Opening Remarks at Signing of the Local LoU between UNHCR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to join you all, State authorities of Guatemala, on the date that UNHCR and the Government mark a new chapter of a strengthened institutional dialogue in our joint endeavour to provide protection and assistance to persons in need of international protection and with specific protection needs.
I would like to firstly commend the Government of Guatemala for the 20th Anniversary of the signature of the Peace Agreements in 29 December 1996, which marked the commitment of all stakeholders with the re-establishment of peace after 36 years of internal conflict. During the 1990s, UNHCR and authorities from Mexico and Guatemala supported the gradual return of 43,000 Guatemalan refugees who were willing to voluntarily repatriate.
Unfortunately, forced displacement is still among the most pressing predicaments of our time. UNHCR estimates that there are over 60 million people around the world who were forced to leave their homes in 2015 due to conflicts and persecution.
Owing to a multiplicity of causes, the displacement of persons, including accompanied and non‐accompanied children, forced to escape from their community of origin, constitutes a new challenge in Central America. In 2015, asylum-seekers from this region topped nearly 110,000 – a more than five-fold increase over three years – with most of them seeking safety in Mexico and the United States. Many people have been forcibly displaced inside their own countries. Guatemala as well has received and provided protection to nationals from neighbouring countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador, who fled persecution and applied for asylum in this country. In this regard, we once again commend the Government of Guatemala for keeping its borders open for persons seeking international protection in the territory and for continuously working on improving its asylum procedures.
Guatemala has also been a key actor in a number of regional processes and fora. I would like to highlight two key processes in which Guatemala was a party and made concrete pledges, reaffirming its commitment to maintain the humanitarian and protection space open in this country, and to continuously work with UNHCR and other international organizations.
In 2014, Guatemala and other Latin American and Caribbean countries adopted the Brazil Declaration “A Framework for Cooperation and Regional Solidarity to Strengthen the International Protection of Refugees, Displaced and Stateless Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean” and its corresponding Plan of Action. Jointly with Latin-American and Caribbean countries, Guatemala recognized the importance and the need to work closely with UNHCR in the next 10 years towards the implementation of the commitments made for the prevention of displacement; protection of persons, including for the safe and dignified transit; and towards finding solutions.
In 2016, the countries of the Northern Triangle, including Guatemala, also recognized that the crisis in Central America urgently required a stepped-up protection response and a regional approach to sharing responsibility for this growing crisis. In this regard, we also commend Guatemala´s commitments to promote the dignified return of Guatemalans; to provide humanitarian assistance to Honduran and Salvadorian citizens in transit; and to improve the reception conditions of unaccompanied children. We would also like to reaffirm that UNHCR is ready and will continue to support the Government in this endeavour.
In this context, the agreement signed between UNHCR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today provides the institutional framework for a mutual cooperation for the achievement of following three key objectives: 1) implementation of Guatemala´s commitments made during the anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration in 2014 and the High Level Roundtable “Call to Action“ in 2016; 2) provision of capacity building to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs´ staff working in the country and in diplomatic representations elsewhere; and 3) promote durable solutions for refugees and develop protection mechanisms to persons at heightened risk.
Finally, UNHCR is confident that this continuous dialogue and the work with the State of Guatemala, as well as with other civil society and international organizations, is key to addressing the consequences of this multifaceted and multicausal displacement in the Northern Triangle.
I would like to seize this opportunity to once again express UNHCR’s sincere appreciation to the people and government of Guatemala for their hospitality towards all refugees seeking protection in this country and to its commitment to continue to ensure a safe and dignified transit and return.