UNHCR's Grandi: Political inaction deepening displacement crisis
Failure to find peace and address conflict, climate change and other crises is increasing hardship and driving new displacement, as funding limits UNHCR's capacity to respond.
GENEVA – Governments’ inability to prevent conflict and tackle crises including COVID-19, climate change and the rising cost of living is increasing hardship for more than 100 million forcibly displaced people and leading more to flee their homes, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned at a high-level meeting on Monday.
“In such a complex world, we need to work together,” Filippo Grandi said at the opening of UNHCR’s annual Executive Committee meeting in Geneva. “Unfortunately, the international community has become quite unable to do so: unable to make peace, or even prevent predictable catastrophes. To share vaccines. To reduce risks from the climate emergency. To spend a little now – money, political capital, or both – to avoid much greater expense in the future.”
In response to record displacement, the High Commissioner urged governments to “work towards finding solutions that have remained, for far too many and for far too long, elusive.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has pushed global displacement to unprecedented levels, triggering Europe’s largest and fastest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
- See also: UNHCR: Ukraine, other conflicts push forcibly displaced total over 100 million for first time
UNHCR is striving to assist Ukrainians wherever they have been displaced, Grandi said. He praised the leadership of the Ukrainian authorities and the response of countries that have together received more than 7 million refugees.
But he warned that the situation inside Ukraine “remains grave”, with more than 6.2 million people internally displaced and many more in need of humanitarian assistance.
“I share the government’s concerns about the looming winter,” the High Commissioner said. “This requires an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach … Millions of Ukrainians, especially the aged and disabled, are counting on us.”
He added that the response to the Ukraine crisis has debunked myths put forward by some politicians that Europe is unable to accommodate those fleeing violence and persecution, or that public opinion is against taking in more refugees.
“We must not accept the denial of access to territory for those seeking asylum, often through violent pushbacks; we must not normalize attempts to outsource asylum responsibilities,” Grandi said.
“I also reject what we have heard some politicians on this continent tell their voters: that Ukrainians are ‘real refugees’ while others – fleeing similar horrors, but from different parts of the world – are not. There is only one word to define this attitude: racist,” he added.
"We cannot pay attention only to the latest crisis at the expense of the rest."
The High Commissioner shared his deep concern over UNHCR’s funding levels for other emergencies and the impact of underfunding on refugees and host communities around the world.
“We cannot pay attention only to the latest crisis at the expense of the rest,” he warned. Emergencies in Afghanistan and Ethiopia and long-running crises affecting Rohingya and Syrian refugees and countries in the Sahel mean millions still require urgent help, with resources lagging far behind their needs.
“If we do not receive at least an additional US$700 million, especially for our most underfunded operations, between now and the end of this year, we will be forced to make severe cuts with negative and sometimes drastic consequences for refugees and host communities,” Grandi warned.
Concerted action is also needed to find solutions for tens of millions of people displaced within the borders of their own countries by conflict and violence, and to end the scourge of statelessness for millions more.
Despite the worrying global picture, there are pockets of hope. The High Commissioner pointed to Cote d’Ivoire, where more than 96 per cent of refugees have returned home after years of civil strife. Despite challenges, more than 600,000 former refugees have also returned to South Sudan.
Refugees and migrants from Venezuela, meanwhile, have benefited from the temporary protection mechanism established by Colombia and similar regularization efforts being undertaken by Ecuador and other countries in the region.
Grandi encouraged governments to take inspiration from such achievements as they prepare for the second Global Refugee Forum in Geneva at the end of 2023. The first forum in December 2019 resulted in more than 1,400 pledges – and more since – by governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and others to find new ways to support forcibly displaced people and their hosts.
Grandi urged countries to make good on the pledges of the last Forum and prepare the ground for more pledges at the next.
He concluded: “The redoubling of that action, that drive and determination to help, to assist, and mostly to resolve, must be done together – as United Nations – and that must start today.”