UNHCR seeks cooperation of foundations to help refugees

News Stories, 7 June 2007

© UNHCR/C.Hamm
Happy Reunion in South Sudan. UNHCR is working with a number of charitable foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently gave the refugee agency US$10 million to help repatriate Sudanese refugees.

GENEVA, June 7 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has made a fresh call on the world's major foundations to use their expertise and extensive resources to help the world's millions of refugees and displaced people.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, addressing the opening of the annual conference of the European Foundation Centre in Madrid last Friday, said that the 21st century was "the century of people on the move." He added that poverty, environmental degradation, war and persecution continued to drive people from their homes and destroy their livelihoods.

"If there is any single area in which the international community has demonstrated its lack of capacity, it is in the area of people on the move," Guterres told some 600 executives of charitable foundations and representatives of civil society from around the world. "I see a tremendous need for the engagement of civil society in this area, in advocacy, research and direct interventions to meet the needs of so many."

The High Commissioner also urged foundations to use their resources to combat the rise of phenomena such as political populism, racism, religious fundamentalism and xenophobia. He called for the promotion of "wisdom and compassion ... in order to rid our world of fear, intolerance, hatred and indifference."

Guterres said it was clear that the international community did not know how to handle the transition from war to peace and from emergency relief to development. "The international financial and development institutions work too slowly for places like South Sudan. We need new forms of intervention, including the help of foundations, because the existing system is often simply too slow to benefit the people who need help," he said.

UNHCR is already working with a number of charitable foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has recently given the refugee agency US$10 million to help repatriate refugees to South Sudan.

The European Foundation Centre (EFC) is an independent non-profit association based in Brussels. It is an important gathering point for independent funders active around the world.

A survey carried out by the centre last year on its members' current and prospective international activities showed that foundations and corporate funders were demonstrating increased activity and increased interest in going global. The EFC believes foundations have much to contribute to the global causes.