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High Commissioner's Closing Remarks - 73rd Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's Closing Remarks - 73rd Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee

14 October 2022

Mr Chairman, dear colleagues and friends,

Let me start these closing remarks with a quote.

It is a sad, tragic quote:

"I had been carrying her for 10 days. We had to leave her by the side of the road. We had no strength to bury her."

These are the words that Fatima, a Somali mother, recently told a journalist after her three-year-old daughter died in her arms as mother and children walked at least 15 days to escape the effects of the drought.

‘We had no strength to bury her.’

A pain no parent should endure. And yet a story of loss that is happening in many places around the world today.

In Ethiopia. In Myanmar. In Mozambique. In the Sahel. In Ukraine. In Central America. This is what makes the conclusions of this Executive Committee so important.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well where — as the Deputy Prime Minister told me yesterday, and almost unknown to the rest of the world — deadly inter-communal violence in the west of the country has recently resulted in at least 140 people killed; and some 30,000 people – mostly women and children – displaced, many of whom — as the Foreign Minister told me this week — as refugees in the nearby Republic of Congo. This is just one example. Almost unknown to the rest of the world.

Mr Chairman,

This is the reality confronting people who have been failed by the inability to prevent or stop war. Failed by decision-makers. Pursued by aggressors, persecutors or the climate emergency or a combination of these and other factors. And in too many cases invisible, in the margins of humanity.

And it is a failure which we — as the international community — must not accept.

We must do better.

We must take risks for — and make — peace.

Inspired by our 2020 laureate former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, we must be both principled and pragmatic in carrying out our work and engage with all interlocutors for the people we serve. Because we must — above all, and always — put people over politics.

This week, we have heard some 130 countries take the floor. I’ve responded to each one of you. We have heard about the efforts to receive, protect, and help refugees.

We have heard about increases in resettlement; humanitarian visas; complementary pathways.

We have heard of many steps taken to end statelessness.

We have heard of the desire of many States to redouble efforts to relieve and solve the plight of internally displaced people.

These and many others are outstanding contributions — not just the statements, but the work that they speak about in each of your countries.

I salute you for your commitment to these efforts. They must continue. Because, like one delegate said so starkly, ‘we are on the brink.’

There are so many reasons to be worried.

Most of the conflicts we spoke about, you spoke about, sadly, show how inadequate our conflict-resolution mechanisms have become. The climate emergency, unchecked, is creating hell on earth in so many places — floods, fires, extreme heat waves, unprecedented droughts. A profoundly unequal world is producing unbearable poverty for millions. These mega-factors combine; and the ease of contemporary human mobility, often facilitated by unscrupulous human traffickers, results in population movements of a size and complexity that we have never experienced before.

However, Mr Chairman, in spite of these daunting challenges, or perhaps because of them, I heard an almost uniform focus on the need to address root causes which — we all recognise it — are complex, and, in many cases, require new approaches; and to pursue solutions, difficult as they may be.

Such solutions must continue to be our ultimate goal. Ideally to enable refugees and displaced people to return home, which is the overwhelmingly preferred choice for almost all displaced people in the world — if they have that choice — as the pull of home is a powerful force.

Those of us who deal with forced displacement must therefore make our voice heard: we must say more clearly than ever before that refugee flows — which worry so many governments and their leaders — will continue, and become more worrisome, if we do not pursue peace, for real, everywhere, putting aside differences which — allow a simple humanitarian to say it — can be overcome by working together instead of always thinking and saying that “my country comes first.” Petty, aggressive nationalism, in an era of global, shared challenges, is not only irresponsible — it is suicidal. It will allow a leader to win the next election or remain in power through other means — but it won’t save his or her citizens and all of us from the brink. Working together, on the other hand, goes beyond conflict: it means joining up peacebuilding with human rights and development, to undo the lethal knot that so often ties war to poverty, weak or abusive governance, climate change, and displacement.

Mr Chairman,

Solidarity remains strong. I heard host countries speak with commitment about keeping their borders open and receiving and protecting those in need. Not only countries in Europe that have received Ukrainian refugees, but also throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia; like Iran and Pakistan which have – for generations – taken in and supported Afghan refugees; or nations in Latin America and the Caribbean that have developed advanced protection approaches for Venezuelan refugees and migrants; or African countries like Uganda, where refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are arriving as we speak. They have continued to do so over the past year, despite the enormity of challenges they face: economic, political, and climatic - as we saw most dramatically in the massive floods that have affected Pakistan. I cannot overstate the importance of staying the course in supporting host countries.

But we have also heard from host countries of their fatigue. That large refugee populations are weighing heavily on them. On their schools. On their health services. On their public purse. Let’s not forget that host countries and communities are, after all, the biggest donors to refugees. And such support in the absence of the prospect of solutions can be difficult to sustain.

It is therefore so important that we all redouble efforts towards finding solutions and I trust that we will place much greater emphasis on this ahead of the Global Refugee Forum next December. In the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees, which as I heard remains a document of reference for the overwhelming majority of Member States, we must not be afraid to move away from tried and tired practices that have not borne fruit towards new, innovative efforts that enable opportunity and solutions for the displaced. Let us come to the Forum in 14 months armed with examples of how we have, together, pursued and achieved solutions to displacement.

And until solutions are found, we must provide protection to those forced to flee, as so many countries highlighted in their statements. I will not elaborate, or elaborate again, on the points of my opening remarks concerning the importance of protection for all in need, without discrimination, other than to remind delegations of each State’s responsibilities and obligations, including to ensure access to territory for all those seeking asylum. And in recognition of the nature of today’s flows – we often called them “mixed”, but it hardly describes their huge complexity, and not only in Europe or the Americas, but elsewhere as well, for example – as we heard - in southern Africa, south east Asia and other regions— we must devise new approaches that marry pragmatism and effectiveness with the fundamental principles of refugee protection. As I mentioned earlier, we are reflecting on this, and we will continue to consult with you in order to move forward.

We must also, as we heard in many statements, further increase development support to refugee hosting countries, building on the many successes so far. I welcome the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s recent adoption of a methodology for tracking development finance for refugee, IDP, and return situations through the OECD Creditor Reporting System. As mentioned in the general debate, this is part of the necessary ‘culture change’ that is needed as we – together – learn to look at the totality of resources allocated to refugee situations and ensure the greatest possible support to refugees and host communities in a coordinated manner.

I am happy that the High Commissioner’s Dialogue in December, here in Geneva, will focus on development cooperation in relation to forced displacement. I hope that all stakeholders will engage and highlight the many demonstrable results that have been achieved.

While I am heartened by the support of bilateral development actors, multilateral banks, and others in this area, we cannot neglect the urgency of a robust humanitarian response to the countless crises around the world. The private sector has stepped up through companies, foundations, and individual donors. I’m grateful to State donors for their major efforts, and I reiterate my appeal to States to help us bridge UNHCR’s critical US$ 700 million funding gap this year - and quickly. We have only a few weeks to avoid very significant cuts in refugee programmes.

Mr Chairman, dear Salim,

Allow me to thank you, as well as our First and Second Vice Chairs, dear Kadra and dear Katharina, on your steering of this meeting and of the Executive Committee over the past year. I am truly grateful for your support, Mr. Chairman, through another difficult year, and also for your advice, your wisdom and your friendship.

I congratulate Ambassador Kadra Ahmed Hassan of Djibouti and Ambassador Katharina Stasch of Germany on their elections as Chair and First Vice Chair and to our new Second Vice Chair, Ambassador Emilio Rafael Izquierdo Miño of Ecuador. I also congratulate the rest of the EXCOM bureau on its election, including our new Rapporteur Sumair Gul of Pakistan, and thank our outgoing Rapporteur Jorge Gonzalez Mayagoitia of Mexico for his excellent performance. And by the way, I could not agree more with his wise words on multilateralism a few minutes ago. All of them, all of the people I have mentioned, represent countries where solidarity with — and support to — refugees has remained strong in spite of many challenges.

I thank Anne Keah, at her first EXCOM as Secretary but herself a former able Rapporteur, as well as her entire team who quietly ensure the seamless functioning of these meetings and provide so much more support, which I benefit from every other day of the year. My thanks also to security, building and conference services here at UNOG, the IT support, camera, video, and sound teams, and of course to our interpreters who have had probably heard enough of me over these past days.

Mr Chairman,

I try, in my work, to advocate for the displaced and stateless people that we at UNHCR serve. To encourage all of us to be ambitious and courageous in ensuring that all are protected and assisted and in the pursuit of solutions.

I thank you sincerely for your continued trust in UNHCR, which so many of you spoke to, and — once again — I am grateful that you have extended my mandate till the end of 2025. I deeply appreciate your many, many kind words in that regard. They are truly humbling. Please rest assured that you have my full commitment for the remaining three years and a little bit of my mandate and that — together with Kelly, Gillian and Raouf, the Deputy and Assistant High Commissioners, my team at the Executive Office, and all my colleagues — I will work, we will work, as hard as we can, to live up to your expectations.

And much as I — and my colleagues at UNHCR — try to always convey to you what it means to be displaced, to always create empathy and understanding of the plight of refugees, we must do more – as Dushime and Basma, our Canadian and US delegates said to us  – to listen directly to those with this lived experience. To better understand their trauma, their hopes, and their aspirations.

Because it is our collective job to ensure that those who have made the terrible choice of leaving everything behind and flee; those living with the anguish of exile; those who look at the future with fear, we must ensure that they are protected, helped, and empowered, and that we – working together, and overcoming our differences — can help turn deprivation into opportunity, and despair into hope.

Thank you all.