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Remarks at the General Assembly Side Event on Refugees and Migrants

Speeches and statements

Remarks at the General Assembly Side Event on Refugees and Migrants

20 September 2017
Follow-up to the New York Declaration: one year on


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here today, and to share the floor with such distinguished colleagues - with whom UNHCR has enjoyed a strong collaboration for many years.

The New York Declaration resonated as a bold step forward for a world struggling to meet the challenges of large-scale refugee flows, and increasingly complex migratory movements. 

It reaffirmed the fundamental principle of refugee protection - an age-old value, now a universal, legally binding obligation. It underscored that this can only be fully realized through international cooperation. And in the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework annexed to the Declaration, it set out a blueprint for securing protection and resolving displacement in practice, through concrete action based on shared responsibility.

The crises that drove its adoption have not abated.  And the need for international protection for those fleeing in search of safety is more compelling than ever.

Visiting South Sudan and its surrounding countries in June, I encountered the despair of people forced to flee their homes repeatedly for decades, abandoned by their political leaders. The country is being emptied of its people, with one in three now displaced, the promise of independence squandered, and few prospects that the crisis will be quickly resolved.

Around Syria, more than five million refugees remain in exile. Inside the country complex, multiple scenarios are playing out in parallel.  More than a million people have been displaced by conflict and violence this year, even as hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people are returning home, in desperate need of support to help piece together their lives amidst ongoing uncertainty.

And in Myanmar's Rakhine State, a new and terrible wave of repression and violence has driven more than 400,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh - following on decades of entrenched discrimination, denial of citizenship and rights, and chilling restrictions affecting all aspects of their lives.

These crises - and others accelerating or persisting around the world - in Central America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lake Chad, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere - underscore the fundamental and essential character of refugee protection - and the imperative of delivering on the promise of the Declaration.

There have been important elements of progress this year - including through the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, around which important momentum is building.

The Framework is now being applied in 11 Member States - Costa Rica, Djibouti, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Somalia, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania, tailored to each context. Governments, including local authorities and a range of line ministries, are working closely with UNHCR and other partners. Important legislative and policy instruments have already been adopted in some of these countries - expanding access to education, jobs, and facilitating social and economic inclusion. 

The range of institutions and actors involved is growing. The engagement of the World Bank is particularly notable, and other development actors and private sector entities are also becoming involved. Important initiatives are also being pursued at the regional level - including through the work of IGAD in relation to Somali displacement, and in the north of Central America and Mexico, a regional framework to be adopted in Honduras next month.

This work is part of a broader effort to develop a global compact on refugees, which—as you know—we will propose in 2018. Thematic discussions are already under way, and formal consultations, based on a draft document, will take place next year.  

We are also actively working with Louise's team and IOM on the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. A strong compact will bring coherence and order to the management of international migration and pave the way for a future system of global migration governance. It will also have a positive impact on the human rights of both refugees and migrants. Refugees have - and must retain - a distinct status, because conflict and persecution mean they cannot go home. But the root causes of refugee flows and the triggers of irregular migration are often intertwined. And in mixed migratory movements, refugees and migrants often face overlapping risks. More safe and regular pathways for admission and the creation of a more tolerant and accepting environment, would bring important benefits for both groups.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must not underestimate the task ahead. Despite the promise of the Declaration, the momentum that is building around comprehensive responses in a number of countries and regions, and the extraordinary generosity of many host countries, the last twelve months have also seen an erosion of protection and a shrinking of space for solutions in certain respects.

The seeds for change have been planted, but the shoots beginning to emerge need nourishment. The New York Declaration was an exceptional expression of political will at the highest level, but this must be sustained and made concrete - through political engagement, funding, technical support, and concrete acts in support of refugees and host countries - including in the major crises that are currently unfolding. We have a collective responsibility to strengthen our response to refugee movements with a new sense of urgency, and redouble our efforts to address their causes.

Thank you.