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High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges. Protecting the Internally Displaced: Persisting Challenges and Fresh Thinking; Opening remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges. Protecting the Internally Displaced: Persisting Challenges and Fresh Thinking; Opening remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

11 December 2013

Palais des Nations, Geneva, 11 December 2013

As delivered

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,

Allow me now to say a few words to introduce the debate. Our previous Dialogues have not only provided useful discussion platforms for a broad range of actors and partners, but they have also inspired a number of concrete and creative approaches to address both on-going and emerging protection challenges. I trust that with the active participation of all of you, this year's meeting will yield similar results.

Let me start by outlining the nature of UNHCR's involvement with the internally displaced. As regards refugees, who are outside their country of origin, we have a mandated responsibility under international law to work with States in providing protection and seeking durable solutions. Our engagement with people displaced inside their country of origin is part of a collective inter-agency responsibility, within which we contribute our protection expertise and our operational experience in providing shelter and managing and coordinating camps and settlements. But UNHCR and other organizations play a support role in these situations, as it is States who bear the primary responsibility for protecting the internally displaced - just like for any other of their citizens.

Internal displacement is especially complex in situations where the concerned State does not have the capacity - or even the will - to protect its displaced nationals. This has been the subject of much debate in recent years, and renders initiatives such as the African Union's Kampala Convention on Internally Displaced Persons all the more essential. One year ago, the entry into force of this remarkable legally binding international instrument on internal displacement was a strong reaffirmation by States of their responsibilities and their commitment to build better protection systems for their displaced citizens. The African continent is to be commended for breaking new ground, as it did 44 years ago with the OAU Refugee Convention. The Kampala Convention is a crucial landmark that I hope other States and regional organizations will strive to emulate.

In the fifteen years since the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were developed, the number of people uprooted within the borders of their own countries has risen by over 50 per cent. At the beginning of 2013, there were nearly 29 million people displaced internally as a result of conflict and violence, and that figure has risen further in 2013 - most notably in Syria, the Central African Republic, and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This also mirrors a sharp increase in refugee outflows, with some 2 million new refugees fleeing across the world in 2013, the highest number of new arrivals in nearly 20 years.

Like refugees, internally displaced persons often find refuge in the poorest and most marginalized regions of the country that lack proper infrastructure to deal with the additional population influx. But they are often even harder to reach, as many remain within conflict areas. In many cases, internal displacement is not only a consequence of human rights abuses, it also prolongs and reinforces patterns of discrimination and of human rights violations. Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples know this all too well. As a result, millions of people uprooted inside their own country are forced to live in extremely difficult, precarious and dangerous conditions.

I am concerned that the magnitude and the complexity of internal displacement have not galvanized the international attention which the issue deserves. The protracted nature of many of these situations does not capture media attention. Another reason may be that there has been a tendency lately, including within the UN system, to conflate the needs of the internally displaced with those of others under general notions of 'affected populations' or of the sometimes misunderstood category of 'protection of civilians', weakening the institutional focus on internal displacement. However, displaced persons have protection needs which are different from those of other civilians in a conflict, and which require continued specific focus. Displacement - in and of itself - is a cause of vulnerability that requires specific responses. This concern is the main inspiration for our choice of topic for this Dialogue, which I hope will sharpen international focus on the particular protection challenges of displaced people and lead to concrete, collaborative engagement in the pursuit of robust solutions.

* * *

Dear friends,

Eight years ago, humanitarian reform and the introduction of the cluster approach fundamentally changed the way we work with States in responding to the needs of people displaced within the borders of their own country. More recently, together with partners in the Interagency Standing Committee, and under the leadership of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, UNHCR has invested considerable time and resources in the development and implementation of the Transformative Agenda.

These efforts have helped to make the international community's humanitarian response to internal displacement more predictable and timely. The global clusters have provided important platforms for sharing knowledge, improving guidance and developing practical tools to help humanitarian actors deliver better at country level. I want to reaffirm here UNHCR's deep commitment to further improving interagency cooperation for the internally displaced. We recognize that much remains to be done to ensure the frameworks and tools that have been drawn up translate effectively into better protection and assistance to people on the ground. This is particularly the case in the search for solutions, where we need to adopt a much more holistic approach. I hope that this Dialogue will generate creative ideas on broadening and deepening our collective partnerships to reinvigorate the way we respond to internal displacement and focus on solutions.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are often asked what protection means for internally displaced persons, who are, after all, citizens in their country, with the same rights as other nationals. Forced to flee their homes, many are without documentation, have no access to basic services and are at increased risk of discrimination, exploitation and sexual and gender based violence. Countless families are separated during flight. Many traumatized child survivors need psychosocial support. UNHCR and our protection cluster partners work closely with national authorities to strengthen their capacity to respond to the needs of the displaced. This includes specific protection services such as registration and profiling, community-based advocacy and support arrangements, peaceful coexistence projects, and activities aimed at empowering persons at risk of violence or marginalization. UNHCR also works with many actors to help ensure that services and assistance provided to internally displaced persons are carried out with the specific needs of men, women, girls and boys in mind, and that persons living with disabilities or minority groups can fully enjoy their rights.

For UNHCR, the priorities throughout our protection response can be described as a "virtuous triangle": preventing and responding to SGBV, strengthening child protection, and ensuring quality and inclusive education. Ensuring that displaced persons hold civil documentation is obviously another fundamental priority for us, including birth registration, which can help to prevent future statelessness for children born to displaced parents.

To reinforce the human rights-based work we do through our field-based protection activities, UNHCR works with governments around the world to help them develop national policies and domestic laws on internal displacement. At the global level, our partnership with the Inter-parliamentary Union has just resulted in the publication of our first joint Handbook on Internal Displacement for legislators, which is designed to be a robust instrument for advocacy and action at country level.

I would like to make one more observation on protection. There are still many people to whom protection comes as an afterthought, an added activity that can be attended to once the logistics are in place, the tents have been delivered, food has been distributed, and water points and health posts set up. Protection is the ultimate objective behind all these, indeed life-saving, activities. But, in addition, we need to recognize that protection services save lives just like tents and blankets do. Any child needing to find his or her mother will tell you so; any woman exposed to an exploitative hosting arrangement will tell you; any boy at risk of recruitment from armed groups will also tell you. Protection must be an integral part of all our efforts from the beginning, across all services and in the way we provide assistance, and it needs to remain the priority throughout the cycle of displacement. Addressing the protection needs of people leads to resolving internal displacement. And as experience has shown, finding solutions to displacement is integral to ending conflict and to building peace.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The recent tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines has once again brought to the fore the difficult task of delivering assistance swiftly in natural disasters while ensuring that aid goes to those most in need. We strive to ensure that our global role as cluster lead for protection guides the specific approaches needed to make sure internally displaced persons are protected when natural disasters strike. At country level, we will complement the efforts of government and of other protection actors. While our global leadership role in emergency shelter and camp management is limited to conflict situations, we will endeavour to respond in natural disasters upon request by the State concerned, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and our inter-agency partners. How could we not show solidarity with victims of natural disasters in countries such as Pakistan, with its floods a few years ago, and the Philippines now - countries who are generous partners of UNHCR in refugee protection? How could we not show solidarity if we are requested to do so and indeed have the capacity to help?

There is no denying the fact that the causes of internal displacement are complex, going much deeper than conflict and violence. Many of these causes are linked to interconnected and mutually reinforcing global trends, such as climate change, population growth, urbanization, and growing food, water and energy insecurity. Climate change in particular has a multiplier effect on the other phenomena, and will undoubtedly add significantly to the scale and complexity of human mobility and displacement in the future.

There is broad consensus today that much of the resulting movement will remain within national borders. But people may also be forced to leave their country as a result of natural disasters linked to climate change and other environmental hazards. These people would clearly face a protection gap. I am encouraged that, in follow-up to our Ministerial meeting of December 2011, a group of States launched the Nansen Initiative on Natural Disasters and Cross-Border Displacement to explore how best to respond to external displacement related to climate change. We are also working closely with IOM, the Norwegian Refugee Council and a range of partners to ensure that the human mobility dimension is not neglected during the on-going negotiations on climate change.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the most difficult challenges in protecting and assisting uprooted people is the search for solutions. Too many internally displaced persons today are living in protracted displacement of five years or more, many of them displaced for a second or even third time for lack of opportunities, security or sustainable integration. Finding solutions for them requires political will to address the root causes. Stronger advocacy is therefore needed from the international community to ensure that peace processes, where they exist, take account of the concerns and needs of the internally displaced as well as those of their host communities, and do so from a human security perspective. The recently adopted General Assembly resolution on the protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons is a welcome step in this direction.

Resolving displacement also requires humanitarian agencies to incorporate a solutions orientation into their programmes from the very onset of an emergency, and for development actors to engage early on. This means ensuring that internally displaced persons participate in development planning and decisions which have longer-term impact on their lives and well-being. It also means putting in place strong, sustainable and organic links between humanitarian and development programmes, and closer collaboration with national authorities, civil society and affected communities themselves as well as their political representatives.

This is one of the aims of the Secretary-General's framework for durable solutions established in 2011. Under this framework, UNHCR is fully committed to supporting UN country teams, together with UNDP, to create conditions for resolving displacement. To be effective, the post-2015 UN development agenda cannot be displacement blind.

Linked to the challenge of achieving solutions is the growing trend of secondary internal displacement that sees hundreds of thousands gravitating towards cities. At the risk of becoming invisible, or purposefully seeking anonymity, internally displaced persons often establish themselves in precarious urban settings such as in slums, where they are exposed to hazardous conditions. The urbanization trend of internal displacement requires a shift in the approaches of humanitarian and development actors, as well as national authorities, to refocus assistance on community-based mechanisms and the enhancement and inclusivity of existing services. However, this cannot be done without taking into account the specific protection needs of internally displaced persons, so as to avoid further marginalisation.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, let me set out some of the things I hope this Dialogue will help us achieve. Many of you share our concern about the fact that the protection of the internally displaced is not high enough on national, regional and international agendas. I hope our discussions here will help us find ways to strengthen our common advocacy in this area, in support of the Special Rapporteur, Professor Beyani, who we are very pleased to have with us today. I would also like to thank the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Professor Walter Kälin, for joining us today, as well as of course Sir Francis Deng, who led the process of developing the Guiding Principles on International Displacement fifteen years ago.

Since States play the primary role in protecting their displaced citizens, this meeting is also an opportunity for them to share their experiences, both those which have successfully addressed situations of internal displacement and those that continue to face challenges.

Looking at our own work as humanitarian organizations, I see this Dialogue as a way for all of us to collectively identify what we may need to do better or differently to help protect and find solutions for displaced people.

Ultimately, I also hope our discussions will eventually contribute to prompting initiatives for solutions, especially in some protracted displacement situations. Reinforcing our partnerships, with States, as well as with partners, including the development community, will be key to this.

I thank you all for coming together here today and look forward to frank and inspiring discussions. Thank you very much.