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Opening remarks at the Global Refugee Forum

Speeches and statements

Opening remarks at the Global Refugee Forum

17 December 2019


Injustice, conflict and violence. This is why we are here. Our world is in turmoil, and 25 million refugees are looking to us for solutions.


Presidents, Prime Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the decade draws to a close, the prospects, let’s say it, are bleak. Poverty, inequality and the climate emergency are accelerating conflict and displacement. Long-standing crises seem ever more intractable. 

There is no doubt that the greatest impact has been felt in the developing world. Countries in crisis-affected regions, in spite of limited resources, have largely kept their doors open, preserving millions of lives. Some donors have been very generous, showing foresight and solidarity. Yet the hospitality of those countries receiving most refugees has often been eclipsed by manufactured panic in other parts of the world.

Globally, the international response to refugees has been piecemeal and unbalanced.  Sharing responsibility – the foundation of our modern system for protecting refugees – is being replaced in countries with more resources by pushing responsibility on those countries less able to cope. And so, refugees are pushed aside too – consigned to the margins, often in camps, cut off from the social and economic life of the communities hosting them. Humanitarian aid helps, and remains vital, but is not enough and not adequate to turn the tide from despair to hope.

As a new decade dawns, with some 71 million people uprooted from their homes globally – inside and outside their countries, it’s time to reboot our responses. We need a sweeping vision, to inspire and engage people and institutions across society – a broad alliance of governments, the aid community, businesses, development institutions, civil society, faith groups, academia, sports and the arts, and refugees themselves. We represent that very alliance – here, today. We need a smart, comprehensive plan, with global reach. And as of a year ago, we have one.

The Global Compact on Refugees provides a new blueprint for addressing refugee crises, one rooted in protection principles and standards, but that speaks to twenty-first century challenges. It engages all parts of society, to ensure refugees and their hosts get the support they need and deserve. It calls for fully formed action plans to assist countries that bear the brunt of refugee emergencies; development policies that enable refugees and their hosts to thrive; fair and predictable legal pathways to resettlement; and the means to return home in safety and dignity.

The momentum is already there. The approach set out in the Compact builds on decades of experience, most notably in more recent large-scale refugee crises like the Syria situation that have inspired a fundamental shift in how we engage with refugees. And the comprehensive model which the Compact proposes is already being applied by a dozen forward-looking States – helping millions of refugees and their local hosts get into work, go to school, open bank accounts, get the health care they need, and in some cases, find solutions that allow them to go home or build a future in new countries.

We are no longer talking about bridging the humanitarian-development divide. We are making this “nexus” happen, often linking it with peace efforts – through the creativity, commitment and leadership of development partners and some visionary governments.

New partnerships – between the private sector, a range of entities within host governments, financial institutions and development investors – are transforming remote refugee settlements and their surrounding communities into places of agriculture, commerce, and connected learning.

New models of regional cooperation are helping address complex mixed flows in which refugees travel alongside others whose rights and vulnerabilities must not be ignored.  Billions of dollars in new development resources are being channelled into refugee-hosting communities that had previously been left to fend for themselves, and enabling national systems to include refugee populations until their plight is resolved.

This Forum is where we will give further substance to the Compact, through the pledges and contributions that you will announce.

And this is where we will build the coalition of support to rally behind these extraordinary efforts and accelerate and expand them as we move into a new decade. 

The Forum has been one year in the making, and I wish to thank all those who helped drive and shape the national and regional consultations, and the huge preparatory work that has gone into developing new partnerships and preparing innovative contributions.

I am also very glad to welcome among us some eighty refugees, representing a wide array of communities and refugee-led organisations and networks. You have played a pivotal role in shaping the Forum, and your presence here will enrich and deepen our exchanges.

Many of the discussions already started yesterday. Three Support Platforms were launched, to help sustain and drive the trailblazing work being carried out through the IGAD Nairobi Declaration in the East and Horn of Africa, the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, and the MIRPS in Central America and Mexico. These will provide a more solid foundation to international solidarity in three major and under-resourced situations of human displacement and I call on all of you to help contribute to their success.

Yesterday also saw the launch of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network, which will foster research and learning, and provide new scholarship opportunities to refugees.

And over the next two days, we can anticipate a vast array of innovative pledges and initiatives that will help transform the response to refugee crises into a truly global endeavour, based on sharing responsibility within and across societies and regions. In the plenary debate, high-level dialogues and panels, spotlight sessions and other events, we will focus on critical areas such as refugee inclusion, solutions, education, jobs and livelihoods, protection capacity and energy and infrastructure.

In relation to this last one, energy, I invite you all to join me in taking up an ambitious ‘Clean Energy Challenge’ – so that by 2030, all refugee and neighbouring host communities will have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We would be naïve if we ignored the reality. The protection environment today is complex and troubling. We see refugees who have fled for their lives being demonised and turned into figures of fear. We see people making political capital by stoking public anxiety and directing it towards some of the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable people. This is not only immoral, but narrows the space for practical solutions.

But here, today, we have the counterweight to that. In the Global Compact on Refugees, we have a practical plan rooted in principles and values. We have a model for international action based not on cultivating fear, but on offering principled, but feasible, solutions.

For centuries, experiences of exile, and traditions of refuge have formed part of our collective human heritage. And now, solidarity has a new blueprint – one that recasts age-old traditions of hospitality to meet the future reality of our complex and interdependent world. Over the next two days, we will take that blueprint, and give it substance and meaning.  

Millions of refugees stand to benefit, and so do we. Thank you for being part of this journey.