Closing remarks to High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges - Towards a Global Compact on Refugees

I would like to start with a heartfelt thanks to all of you for participating in this important meeting. One of you said, a little earlier, that you wanted to commend UNHCR’s convening power—I would say “soft convening power”—in being able to gather together such a diverse group of stakeholders. But I think that convening this group was not particularly difficult, as we have felt from all of you a very strong interest and very active participation. And I think, frankly, that this meeting—which was designed to take stock and to look ahead—has served its purpose, certainly from the perspective of me and my colleagues. We have heard a lot, learned a lot, and the debate was enriched by your contributions. So, thank you.

I want to remind you of something that is happening this week. This week marks the fourth anniversary of the start of the South Sudan crisis. This anniversary—this sad anniversary—indicates to us the urgent and imperative nature of the task ahead of all of us. It highlights not only the tragedies around us, but also the complexity of contemporary forced displacement crises and the urgency of making a fundamental step change in the way in which we respond to these crises.

Think of the scale of the South Sudan crisis. There are almost 2.2 million refugees and two million internally displaced persons, representing one-third of the country’s population. We project that, if peace is not achieved, there will be more than three million refugees by the end of next year, and probably even more IDPs.

Think of the recurrent nature of this crisis. This crisis has been going for four years. Two years before that, we celebrated the end of a long conflict and a long displacement crisis. Think of the enormous waste of resources, hope and expectation. Think of the children – we have spoken a lot about the importance of focusing on children over the past few days. Almost two-thirds of South Sudanese refugees are under the age of eighteen. Think of the devastating sexual and gender-based violence that characterizes this crisis. Think of the failure of political efforts to resolve it.

Think also, however, of the incredible generosity of the countries and communities hosting so many of these refugees, namely Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of these countries have problems of their own, but all continue to show enormous generosity in hosting South Sudanese refugees. Up to now, three of these countries have commenced applying the comprehensive refugee response framework: Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. I hope more will join them.

Think, though, of the inadequate support that these countries receive. This year, the inter-agency appeal for South Sudanese refugees is one-third funded. We are seeing, though, that the CRRF approach brings resources from different directions and sources for refugees and hosts.

Think, also, of the inadequate resettlement opportunities. More than ninety thousand South Sudanese refugees are in need of resettlement next year. From what we know now, it is likely that fewer than two per cent of them will be resettled.

Our reflections on this crisis should motivate us to move with more energy towards the global compact on refugees. We must work together to translate into reality the important commitments that would—if put into action—alleviate some of the most tragic aspects of this crisis.

I would like to thank you all for your input over the last two days. It is important to learn from those who have experienced crisis and large-scale influxes of refugees, to hear about the challenges and the possible solutions. It is comforting to see the active engagement of a vast range of entities at this Dialogue: States (donors, hosts and others), representatives from civil society (both national and international NGOs), the private sector and academia. We need to devise mechanisms that allow us to continue to hear from you and that allow you to participate in this new way of responding.

I want to share with you a few thoughts from listening to some of the debates over the last two days.

We have to think of the compact as a broad exercise that enables us to provide many responses. But it is not a free-for-all, and it is not going to mean everything to everybody. The discussion will move in many different directions. We must remember that the global compact on refugees comes from the New York Declaration and has specific areas of focus. We need to focus on these four areas, which have been mentioned many times and which are the essence and the core of what was approved by the General Assembly last year.

It was very good to have the session that allowed those countries who are applying the CRRF model to speak about what they are doing. The strength in the model lies in its ability to have a practical application. This is the main track of the process leading to the global compact on refugees. It allows us to explore the model’s strengths and weaknesses, to identify gaps and overcome them in a timely fashion. I want to reiterate that we have already seen some results from this, but that they are quite limited.

We know—and have been reminded by the World Bank today in the financing discussion—that development work is not humanitarian work. We want them to work together, but they are not the same. They have different dynamics. We need to understand each other better and work together, but we are different. Development actors think in the longer term, and it takes a longer time for the impacts of their work to be felt. We need to have some patience.

Many of you confirmed that it is essential for us to work on all four objectives of the CRRF. I want to stress resilience in particular. I want to reassure those States with legitimate concerns in this respect that, when we speak about resilience, inclusion, access to services and jobs, this is not in the spirit of adding burdens, but rather in the spirit of sharing responsibility. This is not about imposing integration, though some want to provide this. We have heard from Tanzania about their integration experience, we heard from Zambia, and we have just heard the news in the last few days that Guinea-Bissau, a small State, has naturalized several thousand refugees. We welcome this, but we know that this is not an exclusive focus at all, especially for States that have very large refugee populations.

When we talk about resilience, I want to stress that this has to be matched by support, and that resilience is also for host communities. We place emphasis on resilience, but it also has to be accompanied by a strong and more determined drive for solutions. We heard, for example, some very practical suggestions about resettlement over the last two days. We also heard about countries of origin, and the responsibility to address the root causes of displacement, including internal displacement, and statelessness.

There were also important contributions on the notion of responsibility sharing. This is one of the most difficult topics that we have to address. Volker always reminds us that this concept is a complex one that has always been difficult to translate into practice, but we have an opportunity here to reflect further and to try to come up with some more practical translations of this important concept. We agree on the concept, but its practical application is much more difficult.

We also need to remember that burden and responsibility sharing is not just about hosts and donors. We need to get away from this dichotomy, which is a reality, but also confining. We also need to move beyond some traditional responses that are not sufficient, such as money or resettlement places.

We in this room have a responsibility to share responsibilities. Each one of us has the ability to contribute according to our capacities and our abilities. This comprehensiveness is one of the most important aspects of this exercise.

The key to responsibility sharing is the recognition of the contribution of hosts. The hosts are the biggest donors. They pay the highest price. We must also recognize the key role played in host countries by local authorities and municipalities, which was raised many times. In relation to responsibility sharing, we also need to find a mechanism to include new and emerging partnerships in the response.

All of us, as we move into this new territory—this “new way of working”—as we make a step change in our response, we need to look at how we work. This starts with UNHCR. I want to reassure those who are concerned that UNHCR will remain loyal and very much attached to its key role of refugee protection within the United Nations. We will also continue to provide humanitarian assistance. But I can assure you—and this is the subject of big internal debate—that we must learn better how to be a catalyst for other types of contributions; not necessarily contributions to UNHCR, but to refugees and host communities. This is exemplified by our partnership with the World Bank and other development partners. But it must go beyond this to encapsulate the private sector and NGOs.

I would like to briefly flag some important issues emerging from the Dialogue that need to become part of the programme of action in ways that are to be discussed.

One is the whole set of issues around gender, age and diversity, including disability. If you analyse the feedback from the pigeonhole, the highest numbers of votes went to these issues. This means that these are important issues that we must capture in crafting broader responses and also in designing a monitoring mechanism for the roll-out of the global compact. There has to be specific attention to issues of age, gender and diversity in the monitoring framework.

There was a lot of discussion on refugee participation. As I said yesterday, this is a difficult issue. It is not easy to address. I think we all recognize that we must ensure better, more significant, more predictable, more impactful refugee participation at the policy level, at the programming level, and at the monitoring and evaluation level. We must accelerate this aspect of the whole response. I would suggest that one area to focus on urgently is the local and national level. As more countries are involved in applying the CRRF, we need to make sure that refugees are included in the design of programmes, in their implementation and in their evaluation. There is also the global level; we will consult with refugee representatives to build on our discussions over the last two days.

We have also had a number of important discussions about new ideas, including the proposed global preparedness and response platform and solidarity conferences. We have developed more clarity on the nature of these concepts. These are important and interesting ideas. It is not my decision, in the end—rather, it is the decision of Member States—but I think we need to find a way to design these instruments to ensure that they represent a difference from what we have now. We already have solidarity conferences and meetings with States. We need to work out how to make these better. What we want is a real change in the response, and I look forward to further discussions on this.

These new ideas also include the idea of constituting an asylum capacity support group. This is an interesting idea and could draw upon what we already do with refugee status determination.

On education, we have had a number of new platforms and funding mechanisms come online in recent years. This is a key issue to be focused on in the programme of action.

Likewise, economic inclusion and livelihoods are very important issues. I heard some interesting new ideas over the past two days, especially in terms of incentivising private sector investment in areas that have been affected by large influxes. We must have further discussions about how we can make this happen, as well as the ways in which new financial instruments and—to echo what Alex Aleinikoff has just said—technology can assist in these and other areas.

Before I conclude, I would like to say a few words about the process going forward.

We will be able to have a zero draft of the programme of action by the end of January or early February. I don’t want to give a specific date, but it will be around that time.

This zero draft will not be about new obligations or norms. We already have the CRRF. The programme of action will be a description of the concrete ways in which we can make operational what we have already agreed upon.

We will have the CRRF as the ‘what’, the programme of action as the ‘how’ and we will need to work on identifying the ‘who’, the actors that will be part of the response.

After we have released the zero draft, this document will be discussed in formal consultations in the first half of 2018. We propose to have formal consultations that will be co-chaired by UNHCR—and I have asked the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection to take on this role—together with a rotating Member State co-chair. We are exploring options on how to design this co-chairing mechanism.

We have already discussed that this will be an iterative process, with consultations followed by a revised text, followed by further consultations, and so on and so forth until we hopefully have an agreed text in time for it to be included in my report to the General Assembly.

We want to arrive at a global compact that reflects the contributions of everybody, all constituencies. We need to remember, of course, that the adoption of the global compact will be a Member State process and that adoption will need to happen in the manner that the New York Declaration has identified.

We will engage in the formal consultations with all Member States. As concerns the NGOs, international organizations and other partners, they will be invited to continue to make contributions as observers. We would also like to encourage Member States to include refugees in their delegations so as to reflect some of the concerns raised in this forum.

Our aim will be to reach a consensus document that can be provided to the General Assembly in my report in August 2018 and then considered by the General Assembly together with the annual ‘omnibus’ resolution on the work of UNHCR. So we should have a global compact on refugees by November, which is when the omnibus resolution is normally approved.

We have heard loud and clear that this work needs to be conducted in parallel and with close exchange with the process for the migration compact. Let me reiterate what I said at the most recent meeting of the Executive Committee: this is an opportunity for UNHCR and IOM to clarify our respective roles and areas of responsibility. This question has generated some confusion. It is legitimate to ask for clarification and this is an excellent opportunity to provide it.

I have heard your interventions and read your blogs, comments, tweets, facebook posts and contributions to the pigeonhole. Some portray a glass half full, whilst some see the glass as half empty. I can understand the latter position. There have been a number of great setbacks in refugee protection these last few years, and many of you will remember Volker’s very sobering statement about many of these at the most recent meeting of the Executive Committee. The advantages of the CRRF will take time to have a visible impact, and we will continue to operate in a difficult environment.

Allow me, though, to think of the glass as half-full. Indeed, we all have the responsibility to fill it all the way. We have no choice, really. Building on the energy and engagement that have been felt at this Dialogue, each of us has a role to play in making real this this humanitarian, non-political, multilateral endeavour.

I want to thank all of you for your participation. I particularly want to thank Volker and his team, Daniel Endres and the CRRF Task Team, and the whole of the Secretariat who have organized a meeting that was not easy to put together.

I am about to be on my way to Djibouti, where I will be tomorrow morning. Djibouti is making large strides forward, even though it is a small country with limited resources. I will be participating there in an IGAD education conference. I am happy that I will be going from this Dialogue, where we have been discussing policy ideas, to where some of these ideas are being put into action. From there, I will travel to Somalia and Kenya, where these initiatives are taking shape and informing responses. I will continue to report back, and look forward to future exchanges on these issues.

And I look forward to talking, in a few months, about how we can sustain the global compact on refugees that we will have agreed.

Thank you.