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High Commissioner's statement at the High Level Dialogue on the Shirika Plan

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's statement at the High Level Dialogue on the Shirika Plan

Nairobi, Kenya
20 June 2023 Also available in:
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Honourable Prime Cabinet Secretary



Colleagues and friends,

Thank you very much both for this welcome and for this very rich discussion which I have been listening to. As the PS [Principal Secretary] just said, every year I mark World Refugee Day (this is my eighth as High Commissioner) in a place which carries particular significance.

I am honoured to do so in Kenya this year, a country that has been generous to refugees for decades, and where – as we have heard all morning – forward looking ideas are pioneering new approaches in refugee responses and, by the way, in reducing statelessness.

All this is very necessary, as we live in a troubled world.

Political divisions.

A climate emergency that punishes those who have done the least to cause it.

Economic turmoil that exacerbates the suffering of the most vulnerable.

Raging and unrelenting violence, most recently exemplified by the brutal conflict which is tearing Sudan apart and threatens not just that country, but the whole region and beyond.

The combined consequences are grave, including for the more than 110 million people around the world who – according to our latest statistics – have been driven from their homes by conflict, violence, discrimination and persecution. Amongst them are some 35 million refugees who have fled across borders, forced from their homes, family, friends, and the familiar. They rely on the protection; the hospitality; and the support of host countries to be safe, to survive and to restart their lives.

If one were only to watch the western news, it would be easy to think that the refugee crisis was in Europe, North America, Australia, or a handful of other countries. But the reality – as you know very well here in Kenya – is far from that. Rather it is countries neighbouring crises that bear the greatest burden. Low and middle income countries, themselves often suffering from the global economic downturns and the climate emergency, still host the vast majority of the world’s refugees – a full 76 per cent to be precise.

Dear friends,

Against this backdrop, it would be easy to fall into despair and feel that the problem is too great to tackle. And, regrettably, many politicians around the world are doing just that. They say it is only possible to stop population movements; to build walls; to take a “me first”, “my country first” approach. But while this may enable those politicians to gain some votes, it does not solve the challenges that face their constituents, and the world.

Luckily, many countries here in Africa are bucking that trend and – whilst also grappling with the conflicts, the climate emergency, and the other challenges – they are still pressing to find solutions – real solutions – to many of these problems.

And this is particularly apparent when it comes to dealing with refugees. From my extensive travels and listening to host governments around the world, I am all too aware of the challenges that refugees do pose to host countries and communities. Security (as I have heard, for example, in recent discussions related to the Sudan crisis); resources; social cohesion; pressure on services.

But I also see how host communities – often those with the least resources – are sharing everything they have with those who have fled with nothing. And I see some political leaders, especially here in Africa, and here in Kenya, are inspired to do likewise. They are stepping up and refusing to hide behind excuses. Instead they are embracing the challenge with important, impactful, innovative policies.

Like in Kenya, which is becoming a leader in this regard.

As the Principal Secretary just said, we are coming from State House where President Ruto has reaffirmed his full and strong commitment – and that of his government – to transform refugee camps into integrated settlements. He allowed me to say this and to reiterate his commitment.

Kenya, as we all know, is also playing an important role to end conflict in several parts of the continent.

And at the same time, we see how Kenya – and others in Africa – have kept their borders open to those fleeing violence, providing safety and support to refugees. We know how challenging this can be, and it has been, at times, including here in this country. Yet, you are saving lives every day. I thank you for upholding not just your legal obligations, but for your humanity.

But what we also see here, and what we are celebrating today, is an even more progressive approach to dealing with refugees – as President Ruto and I just discussed – one that is field focused and fully in line with his ‘Bottom-Up Approach’. The 2021 Refugee Act and the now aptly renamed Shirika Plan will provide not only an enhanced protection environment for refugees but will also improve the lives of the communities that have hosted them for years, if not decades. And the refugees’ economic inclusion will, in turn, further benefit the local and Kenyan economies, as we see in Kakuma and Kalobeyei in Turkana County, where efforts supported and nurtured by donors, including international financial institutions and the private sector, are bearing fruit. I should say partners, even more than donors. And as we will see surely in Dadaab and Garissa County in the future. We heard the two Governors speak eloquently about this earlier today and we saw it yesterday once again in Turkana County.

And while humanitarian aid – of the kind that UNHCR, the World Food Programme and others deliver – will continue to be critical (as by the way will our work in countries of origin to remove obstacles to voluntary return), Kenya’s new and progressive policies will require a different kind of support, more substantial and more sustainable. This is why it is crucial that the Shirika Plan is fully rolled out soon, also in respect of refugee rights, documentation, freedom of movement and so forth.

Critical to the plan’s success will be large amounts of development aid (including climate funding) to Kenya and especially to refugee hosting areas like those in Garissa, Turkana and elsewhere, which will transform them into robust economic hubs and will transform camps into integrated settlements. The private sector – which is already generating returns on its investments in refugees in Kenya – as we have heard this morning from SafariCom and others, will have a critical role to play.

I am grateful that the rest of the United Nations shares the Government and UNHCR’s vision to make the Shirika Plan a reality. I thank in particular the Executive Director of UN-Habitat who is here with us today and who is strongly supporting us. I am also extremely grateful for the years of support we have had from many State donors (many represented here), and from the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation – especially here in Kenya, but also globally, and look forward to continued and deeper engagement with all of them.

Dear guests,

While UNHCR has been a partner and key player – and will continue to be — it is important to underline that the plan’s success rests with the Government of Kenya and its leadership and ownership, for which I am grateful to President Ruto.

But Kenya cannot be left alone to implement.

I therefore appeal in the strongest terms to the rest of the international community to back the Shirika Plan with strong, sustained, and predictable support.

We estimate that we have already mobilised over US$200 million in support of this plan for which I am extremely grateful. I continue to encourage this and for the most generous and flexible development and financing options to be extended to Kenya in order to make this plan a reality and change lives forever.

You will forgive me, but I would be remiss if before concluding I did not use this occasion to remind all of us and the international community from here, from Kenya, on World Refugee Day that refugees are, as held in the 1951 Refugee Convention, an international responsibility and that the large refugee hosting countries, like Kenya, are – as it is also undertaking with ambitious climate efforts – implementing a global public good from which we all benefit.

Dear guests,

I appreciate that times are tough, including in donor countries. That there are many competing priorities. But in today’s world, where one can feel overwhelmed by the many challenges, please look at the big opportunity that Kenya has created with this bold policy and plan – one which I hope Kenya will be able to showcase at the second Global Refugee Forum in six months’ time in Geneva.

The courage and creativity that stand behind this choice allow us to celebrate World Refugee Day in the right spirit: one looking at solutions amidst so many challenges. And one that – in spite of so much adversity – celebrates the generosity, humanity and achievements of which Africa must be proud.

Thank you.