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Opening remarks at the High-Level Officials Meeting

Speeches and statements

Opening remarks at the High-Level Officials Meeting

14 December 2021

President-elect, Ministers, Ambassadors, participants, dear friends.

The change from an in-person to a virtual event that unfortunately we had to adopt for this particular meeting reflects the uncertainty of today’s world; the fragility of future plans; and a vulnerability that we can all be confronted with.

They may be simply an inconvenience for this particular meeting, but uncertainty, fragility, and vulnerability are the daily life-threatening features that underpin the lives of the more than 84 million people forcibly displaced from their homes in the world today.

As conflict approaches; as persecutors pursue; as the climate emergency grows; they face life and death questions.

Do I have time to say goodbye?

What should I bring with me?

Will my children be safer if we stay or if we go?

Dear friends,

You have heard me say many times how we need the multilateral system to work to find solutions to today’s global challenges. To deliver the scientific and financial resources needed to end the pandemic; to find the political will to address climate change; and to summon enough coherence and unity to prevent and resolve conflict. Cooperation, political solutions and sustainable peace are needed today more than ever, and yet appear to be further from reach than they have been for decades.

While we encourage, cajole, and beg the relevant actors to find solutions, we are not – however – standing still. We are not just waiting.

Because you, like me, see that being a refugee is a circumstance; not a destiny. And you, like me, recognize that if we work together, we can change circumstances; we can improve living conditions; we can promote inclusion; we can provide opportunity.

As we concluded the Global Refugee Forum two years ago, I said that we had ‘the makings of a success’. I believe this holds true. In the three years since the affirmation by the General Assembly of the Global Compact on Refugees, we – together – have made considerable progress, as we heard from previous speakers. We have not paid lip service to the whole of society response, but rather committed to it and, more importantly, begun delivering on it. The support platforms, as we heard this morning, are tangible examples of the Compact in action.

The GCR Indicator Report, which was published last month, presents the results (and the gaps) of all our efforts with clear data and evidence.

And look to the game changing role that international financial institutions and development organisations have played. They have not only brought expertise in poverty alleviation, data and analysis, but have backed this up with billions of dollars in support to refugee hosting countries through a combination of grants and concessional loans.

Through the World Bank’s IDA 18 and 19, as well as the Global Concessional Financing Facility, refugees and host communities in 18 countries were supported with almost $4.5 billion. Regional financial institutions, like the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank and others have also made considerable contributions, which complement significant additional investments from bilateral development donors. These are very substantial figures — in addition to humanitarian resources provided by many donors through UNHCR and its partners.

The private sector has similarly stepped up delivering its business know-how, its financial backing, and the inclusion of refugees in its own workforces. Because many businesses see that it is not just the right thing to do, but also a smart thing to do.

We have seen an incredible, extraordinary mobilization of support and action through the 1,400 pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum two years ago, and the more than 200 that have been made since then. While there is scope for more to be done in this area, I have been particularly impressed by the cooperation through the matching of pledges between hosts and donors. This has enabled greater inclusion of refugees in national systems – not only in the COVID and health responses, but also in providing protection and greater livelihood opportunities.

There has been also broader inclusion of refugees in our responses, including by refugee-led organisations (especially those led by women). By their very nature, they are staying and have been increasingly enabled to deliver, which is a most welcome development. Yesterday I met some of the refugees who are participating in this meeting – and we just heard from two – representing organizations which they lead, or displaced communities that play a growing role in shaping their own future. I look forward to more and more meaningful refugee participation as one of the key features of this process.

We have also witnessed progress on the eradication of statelessness, which in itself could be a cause or consequence of displacement.

And I am especially pleased with the progress made in the field of education. Thanks to 263 pledges made in this sector since the Global Refugee Forum and because of the persistent approach over years by many partners from the United Nations, NGOs, governments, the private sector, we have seen an increase in refugee enrollment, including at secondary and tertiary levels, and in opportunities for connected education. We know from studies done together with the World Bank that refugee inclusion in education systems is both necessary and do-able. The gains in education are, of course, fragile – especially for girls - and we cannot and must not relent. But it is important to recognize this vitally important progress.

We will hear more about all these efforts in the next few days.

But of course, much — much! — remains to be done. While significant strides have been made to ease pressures on host countries and increase self-reliance and solutions, there is still a need for more equitable, predictable, true burden and responsibility sharing. This is absolutely crucial.

First of all, so long as the drivers of displacement continue to force people from their homes, international protection will be required. To this end, I must repeat my grave concerns regarding certain trends in some of the world’s industrialized countries, including closed borders, sometimes very violent pushbacks, the construction of walls and barriers, the outsourcing of international legal (and moral) obligations concerning people’s right to seek asylum. Preserving this right is the first hallmark of responsibility sharing. We cannot and must not – especially now – turn our backs on people in need of safety and protection.

Responsibility sharing is also — of course — about resources. There are many challenges for example brought on by the pandemic, including significant economic problems, especially for the most vulnerable in societies like refugees, the displaced and their host communities. I know how politically (and financially) charged it is to include non-nationals in socio-economic bail outs — and how costly it may be to include people who are displaced in those efforts. But it is the right thing to do both morally and economically, to ensure that large numbers of people are not left on the margins of society, vulnerable and exposed — and I applaud those host countries (and they are many) who have embarked on bolder refugee inclusion paths.

However, for host countries to be able to do this, and to implement inclusive policies such as freedom of movement, right to work, property rights for refugees, they must get help, and I repeat my call to donors to ensure that much more substantive, predictable and strategic resources be made available for hosts and refugees, especially through grants. While financing, as mentioned earlier, has undoubtedly improved since the New York Declaration in 2016, even more bilateral development cooperation is required if we are to achieve the objectives of the Refugee Compact.

And in the same spirit of responsibility sharing, as travel resumes, we must also find and implement more third country solutions. Resettlement is of course a key avenue, and I am grateful to all those states that have continued to maintain or increase their resettlement quotas over the past years, as well as to the United States of America for reinvigorating its resettlement programme. Recent pledges by several governments — linked in part to Afghan refugees — seem to indicate that we have turned a corner in refugee resettlement, and may be on the right path again. But there are also many opportunities through complementary pathways, including family reunification, scholarships, work and other visas that must be seized. These are not just life changing opportunities for those who can have access to them, but they also bring talent that enriches the societies receiving refugees. Such pathways can help address labour shortages and bring skills that are much needed. Think of the many refugee health care workers during the pandemic; of refugee scholars and writers; athletes and caregivers.

And ultimately, much more investment must be made in countries of origin to first and foremost address the root causes of flight, especially conflict, but also to ensure good governance and respect for human rights. This is primarily the responsibility of the governments of those countries. But the international community also has a role to play in supporting them, especially when it comes to increasing humanitarian and early recovery activities and supporting peace building efforts at an early stage, including solutions to internal displacement. These investments — almost always in fragile contexts — often require bold choices, but taking some risks at the early stages of peace building — putting aside politics and focusing on people — may help prevent much greater crises of human suffering and displacement later on.

Dear friends,

The next two days will help us take stock of how far we have come – together – since the affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees, despite the many challenges that we are facing. As we enter our discussions today, we should be confident and proud of the progress we have made these past three years. And yet we must not be complacent, as the many gains made are still fragile, and the needs of uprooted people – and of those hosting them – are great.

It is indeed an honour to welcome you here today, along with our Swiss hosts (whom I wish to thank again), and with representatives of the first Global Refugee Forum’s convening countries (whom I thank for their valuable work).

And I appeal that all participants in this meeting help us chart the way forward in a constructive manner. That we are all cooperative in our approach. That we show the world what can be accomplished by working together, across regions and stakeholder groups, to truly change circumstances and improve people’s lives.

Thank you very much.