Launch of the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) for the refugee and migrant situation in Europe. Remarks by Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 25 January 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me share a few thoughts and remarks on the wider context of this appeal. I am very glad to be here both with IOM, and with Save the Children as the representative of the 67 partners who contributed to this appeal.
2015 saw one of the largest movements of people in Europe since World War II. It was made up of different categories of people, but it had a very strong refugee character: 92 per cent came from the world's top ten refugee-producing countries, and about half were Syrians. There were many vulnerable people, unaccompanied minors, single mothers with new-born babies, and elderly persons, all of them in need of immediate assistance.
Together with our partners, we achieved a lot in 2015, helping to put in place basic reception arrangements and distributing winterized relief items to arrivals. We established vital protection services such as legal counselling, information on asylum and registration procedures, psychosocial support or family reunification and referral mechanisms for people with special needs. None of this would have been possible without the strong support we got from donors, who provided full funding to UNHCR's Special Mediterranean Initiative appeal last year of about 85 million dollars - this is a rare event with today's funding appeals.
Europe has a good existing legal framework today to ensure that the rights of people on the move are respected - including refugee law, human rights law and the instruments of the European Union. We also saw a tremendous outpouring of solidarity and generosity amongst European citizens to welcome and assist newly arriving refugees, and this is something we should not lose sight of.
Nevertheless, the situation has presented many problems, and was chaotic in many places, also due to the unstructured character of the response, which was not well coordinated. We were particularly worried to see the erosion of many measures protecting the institution of asylum and even some that negated it entirely. We have been concerned about the number of discriminating measures against certain nationalities. And in more general terms, it has been very worrying to see the politicization of refugee and migration issues, and the resulting xenophobia.
The chaotic situation has continued into 2016, and just in the first weeks of this year, 149 people are already estimated to have lost their lives at sea. So I think we all agree that what is important is to put order into this disorderly situation, to make it more manageable both in political and in operational terms. In other words, we need to stabilize the situation, so that we can return to an orderly reception that respects the fundamental principles of refugee protection.
I have just returned from the Middle East, and I would be remiss if I did not say that of course the only way to stabilize the situation is to obtain peace in Syria. This might sound almost rhetorical at this point, but it is the only absolute truth here and the only real long-term solution.
But conflict resolution takes time, and meanwhile, many things need to be done. There are an estimated 6.5 million internally displaced people in Syria, and the main problem is access to some of the communities. But where access does exist, if we could provide more assistance, many people could be stabilized. We have also been saying for a long time that the international community must provide more support to the countries receiving refugees in the region. I have to praise once more what Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, but also Iraq and Egypt have done in this regard. The burden is increasing for them - both in numbers and in the needs of the refugees as the situation becomes more protracted and refugees more vulnerable. Providing more assistance in the region is a very powerful stabilization measure. The London conference next week will be a key opportunity in mobilizing such additional support, and we know the focus of this conference is both immediate humanitarian assistance and support in the longer term, which means education, jobs, and help for the host communities.
Let me also say a few words about Turkey, which was the first field operation which I just visited last week. Turkey has made enormous efforts over the past few years to host an ever-growing number of refugees that today make it the biggest host country in the world. These efforts need to be strengthened, and Europe in particular must assist Turkey in this regard. UNHCR and other partners are ready to support the EU and Turkey in translating their Joint Action Plan into reality, in areas such as assistance to refugees and host communities, implementation of the existing legislation on refugees and asylum-seekers, and resettlement and other forms of admission.
Stabilization is of course also necessary in Europe, to make this flow more humane, more conducive to the welfare of those on the move, and more manageable on the part of States. The EU has already made a number of very important commitments in recent months, towards increased reception capacity especially along the Balkans route, to boost registration and implement a program of relocation across the Union. The implementation of these measures now has to be the priority. The partners in the appeal we are launching here today are ready to assist governments with this, but this will not be successful unless there is closer cooperation and mutual trust between European countries.
There is one more important stabilization issue I would like to mention, and that is the promotion of legal pathways for admission, meaning more options for refugees to be admitted to countries in Europe and elsewhere in ways that are more humane and more targeted to those who are most vulnerable. Without safe alternatives, people will continue to have no other choice than to resort to smugglers, and many will keep dying on the way. On 30 March, the Secretary-General will open a high-level conference organized by UNHCR to obtain more commitments from all countries for additional opportunities for Syrian refugees to find safety elsewhere. These can include resettlement, family reunification, scholarships, job schemes and other flexible measures.
The appeal we are launching here today is an appeal for funds to support the contribution the 67 partners can make to a more orderly and humane movement of people. It is focused very strongly on protection and on supporting States to put in place some of the measures needed to manage the crisis. The appeal is very much in line with the Plan of Action that emerged from the Leaders' Summit in October, and it will be implemented in very close cooperation with the European Commission and agencies such as FRONTEX and the European Asylum Support Office. It also takes into account - just like the appeals that will be the basis for the London conference - the need of the host communities.
The gist of this appeal is to support governments in ensuring safe reception, access to asylum, a focus on the needs of vulnerable people, and the implementation of diverse solutions, including effective mechanisms for the safe assisted return for those not in need of refugee protection, something on which IOM has the lead.
We know there has been concern over the volume of this appeal, both in terms of planning figures and in terms of the budgetary requirements. Let me stress that it is a plan, and any progress in the stabilization measures I mentioned can contribute to reducing these needs.
I want to conclude by saying that this situation needs, more than ever, truly global burden-sharing and solidarity. This is the fundamental appeal we are making here today.
Thank you very much.