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67th session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme. Closing Remarks by Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Geneva, 6 October 2016

Speeches and statements

67th session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme. Closing Remarks by Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Geneva, 6 October 2016

6 October 2016

Mr Chairman,

Please accept my warm appreciation for your engagement, your advice, and for your thoughtful and considered insights this week, and over the past year, for me in particular. And of course, I wish to congratulate Ambassador Rosemary McCarney on her election as the new Chairperson of the Executive Committee, the new Vice Chairperson – Ambassador Delmi of Algeria, and the new Rapporteur, Ms. Duong.

It's important to recall that as we have engaged in our discussions over the last four days, another 13,000 people have fled violence in South Sudan – crossing its borders to seek asylum in the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Another 10,000 – moving due to a complex mix of poverty, conflict, repression and despair – have been rescued off the coasts of Italy and Libya. In Aleppo, more than a quarter of a million people have been besieged, unable to leave as conflict has raged and supplies have dwindled. In Mosul, hundreds of thousands of people have continued their preparations to flee.

Against this sobering backdrop, it's not surprising that our discussions have been infused with a sense of urgency and immediacy. We all agreed that the plight of those uprooted and forced to flee is one of the defining challenges of our time, and this responsibility has weighed heavily on us throughout this week.

I have appreciated the very practical nature of our exchanges, based on solid experience and conducted in a genuine spirit of reflection. And while there has been inevitably some diversity of perspectives, interests and views, our debate has been characterized by a genuine unity of purpose, a commitment to humanitarian values, and a strong expression of support for our work. We will go away better informed, energized and inspired, and I thank you for your encouragement. For any High Commissioner, confidence is important – and all the more so, for a new one.

Here, I would like to pay tribute to the Secretary-General, thank him for his participation, and once again, to reiterate my appreciation for his support. I very much welcome the election of António Guterres, the tenth High Commissioner, as the ninth Secretary-General, and know that he will bring to his new responsibilities – fostering peace, development and human rights – the same true compassion and strong commitment to humanity that he demonstrated throughout his mandate as High Commissioner.

Distinguished delegates,

I have been greatly encouraged by your strong affirmation of the fundamental principles of refugee protection – enshrined in the 1951 Convention and its associated Protocol and regional instruments, but also embodied in customary law and resonating in many religious and cultural traditions. The experience of flight and exile and the tradition of hosting those in need of shelter and protection are part of the shared heritage of humanity. It's absolutely critical that this fundamental commitment to protection remains as the central pillar of our engagement, even as we redouble our efforts in search of more robust, systematic, and comprehensive approaches.

In this respect, I urge you to ensure that the commitment to protection principles and standards you have articulated here is translated into practice, and drives your legislation, your policies, your actions.

I have also noted your expressions of support for the strategic directions that I described on Monday, and I appreciate the additional perspectives that you have contributed. We will continue to engage with you, and with our partners, as these are further elaborated.

Distinguished delegates,

The concept of connections underpinned our discussions this week. At their core, displacement and statelessness are the result of a breakdown in the relationship that binds people and the state. Securing protection and solutions is essentially about fostering – and eventually restoring – relationships, by connecting people to the communities, services and opportunities around them (including through education and jobs), by cultivating an environment in which their rights are protected and they are able to flourish, and by working towards solutions that allow them to rebuild a stable and secure future in a country where they belong.

But achieving this also requires that we make other kinds of connections – for example, between addressing root causes, early warning and prevention, and finding solutions to displacement. We have to tap into and leverage the commonalities that shape our engagement with stateless people, the internally displaced, refugees and returnees; and place this work within the broader context of complex crises and human mobility today – working closely with partners engaging in these areas.

We have to connect humanitarian and development action – developing a shared analysis, vision and coherent policies and programming tools. In mixed migration situations, we need to connect what happens in countries of origin, transit and destination. And we need to forge connections between the broad range of actors with the influence, capacity and resources to contribute to protection and solutions in the complex contexts in which displacement unfolds – including government agencies, the media, civil society, businesses academia, international, national and local NGOs, municipalities, donors, host community leaders, faith-based groups, and refugees, internally displaced people and stateless people themselves.

Critically, we also need to build much better connections between – on the one hand – the host countries and communities who provide steadfast and generous support to refugees and displaced people, with huge consequences for their societies and economies – and on the other, the global community of donors, states, multilateral agencies and political and security actors – so that the contribution of host countries is adequately recognised and supported and, as many of you have noted, responsibility does not become a function of proximity alone. And we need strong and sustained support for countries of origin striving to create the conditions that will allow people to return home and to help them to reintegrate.

Distinguished delegates,

I believe that forging these connections is at the heart of UNHCR's – and in fact the United Nations' – work. And in the New York Declaration, we have a powerful platform for pursuing this – within a framework based on international responsibility sharing and solidarity.

We have used these words a lot this week, and it's important that they become part of our vocabulary. But we have to make sure that these don't simply become empty slogans. We must make them tangible – by applying them, in very practical ways, to concrete situations. This is what you have asked UNHCR to do in steering the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response framework, and we will now take this forward with a sense of urgency, responsibility and resolution.

The framework has huge potential – for a more predictable, systematic, better resourced, more connected response, shaped by protection principles and standards – provided that the commitment and political will that has been articulated over the last few weeks can now be marshaled and translated into concrete action. As some of you have noted this week, the Comprehensive Refugee Response brings together a number of elements that are already part of the responses to some refugee crises, but haven't until now been brought together consistently, decisively and – above all – predictably.

These elements include robust, early engagement by both humanitarian and development actors – with a strong sense of common purpose, from the outset of crises.

They include an informed, engaged and influential private sector, bringing diverse forms of investment, creative innovative approaches, and opening up opportunities and jobs.

They include a strong involvement by the wide range of actors and partners I have already described – from the local to the global levels – as a key pillar of the response from the outset of a crisis.

And they include a mechanism for predictably defining the contributions of countries of origin, host states, and third countries, and the international support required to leverage progress towards solutions from the beginning.

As I announced on Monday, I have set up a small task team that will rapidly come back to you with some proposals on how and where we should start. Escalating the responses to emergencies such as Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan – to name a few – are clearly very urgent priorities and will be high on the list for consideration.

But the CRR framework also has the potential to leverage progress in some of the more intractable or complex regional situations – for example, Afghanistan, the Northern Triangle of Central America, Lake Chad, Somalia. And listening to your interventions over the last few days, it is clear that in several other situations, opportunities for solutions are either ongoing or emerging, and could be accelerated and consolidated with appropriate support – for example, for the Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Mozambique and Myanmar.

We are already identifying experienced UNHCR colleagues to work under the leadership of Daniel Endres, and we will also be soliciting external participation in his team, to draw on a range of expertise and perspectives. I very much look forward to working closely with our current, past and future ExCom Chairs within the context of the informal advisory group that I have already mentioned, and to engaging with you – as ExCom members – and with a wide range of external partners and stakeholders as we work to apply the framework in practice, and to draw on these experiences in elaborating, eventually, the Global Compact. I am pleased to inform you that this will form the subject of the High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges in December 2017.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my opening statement I drew your attention to the significant disparity in the levels of funding made available for different refugee situations, with particularly acute deficits in operations in sub-Saharan Africa. It's absolutely critical that this is addressed, and I very much hope that the New York Declaration, with its emphasis on securing predictability in how we respond, will drive this change.

I'm grateful that so many of you took this up in your statements, and also that there was a strong call for a reduction in earmarking. Indeed, as one delegation noted in this morning's debate, this is a matter of trust in UNHCR's ability to identify and respond to compelling priorities, and to pursue a global response to displacement that is driven by protection needs, remaining flexible, and not by other considerations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I've had the privilege of visiting many of our field operations this year and I will visit more in the weeks and months to come. I have had the opportunity to meet a large number of those affected by conflict, violence and displacement.

It would be wrong of me to close without passing on to you what they tell me.

They talk to me of loss – of their families, their homes, of a sense of stability and a vision of a future.

They tell me of their exhaustion, their fear, their sense of alienation.

But they call on their governments to care for their people, and to overcome the terrible conflicts and repression that drive them from their homes.

These messages are strong and clear. And only by engaging in concrete responses to that plight – and to these hopes – will we live up to our commitments and do it in the only possible manner – by truly sharing this crucial responsibility.