Keynote Speech by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Third Symposium on Corporate Social Responsibility and Humanitarian Assistance, Tokyo, 26 November 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 21st Century is the century of people on the move. Some are moving in search of economic opportunity and better lives, but many are forced to move because of violence and persecution. Chasing dreams or fleeing oppression, more and more people are leaving their homes every day. Yet even as the phenomenon grows, the international community seems ill-equipped to deal with it.
Why are people on the move? I would like to address three main causes: poverty; climate change and environmental degradation; and conflict and persecution. I see a tremendous need for the engagement of civil society, media and the private sector in all of these areas.
Widespread poverty is clearly the main reason for migration. In the 1990s there was broad hope that globalization would bring steady growth, and would narrow the gap between rich and poor. While there are positive impacts - global trade and wealth have increased - the truth is that the gap between the world's rich and poor is widening. And this widening gap is driving migration.
Globalization is asymmetric. Capital and goods flow more or less freely across borders. But there are many obstacles to the movement of people. Yet the labour market is increasingly global. The supply of labour will meet the demand for labour - legally if possible, illegally if necessary.
We are therefore witnessing increased migratory flows, with the greatest increase being in irregular migration. Irregular migration not only means that the rights of the migrants are in jeopardy, but it also offers fertile ground for people-smugglers and -traffickers, and makes it harder to detect the persons who are refugees and are therefore entitled to protection under international law. If we look at what is happening in the Mediterranean today, we see just how difficult it can be to make this distinction. States face tremendous difficulties in responding to these flows.
A second important cause of displacement is climate change and environmental degradation. Natural disasters occur ever more frequently and are of ever greater magnitude, with dramatic humanitarian consequences. When we consider the different models for the impact of climate change, the picture is very worrying. The need for people to move will keep on growing. One need only look at East Africa and the Sahel region. All predictions are that desertification will expand steadily. For the population, this means decreasing livelihood prospects and increased migration. All of this is happening in the absence of international capacity and political will to respond.
Discussions about climate change are taking place, but there is still no real strategy for how to cope with it. Kyoto was an important first step. We now need an effective post-Kyoto framework. Civil society and media obviously have an important role to play here, particularly in advocacy. And for corporations, it is increasingly clear that being environmentally conscious pays real dividends, not just over the long term, but today.
People are also on the move for a third reason: war and persecution. The international community does not know how to prevent conflicts, even when we have sufficient early warning, we only respond to the aftermath. Yet prevention is possible, is more effective and much cheaper. But prevention requires wisdom, political effort and an investment in eliminating the root causes, which invariably include socio-economic causes. Darfur is a good example. Of course the conflict there has political roots, but it is also fuelled by the fact that the traditional herders and farmers are increasingly in competition for scarce resources - especially water. When this is linked with political causes, the result is truly explosive.
We must invest in prevention. The media are critical to this, informing and educating us on situations around the globe and alerting the international community of impending crises. Civil society's support is important for political initiatives and solutions.
Responsible media must never pander to irrational fears and populist rhetoric to boost sales or viewership.
Because people are on the move, our societies are now multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural. Yet the general context in which people move is one of rising intolerance - in developed nations as well as in places like Darfur. In too many societies, reason is losing ground to political populism, racism, religious fundamentalism and xenophobia. Governments face real difficulty in confronting these issues. But we must confront this trend, be vigilant and remain a voice of reason and tolerance. I strongly urge media to play a role here. Responsible media must never pander to irrational fears and populist rhetoric to boost sales or viewership. Civil society too is well placed to share the values of tolerance and international solidarity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Promoting international responsibility for internally displaced people is another challenge where civil society can help humanitarian agencies with advocacy and direct action.
In the 1990s the concept of humanitarian intervention emerged. States have the obligation to protect their citizens, it was argued, and if they are not able or willing to do this, then the international community should step in. Today, in the aftermath of events in Iraq, this concept of the international community's "responsibility to protect" is increasingly in jeopardy. Many democratic countries in the developing world are now backing away from the doctrine of the "responsibility to protect". This, in turn, makes it more difficult for my Office, in our work with persons who are displaced within the borders of their own countries. In our work with refugees, we can still rely on fundamental tenets of international law, and thus have a greater margin of manoeuvre. Promoting international responsibility for internally displaced people is another challenge where civil society can help humanitarian agencies with advocacy and direct action.
My final point concerns the need to sustain peace and democracy once conflicts have ended. In UNHCR we witness the strong desire of refugees to return home. Last year we helped around 750,000 to repatriate. So far in 2007, well over half a million refugees have gone home with our help. Most refugees want to go back to their homes, but to what do they return? In places like South Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and elsewhere they go back to very little, often to insecurity and no real chance for the future.
Most refugees want to go back to their homes, but to what do they return? Often to insecurity and no real chance for the future.
The links between relief and development are too often still theoretical, the obstacles to a returnee's reintegration all too real. If peace is not sustained, the risk is that they will leave again. Kofi Annan has said that 50% of countries emerging from conflict fall back into war within a few years.
The international financial and development institutions work too slowly for places like South Sudan. It is clear that there need to be a faster and more effective transition from war to peace and from emergency relief to development.
In recent years, expectations have been raised for the millions who have returned home. The human security approach is extremely promising as it addresses the full range of displacement-related problems. It maintains the focus on people and builds safeguards into post-conflict recovery programmes, filling gaps that often arise as aid moves towards development. The establishment of the UN's Peacebuilding Commission and the "Delivering as One" initiative are also positive developments.
But the scale of the challenge is enormous. We need new forms of intervention, including the help of the private sector, because the existing system is often simply too slow to benefit the people who need help. UNHCR is working on several initiatives in this area, from corporate-sponsored field projects to global awareness-raising efforts such as our "ninemillion" campaign launched at this year's Clinton Global Initiative. We would welcome a Japanese corporate partner in our Council of Business Leaders, a group of corporate executives who support UNHCR in a variety of ways.
Of course, the recovery process takes place well after - usually years after - a crisis last appeared in the headlines. Over time, press coverage dwindles and awareness of the problem wanes. And since support for our work and the people we help depends in large part on that awareness, we count on the media to tell the story of "forgotten" situations as well as the world's major humanitarian crises.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
UNHCR is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from governments including, of course, Japan. But UNHCR will never meet the challenges I have outlined here without your support - the support of private citizens, civil society, corporations and the media.
Taking an interest in refugee issues and the work of UNHCR is a first step in this direction. I thank you for coming today and encourage you to pursue other chances to learn more. The Refugee Film Festival held here, for example, is an excellent opportunity. I welcome in particular the interest of students and the younger generation. The Japan Association for UNHCR has benefited tremendously from the work of interns and volunteers, but we can use your skills and enthusiasm all over the world.
Wherever and however you want to help, there is a need. And the very first act is to promote the values of tolerance and understanding in order to rid our world of fear, hatred and indifference.