High Commissioner's Statement to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly
To address the challenges of today’s complex world, we need to work together. Unfortunately, we have continued to see the international community fail to do so. And the consequences are extremely grave – especially for the world’s most vulnerable, including the more than 103 million people – up from 41 million in 2010 – forced from their homes.
While climate, the lasting effects of COVID-19, and the cost-of-living crisis have all had grave consequences, the inability of the international community to prevent or resolve conflict continues to be the biggest driver of displacement. The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to one of the fastest displacement crises since the Second World War, forcing around 14 million from their homes.
The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and in countries affected by the Ukrainian refugee influx has kept us very busy, of course. First – the refugee response in Europe was excellent and showed the kind of “whole of society” response that you, Member States, envisaged when you affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018.
And as I have frequently said, the response demonstrated most clearly that what we heard from many politicians in recent years – that Europe is full; that relocation is impossible; that public opinion won’t support receiving refugees – is actually not true. The political support; the public support; the operational response all prove that receiving refugees – even in large numbers – is possible when there is leadership, sensible policies, good management and above all, a shared approach.
Second – I am deeply concerned about the plight of people inside Ukraine. Civilian infrastructure must never be targeted and yet is being destroyed day after day. This will only exacerbate the extreme hardship that civilians, including the more than 6.2 million who are internally displaced, have to endure. Humanitarian work can mitigate some of the damage but will always be insufficient to respond to wide scale destruction.
UNHCR has stepped up its operations but I share the Ukrainian government’s concerns about winter, which has already begun and will only worsen. Much more must be done to ward off the cold’s worst effects, and I call on all to please lend expertise and resources to this critical effort.
But, Mr Chairman, the necessary focus on responding to the crisis in Ukraine must not distract the international community from adequately supporting the response to the others, as unfortunately is often the case.
Let us not forget that violence in Tigray, in Ethiopia, has displaced more than 850,000 people in the first half of the year alone, and the situation has worsened with the recent surge in hostilities.
Let us not forget that hundreds of thousands have been uprooted throughout the Sahel. In Burkina Faso alone, armed groups control a significant amount of territory, and nearly 2 million [people] are now internally displaced.
More than one million people have been displaced in Myanmar since the military takeover last year and no solution is in sight for almost one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Tens of thousands continue to be driven from their homes by fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with little or no international attention. There are still more than five million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries in the region. Complex population movements, including of people in need of international protection, are growing through the Americas.
UNHCR is with those displaced, wherever they are. We responded to 37 new emergencies in the past 12 months, in addition to the countless displacement crises that remain protracted. Wherever necessary, we have, in support of States, provided protection and assistance, including but not limited to shelter, non-food items, and cash assistance. Together with the World Food Programme, which needs additional support urgently in this respect, we are striving to address growing food insecurity in refugee settings – and by the way, I hope that current negotiations will allow the Black Sea Grain Initiative to continue, as it is vital for millions, including refugees and displaced people.
And while the cold bites in Ukraine, heat waves, floods, drought, and other extreme weather events, driven by the climate emergency, are wreaking havoc elsewhere in the world. We saw, a few weeks ago, the floods in Pakistan – a country by the way that, like Iran, has been host to Afghan refugees for generations. Less attention, perhaps, has been paid to the human suffering caused by climate change in the Horn of Africa as well as the Sahel, Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.
I have just – last week – visited Somalia where I saw, first hand, how the climate emergency, coupled with conflict, is leading to displacement, a phenomenon we are now increasingly seeing in many already fragile states – and displacement from Somalia impacts neighbouring countries, like Kenya, which are also affected by climate change.
UNHCR, as you know, has continued to step up its displacement-related climate response – strengthening legal and normative guidance to States; responding to actual climate related displacement crises; building resilience to climate shocks in hosting areas; and taking steps to reduce our own carbon footprint, including by switching to renewable energy where possible. Our work in the Sahel is an example of how we can use technology to improve response and preparedness.
But it is clear, especially ahead of COP27, that we must do more to fight the climate emergency, and help those already displaced or at risk of displacement. I trust that your Governments will ensure that their needs are also taken into consideration when you meet in Sharm el-Sheikh in the coming days.
The cost-of-living crisis, which dramatically affects the displaced and other vulnerable people, is also precipitating further desperate measures, including, in some cases, onward movement. We have seen people resort to dangerous journeys at sea, and also know how poverty robs people, especially women and girls, of their dignity and rights.
While UNHCR clearly cannot influence global macro-economic trends, we are working to offset their harshest consequences. This includes traditional relief activities but also, increasingly, work with institutions like the International Monetary Fund, so that they consider forced displacement as a relevant factor in planning their support to States, especially where the percentage of refugees and their economic impact is significant.
We have furthered our cooperation with the World Bank, regional financial institutions, and other development agencies in providing direct support to refugee hosting countries that include refugees in their national plans. The OECD estimates that about US$ 3.3 billion of bilateral development funds are injected into refugee situations every year. This is in addition to around $2 billion per year from multilateral development banks, and of course humanitarian resources mobilized by UNHCR and its partners. This must continue and grow, especially in the form of grants to bolster and support host countries and communities that are shouldering a disproportionate amount of the international community’s responsibility for refugees.
While this is welcome progress, we must never, Mr Chairman, relent also in finding solutions to displacement.
Peace is, of course, the best way to enable solutions. And peace-building must include the removal of obstacles to the return of refugees and displaced people. This, of course, is primarily the responsibility of countries of origin – with the help of the international community. We will continue to scale up support to countries of origin whenever possible, even when it is difficult. Sometimes this becomes possible or even necessary before peace agreements are signed, so we must principled but also pragmatic – I have spoken of this before and underline our readiness to help facilitate solutions, especially voluntary (and I underline voluntary!) return of refugees and internally displaced people.
But there are also other options – like resettlement and complementary pathways – which need to be expanded and I encourage governments to increase targets whenever possible. We must work to make education more accessible to the displaced, so they can be prepared and skilled to take advantage of opportunities for solutions. Giving nationality to stateless people can also be a light at the end of a tunnel for millions.
We have raised substantial funding this year, especially from private donors.
Contributions from individuals, foundations, and companies will exceed $1 billion; around 20 percent of our overall income. New and innovative partnerships are also in place, including in the area of Islamic philanthropy.
Yet the war in Ukraine has increased our budget by more than $1 billion. While donors have continued to be generous, including an injection of $400 million since the summer, we still face a shortfall of nearly $700 million in a number of critical operations which, if not filled, will cause severe hardship to refugees. UNHCR has not experienced this kind of financial challenges for years. I appeal to you and your capitals to please urgently help with additional contributions in the coming days and weeks to prevent painful cuts to basic support to refugees.
At the same time, we at UNHCR continue to make our operations more effective and efficient, including through our extensive reforms that have been implemented over the last years.
But those reforms are not complete, and the need to bring them to fruition, along with the slowdown caused by COVID and continued and new emergencies led the Secretary-General to propose extending my mandate for a full second term, until the end of 2025. Thank you for accepting this proposal.
In 2018 the General Assembly affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees which ushered in a new way to respond to displacement crises. Since then, we have made much progress including with multilateral development banks and financial institutions, as well as the private sector, as I have mentioned. We have also deepened our cooperation with the sports community, academia, faith-based organisations, and others.
The Global Refugee Forum in 2019 saw more than 1,400 pledges made to implement the Global Compact on Refugees, and hundreds more have been made since. The second Forum will be in December 2023 (next year) and I encourage all to participate and pledge, to show the world that despite the challenges that we all face – conflict, climate, COVID, cost of living – we can still find ways to work together in support of those who have lost everything.
Thank you all for your continued support. In these difficult times, it is more needed than ever before.