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