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Informal Exchange with Member States on the Global Compact on Refugees

Speeches and statements

Informal Exchange with Member States on the Global Compact on Refugees

16 February 2018
New York


Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much, Ambassador Saikal and Ambassador Ružička, for the introductions. And thank you for the opportunity to engage with you and to brief you on the outcome of the first round of formal consultations on the global compact on refugees.

Ambassador Ružička touched on some of the historical context linking the adoption of the global compact to the adoption of the 1951 Convention. Today we face an increase in the magnitude and complexities of refugee movements. This is exemplified by two factors. First, the numbers, which include 22.5 million refugees around the world, a number that by all indications will increase. Let us also not forget the 43.1 million internally displaced and estimated 10 million stateless people today. The causes are clear. When it comes to refugee movements, it is about conflict, violence, persecution, serious human rights violations. We have also seen the impact of environmental degradation, as well as climate change, as factors that increasingly are part of complex movements. For example, in the Sahel or in East Africa, there is a clear relationship between environmental degradation, conflict, and violence.

Second, about 84 per cent of refugees are hosted by countries with minimal resources, often facing poverty. Sixty per cent of refugees are hosted by ten countries. We know that unfortunately over the years, we have not seen major solutions when it comes to refugees in protracted situations.

Since the New York Declaration, we have seen an increase in international and political support. The first resolution of the General Assembly recognizes that refugee issues are a matter of international concern that necessitates international cooperation and burden and responsibility sharing.

However, historically, a fairly limited amount of countries have engaged in responsibility-sharing. We need to broaden the support base beyond the existing host countries. We need much more engagement with the private sector, with faith-based organizations, and of course with intergovernmental organizations.

As mentioned, 1951 was the birth of the international governance system regarding refugees, institutionally through the founding of UNHCR and the international protection regime founded in treaty law, and General Assembly resolutions, and subsequent treaties. We have a solid international legal basis that has developed over the last 67 years or so. At the same time, we have a solid operational response system which we can draw from, and which has influenced the implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework [CRRF].

Paragraphs 18 and 19 of Annex 1 of the New York Declaration have given the High Commissioner the mandate to propose a global compact on refugees in 2018. UNHCR was asked to develop it, in light of its experience and practical application of the CRRF. Quite frankly, the CRRF has been implemented only over a short period of time, with 13 participating countries to date. UNHCR was also asked to engage in consultations with Member States and other stakeholders.

The New York Office Director, Ninette Kelley, and I briefed you a couple of times on the CRRF as well as on the thematic consultations held last year. This process resulted in the High Commissioner’s Dialogue last December, with attendance of over 600 participants to do a stocktaking exercise. The results of these engagements informed the zero draft of the global compact on refugees that the High Commissioner sent out to Member States in January.

This week saw the start of the formal consultations. I think it is important to bear in mind that as we already have a legal governance and operational system in place, the Global Compact does not need to be the “be all and end all” of refugee issues. What it does try to respond to, is address an issue that has been present right from the start – namely burden and responsibility sharing. The preamble of the 1951 Convention recognizes that countries are affected differently by refugee movements, depending on who hosts them, and the only way to deal with this is to define and strengthen international cooperation. The global compact, incorporated and building upon the CRRF, is meant to help advance the cause of better defining and strengthening international cooperation so that countries facing a large influx of refugees or a protracted refugee situation can rely upon support from the international community in a wide range of areas. The global compact is intended to secure commitment from the international community to support countries particularly affected by these issues. Ultimately this is a way of operationalizing what is in the New York Declaration. The way we have sought to do this is through the Programme of Action outlined in the global compact.

So what does this new approach seek to accomplish? It seeks to engage a wide array of States, not just the usual ones. It seeks to ensure that the humanitarian and development worlds are more in tune, not least in the light of the Sustainable Development Agenda. We know that if we invest in refugees, we are investing in the future of the countries to which they hope to return. Also, it seeks to ensure that support is secured for host communities and host countries as well as refugees. There would also be a greater focus on solutions, including links to prevention efforts, peace and security reform, and development reform.

The zero draft of the global compact that UNHCR put forward has essentially three parts. The first part includes principal modalities for responsibility sharing. It sets out the means for securing more predictable support to host countries. For example, it facilitates stronger engagement at local and regional level, proposes the concept of solidarity conferences involving more stakeholders; and outlines possible stand-by arrangements. Such modalities could be triggered by a mass influx of refugees or by protracted situations. The second part of the Programme of Action operationalizes elements of CRRF, such as reception arrangements, the identification of specific needs, access to health and education, livelihoods, and solutions. Ultimately, predictable arrangements in these areas are needed that host countries can rely upon. The third part focuses on follow-up arrangements, such as reporting and monitoring, as well as a proposed ministerial meeting in 2021.

This week, we had the first formal consultations. We had 149 States participate and give rich feedback. We are now revising the text in light of the comments, suggestions, and interventions made. There is some consensus that certain areas need to be strengthened, such as links with ongoing reform efforts, the mechanics of responsibility sharing mechanisms, the age, gender, and diversity dimension, solutions [particularly where local integration is not an option], financing, and robust follow-up mechanisms. We will significantly revise this draft based on the large number of comments.

There is a dichotomy that we must manage as this is non-legally-binding document but also one that aims to increase commitments. We need to find right narrative to keep this balance. This, I think, will be one of the biggest challenges going forward.

We heard a lot of ideas about cooperative arrangements going forward, and we will engage with Member States on these ideas and contributions over the coming days. There was resounding positive feedback that the zero draft of the global compact is starting from a very good place, and we now need to deal with areas that require revisions.

Perhaps I should also mention the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration. We received the message from many of the importance of coherence between the two compacts. There was a clear recognition and understanding that while the compacts start from different places and have different outcomes, there is some overlap on certain issues that needs to be addressed.

The next formal consultations will be held on the 20th of March when we will begin a section-by-section review.

Hopefully this was a useful and quick update on where we stand.

Thank you.