Last year on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I called for introspection as a means to reexamine prejudice, privilege and the way we view the world. Over the past year, I have deepened my personal commitment to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce as one of many steps to ensure that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, becomes an anti-racist organization.
Collectively, we at UNHCR are working to dismantle the barriers to opportunities both in our workforce and for refugees, displaced and stateless people. We recognize this is still a work in progress. Everyday my colleagues at UNHCR and I are presented with new challenges – and opportunities – to put our commitments to task: in our homes, at work, in our countries and the world at large.
We must continue to sit in the discomfort of recognizing that while our organization exists to safeguard the human rights of people forced to flee, some among us have experienced exclusion and inequity. We must try to reconcile this internal contradiction as we also witness a parallel imbalance in the world.
The war in Ukraine and the devastating humanitarian crisis it has caused also presents challenges and opportunities for continued commitment and diligence in the fight against racism and discrimination.
Over the last four weeks, the world has watched in disbelief. Countless lives have been lost while millions of others have been completely upended. More than 3 million people have been forced to flee their homeland becoming refugees and over six million are estimated to be displaced internally.
As if to counter the despair, we have also witnessed overwhelming acts of welcome and compassion as neighbouring countries, particularly local responders, have opened their hearts and homes to Ukrainians. A global wave of support has reminded us of our shared humanity and the power of solidarity. And while I and my colleagues at UNHCR see every day how host communities and families around the world exercise this solidarity, we need to ensure that global responsibility sharing is strengthened for all refugees, no matter where they come from.
While millions around the world were rightly moved by the extreme plight of the Ukrainian people, the same hardships – the same pain and sorrow; the same loss and anguish; the same relief at finding safety and trepidation of an uncertain future – are experienced by refugees around the world who also and equally deserve our compassion, our empathy, and our support.
And while I am humbled by the outpouring of support we witnessed by host countries and communities, we also bore witness to the ugly reality that some Black and Brown people fleeing Ukraine – and other wars and conflicts around the world – have not received the same treatment as Ukrainian refugees. They reported disturbing incidents of discrimination, violence, and racism. These acts of discrimination are unacceptable, and we are using our many channels and resources to make sure that all people are protected equally.
We can – and must – salute solidarity, while also resolutely condemning acts of discrimination and bias.
We can reject actions that threaten our core values or strip others of their fundamental human rights, while we continue to acknowledge and learn from our own biases.
Anti-racism means actively identifying and opposing racism and racial discrimination. Today – and everyday – I call on all of us to raise our voices against policies, practices, and behaviours which exclude.
We can all push forward in our individual and collective journeys towards anti-racism.
We won’t get it right every time, but will remain committed to do better, to stay humble and open.
I hope you will join us, as this important work requires all of us. ENDS
This statement is available here