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New approach to refugee support is a 'game changer' – says UNHCR's Gillian Triggs


New approach to refugee support is a 'game changer' – says UNHCR's Gillian Triggs

The UN Refugee Agency's new Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, says the Global Compact on Refugees marks 'end to business as usual', although challenges remain.
10 October 2019
Colombia. Venezuelans risk life and limb to seek help
A Venezuelan mother talks with a UNHCR protection officer after crossing the border to Cúcuta, Colombia, April 2019.

GENEVAIn her first address as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection before UNHCR’s 70th Executive Committee meeting, Gillian Triggs called the Global Compact on Refugees a “game changer” for international responsibility-sharing for refugees, stating that it marks an end to “business as usual” in refugee responses.

“It provides a blueprint, ensuring that host communities get the timely support they need and that refugees are able to lead productive lives with fair access to healthcare, education and job opportunities,” she said.

Affirmed by the UN General Assembly in December 2018, the Compact seeks more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

With the vast majority of refugees hosted in mainly developing countries, Triggs stated that the Compact provides a road map for governments, international organizations and other stakeholders to enhance refugee self-reliance as well as the resilience of refugees and host communities alike.

A renowned expert in international law who has held a number of eminent positions prior to joining UNHCR, Triggs appealed to delegates to support the Compact and to promote its implementation, a key milestone of which is the first Global Refugee Forum that will take place in Geneva on 17-18 December 2019.

Triggs takes up her role in the midst of record forced displacement, with 70.8 million children, women and men uprooted from their homes as a result of conflict and persecution. Of this figure, some 25.9 million are refugees, while 41.3 million are displaced within the borders of their own countries.

“There is a growing consensus that more needs to be done to support nations affected by internal displacement."

At a time when some countries enact more restrictive policies on asylum, Triggs stressed that States must adhere to their international obligations to allow people fleeing conflict and persecution to seek asylum on their territory.

“Some countries … have closed their borders or adopted strict border controls, denying admission and the right to seek asylum upon arrival…. At the same time, some asylum-seekers are being stopped in transit areas or international zones in airports and at green borders before being removed, while others are being pushed back,” she told the Executive Committee members.

“While States have the right and responsibility to control their borders, they should also conform to their international obligations to allow asylum-seekers access to their territory to seek asylum in a safe country promptly, and without obstruction,” she added.

Triggs also highlighted that more than 1,000 people have died or are missing in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year alone, while underscoring UNHCR’s concerns with the serious delays in disembarkation, disembarkation in unsafe places, and reduced capacities for search and rescue that are leading to this unacceptable loss of life.

Triggs referenced the growing numbers of internally displaced people and the mixed character of movements of people, where refugees travel along the same routes as migrants.

“There is a growing consensus that more needs to be done to support nations affected by internal displacement,” she said, highlighting UNHCR’s recently launched updated policy on engagement in situations of internal displacement.

Triggs concluded with an appeal to those present to collectively turn the aspirations of a visionary Global Compact on Refugees into reality, including through ambitious commitments at the upcoming Global Refugee Forum.