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Statement to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, 72nd Session

Speeches and statements

Statement to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, 72nd Session

1 November 2017
United Nations Headquarters, New York

Agenda Item 64: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions


Mr. Chairman,

Distinguished Delegates,

Today, forced displacement is a global phenomenon. No continent is unaffected. Several countries are hosting more than one million refugees, and interlocking conflicts have uprooted people across entire regions.

Decades-long crises are propelling a new generation of children and young people on dangerous journeys in search of safety.

The magnitude and complexity of today’s forced displacement, and the sheer number of those affected – 66 million and counting – have captured the world’s attention.

The topic of refugees and migration has become central to national and international politics. It has shaped election campaigns, and become a matter of national debate. It is featuring prominently in the bilateral relationships between States.

And here, in September last year, it was placed firmly on the agenda of the world’s political leaders, who forged a bold and visionary way forward: the New York Declaration.

Yet, the most acute impact of refugee crises is at the individual level, in the lives of the men, women and children affected – driven from their homes, cast adrift into a life of uncertainty, with few prospects of solutions.


Distinguished Delegates,

Already this year, more than two million refugees have fled their countries as a result of new or recurring crises.

This includes more than 600,000 refugees from Myanmar who have entered Bangladesh, fleeing a new wave of devastating violence. A major emergency response operation is now under way, for which additional donor support is needed – as well as early and resolute action to address the root causes of this tragedy, in Myanmar, and to pave the way for the safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees once conditions are ripe.

Existing crises have also deepened and become more complex, as in the case of South Sudan. There, the desolation and despair of people abandoned by their political leaders, with the promise of independence squandered and one in three now displaced, are chilling.

The total number displaced in and outside the country is now approaching 4 million – close to the estimated 4.5 million displaced at the height of the pre-independence civil war.

Neighbouring countries – including Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda – have kept their borders open and are implementing progressive and generous refugee policies. But the impact on local services, economies and infrastructure is profound, and international support is not keeping pace with the vast needs.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, violence in Kasai and elsewhere, has triggered an outflow of 100,000 refugees this year. The number of internally displaced people in the country has doubled since 2015, to almost four million. Humanitarian operations are being scaled up, but much stronger donor support is needed, along with more substantial political efforts to stem the growing crisis.

In the Central African Republic, an upsurge of violence has led to a 50% rise in internal displacement this year. The total number displaced within and outside the country now exceeds 1 million; in September alone, more than 12,000 refugees left the country. And progress towards solutions has also slowed in Mali.

Long-standing crises remain deeply entrenched. In Somalia, despite important efforts by the Government to improve security and the rule of law, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted this year by fighting and severe drought.

In Afghanistan, the number of civilian casualties has reached its highest level in more than a decade, and more than 2.3 million refugees remain in Iran and Pakistan.

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq – which together account for one quarter of the world's forcibly displaced people, are moving into complex new phases. And in Yemen, almost three million people are internally displaced, as the country faces looming famine, a large-scale cholera outbreak, and the daily impact of a conflict waged in blatant disregard for civilian lives.

Many refugees have been propelled into dangerous onward journeys.

In Central America, tens of thousands of men, women and children are on the move, looking for a place of refuge from gang violence.

Along the Central Mediterranean route to Europe, stretching from below the Sahara through Libya to Italy, refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and elsewhere continue to face grave exploitation and abuse, alongside thousands of migrants.

Displacement also affects hundreds of thousands in Burundi, Ukraine, Venezuela and elsewhere.


Distinguished Delegates,

Without the unity of purpose needed to prevent and end conflicts, the world will continue to face new displacement crises.

Protection is being eroded in many countries and regions – the result of fragmented, often unilateral, responses to refugee flows, driven by short-term political agendas.

Principled leadership has frequently given way to irresponsible demagoguery. Borders have closed, and policies of deterrence and exclusion have taken shape in some countries and regions.

Yet, there has also been a parallel groundswell of solidarity with refugees, rooted in civil society and often reinforced through strong leadership by mayors, business leaders, and other public figures.

Most importantly, major refugee-hosting countries have continued to demonstrate extraordinary levels of generosity and commitment to refugee protection.

Measures to shore up their efforts, strengthen protection, mitigate the impact of a large-scale refugee presence, and genuinely share responsibility remain essential. This is the fundamental challenge that lies at the heart of the New York Declaration.


Distinguished Delegates,

The Declaration was a resolute reaffirmation of the values of solidarity and protection.

Humanitarian action remains key to saving lives and addressing the immediate impact of a refugee influx, as we are seeing today in Bangladesh. But it must be underpinned and sustained by a broader range of investments and support.

This is the essence of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework annexed to the Declaration – a new model that places the rights, interests and potential of refugees and of their hosts at the heart of a comprehensive response, and engages a full range of instruments and actors.

At UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting last month, I was struck by the way in which references to the comprehensive framework and the Global Compact on Refugees resonated in practically every statement. There was a firm recognition that it is time for change – and a clear convergence around the directions that we must pursue: easing pressure on host countries and communities; enhancing refugee self-reliance; expanding resettlement and other third country solutions; and creating conditions conducive to voluntary return.

All of these are urgent and equally important – and all are underpinned by the fundamental obligation to receive refugees and provide them with protection. The countries that do so deliver a global public good, and their contribution must be shored up by international responsibility-sharing and predictable and sustainable acts of solidarity.

Significantly, this new approach is being rolled out while the Secretary-General's peace and security reforms are taking shape, embedding conflict prevention and mitigation, and efforts to sustain peace, as the core task of the United Nations, and closely linked to the parallel reform of the UN development system.


Distinguished Delegates,

The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework is now being applied by 12 States – Belize, Costa Rica, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, Panama, Somalia, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. I am extremely grateful to them, and to the donors and partner organisations who have provided financial resources, technical advice and experts to enable UNHCR to pursue the task of developing the Framework, together with States and others, as requested in the New York Declaration.

Two regional applications are also being pursued – one for the Somali displacement situation, and one – which we launched in Honduras on Friday – to strengthen protection and promote solutions in Central America and Mexico.

I firmly believe that these practical applications, combined with the lessons that we will draw from current thematic consultations and other examples of comprehensive approaches around the world, will result in a powerful Global Refugee Compact that has the potential to drive real change.

Yet, this will only happen if these commitments are matched with concrete action. The countries and communities that receive and host refugees are the mainstays of the international protection regime, and their generosity is truly remarkable. Many are pursuing important policies that foster refugee inclusion and self-reliance.

But without sustained international support, and a genuine assumption of shared responsibility, the pillars that shore up this hospitality are inevitably weakened. We need to step up, and quickly – with efficient new financial instruments that can be rapidly deployed, and decisive, early engagement by development actors and the private sector. Expanding access to resettlement and other third country solutions is equally critical.

Development action and financing are central to the new model. Accordingly, UNHCR is strengthening several key alliances, including a transformative partnership with the World Bank. I do not hesitate to say that its global concessional financing facility, and its IDA18 allocation of USD two billion in grants and loans for low-income refugee-hosting countries, are major game changers in how we build refugee resilience and support host countries and communities.

We are also deepening our partnerships with multilateral and regional development banks, and other development partners. Bilateral development agencies are now supporting host countries to include refugees and host communities in national development plans, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the principle of 'no-one left behind.

And we are also enhancing our engagement with the corporate sector, philanthropists, faith communities, sports and other foundations, and other parts of civil society.

Existing and new partnerships with UN agencies and NGOs remain indispensable. In mixed asylum/migration situations, solid partnership with IOM and others is important in order to fully leverage complementary roles. IOM’s recent status as a UN-related organization and the development of the two Global Compacts provide important opportunities to further clarify roles.


Distinguished Delegates,

The early pursuit of solutions is central to the new model.

Just half a million refugees were able to return home in 2016 – in some cases, in less than ideal circumstances. Pressure for premature return remains a concern, and may intensify.

Syria continues to account for the world's largest number of forcibly displaced people, at more than 5 million refugees and 6 million internally displaced.

Major military operations at key strategic locations have opened up some space for the spontaneous return of significant numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), and a much smaller number of refugees – generally to circumstances of bleak devastation and often in the absence of viable alternatives. At the same time, substantial internal displacement has continued. Between January and September this year, 1.8 million people were newly displaced in Syria.

Yet both inside and outside Syria, signs of resilience are showing, and it is important that these are nurtured – especially if, in parallel, progress on de-escalation at the Astana talks is achieved. It is premature – by all means – to promote repatriation. However, our responses must adapt to and support people who are finding their own paths towards solutions inside Syria.

At the same time, it is critical that international protection and support for Syrian refugees is sustained while this complex transition plays out. Host governments are understandably very concerned by waning funding, and the long-term impact of a sustained refugee presence, and this risks translating into increased pressure for return, at an already fragile moment.

The inter-agency regional refugee and resilience plan for Syrian refugees is just 49% funded, with available funds standing at USD 180 million lower than at the same time last year. The resilience component – which aims at bridging the humanitarian-development gap -- about which everybody is talking -- is just 39% funded. I call on donors to intensify and sustain their support at this crucial moment.

Major crises in Iraq, and in the Lake Chad Basin, are also entering new phases, with greater stability emerging in some areas, even as major protection risks persist. Returns must be fully voluntary, and should not outpace capacity to receive and absorb those coming home.

In these operations and others, finding solutions for refugees is closely linked to strengthening protection and securing solutions for IDPs. UNHCR is currently working to ensure that we are predictably and consistently delivering on the responsibilities we have assumed under existing IDP inter-agency arrangements.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles for Internal Displacement – an important framework for preventing, addressing and resolving the plight of the world's 40 million IDPs. The commemorations will present an important opportunity to galvanise support to States to enshrine the Principles in law, policy and action.

Refugee resettlement is also an important solution. Close to 1.2 million refugees need resettling globally. However, fewer than 80,000 resettlement places are expected to be available this year – less than half the number in 2016. This is very worrying and must be redressed. Other legal pathways to third countries should also be increased.

These are important to offer real alternatives to dangerous journeys at the hands of smugglers and traffickers, including along the Central Mediterranean route. And, in this regard, I am grateful to the Government of Niger for facilitating a new emergency transit mechanism for people in need of international protection. Together with IOM, we are strengthening our engagement along the entire route, in particular in Libya, to improve access to protection and solutions.

These efforts must be complemented and reinforced by targeted development and security investments, to tackle smuggling and trafficking and help States strengthen systems to protect and support refugees. In Libya, our work remains constrained by security and governance deficits and other restrictions on our humanitarian work, but as our presence expands we make progress in these efforts.

Progress is also happening in the area of statelessness. More than 60,000 people acquired a nationality or had it confirmed in 2016. Policy reforms have been approved in Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Madagascar, Thailand, in ECOWAS Member States and the countries of the Great Lakes.

But the resolve needed to tackle large, protracted statelessness situations has been lacking. The rise in forced displacement also brings new risks of statelessness, including arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

The most dramatic current example is, of course, that of the refugees who have fled to Bangladesh. Their lack of citizenship is a key aspect of the discrimination and exclusion that have shaped the plight of the Rohingya for decades – closely linked to restrictions on freedom of movement, access to basic services and livelihoods. Clearly, the solution to the plight of these refugees is voluntary, safe and dignified return to Myanmar. However, this will not be sustainable or even possible without restoring their security and rights, and tackling their statelessness, in a context of inclusive development to address the deep-seated poverty affecting all communities in Rakhine State.

I wish to reiterate here the offer of UNHCR’s expertise, advice and support to both Bangladesh and Myanmar in their ongoing efforts to seek solutions to the crisis and, in particular, in planning for repatriation.


Distinguished Delegates,

UNHCR's mandate for securing protection and solutions to displacement, and preventing and resolving statelessness, remains constant, and will continue to drive our work.

But as the comprehensive approach proposed in the New York Declaration takes root, and a wider range of entities becomes engaged in addressing refugee movements, careful reflection on our distinct contribution, as part of this broader constellation of actors, is necessary.

UNHCR's work will continue to be shaped by the legal, policy, operational and moral authority embodied in my protection and solutions mandate, as well as by our international, cross-border remit and strong field presence and proximity to displaced and stateless people. Conditions must be maintained for this distinct mandate to be fully exercised – including through robust operational engagement.

But in that operational engagement, we must identify where our strengths can be of most value: where they must translate into direct action; and where they should instead help us to play a more catalytic role – helping others to engage, with their own expertise and resources.

To preserve and strengthen UNHCR's capacity for adaption, I have launched a series of reform initiatives.

These include a review of the design, structure and processes of our Headquarters, to help achieve efficiency gains and better align functions in support of field operations; a significant reform of the human resources systems; and a series of measures to further promote inclusion, diversity and gender equity.

We are stepping up UNHCR's capacity to provide high quality data relating to refugees and host communities, and have just launched an important joint initiative with the World Bank.

We are making significant investments in cash-based interventions, with particular emphasis on inter-agency platforms managed by the private sector.

And we continue to strengthen UNHCR's oversight systems, including through an ambitious new risk management initiative.


Distinguished Delegates,

UNHCR benefits from strong donor support, for which I am deeply grateful. In 2016, we received almost USD 4 billion in voluntary contributions – the highest level ever – and had as a result a total of USD 4.4 billion in funds available to us. Yet, we ended the year with a 41% funding shortfall.

This year we estimate that we will have USD 4.2 billion in funds available – leaving nearly 50% of needs unmet. The picture for 2018 is even more uncertain, forcing us to make very difficult choices. I am very concerned about funding levels for major ongoing crises, particularly in Africa. Our programmes for the Central African Republic and Burundi situations, for example, are currently funded at just 11%.

I therefore appeal to all Member States to sustain and increase support, through flexible funding and early contributions that avoid uncertainty and enable us to use funds where the needs are greatest.


Distinguished Delegates,

In my report to you next year, as requested in the New York Declaration, I will propose the text of a global compact on refugees for consideration by the General Assembly in conjunction with the Assembly’s annual resolution on the work of my Office.

The proposed text will have two parts: the comprehensive refugee response framework, as set out in Annex 1 of the New York Declaration, and a programme of action that will underpin the comprehensive framework and support its application in specific contexts.

My firm intention is to propose a text that is based on consensus support from Member States, and we have already embarked on a robust consultation process with this aim in mind.

We are undertaking a series of thematic discussions, to secure the views of Member States, and others, on measures that might be included in the programme of action. The aim is not to introduce new standards, but to identify and develop practices and mechanisms that can inform, reinforce and complement the protection and support provided by host countries, and drive progress towards solutions. We have already held three of these consultations, and the last two will be completed this month.

In December, at the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges, we will take stock of progress in applying the Framework and the results of the thematic discussions, as well as other consultations and practices shared.

Based on this, a 'zero draft' of the global compact on refugees document will be shared in early 2018, around which a series of formal consultations in Geneva with Member States, and other intergovernmental organizations and NGOs participating as observers, will be structured and the text subsequently refined.


Distinguished Delegates,

Today, thousands of people will leave their homes and countries in search of safety, arriving in remote border communities around the world, or in sprawling cities affected by urban poverty.

Many of them will join refugee communities already uprooted by earlier waves of conflict or persecution, to which solutions have not yet been found.

Yet, here in this building, a year ago, the foundations for change were laid.

The New York Declaration was a groundbreaking recognition – at the highest level – of our shared responsibility to address and resolve refugee flows.

The promise that it embodied must be translated into action.

This calls for funding, technical support, resettlement places and other concrete acts of shared responsibility.

It calls for practical measures to ensure access to protection, and progressive policies that promote refugee inclusion and self-reliance.

But most of all, it calls for determined, collective action to bring an end to the brutal conflicts that continue to drive so many from their homes, and to find solutions for the millions of people uprooted around the world today.

Thank you.