'Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region' - Statement to the Brussels II Conference, Ministerial Segment
Much has been said about the war in Syria. Let me add some thoughts on its refugee dimension.
A quarter of all Syrians are refugees. A quarter of the world’s refugees are Syrians. More than a million Syrian refugee children have never known their country at peace. Their lives have been shaped by uncertainty and loss, but also by the resilience and courage of their families on the other. And in providing protection and support to 5.6 million refugees, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have saved countless lives, ensured a future for millions of children, and contributed to regional and international stability.
This contribution has been underpinned by extraordinary international support, galvanised by the Kuwait, Brussels and London conferences and the many innovative instruments and initiatives that have accompanied these efforts. But the Syrian people face yet more tragedy inside their country, with the laws of war vilified and diplomacy failing.
The vast majority of refugees tell us that they want to go home - when the violence ends, when their rights and safety are guaranteed, including property rights, and when there is a political solution that paves the way for a lasting peace. The most important thing, therefore, is to continue to support peace efforts, difficult as they may be.
But for now, those conditions are not in place. True, pockets of relative stability have emerged in some areas. Around 80,000 refugees, and a larger number of internally displaced people, returned home last year, often to circumstances of deep devastation. But their numbers were eclipsed by the more than 3 million newly uprooted in 2017 and in the early months of this year. Unlike in the past, they are unable to cross international borders to safety. Many, in certain situations, have been unable to flee inside Syria. Even the safety of displacement is becoming elusive to Syrians.
Amidst severe destruction and ongoing conflict, premature refugee returns would be disastrous - for those affected, and for the stability of Syria and the region. It is therefore as critical today as ever that refugees and the communities and countries that host them are supported.
For most Syrian refugees, daily life remains a constant struggle - to find work, put food on the table, and send children to school. Poverty affects up to 80% of refugees in some host countries. Despite enormous advances, more than one third of school-age refugee children across the region are still not in education.
The impact on vulnerable men, women, girls and boys is deepening, dramatic and lasting. And as more slip into poverty, the risks will only intensify. Host communities are also impacted - with a continuing toll on infrastructure, housing, basic services, and labour markets. And as we heard from host countries this morning, the risk of broader consequences on society, the economy and regional security and stability is real.
Looking ahead, three things are needed.
First, more support to host countries.
Innovative new financing instruments, such as the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey and the World Bank concessional financing facility, as well as bilateral development support, need to be reinforced and expanded.
The inter-agency Refugee and Resilience Response Plans, led by UNHCR and UNDP, have been a core component of support to the region. Encompassing 270 partners, they have disbursed USD 13 billion since 2012, through innovative multi-sectoral programming, including assistance systems based on fraud-proof biometrics. There is a strong emphasis on refugee inclusion and alignment with national systems.
Yet, seven years into the response, it remains uncertain whether essential food and cash programmes will be funded each month. The funding gaps are disturbing and call for immediate attention - with the 2018 3RP just 27% funded against the USD 5.6 billion requirements. Predictable, multi-year commitments are acutely needed.
Second, sustain and expand progressive refugee policies.
By increasing access to work permits and other livelihoods opportunities, certain host countries are making important strides in enhancing refugee self-reliance and recognising their economic potential. With international support, I also encourage host countries to ensure access to registration and legal status, as an important tool for protection and refugee management, and to keep their education and health services open to refugees and avoid parallel systems.
Third, more resettlement.
In 2016, I called for resettlement places and other pathways for admission for at least 10 per cent of Syrian refugees - some 480,000 people - from neighbouring host countries.
Regrettably, that target is far from being met. A generous surge in solidarity allowed UNHCR to submit 76,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees for resettlement in 2016, but this dropped to just 35,000 places in 2017, with similar prospects for 2018.
In the spirit of responsibility-sharing, I urge all States to boost resettlement and complementary pathways for Syrian refugees - including through more flexible family reunification programmes, labour mobility schemes, student visas and scholarships, medical visas and other mechanisms.
In the year of the Global Compact on Refugees, we need to stay the course and show continued support and solidarity with the Syrian people, host communities and host countries.
Our success or failure will be a test of our humanity; and our commitment to international solidarity over self-interest.