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Opening Statement at the Consultation Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Regional Contribution to the Global Compact on Refugees

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement at the Consultation Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Regional Contribution to the Global Compact on Refugees

20 February 2018

Senhores Ministros,

Distintos delegados,

Damas e cavalheiros,

Bom dia.

I will start with a brief but real story. It is about Razan, a young Syrian who fled war and violence in her country a few years ago and took refuge in Lebanon. She was grateful to be safe, but frustrated by the lack of opportunity, in a country Lebanon in which one in four people is now a refugee. It was then that she learned of Brazil’s new humanitarian visa programme. She applied, she succeeded, and was able to travel to São Paulo, where she was granted asylum in Brazil - she now speaks Portuguese, and has embarked on the road to integration as a local entrepreneur in the food industry. Her life has been transformed - from an empty future to a future of opportunity; from despair to hope.

It is a story of how human determination and courage can overcome obstacles, and triumph; but also of how international cooperation across countries and continents, coupled with innovative approaches and a focus on solutions can change the lives of desperate people, in concrete gestures of responsibility sharing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every day, thousands of men, women and children make one of the most difficult choices in life - to leave behind all that is dear to them and flee in search of safety. They are forced from their homes and countries by conflict, violence and persecution. Many are propelled into long and dangerous journeys, in the hands of smugglers and traffickers.

They are one of the most visible signs that we live in a world where making peace has become very difficult. In the absence of effective action to prevent and resolve conflicts, their exile often extends for years. And around the world, countries which are neighbours to crisis zones are struggling to absorb the social, economic and political shocks of these movements.

Today, 66 million people are forcibly displaced by conflict and violence around the world. This includes some 24 million refugees – a number unprecedented since the crises of the 1990s that followed the end of the Cold War. And how we respond to their plight is one of the biggest tests of our modern system of international cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very grateful to the government of Brazil and especially to Foreign Minister Nunes Ferreira for taking the initiative of this regional meeting, and for hosting it. It is timely to take stock of the rich experience and many innovative good practices developed in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a particular focus on the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action, as important contributions as was mentioned before, to the process leading to the Global Compact on Refugees.  I appreciate the wide range of participants in this event – including representatives of countries from the Americas, United Nations agencies and other international organizations, civil society and academia.

This stock taking is important and exciting. For decades, you, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, have made fundamental contributions to the pursuit of protection and solutions for millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. The Cartagena Declaration, and the regional instruments that it has inspired, are an example to the world. And the commitment to solidarity and responsibility sharing that has driven this region’s response to refugee flows has also been crucial in shaping the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2016.

This Declaration is – I believe – groundbreaking. At a time when the principles and standards of refugee protection are being called into question by some, it marks an important reaffirmation of the international protection regime, founded on cooperation and shared responsibility. It calls for a more comprehensive response to large-scale refugee flows, and provides a new model that is now being applied in more than a dozen countries, including in this region.

The next step is to reinforce this model through predictable, sustainable mechanisms, agreed by all. This is the purpose of the Global Compact on Refugees, which UNHCR was asked to develop together with States and other stakeholders, and which will be adopted later this year.  Some of you participated in the thematic discussions in Geneva last year, and as you know the first formal consultations on a draft text began in Geneva last week.

Senores y Senoras,

Considerando el compromiso de las Américas con la protección de los refugiados y la búsqueda de soluciones, no es una casualidad que una de las primeras aplicaciones del Marco integral de respuesta para los refugiados se realice en esta región. La iniciativa que actualmente está siendo implementada por México, Guatemala, Belice, Honduras, Costa Rica y Panamá es una importante contribución para el Pacto global sobre refugiados.

Esta iniciativa consagrada en la Declaración de San Pedro Sula, está siendo puesta en acción a través de los planes nacionales detallados en el marco integral regional de protección y soluciones (‘el MIRPS’), promueve la colaboración entre los países de origen, tránsito y destino. También ha sido fundamental el involucramiento desde el inicio de los donantes, de la sociedad civil, de las municipalidades, de las organizaciones regionales y confesionales, de la academia y del sector privado. Esto es un ejemplo del enfoque inclusivo que involucra a ‘toda la sociedad’, tal y como proclama la Declaración de Nueva York.

Este marco innovador se basa en la larga y distinguida tradición de brindar protección y asilo en América Latina y en el Caribe. Proteger es una obligación vinculante, que refleja los principios fundamentales y valores compartidos. Pero también es una contribución para la estabilidad regional y global. Les felicito por mantener abiertas sus fronteras y por brindar protección a quienes huyen de dentro y fuera de la región, y les animo a que no bajen la guardia, y continuen a hacerlo, especialmente ahora, cuando los números de los solicitantes de la condición de refugiado están aumentando.

El ACNUR está listo para apoyar a los países en la respuesta a estas crecientes demandas. Estamos aquí para ayudarles con medidas prácticas para fortalecer los sistemas de asilo y para simplificar los procedimientos al mismo tiempo que salvaguardamos los derechos. También favoreceremos la aplicación de respuestas de protección para grupos y de los instrumentos regionales de protección, tales como la Declaración de Cartagena.

Esta región ha sido pionera en la implementación de respuestas innovadoras, incluyendo a través de mecanismos complementarios, visas humanitarias, y arreglos bilaterales y regionales de migración. Les pido que continúen haciéndolo, respetando las garantías apropiadas de protección, incluyendo el principio de non-refoulement y el derecho de solicitar y recibir asilo.

Se han hecho importantes avances respecto de las alternativas para la detención, y en la mejora de la identificación y referencia de personas necesitadas de protección internacional en cooperación con los procesos regionales consultivos de migración de Puebla y de Lima. Igualmente les felicito por los pasos adoptados para identificar y responder a quienes tienen necesidades específicas, incluyendo niños y niñas no acompañados y separados.

I look forward to hearing more about the work of Caribbean countries to develop asylum systems and legal frameworks, in line with the Brazil Plan of Action. The Caribbean Migration Consultations, launched in coordination with the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, and CARICOM, are an important step in addressing mixed migration flows. I encourage those States who have not already done so to accede to the refugee and statelessness instruments and to move forward with extending pragmatic protection responses to those in need.

This region is also providing leadership in relation to solutions – a key aspect of my own mandate as High Commissioner for Refugees, and of the New York Declaration and the future Global Compact.

There are more success stories of refugee inclusion and local integration in this region than anywhere else in the world. I have seen it myself in my visits in the past two years. Many countries in the Americas are showing how refugees can be supported through alliances involving local municipalities, the private sector and refugees themselves. You have been pioneers in granting asylum seekers the right to work, and providing access to national health, education and housing programmes and other services.

May I suggest, as a concrete contribution from your continent to the Global Compact on Refugees, that you consider institutionalizing practices for the systematic inclusion of all refugees in national social programmes within the next five years.

Local communities and civil society, including faith-based organisations, are also playing a crucial role. And the ‘cities of solidarity’ initiative launched in the 2004 Mexico Declaration and Plan of Action is a ground-breaking global model.

There are other interesting achievements: new resettlement programmes and humanitarian visas for Syrian nationals, as in the case of Razan which I have mentioned at the beginning; the establishment of humanitarian evacuation mechanisms for people at high risk in Central America, including protection transfer arrangements; and an intra-regional transfer mechanism for refugees in the Caribbean. All are innovative, and life-saving measures.  I encourage more countries to join them as a concrete contribution to the Global Compact on Refugees.

It is also critical to preserve and support the right of refugees to return home, and to work to foster the conditions for this right to be exercised. In Colombia, for example, opportunities for the voluntary return of refugees and the internally displaced are emerging in the context of the peace process.

Finally, important steps have been taken towards the eradication of statelessness. The recent accession of Haiti and Chile to the statelessness conventions is to be commended. I also welcome measures adopted in Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Brazil, including on civil registration, and note that draft legislation is also under consideration in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The story of Razan, which I told you about, is a symbol of the commitment of this region to the values of solidarity, to a spirit of innovation and to concrete practices of international cooperation.

Razan is now contributing to Brazilian society. Responsibility sharing becomes opportunity sharing. 

And your commitment is an example to the world. As we move forward together with our work to translate the New York Declaration into practical, predictable and sustainable mechanisms, our efforts will be inspired by the moral authority and leadership which you exercise every day in responding to the plight of those forced to abandon their homes.

Thank you.

Muchas gracias.

Muito obrigado.