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Statement to the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees in Kampala: translating New York Declaration Commitments into Action

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Statement to the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees in Kampala: translating New York Declaration Commitments into Action

23 June 2017

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, co-hosts of this important event,

Heads of State and Government,

Ministers and Distinguished Delegates,

By this evening, like every day in the last year, thousands of women, men and children will have crossed the borders of the world's newest country to seek protection abroad. They will join almost 2 million South Sudanese refugees already in neighbouring countries - generously hosted, as we have heard, by Uganda together with refugees fro other countries, by the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

A similar number are internally displaced in South Sudan. This means that around one third of the people of South Sudan have now been uprooted from their homes by conflict affecting the country; its impact intensified by hunger, as markets are disrupted, livelihoods interrupted, and as drought takes its toll. It is almost as if the country is emptying itself of its people. And for many, this is not the first time. Having come home to build a new nation just a few years ago, they now find themselves cast adrift once again, their despair even greater, their trust broken.

I am very grateful to President Museveni and to the Secretary-General for convening this important event, and for this opportunity to address you. The South Sudan refugee crisis is the fastest-growing in the world today, and addressing it calls for decisive political engagement at the highest level. Before you hear from others who have that role, I would like to share some perspectives on the humanitarian and refugee dimensions of the crisis. 

A few days ago, I travelled to Juba, and to Bentiu - in the northern part of South Sudan - to meet some of the displaced. They had essentially one message - make peace. It's not too late. Find a way to solve this, they said, so that we can feel safe again, we can go home, our children can go to school, and we can rebuild our lives. I heard the same message when I met refugees in Gambella, Ethiopia on World Refugee Day on Tuesday, and in Imvepi settlement here in Uganda yesterday. They are calling on their leaders to forge an inclusive and definitive peace; and on all those who can help support these efforts, to do so - with unity and clarity of purpose. The stakes are simply too high - we cannot abandon a people that has already endured too much.

In parallel, support must be sustained inside South Sudan, to keep people alive, safe, and hopeful. The international effort there is impressive - humanitarian actors and the UN mission, UNMISS, are working together with a strong sense of common purpose, helping millions, despite enormous risks and impediments. And where possible, we must support internally displaced people to carve out a way forward - to achieve safety, to re-establish a home, and to build a future, even amidst ongoing uncertainty.  But only peace will open the way for sustainable solutions.

Distinguished delegates,

Neighbouring countries, already struggling with their own social, economic and development challenges, are shouldering the weight of the refugee influx. And host communities - as many of us could see yesterday here in Uganda - are generously sharing their resources, their land, their services and their infrastructure with the new arrivals.

Regrettably, the hospitality of host countries is not adequately matched by financial contributions. The Regional Refugee Response Plan for South Sudanese refugees, for example, is funded at just 16%. Disturbing shortfalls are emerging in critical areas such as food, shelter and education. Malnutrition rates amongst refugees are alarming. The World Food Programme told us yesterday that the food pipeline here in Uganda will dry up soon. And in a school that we visited, there were more than 100 girls and boys crammed into a small classroom. 

And yet, host countries keep their borders open to refugees. They receive and welcome them. They uphold fundamental values and contribute to stability - but international support must be stepped up.

Let me focus in particular on Uganda, a country that has for decades welcomed refugees, with extraordinary generosity and compassion, playing an exemplary leadership role - not only across the African continent, but globally. Uganda now hosts half of all refugees from South Sudan, as well as more than 350,000 refugees of other nationalities, including from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And as some of us saw yesterday, Mr. President, your country is a pioneer of progressive policies and innovative approaches that reflect a profound commitment to enabling refugees to pursue self-reliance and live in dignity while in exile.

Last year's New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants was a milestone for global solidarity and refugee protection - reaffirming and elevating the important principle that protecting those who are forced to flee is a shared international responsibility, and not one defined by proximity to conflict.

But it also goes further. The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework mentioned by the Prime Minister, annexed to the Declaration, provides a set of directions for translating this principle into action, through a predictable model to be applied in large-scale refugee situations: easing pressure on host communities; improving refugee self-reliance; increasing access to third country solutions - for example, resettlement; and creating conditions in countries of origin for voluntary return in safety and dignity. UNHCR has been tasked by the General Assembly to develop and initiate the Framework in consultation with States.

The Framework also reflects a clear recognition that the models and partnerships for engaging with refugees have to change. Humanitarian action alone cannot meet the challenge of large-scale refugee flows. The resources and approaches of development partners are needed - targeting both refugees and host communities, with a focus on social and economic inclusion, as well as infrastructure and environmental sustainability. Equipping refugees with skills and resources - especially women and young people - enables them to contribute to the reconstruction of their countries and help build peace when the time comes to return.

Mr. President,

It is entirely fitting that your country became the first to apply this Framework. Many of its elements in fact draw on Uganda's forward-leaning approach, elaborated over many decades. At its core is refugee inclusion, allowing freedom of movement, allocating land for shelter and livelihoods, and access to national services and infrastructure. Uganda has also led the way in incorporating refugees in its national development plan. The CRRF approach coincides with and complements the Government of Uganda's Settlement Transformative Agenda, and ReHope, and we look forward to cooperating with the Secretariat and Steering Group established by the Government to take this forward.

Other countries are also adopting this approach. Ethiopia - another long-standing and welcoming host country, is also leading by example, as I saw for myself earlier this week. Tanzania and others are also following suit. But we cannot take these progressive and generous approaches for granted - nor the hospitality of the local communities that are receiving and absorbing so many refugees on a daily basis. It is thus critical that international actors step up to support Uganda and other host countries, and show that this model can work. We must not take it for granted - but instead, reinforce and nurture it, so that it may continue to flourish. 

This calls for the engagement of a broad range of actors and instruments - political, security, humanitarian, development and trade, aligned with the directions defined here by the Government of Uganda. This Framework is not just a concept, but expands on a range of approaches already tested in practice - bringing them together in one model, with all the relevant actors around the table, in a predictable way.

Distinguished delegates,

The men, women and children crossing into exile from South Sudan and from other countries today have the right to hope for a better future - one in which they can eventually return home, in safety and dignity. I appeal to the leaders of South Sudan, to States in the region, and to the international community at large, to engage in more decisive and inclusive peace efforts, and the same applies to other countries producing refugees in the region. Resolving displacement from South Sudan and elsewhere is essential if the region is to realize and achieve its aspirations for sustained peace, stability and development.

In the meantime, we must keep refugees safe, strong and hopeful. We must nurture their courage and resilience, and reinforce the extraordinary generosity of host communities. Uganda has offered us a blueprint of how that can be done - let's grasp that opportunity and collectively commit to making that vision a reality.

Thank you.