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Closing remarks at the Global Refugee Forum

Speeches and statements

Closing remarks at the Global Refugee Forum

18 December 2019

Let me now conclude the proceedings with some remarks that certainly will not do justice to the incredible diversity, richness, energy, ideas that have been produced in the last three days - thanks to all those have participated in the Global Refugee Forum.

I will share some numbers. As well as the plenary session that has run throughout the last two days, since Monday we have been managing around 100 other ‘points of interaction’ of varying types, and other events - marrying the very formal and institutional with the highly informal, innovative and creative. We wanted to ensure this mix of the formal and informal, and in that respect this Forum has distinguished itself.

We have counted about 3,000 participants - a very significant number, with dozens of delegations led at ministerial level. I wish to thank all those who responded to our encouragement in this respect, including the permanent missions here in Geneva that relentlessly pressed their capitals to ensure that senior representation would be forthcoming! Thank you to all, and especially to those that succeeded in doing so.

Among the participants there were also at least 100 companies and foundations and 200 or more civil society organisations. These participants, including the business community, have been among the most creative contributors to the Forum. I want to thank them, as well as the participants from academia and the world of sport, for their many contributions.

I was pleased that the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection could launch the academic network on Monday - one of the initiatives started here and foreseen in the global compact.

I would be remiss, of course, if I did not mention the pivotal role of the refugees. We had more than 70 refugee participants originating from 22 different countries and hosted by 30 countries. This is quite significant. Many took part as speakers, as panel members and in many other events.

I would like to recall the words that Aya Abdullah, the former refugee who spoke in the opening session, shared with all of us. She told us, “Believe in us, invest in us, and you will see we will all be stronger for it”. These were among the most significant words pronounced in this Forum. I also want to thank the delegations who included refugees. This is very much in line with the invitation that we just heard from Oxfam: to keep refugees at the centre as we discuss matters that relate to their lives and to their futures.

There were many questions asked: Why are we here? What does all of this represent? What will it mean on the ground? Allow me here a brief, very personal, reflection. I became High Commissioner at the beginning of 2016. A few days after I had been designated, and just before I took up the role, I received a phone call at home from the then Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson. He told me, “Filippo, the Secretary-General wants to have a summit at the General Assembly on refugees and migrants. So, since you’ll be High Commissioner during that time, we want you to know, and we will work together on that.” This was at the peak of the arrivals of large numbers of refugees and migrants in Europe.

I then came to Geneva, and we started discussing this. Even among ourselves, there was a bit of… not skepticism, but questions. What will the summit do? Will a summit change our responses? And then the summit was held, together with the Leaders’ summit, where many pledges were made. The New York Declaration tasked the United Nations to establish two compacts. This was certainly progress, but some said, “Why a compact? What will it do? What difference will it make?”

But we continued working.  The New York Declaration established the comprehensive refugee response framework, which was elaborated further in the Compact, and has already made a lot of difference. You heard the EU Commissioner of International Partnerships speak about Kakuma – the work there, led by the Kenyan government, is the child of the New York Declaration, and the development of the Compact gave the space for this. But when the Compact was endorsed a year ago, we heard many voices legitimately say, “Well, this is another United Nations instrument, but what about implementation?” So, while we already worked to apply the Compact on the ground, we also prepared a Global Refugee Forum to enable all those involved to come together and to make pledges to support its implementation.

Now, this has happened. Some 770 pledges were made. I already anticipate that we will hear some voices saying, “You know, unless we see the implementation of these pledges, we will have failed.”  There are always people that are a bit pessimistic, and this is fine – they keep us on our toes. But I think that we have to believe in this process. And the fact that so many of us have come here, from so many different institutions, governments, organizations, and parts of civil society, is testimony that it is possible to make progress in this direction.

We are still reviewing the pledges, and the co-conveners’ summary will be posted online later tonight, together with a first analysis. Let me single out, however, the World Bank - a vital leader in this endeavour - for their USD 2.2 billion pledge for the next refugee sub-window under IDA19. We understand that this will be accompanied by other substantive investments to boost the involvement of the private sector and create jobs in refugee situations. In addition, the link to other World Bank funding in fragile states, as the Prime Minister of Somalia noted, will be extremely important. There was a similar announcement from the Inter-American Development Bank of US$1 billion.

Over and above this, our estimate is that the new pledges made by states and other stakeholders in terms of financial support, amount to more than USD 2 billion. Of course, pledges are not just financial. It is very significant that more than a third of the pledge - 270 - came from countries in the global south, and I want to pay tribute to the courage and sense of responsibility of these countries - in terms of refugee protection, access to asylum, inclusion in national development plans, legislation and policies. As many of them reminded us, this now needs to be matched by donor pledges in order to sustain and support those efforts.

The new Asylum Capacity Support Group will be also devoted to help countries restore the primacy and the integrity - as the UN Secretary-General said yesterday – of the asylum system. And, at the other end of the spectrum, I want to salute efforts that have been pledged by many countries – donors and host countries and countries of origin – to redouble efforts in support of solutions – especially in support of the voluntary return of refugees and their reintegration in their home communities. But all of this will need great investment and support.

I am very pleased that one of the tenets of the Refugee Compact, the implementation of the nexus between humanitarian and development aid, has been cited so much in the last few days. As well as the commitments made by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, there have been other very concrete pledges including the 1.3 billion euros pledged by Germany. Others, like the OECD-DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility, also made important pledges on developing policies and approaches. These also remain fundamental for the success of this new approach.

From that angle, I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t say how much we appreciate the contribution of the private sector. The private sector is increasingly becoming not only a philanthropic actor (more than USD 250 million were pledged in the Forum for refugee situations), but is by now bringing many different contributions besides financial resources - in terms of technology, new business models, investments in energy and in other situations. The pledge of 125,000 hours of pro-bono legal services, made by the Global Network of Public Interest Law in the very opening session, is an example of less visible but equally important pledges made by the private sector.

There were 100 pledges in the jobs and livelihoods area – one that I was worried would remain neglected, but that in the end attracted a lot of interest and support – reflected in commitments to create jobs, and support to women’s empowerment. Here, let me make one small footnote: I apologise for the lack of gender diversity in the opening panel; it’s not our fault, but that’s the way the world is. And the fact that the Forum responded to that unsatisfactory state of affairs with pledges for women’s empowerment in refugee contexts is a good lesson learned. Thank you for that.

And of course, many other areas were tackled. Education, which we knew would be of great interest, received 130 pledges. I wish to thank all those who pledged in this very important area.

A very important area for pledges has also been that of resettlement and complementary pathways. Some 140 states and other stakeholders made commitments in support of solutions that allow refugees to rebuild their lives wherever they are. 21 states made pledges towards resettlement and complementary pathways, and others have expanded or reintroduced resettlement programmes.

More than 50,000 places, either in resettlement or complementary pathways, were pledged. We need to analyse that, and what it means, but I hope that it signals a counter-tendency to the decline in resettlement place that we have seen in the last few years. Let’s hope that this Forum will have had a role in revitalizing that important solution as well.

We also spoke of energy and climate. I issued a challenge to provide clean energy, sustainable energy, in all refugee and neighbouring host community settings by 2030. Almost 40 states and other stakeholders made pledges in relation to energy, and 30 signed up to the Clean Energy Challenge.

Now, of course, all this has to be translated into action, and I’m very pleased that many of you spontaneously proposed methods to monitor progress in implementation through co-sponsorship groups, and coalitions around common themes. Also, the way you have engaged through joint pledges and work plans will help, as we encourage each other to implement what we have committed to here.

There is already an online dashboard that reports on all the commitments made, which is still being updated as we continue to record the pledges. And we have a framework that all states have agreed on for tracking progress against the four objectives of the compact, with three or four indicators in each area. Of course, we have to be relatively patient because significant progress in these areas will in general only be measured after 3, 5, or 10 years, but clearly we also need to have some quick results to maintain the momentum around the Forum and this process.

I will conclude with a couple of remarks. The central theme of the Forum was burden- and responsibility-sharing. These have been very imperfect since the establishment of the Refugee Convention in 1951. All the instruments talk about it, but the reality is that there has been no real systematic burden- and responsibility-sharing. That sharing, as the Secretary-General pointed out yesterday, can only be real if we all take on responsibilities.

Let me be very frank, if we move into a world (as some political leaders want us to), in which some countries are precipitated into crises and produce displacement, a few countries nearby take all the refugees, and other countries pay the bill, this is not responsibility-sharing. Geography and history have clearly put us in different places in the refugee equation. But the Convention, the other international instruments, human rights law and practice, humanitarianism, and our own interests bring us together in different ways, in which we must all take responsibility in a true spirit of partnership. And I hope and trust this is the message that comes out of this Forum. You can trust me, and all at UNHCR, to be the standard-bearers of this new approach, in which we really, strategically and generously work together in a spirit of responsibility-sharing.

I will conclude by thanking the co-convening countries and their leaders who came here to speak to us. I also want to sincerely thank my co-host Switzerland for hosting us here. It has not been easy to have 3,000 people and very senior delegations. So, my thanks go to Switzerland, to the Federal Government, to the Canton de Genève, to the city of Geneva, and to the security services that have gone out of their way to ensure that we would be safe and efficient in running this meeting.

I thank all of you, all delegations of states and other organisations and institutions for your very good participation in this forum. I certainly join my co-host in thanking Daniel Endres, the Director of the Forum, together with Perveen and other members of the team, together with Ellen, Mercedes and the Secretariat that have contributed so much in organising this Forum. And I also thank all my colleagues around the world for having made the GRF a success, and for having put this at the centre of our work in the past few months whilst, of course, dealing with everything else that continues to happen in the world.

I know that I’ll go out and the press will ask me, “So, has this been a success?” And this is a big word, “success”. I am not a pessimist, but I will tell them that this has the making of a success. To make it a success is incumbent on all of us.