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Opening remarks at the fourth formal consultation on the global compact on refugees

Speeches and statements

Opening remarks at the fourth formal consultation on the global compact on refugees

8 May 2018


Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us here for the fourth formal consultation in the process leading to the global compact on refugees.

Although my schedule has not permitted me to participate in the first three formal consultations, I can assure you that I have been following the process very closely. I would like to thank you for your participation, for your ideas and for your constructive engagement in this process, which we see as a unique opportunity to make real progress in protecting refugees, and in providing support to countries hosting large numbers of them.

This morning, I would like to share with you some of my impressions about the progress we are making together, both in this formal process and also in the field, where the spirit of what we are discussing is having tangible results. The Assistant High Commissioner for Protection will then explain the key changes that have been made to the text.

Let us recall the key objective of this exercise: a more equitable and more predictable system of burden- and responsibility-sharing for dealing with large movements of refugees—in emergency situations and in protracted ones—to craft and establish more effective responses at a time of unprecedented forced displacement, and to do this in parallel to efforts that States are making to better manage migration and other aspects of human mobility.

I remember that, about two-and-a-half years ago, when I was the High Commissioner-elect, then-Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called me to express his support—and the support of Secretary-General Ban—for the idea of a global compact dealing with burden- and responsibility-sharing. I called Volker Türk immediately and asked what he thought. Was this a good idea? Did we want to open up this discussion? Two-and-a-half years later, I think we can say that the Secretary-General and his Deputy were right. It has been worth it, and this process has provided a very important forum for discussion, for new ideas, and for new initiatives that have the potential to be real game-changers for refugees and the countries and communities that host them.

I travel a lot, as you know, and I can report that things are beginning to change. I welcome the strong, specific and sustained attention that we have seen on the role that host countries play in the refugee regime. As I have said before, the hosts really are the biggest donors; we as an international community are increasingly recognizing this and recognizing the need to do more to support them. In my long history of working with refugees, this focus and energy is unprecedented.

From the crowded schools in Lebanon and Jordan that ensure the inclusion of refugee children, to the environmental impact that we see on forests in Bangladesh and in African countries, we are constantly reminded of the importance of the contribution of hosting countries. By hosting refugees and by providing them with protection, these countries make an enormous contribution to the lives of the refugees, but also to regional and global stability and peace and security.

I am amazed by some of the progress that has been made since the adoption of the New York Declaration. I am amazed by the legislative reforms in Djibouti. I am amazed by the inclusive and open practices in countries hosting very large numbers of refugees, such as in Ethiopia and Uganda. I am encouraged by the expansion of access for refugees to health services in Mexico, and by the very inclusive education practices in Iran, which have of course been in place for many years. The list of host countries adopting policies and practices consistent with the vision of the New York Declaration is long and time only permits me to mention a few. The key message, however, is that this generosity and openness needs to be supported.

There has also been progress in providing support to hosting countries, and I want to single out the World Bank for its leadership over the last couple of years. I understand that the Bank provided a briefing yesterday on its work in forced displacement contexts, and I trust that it was illuminating. I think that they have been a leader as an institution in approaching these issues in new ways, in particular through the IDA18 refugee sub-window for low-income countries and the Global Concessional Financing Facility for middle-income countries. These game-changing instruments are a key element of the progress that has been made.

The World Bank is not alone, however. Many bilateral and multilateral institutions have made important advances. The European Union’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development is investing in the CRRF roll-out in the Horn of Africa and Central America, and in addressing displacement in Asia. DEVCO is joined by Germany, Japan, Denmark, Korea and a long and growing list of other development actors who are becoming increasingly involved in this work. I thank them for their efforts, and encourage others to join them.

We are also seeing new ways of using resources to target the longer-term needs of refugees and hosts, in particular in relation to education, employment, and the environment. I would particularly mention Sweden, the United Kingdom, initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait and GAVI, as well as our sister UN agencies including UNDP, ILO, WHO, and of course the many NGOs that partner with us.

I have just returned from London, where I participated in the biannual meeting of all UN organizations. A key focus was the Secretary-General’s reforms in the areas of development, peace and security, and management. I am pleased to be able to report that what we are doing here—and what we are proposing to do through the global compact on refugees—is well adapted to these efforts in the broader UN system.

There are four final points that I would like to leave with you. First, and as I mentioned, there are development efforts that are already happening alongside humanitarian responses, and we are working with partners to accelerate these. Everywhere I go, I hear a growing expectation of practical results. It is in the tangible results that we will have the proof that what we are doing can make a difference.

Secondly, despite the fact that overall numbers have fallen since their peak in 2016, resettlement remains an important solution, both for the individuals concerned and as a concrete expression of burden- and responsibility-sharing. I welcome the efforts of those countries that are working to expand their resettlement programmes, and also the ongoing efforts to expand the pool of resettlement States by providing support to emerging resettlement countries. I hope that the global compact can support these efforts.

Third: of course, the question of voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity is also a key focus of the compact. I am very happy to see the strong focus on solutions, notably voluntary repatriation, in the two regional applications of the CRRF that have emerged – both in the IGAD context in the Horn of Africa, and in the MIRPS in the Americas. The reality is that we live in a world where solutions for refugees are often elusive, and this is rightly a matter of great concern. The global compact on refugees represents an excellent opportunity to work to expand access to solutions, in consultation with the country of origin where appropriate. If we look at places like Afghanistan and Nigeria, there are opportunities in this regard. I hope that our work developing and implementing the global compact on refugees will give further space for these efforts.

Finally, and in relation to the text: Volker will speak to the text before in you more detail, but I think that you will agree that it is again vastly improved. It is much more focused, much stronger, clearer and bolder. We need to ensure that we take into account the various constituencies here. This is not just about hosts and donors, but also other States and there are differences amongst these groups. There is a difficult balancing for Volker and his team to undertake here, and I want to commend them for their efforts, and to thank you for contributing and for understanding the need for balance. We will continue to work on the detail of the Global Refugee Forum, the Support Platform, the solidarity conferences, and the asylum capacity support group. The Forum, in particular, is the robust mechanism that we are proposing to take forward many of the ideas developed through this process. The first will take place in 2019, perhaps in substitution for the annual Dialogue on Protection Challenges, so that we do not unnecessarily multiply the number of meetings. We hope that States and others will use this opportunity to reflect, to re-engage, to re-confirm their commitments and to move forward together.

We have here today representatives of the Geneva diplomatic community, as well as other very important stakeholders as observers. We have a few more months to make as much progress as possible on the text. We do not have a lot of time, but we have already made a lot of progress. And if the current commitment of the Geneva community to this process remains, we will be able together to send a product to New York that can be adopted by consensus and that can receive the blessing of the General Assembly and become a real milestone in the history of refugee work.

I thank you all again.