden, Egypt and Australia. Their leadership of the work in plenary was exemplary, as was the way they conducted the intergovernmental process that led to today's approval of the Ministerial Communiqué. This is especially important as this event was open to all UN member states and not only members of UNHCR's Executive Committee. With participants from 155 countries, including 72 delegations at the ministerial level, this was the largest meeting ever dedicated to the protection of refugees and stateless persons.

The distinguished Ambassadors in Geneva of Sweden, Egypt and Australia have been uniquely competent and effective in preparing for this conference, and we owe them our deep gratitude. I also want to extend this gratitude to Ministers Tobias Billström of Sweden and Chris Bowen of Australia who have co-chaired our sessions together with Ambassador Badr of Egypt. Finally, let me express my appreciation to the staff of the Palais des Nations, especially the interpreters, and to all the UNHCR staff who were involved in this process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This meeting has been a remarkable one. At a time when we are witnessing an enormous increase in the number of people displaced by conflict, natural disasters and other environmental hazards; at a time when the world is in an extremely difficult financial and economic situation; at a time when in several parts of the world we have seen expressions of anxiety, insecurity and even xenophobia at such a time it is remarkable that we were able to come together to give the world a positive message, reaffirming and strengthening our commitment to the protection of refugees and stateless people in today's world.

First of all, the pledges presented by the delegations in this plenary were extraordinary. They covered a range of aspects related to the improvement of protection, assistance and solutions for refugees. For example, 19 States, particularly in Africa, committed themselves to facilitate local integration for refugees. Another

18 States pledged to improve access to resettlement, including through making additional places available. Commitments were also made on international solidarity and burden-sharing, recognizing the enormous effort host countries make in providing protection to large numbers of refugees. At the same time States signalled their readiness to engage in a timely debate about the new challenges of forced displacement. Four countries pledged to move this debate forward with us and to explore initiatives at regional and sub-regional levels to assess the protection gaps created by new forms of forced displacement, especially environmentally-related cross-border displacement.

Let me repeat that UNHCR is not seeking an extended mandate in this area, but it is encouraging that States now recognize the need for the international community to come together and find solutions to fill these protection gaps.

But where I believe there was a real breakthrough, a quantum leap, was in relation to the protection of stateless people. Statelessness is one of the most neglected areas of the global human rights agenda. To be honest, it has also been a kind of step-child of UNHCR's mandate. The number of countries that had ratified the statelessness conventions prior to 2011 was minimal compared to the number of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and its protocol. Thanks to the commemorations process, and with Benin signing today, seven countries have already ratified one or both of the conventions on statelessness. In addition, we have heard some 26 States make commitments in relation to the ratification of these conventions during the plenary session. This is a gigantic step forward.

And not only that 32 States made other pledges in order to improve the protection of stateless people. I think that now we have a duty to take advantage of this momentum and to make preventing and reducing statelessness a major global priority in the coming period.

UNHCR will be reporting to the June 2012 Standing Committee on progress made in relation the pledges made during this conference. Pledges can still be sent to UNHCR until the end of January, allowing for full publication of all the commitments made by member states in this process.

At the same time, we will actively engage with all member states in order to support them in granting to refugees and stateless people better protection and finding solutions to their plight.

For those of us who work in UNHCR, who have devoted our lives to what I consider to be one of the most noble causes of mankind, for us to be part of this process and feel the commitment of member states and other international organisations is the best energy possible to mobilize our own capacities and our own engagement. Thank you very much to all the delegations for the extraordinary example of solidarity that was shown in this meeting which had one single objective to support the people we all care for.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

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.

Stateless People

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

UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCRPlay video

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCR

An address from UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk to mark International Human Rights Day and the launch of a new report on Statelessness in the United States.
UNHCR : Breakthrough on StatelessnessPlay video

UNHCR : Breakthrough on Statelessness

UNHCR's ministerial conference in Geneva takes a great step forward in resolving the issue of statelessness. On the sidelines of the meeting, Serbia and Turkmenistan acceded to the statelessness conventions.