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Closing remarks at the 66th session of the
Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

Executive Committee Meetings

Closing remarks at the 66th session of the
Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

9 October 2015

Muito obrigado Senhor Presidente,

Distinguished Delegates,

Let me first of all express my very deep gratitude. First of all, gratitude for the very kind statements that you made and the kind words that you pronounced about myself. I don't know if I deserve them or not, but they really warmed my heart and will guide me and inspire me in whatever I will do in the future. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.

But more importantly, my gratitude is motivated by your unwavering support to our common cause, and also by the spirit in which this Executive committee has taken place - a spirit of partnership, of common commitment to the same cause, to the same goals, to the people we care for, which I believe is the best motivation for us all to go on working in the very difficult circumstances we face.

Let's be honest, we are overwhelmed. And when one is overwhelmed there is always a risk to feel hopeless, to feel desperate, to lose our heads, to give up. It is absolutely essential to avoid that risk. I usually say to our colleagues in difficult moments: "We need nerves of steel." But I think we need nerves of steel at the service of a compassionate heart, one that feels the drama of the people we care for and that guides us in everything we have to do to support them.

Now, determination is the key word at the present moment. I am always very inspired by one of the fathers of the European project, Jean Monnet, who was once asked if he was optimistic or pessimistic about something, and he said: "I am never optimistic, I am never pessimistic, I am just determined." I think that's what we need to do - we don't know if things are going to be better or going to be worse, but we need to be determined in fighting for those values in which we believe and for the people whom we serve.

And as we are overwhelmed, and face a complex reality, I believe that both for UNHCR and for the whole of the humanitarian community, we need to be very strongly committed to reform. There was a very clear message from this Executive Committee on what should guide our internal reform at UNHCR. That message can be summarized in five words: transparency, accountability, oversight, but also efficiency and innovation. I can guarantee that the whole House feels those objectives, and that both the Deputy High Commissioner and the Assistant High Commissioners and all our management structure will be totally committed to effectively translate those five principles into action, into reform, into an ever more modern and more effective office.

But it is clear that reform is not only a question for UNHCR. Reform at the present moment is a question for the whole of the international humanitarian community, or the international humanitarian response system, whatever we want to call it. And obviously we are all concerned with the questions of funding, and so it is probably useful to remind ourselves that no reforms will be possible without also some fundamental review of the way humanitarian action is funded in today's world. I think the key message that came from the Executive Committee is clearly that we are no longer at the point of discussing how to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development, but we are at a point where we have to consider that humanitarian action and development action ned to be together since the first moment of the crisis, and need to work together and enhance each other. And that there are many things that we do today as humanitarians, especially in the support to host communities, especially in the solutions and the consolidation and sustainability of solutions, that need to be done with development actors and with development budgets, because there is no way that global humanitarian budgets will be able to face these enormous challenges related to the dramatic growth of humanitarian problems in the world.

But funding is not only the relationship between humanitarian and development, funding is also the capacity to change the way we are able to search for new sources of funding, but also the way donors look at the funding of organizations. And here I think the message was very strong and clear that we need a pact. A pact translated into two new realities: a much stronger level of unearmarked donations, and a much more transparent form of accountability of what is done with unearmarked funding. This includes the guarantee that unearmarked funding doesn't serve to feed a bureaucratic monster, but is applied in the areas that for different reasons do not get enough attention in the international community and do not get enough unearmarked funding, as is essentially today the case of the African continent that is facing such dramatic funding shortages, not only for UNHCR but I believe for the whole humanitarian community.

And then, it is true that we still have a humanitarian system inspired by what was developed after the Second World War, with different bodies like the Inter Agency Standing Committee and others that are still very much Western-inspired in the way they were formed and in the way they act. I think it is essential to be able to bring all actors and all resources and all capacities together. We need to have a truly universal global humanitarian response system that is based on truly humanitarian standards - and they are well known: humanity, impartiality, independence, neutrality - but that also respect different forms of expressions, different regions, different cultures, bringing everything together in a harmonious way, and avoiding gaps and overlaps.

Having said so, I think it is also important to underline that not all things we are facing are problems or difficulties. There are some very important good news, some very positive developments. First of all, asylum systems have been improved in many countries around the world. If I had to choose an example, the Brazil Plan of Action and the Brazil Declaration represent an extremely innovative approach in which all protection gaps for people on the move are for the first time addressed in a common document and in a common strategy. The same spirit is now spreading into other parts of the world, and many countries are substantially improving the way asylum is provided to the people we care for, and in the way the rights of people are more and more respected and expanded.

I also believe that we need to underline the enormous progress made by our commitment to end statelessness. Since 2011, since we started this stronger involvement, there were 48 accessions to the conventions, many nationality laws have been changed, but what is for me even more remarkable is that we have started to deal with the most complex stateless situations in the world. Again if I have to select an example, Côte d'Ivoire deserves our enormous admiration for the courage with which it has faced an old problem with hundreds of thousands - if not more than a million - people not benefiting from any nationality, and for their determination to bring a solution to one of the oldest and most complex statelessness problems in the world.

And there are a lot of new initiatives in the protection area, and I would underline especially child protection and education. There are now a number of very important initiatives on education, global campaigns led by Norway, by Qatar and others, but especially progress on education in individual countries. I would like to underline the recent decision to extend access to education to the national school system to all children in the country, refugee or not, legally staying or not, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has recently taken. We are making progress in this area that is unfortunately still facing so many gaps.

And then there are all the problems related to the protection of women and girls, and the numerous initiatives, by the US, the UK, and the work on the ground to improve the prevention and response to sexual and gender based violence. But more than the protection dimension, I think that what is important is the understanding that is now gaining ground that essentially we need to empower women and girls and change the way social relations act on the ground in order for protection to become much more effective. In all these areas there has been conceptual progress, progress on the ground and progress in the global initiatives being launched.

And then, the solutions dimension. It is true that the number of people repatriating voluntarily is at a low, and the reason is simple, it is not because we are not pursuing solutions, it is because unfortunately the conflicts are not ending and new conflicts are emerging. But even in that situation, the Solutions Alliance has been quite active, and even the most complex and dramatic situations are not being abandoned. We have a commitment to solutions in Afghanistan. In a few days we will hold a pledging conference in Brussels for solutions for Somali refugees. We are not giving up. We will be fighting to go on having voluntary repatriation as our most important and preferred durable solution, done whenever it is possible naturally, and in safety and dignity for the refugees themselves.

It is important to underline also the progress that is being made on other fronts. The African continent has given us a meaningful number of examples of successful local integration, and that is particularly significant taking into account that this continent faces enormous development challenges. And in more and more situations there is an understanding of the need to support not only refugees but local communities, and to link this support to refugees and local communities to a concept of self-reliance, so as not to have people always dependent on care and maintenance. There is more awareness now of the need to try to integrate the refugees - if not totally as local integration into the society, then at least with mechanisms to allow them to have a much more autonomous and dignified life. Again, in all these areas progress is being made, the most spectacular one was the naturalization of almost 200,000 Burundians from 1972 in Tanzania, but we could give many other examples in different parts of the world.

And even resettlement - in the last few weeks 43,000 new resettlement opportunities were created. This had of course to do with the surge of concern generated by the European crisis. But countries are waking up to the need to increase the number of resettled refugees in their territories, especially in the developed world, also as a demonstration of solidarity in "opportunity sharing" as the Distinguished Ambassador of Canada likes to say instead of "burden sharing" - opportunity sharing with the refugee hosting countries, and the need for this opportunity sharing to be followed by much stronger support to those refugee host countries.

On the other hand, probably the best of the news is this clear awakening of the civil society in many parts of the world for the refugee cause, and the impact this civil society awakening and this broad media response are having on political decisions of both international organizations and States. When going to New York during the General Assembly, it always used to be very difficult to put refugee issues on the agenda. Refugees tended to be forgotten in the international community's agenda. But the truth is that in the last weeks in New York, everybody was talking about refugees. Refugees were in the center of every discussion, and lots of meetings were held on refugees, and now the refugee question is in the center of the international agenda. This creates an enormous opportunity for us, one we need to seize to push for that agenda to translate itself into meaningful action. But for that, both UNHCR and us all, I think we need to do more, we need to better, but above all, we need to do it together.

Thank you very much.