Amid competing emergencies, UNHCR calls for open borders and more international solidarity
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday wrapped up the annual meeting of his organization’s governing body with a fresh call for international solidarity and support as UNHCR responds to a proliferation of new emergencies.
The High Commissioner reminded representatives of the 87 member states of the UNHCR Executive Committee (ExCom) that his organization faced tough dilemmas as it tried to establish a balance between helping those fleeing their homes today in countries such as Mali, Sudan, Syria and Democratic Republic of the Congo and its vital role in assisting the millions in protracted refugee situations of five years or more.
“It is not a question of choosing one or the other. It is a question of finding the right balance,” said Guterres. “It is important to recognize that this balance is inevitably tilted by the fact that you can postpone a solution in a protracted refugee situation, [but] you cannot postpone the emergency response to crises that emerge with people crossing borders and needing immediate assistance.”
To help UNHCR find the best balance, Guterres urged donor nations to provide funding that was not earmarked for specific field operations, but could be used where it was most needed. He also stressed the need to include development actors in solutions for refugees.
“With humanitarian money alone, let’s be clear, it will never be possible to respond to all development challenges that are related to the sustainability and effectiveness of solutions we try to develop,” said Guterres.
He also noted that in an emergency, when resources are limited, UNHCR could not choose between life-saving assistance and core protection activities. “We have to do both. Life-saving assistance is a protection tool. Protection is life-saving. We have to use resources to have the best combination of both.”
The High Commissioner said it was vital that the UN refugee agency adhere to its key principles, including putting people of concern at the centre of its work, strengthening partnerships, taking a principled approach rooted in solid knowledge and sound analysis, and accountability to refugees, donors and other partners.
Guterres later told journalists that 2012 has been a particularly difficult year for UNHCR because it had to respond to four simultaneous and acute crises in Syria, Mali, Sudan/South Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said that this came on top of the lingering impact of displacement crises last year in Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire and protracted situations in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia.
The High Commissioner, noting that UNHCR was stretched to the limit, also called on host countries to continue their generosity in welcoming refugees, while acknowledging the dramatic impact on their economies, alongside the security implications of the nearby conflict. “I urge them to keep their borders open, but also other countries in the world where refugees from these crises seek protection,” he said.
His also made an impassioned appeal for strong financial support for UNHCR operations worldwide. “At this moment our reserves are zero. We have been able so far to respond to all emergencies, but this dramatic combination of new crises and the chronic ones that do not end, creates enormous pressure on our resources and we badly need international solidarity.”
ExCom meets in Geneva annually to review and approve the organization’s programmes and budget, advise on international protection and discuss a wide range of other issues with UNHCR and its inter-governmental and NGO partners.
This year’s meeting was chaired by Sweden, which handed over the chairmanship to Colombia on Friday at the end of the five-day meeting. ExCom looked at many issues, including evolving protection needs for refugees and internally displaced people, and the situation of the world’s millions of stateless people.