Keynote speech at the Forum of Collaboration between International Organizations on Humanitarian Aid Foundation Dialogue for Peace
First of all, I would like to thank our partners, the Muslim World League, for the invitation to the event and for creating space for discussions around our common efforts to address humanitarian needs.
My organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was created in 1950 with a time-limited mandate to address the needs of refugees in Europe. Since then, we have endeavoured to provide protection and solutions to refugees and other forcibly displaced persons across the globe. Today, that population exceeds 100 million displaced people worldwide, a record-high in modern times.
Behind this staggering milestone, 100 million individuals have seen their lives uprooted, have been separated from loved ones, and are struggling to find peace and stability to rebuild their lives. To say that the exponential growth in forced displacement in the last decade is one of the key challenges of our time is an understatement.
Tackling the challenge of the global displacement crisis is one that no single person or organisation alone can do. This is a global crisis which requires a global response, a fact that was recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 through the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants - leading up to the affirmation, in 2018, of the Global Compact on Refugees.
These documents – recognising the enormity of the task ahead - provide a blueprint for governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives. They recognise the need for a whole of society approach to displacement, one which ensures the widest possible coalition: from local and national authorities, international financial organizations, the private sector, and civil society actors like faith-based organizations, NGOs, and academics, in support of this goal.
Each of these actors bring their own particular expertise to tackling the global displacement crisis, leveraging complementary expertise, networks, and skills to best protect and aid those unfortunate enough to have been forcibly displaced. And I’m in good company around this table, with each of the organisations represented here forming part of the global network of over a thousand partners with which we work daily in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees.
But while we work to address the needs of the forcibly displaced, we must remember that this merely serves to address the consequences, measured in blood and tears, of our fractured world. A large proportion of the global displaced population have faced protracted periods of displacement and exile and, unsurprisingly, the places of origin of many forcibly displaced read as a roster of long-unresolved conflicts. Somalia and Afghanistan, both wrought by conflict and instability for the last forty years; Syria, a country devastated by war in the last decade, and; South Sudan, a country born of and into bloodshed. There are, sadly, many more countries to add to this list.
So as a hundred million people struggle in search of the peace they are denied at home, our world continues to grapple with the age-old concern of peace-making, an endeavour that requires the most heightened form of multilateralism if it is to succeed. And while we continue to push for peace, and seek every opportunity for this, we must recognise that the unity of action which is required for this remains elusive. In the words of Secretary General Guterres, our world and the international community remain “on the edge of an abyss – and moving in the wrong direction.”
Faced with this gloomy outlook, and the overwhelming nature of humanitarian needs, we must redouble our efforts to ensure forcibly displaced people are provided with protection, aid, and solutions, and that we can mitigate the impact of our world’s fractured nature on displaced populations.
We must redouble our efforts at affecting change through humanitarian diplomacy, drawing on the principles of independence, neutrality, and impartiality. Because only advocacy with state and non-state actors can secure the protection of civilians, raise awareness about the needs of people affected by conflict and violence, and facilitate humanitarian operations.
We must also redouble our efforts to ensure that forcibly displaced populations are included in national systems and given access to decent work. These are not just key to enabling them to be self-reliant and enable socio-economic integration, it is also to the benefit of the economies of host communities. This is supported by extensive evidence, which consistently confirms not only the positive impact of including refugee in labour markets on their income, physical and mental health but also on local economies and for host population’s own access to social services.
And we must ensure that the suffering of the hundred million people fleeing war and persecution remains high on the development agenda. In Afghanistan alone, the United Nations estimates that poverty could become near universal, sparing a mere 3 per cent of the country’s population by mid-2022. Nothing good comes from having populations rendered vulnerable by conflict and strife face further hardship as a result of poverty.
The global response to the recent escalation of fighting in Ukraine, and the staggering humanitarian needs arising from this, offers a glimmer of hope. This situation led to a reaffirmation of broad support for the principles and norms of protection and the importance of international solidarity. It has prompted a wave of global solidarity with those forced to flee. And it has proven that political will can be mobilized and that bold, collective action to protect and include refugees in host societies is both possible and beneficial. The challenge before us now is to sustain this spirit of solidarity in the challenging months and years ahead, and as importantly, ensure that this solidarity is extended to all refugees and displaced populations around the world.
I am headed to Afghanistan in the coming week, a country whose population has suffered much in recent decades and one whose neighbours, most notably Pakistan and Iran, have done much to support. While in the country, I will be visiting a number of sites, including a centre set up to promote the livelihoods and economic empowerment of displaced women. This project, run in partnership with a local organisation, not only serves to provide a sustainable income to women; it also establishes a market from which the entire community benefits. Because providing the essentials of protection and life-saving aid is just the start, and we must collectively work to help societies rebuild themselves and ensure that they are equipped not only to survive, but to thrive.