Statement to the United Nations Security Council on Ukraine
It has been less than three weeks since High Commissioner Grandi addressed this Council. Within this short time span, the number of refugees from Ukraine in the neighbouring countries continued to rise exponentially from the then 520,000 to over 3.1 million today – in what has become the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
With close to 2 million refugees from Ukraine, Poland has, in a matter of a few weeks, become one of the largest refugee hosting countries in the world. Some 490,000 people have fled to Romania, 350,000 to Moldova, 280,000 to Hungary and 228,000 to Slovakia. Hundreds of thousands have now reached other European countries. A sizeable number of people have also moved to the Russian Federation and, to a smaller extent, to Belarus.
We are humbled by the remarkable resilience of the refugees – many of whom have left their homes with next to nothing – and by the extraordinary hospitality of the host authorities and host communities. This solidarity illustrates the very foundation of the international refugee protection architecture and the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees. The acts of compassion, humanity and kindness we now witness daily bring hope and brighten an otherwise very grim reality.
We strongly commend the Governments of receiving countries for keeping their borders open to all those fleeing Ukraine – including third country nationals – who must continue to be received without any discrimination. The robust response that these countries have mounted from scratch – in an extremely short period of time – is truly impressive.
We are heartened by the bilateral and other support extended to the principal refugee hosting countries and the funding committed thus far in support of the 1.1 billion USD Flash Appeal for the response inside Ukraine and the 550.6 million USD towards UNHCR-led Regional Refugee Response Plan, both launched on the 1st of March. The outpouring of support from the private sector and individuals – who have jointly provided some two thirds of funds raised for the response thus far – must be lauded.
All international support to the response is coordinated under the refugee coordination model led by UNHCR, which has been established in Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, as well as in other countries in the region. The sum of collective expertise and support will be critical to help the refugee population and support host countries with shelter, emergency relief items, cash assistance, as well as mental health and psychosocial support. UNHCR has scaled up its response by deploying over 200 experts and established field presence in all countries. UNHCR staff on the ground undertake regular protection monitoring – at the main border crossing points, reception centres and other locations where refugees transit or gather.
However, with the current pace of refugee outflows, the capacities of neighbouring countries is being tested and stretched. We can and must do more to support, and we must do it now. As the situation evolves, UNHCR, in coordination with the host governments and partners, will reassess the needs as necessary and is currently adjusting the Regional Refugee Response Plan.
While some refugees transit through countries neighboring Ukraine, many are also joining families which have long settled in these countries – this is particularly the case in Poland, where, with time passing and resources diminishing, the number of refugees needing integration will rise. They – and the states which host them – will need support to ensure their inclusion in all sectors of public life – health and education, access to labor and other services.
With EU host countries receiving support from the rest of the Union, we are particularly concerned about the situation in Moldova, where over 350,000 people have arrived. This refugee crisis comes on top of pre-existing challenges. It is therefore crucial that sufficient resources are made available quickly to support the government’s response.
As critical as it is, funding is only one of the many forms of support that are urgently needed. We commend the recent launch of the EU Solidarity Platform designed to ease the pressure on the countries neighbouring Ukraine through transfers of vulnerable refugees to the other EU Member States. We are grateful to those Member States that have already made concrete pledges to transfer refugees from Moldova and encourage others to join this initiative, which constitutes a remarkable and innovative example of responsibility-sharing, in line with the key tenets of the Global Compact on Refugees.
In addition, the EU activated – for the first time in its history – the Temporary Protection Directive, which enables refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons arriving from Ukraine to quickly regularize their legal status, alleviating pressure on asylum systems. It shall also enable refugees to find work, access services, and benefit from social protection. Such temporary protection has also been announced by the governments of the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Brazil and others.
I wish to further highlight that 90 per cent of the refugees fleeing Ukraine are women and children, indicating the heightened risk of gender-based violence and other forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking. As the Secretary-General said: “for predators and human traffickers, war is not a tragedy – it is an opportunity”. We are deeply concerned about media reports of incidents of gender-based violence and trafficking and are supporting the efforts of governments in scaling up prevention and risk-mitigation measures, including through the “Stay Safe” campaign aimed at awareness-raising and provision of information to refugees. As part of UNHCR’s leading role in coordinating the UN refugee response, we have also deployed expert PSEA coordinators to support the government response in several refugee-hosting countries.
Since the early days of this crisis, UNHCR committed to stay and deliver in Ukraine, and this is what we have done. Allow me to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude and admiration for our colleagues who has remained in Ukraine, but also to the whole humanitarian community.
We believe that at least 2 million people have been forced to flee within Ukraine. Close to 13 million people have been affected in the areas hardest hit by the war within Ukraine. Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, are unable to meet even the most basic of their needs. In many locations, such as Mariupol, residents face a critical and potentially fatal shortage of food, water and medicines. People living with disabilities or serious medical conditions are particularly impacted. UNHCR is closely tracking negotiations for safe passage and is preparing to send humanitarian supplies as soon as conditions allow.
To facilitate the provision of life-saving assistance to the population most in need in Ukraine, we have adjusted our operational presence, relocating offices and warehouses to the Western and Central part of the country. Together with partners, we have been able to deliver critical supplies for displaced and conflict-affected populations, including core relief items and shelter materials.
We are working closely with local authorities to establish and expand reception capacities in main locations where internally displaced people arrive. We coordinate the provision of key protection services such as legal aid, social accompaniment, psychosocial support, child protection and gender-based violence case management. Where conditions allow, we distribute multi-purpose cash to help people make choices best suited to their needs. Flexible forms of assistance are crucial, as are innovative approaches.
Despite all efforts, we are unable to respond to the sheer scale of the rapidly growing needs of the Ukrainian people and systematically deliver the much needed, life-saving assistance. We cannot overemphasize the urgent call repeatedly made by the Secretary-General, USG DiCarlo, ERC Griffiths: civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected, international humanitarian law must be upheld, and safe passage for civilians – in any direction they choose – must be enabled. Safe humanitarian access to those in need and unhindered delivery of aid, including through a functioning humanitarian notification system, remain of paramount importance.
In conclusion, allow me to paraphrase High Commissioner Grandi, who is today in Tajikistan after having left Afghanistan yesterday. On numerous occasions he stressed that – as we respond to the crisis in Ukraine – we cannot abandon or forget other recent and protracted humanitarian crises in many regions of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.