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High Commissioner's remarks at the closing of the High Level Officials Meeting

Speeches and statements

High Commissioner's remarks at the closing of the High Level Officials Meeting

15 December 2021

I join Ambassador Jürg Lauber in thanking all those that have made all this possible.

And first of all, all the participants that have contributed so well, but also the Secretariat of the meeting.

I'd like to thank Gillian Triggs, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, who is here with us in the room and who has provided constant leadership through the entire process. I join Jürg in thanking Perveen Ali, but of course, Ellen Hansen next to me as well and their teams for all their fantastic work.

I thank the interpreters, the IT colleagues - this was a virtual meeting with hundreds of people, so they really had to perform miracles.

I thank the co-convening countries that were with us on the podium and of course, our Swiss co-hosts for their outstanding support and flexibility when we had to move the whole machine online just a few days ago. We will count on that - meaning on all the support, not on being online - as we start planning for the Global Refugee Forum in two years’ time.

There's been extraordinary participation. We estimate that over 1,300 people have participated and followed online during the last two days. We haven't got all the statistics, but we estimate that about 130 refugees have participated mostly online. This is really extraordinary - a big jump from what was the case at the Global Refugee Forum and a response to their own encouragement for them to be more involved, but also the private sector, NGOs, faith-based groups, city networks, United Nations organizations, and of course states and state representatives.

Sitting here for two days nonstop on this podium, I felt that in spite of the virtuality, there was real energy in this big virtual room. I agree with Jürg there was a “can-do” attitude that really brought some concrete dimension to the meeting. And I was very impressed by a lot of what I have heard in spite of all the challenges in terms of the progress made in the three years since the Compact and in the two years since the Forum. And I hope that all of you feel that as well. And if you're not convinced, look at the statements by the host countries. Two years after the Forum, we heard up to the last minute - up to the last statement - statement after statement, update on the pledges that they made two years ago.

And of course, the call from host countries is very clear - they need better resourcing; they need further humanitarian and development help. But it is encouraging also what we heard from donors: that responsibility sharing, from their point of view, is also happening. Financially, yes, and of course, we always need to do more, but also in terms of policy, in terms of practical support.  Think of the pledges made to the Asylum Support Group, which is really about building asylum systems around the world.

And let's remember what the private sector has said in its several interventions. From Lego, Vodaphone, Manpower, Uniqlo, the Amahoro Coalition and many others. They highlighted what expertise they have, what they can bring, and also - I want to go back to what the representative of Manpower said: why? ‘Because it is the right thing to do’. And that said from the private sector, echoing what I said in my own opening remarks, this was very reassuring.

There were some new initiatives announced; launched during the last couple of days - this is very important. We launched a strategy for the environmental sustainability in our responses. We launched a Refugee Environmental Protection Fund. The International Finance Corporation - we heard them speak in the last panel - together with us - launched a joint initiative on Private Sector Solutions for the Displaced and their host communities; a very important initiative that will take off in the next few months.  And of course, we launched the Connected Education Refugee Challenge as well.

This was not a pledging conference; it was not meant to be. But we heard at least - and this is Perveen’s count - we heard at least 50 more pledges, including many more matching of existing pledges between donors and hosts. And this shows that we remain committed and engaged, and we continue to build on the Global Refugee Forum. It also means that the pledge follow-up and tracking system that we have put in place in the last couple of years is effective in promoting both good policies and resource mobilization.

It's not just statistics – 1,400 pledges - it's really action and concrete. The “can-do” attitude - it's concrete results in all fields.  Financial contribution, asylum capacity, as I mentioned, civil registration, self-reliance through education, health and other essential services and even statelessness got some ‘side effect’ pledges, which I'm very, very pleased about.

I am particularly buoyed by pledges that were made in the area of resettlement. Resettlement is the most visible non-financial commitment to responsibility sharing, and it also benefits the most vulnerable refugees. It went down and down for years - it's looking up again. Let's keep it on track. 

Because I remember the Secretary-General at the Forum two years ago saying that responsibility sharing and, you know he spoke as an expert, as my predecessor. He said responsibility sharing cannot be a division between those who host and those who pay. There has to be true sharing of responsibility. This is why I made the point in my opening. I tweeted it this morning. Upholding protection and defending the right of asylum is the first and most important gesture of responsibility sharing, and we cannot see any erosion of that.

And I want to also echo a point made, I think, by the Netherlands, but echoed by others as well. This cannot be just about major host countries and major donor countries. We need others to come on board. We need the entire membership of the United Nations to come and support this effort. We can all share in that responsibility.

And here I want to make a particular mention of other aspects of states; of the public authorities: cities, for example, and local governments. We heard from them. Remember that they are on the front-lines and they are faced with the practical issues and they need support.

So as we move forward, we need to focus on the gaps and critical issues that you have raised: more development cooperation, more impulse towards localization, more access to education by refugees - especially secondary level -  more opportunities for livelihoods in this COVID environment (also for host communities). I spoke about resettlement and investments in peacebuilding - we heard it today - and in creating conditions for safe and voluntary returns. Much of this, if not all, are the same priorities of my organization. We're about to issue our second version (after the first one five years ago) of our strategic directions, and many of the points are the same.

Before I close, Cardinal Czerny of the Holy See recalled the words of Pope Francis, when he was with refugees in Lesvos just a few days ago, and I want to quote one sentence that he pronounced on that occasion, and I quote; Pope Francis said: “Let us combat, at its root, the dominant mindset that revolves around ourselves; our self-interest; personal and national, and becomes the measure and criterion of everything.” And I cannot think of a better quote to end with this reflection.

The context in which we will carry on and prepare the Global Refugee Forum in two years (and new pledges hopefully) is a difficult one. We should have no illusion about that. It's politically difficult. It will be economically difficult with the consequences of the pandemic. But the feeling I draw from being with all of you for the past few days is that if we work together, we can make a difference in people's life, in the lives of people that are uprooted and in the lives of people that generously, especially in poorer countries, continue to host them.

And I think that there are two foundations to our effort. One is that we must concentrate to try and achieve true responsibility sharing. And responsibility sharing is not an abstract concept. It can only be achieved through a set of concrete measures. Many we've heard. We need more.

The second, and this is in the spirit of what Pope Francis and many others said, we need to do this in a spirit of solidarity. Put people before politics. Because without solidarity, we will not have shared responsibility. But without meaningful responsibility sharing, we will not achieve solidarity. So this double track is not easy, but is what is before us in the next few years. So we will move along those two tracks and if we do that, if we achieve that, if we come to the Global Refugee Forum, presumably in December of 2023, with more responsibility sharing, in more spirit of solidarity, we will not have achieved everything, but we will keep hope alive. And this is what matters most for us, but most significantly, for people on the move.

Thank you all.