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Remarks to the United Nations Security Council by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Statements by High Commissioner, 18 April 2013

18 April 2013

As delivered

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I want to thank you for this new opportunity to address the Security Council on the Syrian refugee crisis.

Re-reading what I said in my last intervention in late February, I am almost tempted to limit my present statement to just ten seconds. Everything I said last time is still true, but it all got much worse. And if nothing politically dramatic happens, things will go on getting worse for the months to come.

Mr. President,

In December, refugees were fleeing Syria at a rate of about 3,000 a day. In January, that number grew to 5,000. Since February, 8,000 people have been crossing Syria's borders every single day. That's 400,000 new refugees in the seven weeks since my last briefing to you.

As of yesterday, counting only those registered or waiting to be registered, there were 1,367,413 Syrian refugees across the Middle East and North Africa. Including the internally displaced, a quarter of the entire population of the country has been forced to leave their homes. The plight of the Palestinian refugees inside Syria also remains dramatic.

But these stark numbers say little about the horrendous suffering of a people, the progressive collapse of a state, and the physical destruction of a country.

Let us be very clear: there is no humanitarian solution for the Syrian crisis. That is why it is so dramatic that we are not even seeing an inch of progress towards a political solution.

And so we, as humanitarians, are forced to go on planning for the impossible. Together with our 60 partner organizations and the host states, UNHCR is now preparing the fifth version of our Regional Response Plan to assist the ever-growing number of refugees. The Emergency Relief Coordinator is leading similar efforts to update the humanitarian assistance plan inside Syria.

This process is still on-going, but the preliminary planning figures are terrifying. If nothing changes, at the present rhythm there may be up to 3.5 million Syrian refugees by the end of this year, and up to 6.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country.

This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable. There is no way to adequately respond to the enormous humanitarian needs these figures represent. And it is difficult to imagine how a nation can endure so much suffering.

I know that, as High Commissioner for Refugees, I should confine my remarks to the scope of my mandate. But as a citizen of the world, I cannot refrain from asking: Isn't there any way to stop this fighting to open the door for a political solution?

But while we continue to wait for a miracle to happen, it is our duty to do everything we can to protect, assist and respect the dignity of all those Syrians who have sought safety abroad mainly in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

For this to be possible, all humanitarian actors involved need levels of financial support that are out of proportion with the established humanitarian aid budgets of traditional donors. Together with my colleagues from UNICEF, WFP and OCHA, I have been asking governments and parliaments to establish extraordinary funding mechanisms for the Syria crisis.

I am also extremely grateful for the generous recent contribution from the government of Kuwait to multilateral aid agencies, and hope others will follow this example. We cannot let the Syrian people down, especially as Syrians were always extremely generous in hosting refugees from other countries and sharing their resources with them.

Mr. President,

Syria is much more than a humanitarian crisis. In my last intervention before this Council, I spoke about the real risk of the conflict spilling over across the region, and of the situation escalating into a political, security and humanitarian disaster that would completely overwhelm the international response capacity.

The first step necessary to avoid such an escalation is for the international community to provide massive support especially to the two countries that are most dramatically impacted by the Syrian conflict and the refugee outflow it has caused Jordan and Lebanon.

All of Syria's neighbors need international solidarity, and one should not forget that Turkey in particular has been making an enormous financial investment of more than 750 million dollars just in direct assistance to over 300,000 Syrian refugees. However, Jordan and Lebanon, each hosting about a third of the registered refugee population in the region, must be provided with especially solid support.

For Lebanon, the Syrian crisis has become an existential threat. The population has grown by more than 10 per cent if one counts the registered Syrian refugees alone. Most of them are staying in the country's poorest regions. But taking into account refugees who are not seeking registration, and Syrian migrant workers, some even estimate that up to a quarter of the population of Lebanon may now be Syrian.

Refugees are staying with local families and scattered across nearly 1,200 different towns and villages. Some Lebanese households host more than 25 Syrians under their roofs.

The political wisdom of Lebanon's leadership has so far kept the country out of the Syrian conflict. But security incidents along the border pose a serious challenge for Lebanon. In addition to facing dire economic consequences because of its neighbor's internal turmoil, Lebanon has not received any direct international support over the past many months. This has to change urgently. International solidarity must match the enormous effort the country has been making to step up the response to the Syrian crisis and to deal with its staggering implications for the Lebanese economy and delicate social and political balance.

Jordan is also coming under tremendous pressure as a result of the conflict next door. Completely dependent on energy imports, and with water scarcity becoming a major problem, the Jordanian economy was struggling already before unrest broke out in Syria. But the situation has become increasingly fragile since 2011. Like in Lebanon, the Syria crisis has caused a significant drop in revenues from trade, tourism and foreign investment, compounded by the impact of a very large refugee influx.

Jordan's economic indicators are worrying, with unsustainable public and external deficit levels, and the country has had to apply tough austerity measures. My appeal to the international community is to extend the massive financial support Jordan needs with the understanding that its economic adjustment requires sufficient flexibility to prevent levels of social unrest that could entirely jeopardize the stability of the country.

Mr. President,

I know from the experience of my own country what austerity means, and what impact it has on society. But in Jordan, the regional context is infinitely more fragile than in Southern Europe, and the social and political risks are incomparably higher.

Helping Syria's neighbors deal with the human fallout of this terrible conflict is crucial for preserving the stability of the entire region. This is not just another refugee crisis what happens in Syria and in the neighboring countries potentially has much wider, even global, implications. By keeping their borders open to thousands of refugees fleeing day after day, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and others are doing an extraordinary service to the international community. Failure to give these countries the support they need to continue providing sanctuary to so many suffering Syrians would not only mean to abandon a people, and a whole region. It would be the world's blindness to its own best interest.

Thank you very much.




The High Commissioner

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

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen medal to Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi in Geneva, Switzerland.

Asifi, 49, has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi - a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992 - has guided over a thousand refugee girls through primary education in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan.

Before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home. But she was determined to give these girls a chance and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. Speakers and performers at today's award ceremony include UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany, Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and singer Angelique Kidjo and visual artist Cedric Cassimo.

Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

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

Turkey: World Refugee Day visitsPlay video

Turkey: World Refugee Day visits

On World Refugee Day the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, along with Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, travelled to southeastern Turkey, the home of hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They were in the midyat refugee camp to see conditions for these people and to issue a warning to the world.
Kuwait donating money to UNHCRPlay video

Kuwait donating money to UNHCR

Kuwait has donated just over US$120 million to the UN refugee agency to assist its efforts in dealing with the humanitarian situation resulting from the crisis in Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warmly thanked and praised the government of Kuwait and its people for the extreme generosity when he received a cheque for the amount at a ceremony on Wednesday evening in Geneva.
Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee CampPlay video

Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he met with the Presidents of the two countries, as well as Somali refugees and returnees.