Rio+20 summit: UN refugee chief calls for joint approach to urban refugees, displaced

News Stories, 21 June 2012

© UNHCR/L.F.Godinho
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, addresses a gathering at the Rio+20 conference on the issue of urban refugees and displaced.

RIO de JANEIRO, June 21 (UNHCR) The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has urged international organizations to partner with local communities and national authorities to provide solutions for those moving into cities in search of a better life.

Speaking at a side event Wednesday at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, dubbed Rio+20, Guterres also called on the international community to agree to guiding principles to ensure the protection of those forced to cross borders due to natural disasters linked to climate change.

"Partnership is the name of the game in this context," said Guterres. "A proper system of protection for these populations must marshal the efforts of local authorities, local civil society, organizations representing refugees and displaced persons themselves, as well as central governments and international organizations. We all have to work together."

The event, jointly organized by UNHCR and the Organization for Migration (IOM), highlighted the vulnerabilities of migrants, displaced persons and refugees living in cities and brought together the heads of three major organizations working in the field.

Also taking part were the IOM Director General, William Swing, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström. Other panelists included the Executive Coordinator of the Rio+20 conference, Elizabeth Thompson, and the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes.

Guterres' call for partnership was echoed by other panelists. "Building fortresses won't help to stem the tide of migration," said the IOM Director General. "Societies need to embrace multiculturalism as migration will remain a key feature of the 21st century."

The High Commissioner reminded participants that urbanization is a "mega trend" and remarked that more than 50 percent of those of concern to UNHCR are already living in cities among the urban poor, often in areas lacking the basic essential services. The interaction of urbanization with other trends, such as population growth, water scarcity, food insecurity and climate change, is the "defining feature of our time" he said.

"The distinction between economic migrants and refugees is increasingly blurred," Guterres stressed. "More and more people are forced to move without neatly fitting the definition of the 1951 Convention," he said, referring to the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states.

The UNHCR chief also praised Brazil for granting permanent resident status to Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake on humanitarian grounds. "While not refugees under the 1951 Convention, Brazil found a pragmatic approach to recognize their need for protection," he said.

Guterres' agenda in Rio also included a meeting with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, of which UNHCR is a founding member. In the presence of Sweden's Minister for Development, Gunilla Carlsson, and the UN Foundation head, Timothy Wirth, Guterres praised the initiative's contribution to reducing the time women spend collecting firewood around refugee camps which lessens the risks of rape, to which many are exposed.

By Luiz Fernando Godinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •
New Report: Vulnerable to Climate ChangePlay video

New Report: Vulnerable to Climate Change

A new report co-published by UNHCR finds that climate change can make people more vulnerable and play a part in driving them into conflict areas and then exile.

Advocacy

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.

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

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."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.