Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges: Understanding and addressing root causes of displacement. Closing remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 17 December 2015

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges: Understanding and addressing root causes of displacement. Closing remarks by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, 17 December 2015

17 December 2015


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much. Now, I am in trouble, because obviously it is impossible to sum up these debates in an effective way. As we did last year and the year before, the Chairperson's summary will not be established today. But our team, in cooperation with the co-chairs, will prepare a draft which will be circulated amongst our panelists, after which a final document will be prepared.

Briefly, this debate is justified largely because we are feeling dramatically overwhelmed, as a humanitarian community, by the staggering escalation of displacement. It became obvious to all of us that we were no longer able to respond effectively. The priority of the international community should be addressing the root causes of displacement and making prevention a priority. It is also clear that between conflict-induced displacement, persecution-induced displacement and displacement induced by natural hazards, there are differences but there are also many commonalities.

First, I would like to talk about the general picture, then more specifically about conflict and displacement, before adding a few notes on natural hazards, protracted situations and statelessness.

I think there is a clear conclusion to our discussion: the need to put displacement on the governance agenda of the UN, of all international and regional organizations, and of all States. We have to put displacement on the agenda so we are able to detect drivers and triggers of displacement and transform the early warning mechanisms into early action. Many times we have early warning and then we do nothing. It is essential that this be on the agenda of all the bodies that are relevant, so we are able to act before it is too late. To do this we need to recognize the complexity of this phenomenon. And to address a complex phenomenon we need holistic views, there is no such thing as an easy solution or a one size fits all solution. We need to be evidence based and we have to have the analytical capacity to look into the data and to act on it. Although this idea came from the discussion on natural hazards, it is true in all areas of action.

Prevention, protection and solutions are three things that are strongly interlinked, to the extent that if one fails, the others will not be able to deliver adequately. This is not only from

prevention to protection and solutions, sometimes it has a reverse effect, if solutions are not properly supported and sustained. The importance of peacebuilding was mentioned and also the risks when this is not properly done. A crisis that is not resolved generates other crises, namely in the neighbouring countries. Arms that were used in Libya become arms used in Mali, arms used in Syria. This goes on in a network of evil if there is no capacity to properly solve crises.

There was clearly a consensus about the primacy of politics - the absolute need for political will and for leadership, both at the national and the global level. In particular the Security Council was mentioned, with a proposal to abolish the Security Council veto where we face mass atrocities, an element that would be a very important deterrent in international crisis situations.

Now, it is clear that even if there is a primacy of politics and leadership is essential, it is also important that things are seen in context. Communities are an essential part of the response. Women are an essential part in the action and in the creation of conditions for things to be possible, the empowerment of women is an extremely important element. A new factor that has been brought to the discussion in the debate is the role of the media, which is indeed a very important one.

Political leadership is essential, and partnerships are crucial. There is no single entity that can address the complexity of these problems. This is particularly important when we are engaged in understanding the need to preserve diversity in our societies and diversity in the global context. We need to understand that all societies are multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural, and that we must avoid sectarian divides, promote social cohesion, and create - through education - the conditions for people to understand to respect the others. As one delegate mentioned, there is no one religion superior to another, no faith superior to another, and interfaith dialogue is very important. There is one question very relevant for us at the present moment: when Muslim refugees are rejected, anywhere in the world, on any side of Atlantic, this has a dramatic negative impact on global security. It is the best possible support of terrorist organizations, because they gain a clear and easy justification for what they do and why they do it, even though, obviously, their activities should be strongly condemned. But for many people who feel excluded, angry, not fully participating in society, this propaganda can generate not only sympathy, but sometimes unfortunately conditions for recruitment for the most horrible acts that we have been facing.

All these questions related to diversity show that central to all our discussions, in whatever kind of displacement, this is essentially a question about recognizing, respecting and restoring rights. The question of human rights, the question of rule of law, and the question of good governance are central in order to avoid displacement and in order to address displacement in an effective way, both with man-made causes and natural hazards. Obviously, the importance of human rights, international humanitarian law, refugee law and the questions of sexual and gender based violence were particularly highlighted in the debate as absolutely essential. Especially taking into account that we operate in many circumstances in fragile states, and we sometimes see that things are run by smugglers and traffickers instead of being run by public institutions and States. It is absolutely essential that we are able to reverse this trend.

There is another dimension that triggers displacement, related to the failure of development: inequality and discrimination, poverty and unemployment, especially youth unemployment,

and the lack of access to education and other public services. This makes the question of the development strategy central to preventing and addressing the root causes. We have now a very important new instrument, the Sustainable Development Goals. They are for us particularly significant because of the notion that no one should be left behind, a notion that also applies to potential victims of displacement and for those displaced. There are two words that were permanently put on the table in this debate: inclusivity and resilience. Inclusivity in relation to the political, economic and social aspects of a society and resilience of communities, refugee communities, host communities, fragile communities as a key element of prevention and response. And in this context the priority of international development cooperation and adaptation to climate change is absolutely important. It was not said today but I listened to the debate when I was in the thematic session: there was a big concern that the planned 100 billion dollars in climate finance per year are really additional and not a recycling of other forms of international development cooperation.

All of this creates the idea that humanitarian and development actors need to work together. It is not only a question of bridging the gap, of one coming first and the other afterwards, but rather for them to act together since the very beginning of the crisis and even before the crisis, to prevent, to support the displaced, to host communities, host states, and to find solutions. One of the things that several delegations mentioned was the need to strongly enhance humanitarian aid to displaced people and strongly enhance development aid to host communities and those States The importance to support host communities and refugee communities at the same time when we are able to find effective solutions was mentioned as crucial. And acting together in peacebuilding and in finding sustainable solutions is also essential.

There were a number of important things mentioned in regard to natural hazards.

First, we are not only talking about sudden natural disasters but also about slow onset disasters. These are sometimes not perceived as a key factor of displacement, but they play a very relevant role.

Second, the problem of the competition for resources, which is also a driver of displacement by conflict. That becomes a very important dimension when we are looking at today's megatrends combining: urbanization, demographic growth, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity - all these things acting together force displacement and create competition for resources which can generate conflict and that can then generate other forms of displacement.

Another important question is: what are migration and what are refugee movements. We know that the legal regimes are different, but we are always dealing with people - people who always have rights. We are also dealing with a gray area, which is not covered by the 1951 Convention, which are non-voluntary migrant people. These are people who are forced to flee, but for reasons that are not covered by the 1951 Convention. Suggestions made included new imaginative solutions, like humanitarian visas, temporary protection, priority migration agreements, inclusion in free movement protocols and taking profit of the different initiatives, COP21, the Nansen Initiative, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. We need to make sure that we preserve the core of refugee protection. If we would try to change the 1951 Convention now, I think we would get a worse version. But at the same time we are looking at the protection gaps for people on the move and we try to address them effectively.

A few notes in relation to what was said about protracted situations: everything else that applies to displacement also applies to protracted situations. I think one very important aspect is not only the time during which people have been displaced, but their level of vulnerability and of exclusion. The response needs to be triggered by that concern. It is clear that care and maintenance mechanisms prolonged ad eternam are obviously not the best response. It is clear that we should be able to organize a win-win situation in which it will be possible to have a strong bet on the self-reliance of refugees and their contribution to host countries' economy and society, and on the other hand to strongly support these communities with whom the refugees live. It is context specific, it is different if you are in a big country with a small number of refugees or if you are Lebanon which now has one quarter of its population being refugees. There needs to be more solidarity from the international community when we deal with countries with less economic capacity and facing flows that correspond to a very high percentage of the population. A review of development cooperation policies is needed to give priorities to those countries which are big refugee hosting communities, but at the same time provide this global public good and contribute to global stability and global security. This is absolutely essential to allow for these win-win situations and to be able to overcome the typical traditional care and maintenance approach. We need to have the centrality of protection, the perspectives of the displaced themselves, we need to preserve the protection space and promote access to the social and economic space. We also have to look at things as a continuum of displacement. When we talk about displacement by natural hazards, sometime this starts by internal displacement, turns into cross-border displacement, and then other forms of migration can occur. We also have to see the continuum in humanitarian development, with a strategic emphasis and not only with a successive emphasis as it was conveyed by the panel.

Finally, statelessness and displacement are strongly linked. Statelessness can be a factor of displacement and displacement can be a factor of statelessness. I believe that we really need to engage strongly with the international community to be able to eradicate statelessness. It doesn't make sense to have people in the world who do not belong to a country, the level of suffering that this creates is enormous. There is an exercise I ask people to do: Let's imagine we have no driver's license, no credit cards, no ID cards, that our children cannot go to school, that we cannot go to a public hospital, and that the day we die our family will not even get a death certificate. It doesn't make sense in the modern world. There are two fronts: one is related to overcoming the discrimination of certain communities that still exists in several situations in the world. The second front is to change national laws to avoid individual forms of statelessness, specifically in nationality laws, to achieve gender equality in conveying nationality. This and effective birth registration are extremely important.

This was a very rich debate, I don't intend to consider my remarks as a summing up of all the discussions. We will now make sure to capture all the richness of the discussions in the Chairperson's summary.

I believe I can engage UNHCR, even though I won't be part of it, to make sure that we move forward with the different proposals that were put on the table that relate to us, also in regard to advocacy and in relation to other entities that are absolutely crucial for these things to be properly addressed.

Thank you very much.