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Ministerial Conference on Refugee Protection and International Migration: The Almaty Process; Opening Remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Statements by High Commissioner, 5 June 2013

Almaty, 5 June 2013

As Delivered

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

It is with great pleasure that I join you today as a co-organiser of this second Ministerial Conference on Refugee Protection and International Migration in Central Asia, together with IOM and the Government of Kazakhstan, which is generously hosting us here today. I am encouraged to see the strong representation from the countries participating in the Almaty Process, as this speaks to the importance that asylum and migration issues have in this region.

In the two years since the first Conference and the adoption of the Almaty Declaration, the consultations amongst the Central Asian States have made very good progress, which clearly illustrates their commitment and dedication, and their keen understanding of the present and future challenges that the Almaty Process will seek to address.

Allow me to begin with a few general reflections on the nature of forced displacement, and the wider phenomenon of people on the move, which so profoundly shapes our world today and, I believe, will continue to be one of its defining characteristics for decades to come.

Forced displacement today affects more people, and for longer periods of time, than only a decade ago. It is also growing in complexity. Conflict and political upheaval, the traditional drivers of displacement, are no longer the only reasons forcing people to abandon their homes. In an increasingly imbalanced world, displacement is often compounded and reinforced by factors such as the effects of climate change, population growth, food insecurity, socio-economic disparities, and water scarcity.

A growing number of people are uprooted by natural disasters or lose their livelihoods to drought, with climate change becoming the key factor accelerating all other drivers of forced displacement. Its slow-onset effects, like desertification, environmental degradation and shrinking agricultural productivity risk displacing hundreds of thousands of people in the future.

While the nature of forced displacement is rapidly evolving, the responses available to the international community have not kept pace. Mixed migration flows are the most likely scenario for forced population movements of the future. This requires States to develop more effective response mechanisms so as to avoid serious protection gaps for persons in need. The Almaty Process is an excellent example of regional cooperation to establish such new responses through close cooperation among governments, with the support of other stakeholders.

Central Asia has always been a cultural and economic crossroads, and the population movements the region has witnessed will only grow in scale and complexity as a result of all of the interlinked factors I have mentioned. In addition, the Central and South West Asia regions will be key to international peace and stability, for example in the context of political and security transitions in Afghanistan scheduled for 2014.

Excellencies,

Having been in government myself for many years, I know that no State can disregard the importance of ensuring the security of its citizens, their social and economic well-being and the cohesion of society. States also have the right to define their own immigration and national security policies; provided they do so in respect for human dignity and basic rights, and in ways that ensure international protection is granted to those who need it.

The Almaty Process allows countries to develop response mechanisms that address the legitimate concerns of States, such as border management and security, while respecting international norms and standards. This is needed to ensure that those who wish to seek asylum can do so, irrespective of the circumstances in which they have arrived at the border.

This means guaranteeing access to territory, fair treatment of asylum claims and identifying those who may be in need of protection for other reasons. Implementing these principles in mixed migratory movements is challenging, and requires close cooperation and dialogue among the States concerned.

The consultations that have taken place so far have been an important step in helping to address the challenges of mixed migration. But looking to the future, meaningful solutions can only come through a regional cooperation framework that guarantees effective collaborative actions by States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNHCR's attention in Central Asia is focused on preserving and strengthening the asylum space available to refugees, efforts to reduce and prevent statelessness, ensuring appropriate emergency preparedness and response, and on helping States manage the mixed migratory flows they are experiencing. But, of course, we cannot lose sight of durable solutions. This means working towards voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration, providing support to host countries and communities, and provision of legal migration opportunities.

There has been significant progress in all of these areas. Our close cooperation with the countries concerned has helped bring about important achievements and tangible improvements in the lives of our people of concern.

Turkmenistan has been making exceptional efforts in recent years to reduce statelessness. This has involved acceding to the two Statelessness Conventions, and an initiative to register and document thousands of undocumented persons across the country. This, we hope, will facilitate a solution for the plight of persons with undetermined nationality. In Kazakhstan, the government's Special Report on the situation of asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons, endorsed personally by the President, aims at significantly improving legislation as well as developing standard operating procedures for persons of concern to UNHCR. It is our earnest hope that the Government of Kazakhstan will soon develop an inter-Ministerial Action Plan. UNHCR stands ready to assist in this process.

The Kyrgyz Republic, in response to the inter-ethnic tension it experienced in 2010, has made good progress in developing a national peace and reconciliation initiative, and was recently selected as a pilot country to develop a durable solutions strategy for the sustainable return of refugees and IDPs. Similarly, Uzbekistan's efficient response to the 2010 refugee crisis, as well as Tajikistan's intensive efforts in capacity building for emergency response and preparedness, confirm the importance regional governments attach to issues of forced displacement.

The excellent collaboration UNHCR has been enjoying with governments participating in the Almaty Process is yet another example of the fruitful partnership we have with the Central Asia region. As our collective challenges in responding to the needs of people on the move become increasingly complex and resource-intensive, it is crucial that we further strengthen our cooperation in this area. Continued robust support by the international community remains imperative.

Allow me also to say how encouraged I am to see this region taking on a more central role in promoting peace and stability, be it through hosting the 10th OSCE Summit in Astana in 2010, the successful meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the Islamic World in Dushanbe and in Astana, or the various other regional initiatives, such as the Istanbul Process, aimed at promoting peace, reconciliation and development. In an initiative more specifically related to UNHCR's work, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Government of Turkmenistan and UNHCR successfully co-organized an International Ministerial Conference on Refugees in the Muslim World in Ashgabat in May of last year. Distinguished Delegates,

The Almaty Process addresses several of the humanitarian aspects of the challenges facing this region. To ensure that the protection needs of refugees, displaced persons and stateless individuals are met, a successful response to these challenges can only come from a regional and collaborative response. I commend the governments participating in this process for their recognition of the importance of such a regional dialogue.

For the same reason, I am enormously pleased to see the full and equal engagement in the Process of other countries that share common migration concerns with the five Central Asian republics. UNHCR and IOM remain deeply committed to supporting the Almaty Process through the development and implementation of a broader Regional Cooperation Framework and Regional Action Plan.

I would like to close my remarks by again thanking the Government of Kazakhstan, IOM and all other stakeholders for making the Almaty Process a reality. I am confident that, through this process, we will be able to bring concrete solutions to the important challenges which the growing complexity of forced displacement and mixed migration pose to not only this region, but also to the world.

Thank you very much.

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The High Commissioner

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

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