Closing remarks to the sixth formal consultation on the global compact on refugees
We have done the counting now, and found that 82 statements were made by you over the past two days. From the bottom of our heart, we wish to express our deepest gratitude for your contributions and engagement, not only over this round, but also since the adoption of the New York Declaration. And thank you also to the four co-chairs for your able stewardship and wise counsel. As you heard yesterday, the High Commissioner was very keen to join us today, but he is currently on his way back from Bangladesh where he has been on mission with the Secretary-General and the President of The World Bank – a mission, I might add, undertaken very much in the spirit of what we are trying to achieve here with the global compact on refugees.
I am not sure whether you have heard about the concept of the ‘history of the present’. It is what I feel is happening on this momentous occasion. It can sound paradoxical, but it does not mean projecting today’s values on the past. Rather, it reflects the need to use the past as a means of critical engagement with the present. Today we are doing exactly that – not only making history, but also drawing upon it to help define the present and contribute to the future.
We have been on an 18-month journey together. But the journey actually started a long time ago when the General Assembly, in one of its earliest resolutions in 1946, declared that the refugee issue is one of international concern. We have come a long way since then, and notably over the last couple of months, with your active engagement. I hope that you all feel what a historic process we have been involved in, with all its shortcomings, yes, but also all its aspirations and true potential. When we step back in a quiet moment and look back over the past couple of years, when we are above the fray and all the details and hard work, I think we can all say how proud we are of what we have achieved, against all odds in a difficult environment, and what we have set in motion for a better world.
This work will pay off – of that I am absolutely convinced – and will touch the lives of individuals, both refugees and people hosting them. This is not about words on paper. We, in UNHCR, feel the pain – every day – of people in countries that are the most affected by refugee crises, and we cannot emphasize enough how deeply we care about the absolute need for international solidarity and an effective means of sharing burdens and responsibilities.
That has been the raison d’etre, not least of this institution since its inception in 1950. We hear at a very deep level what Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Jordan, Bangladesh, and so many others are telling us. We hear your plea for robust and serious implementation of the nascent framework that we see emerging, starting with the New York Declaration, and now with the global compact on refugees and all that this is setting in train.
In today’s world, we know that multilateralism is not just our survival, but also is an incremental and organic process. It moves from common understandings and common denominators progressively onward – to the aspirations, expectations, and hopes that collective work, undertaken in good faith, can deliver. It demands hearing everyone and understanding each other. It requires also recognizing that there is some ‘give and take’, and that every single request cannot always be reconciled.
Knowing this, we must not miss the forest for the trees. This is not an ExCom conclusion drafting process nor is it a General Assembly resolution negotiation. It has been right from the start an iterative process in response to what the UN General Assembly, through the New York Declaration, has asked us to do. Many intergovernmental processes, including the New York Declaration, the Sustainable Development Goals, and others, were developed in a similar fashion. The best proof of the effectiveness of this approach is when you look back at the zero draft of the global compact on refugees and see now what you have in front of you today. You will all have seen your imprint in the text.
It is clear that we have overwhelming support for the current text. This was never meant to be, and can never be, an infinite process, and it needs to come to a conclusion. But it is a delicate balance that can easily be thrown to the winds if we are not careful about cherishing what we have already achieved to this date and use the opportunities it presents to build on it further through implementation, as many of you have said.
You all have recognized the difficult balance that needed to be struck between the voluntary nature of the compact and the request by a number of major host countries, in particular, for more predictable and equitable burden and responsibility sharing. There is inherent tension between a voluntary and legally non-binding document and an aspiration for it to create, in effect, obligations for everyone. Nothing in the compact creates new legal obligations, nor does it modify UNHCR’s mandate. Instead, we have a non-binding text that builds on past practices and charts the way forward. While the text might not meet all the ambitions of everyone, the final draft provides a chance for a more sustainable response to forced displacement and represents a reconciling of different views.
The main host countries’ call for stronger arrangements for burden and responsibility sharing therefore needs to be heeded in the operationalization of the global compact on refugees. Many of you noted that the compact is not the end, but the beginning, of a process that will allow a continuation of the dialogue, including further development of the burden and responsibility sharing arrangements through their practical application. It is a working tool that will take into account the legitimate concerns of host countries and communities.
In this respect, I would also note that there is space in the global compact to work towards stronger mechanisms for fair sharing of burdens and responsibilities. In paragraph 103, one of the tasks given to Global Refugee Forum is to review the ongoing efficacy of the arrangements for burden- and responsibility-sharing.
Indeed, moving to the implementation phase of the global compact on refugees was the leitmotif of many delegations, referring to the draft as solid, practical, and implementable. How it is implemented and makes a difference in the lives of people will be the measures of its success. In fact, there are many recommendations and ideas that speak to the implementation phase of the compact. We have captured them and will be inspired by them as we move to the next phase.
There are some issues that we will need to work through and explore further with you over the coming months in the lead-up to the Global Refugee Forum, such as on the indicators, measuring impact, the Global Refugee Forum, the support platforms, and the asylum capacity support group, to name the key ones. We look forward to this once the compact has been adopted.
As the co-chair said at the beginning, I appeal to your spirit of constructive, good faith engagement, and encourage everyone to look at the broad picture. What we now have is greater than the sum of its parts.
The vast majority of delegations have indicated that they are refraining from requesting text changes in the interest of constructive engagement. Nonetheless, let me respond broadly to some of the remarks that have been made to explain the rationale behind how they are represented in the text.
First, there were some questions raised about the nexus between humanitarian action and development cooperation. We have sought to clarify throughout the text that humanitarian action and development cooperation complement, but do not replace, each other. We have also sought to reflect in the text the different logics of humanitarian action and development cooperation. I wish to reassure you that the humanitarian principles, which have been reiterated throughout the text, need to continue to govern humanitarian assistance, which of course needs to remain needs-based and not subject to conditions. Development cooperation is premised on partnership and the primacy of country ownership and leadership. In the context of support for refugee situations, development assistance should be additional and to benefit directly host communities and refugees. Nothing in the text is intended to create additional impositions or burdens on host countries. We hope that the clear language we have used in the text in this regard is broadly acceptable to delegations, and note the statements by GRULAC and the African Group for example on how they interpret this language.
Second, paragraph 12 of the global compact on refugees has enjoyed strong support from most delegations, but some issues remain. Notably, I heard from a couple of delegations about the reference to other persons on the move, as well as the internally displaced. Paragraph 12 clearly states that the CRRF and the global compact on refugees are intended to respond to large refugee situations. This is clear. At the same time, we also heard a strong call to ensure that the operational realities arising from the interaction between large refugee movements and other forms of human mobility are taken into account when responding on the ground, upon the request of States. We heard the calls from many of you to ensure that those States faced with the significant challenges that can arise in such situations may be able to call upon the architecture of support that is established under the programme of action, where this is appropriate.
I would also note again that while the global compact on refugees relates to refugee situations, the New York Declaration itself acknowledges the reality of ‘mixed flows’ of refugees and migrants. Paragraph 6 of the New York Declaration notes: “‘Large movements’ may involve mixed flows of people, whether refugees or migrants, who move for different reasons but who may use similar routes.”
On the inclusion of a reference to internal displacement, I would like to draw your attention to paragraph 20 of the New York Declaration, which states: “We recognize the very large number of people who are displaced within national borders and the possibility that such persons might seek protection and assistance in other countries as refugees or migrants. We note the need for reflection on effective strategies to ensure adequate protection and assistance for internally displaced persons and to prevent and reduce such displacement.” What is reflected in the text of the global compact on refugees is not a response to IDPs, but rather a recognition of the linkages between refugees and IDPs, particularly in the context of return, the importance of which was mentioned by a number of delegations during previous rounds of the formal consultations.
Again, nothing in the compact – and certainly not paragraph 12 – is intended to create additional legal obligations or to modify UNHCR’s mandate.
Third, related to this are issues of sovereignty. We have listened very closely to you and hope we have made it clear at several points in the text, notably in paragraphs two and 33, that State sovereignty is properly recognized. And of course, in line with this, as stated in paragraph four, the global compact is non-binding and relies on voluntary contributions, to be determined by each State and stakeholder.
Fourth, on the question of footnotes, we have sought to remove all footnotes that have created any concerns for delegations. All footnotes now, if I am not mistaken, refer either to resolutions or conclusions adopted through an intergovernmental process, or list the potential stakeholders that may be prepared to come forward and contribute to the support for concerned States. We will check this again.
Related to this, there were some questions about the reference to General Assembly resolution A/RES/46/182 and all subsequent resolutions on the subject, including resolution A/RES/71/127 referenced in paragraph 5. As some delegations made clear yesterday, this is agreed language from the annual omnibus resolution.
Fifth, when it comes to addressing the four objectives equally, we have captured this concept by noting that they are “interlinked and interdependent” and are to be pursued on an equal footing.
We have heard you and will digest and analyze what you have told us further. We will remain engaged with the aim of reaching an even stronger common understanding. We will reflect the tenor of the sixth formal consultations in the final version of the global compact on refugees, which we will discuss with the High Commissioner, to enable him to reflect the outcome of this process in his reporting to the General Assembly, bearing in mind the long process that we have all been involved in.
We will send out to you all the final proposed global compact ahead of its official submission before the end of July. The official version of the High Commissioner’s report in the six official languages will be made available by the UN Secretariat around mid-September. It will then be considered, in conjunction with the annual omnibus resolution on global refugee matters that will be developed here in Geneva first, by the General Assembly at the end of October.
For UNHCR, this process has placed immense trust in us; it is our duty, a privilege, and an incredible honour to serve the people and you all. Many thanks again for all your active engagement.