Transcript of the High Commissioner's Remarks at World Refugee Day Event in Abidjan
(Delivered in French)
Mr. President of the Republic, M. Alassane Ouattara, Mr. Vice President, my dear friend the Minister of State, ladies and gentlemen, members of the government, elected officials, ambassadors, partners, colleagues, dear invited guests,
Mr. President, I am very happy to be here today, to have the opportunity to participate in this historic event : the end of Ivorian refugees’ exile. And soon, the implementation, as we've heard several times, of what is called in legal jargon, cessation - the cessation of refugee status clauses for Ivorian refugees implemented by countries of asylum in the region.
Mr. President, as I already mentioned to you earlier on Saturday, we’ve experienced moments of great emotion.
Together with some of my colleagues and with the United Nations Resident Coordinator, we accompanied one of the last organized convoys. There were about 250 citizens of Côte d'Ivoire who had been refugees in Liberia for years. We went to Liberia, to the border.
We crossed the small river that separates the two countries, and we went to find them and accompany them back to Ivory Coast. Then, when it was time to disembark from the small ferry that crosses the river, there was a ceremony that moved me greatly.
Liberian officials, who had also accompanied us, handed over copies of the birth certificates of Ivorian children born in Liberia to Ivorian officials, and the education certificates completed by Ivorian refugees in Liberia.
You know, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, it was a moment of great emotion for me personally, because it is a moment that sums up everything we wish for at UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, everything we wish for all refugees around the world: a voluntary return in peace and joy. The end of an exile during which, nevertheless, the refugees were well assisted and well protected by the countries of asylum.
I therefore want to pay tribute to you, Mr. President, because you yourself proposed, I remember it very well, to start this process a few years ago. A process that has been made possible by multiple factors, especially here in Côte d'Ivoire: the restoration of peace and stability, national reconciliation efforts, and economic development that you have guided.
I also want to pay tribute to the countries in the region that are represented here. They played an indispensable role in welcoming more than 300,000 Ivorian refugees: Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Togo… whose cooperation has been strengthened, as was previously said, by this roadmap that was drawn up here at the ministerial conference last September.
In the meantime, while all this was being done, more than 90 per cent of the refugees in the region have already returned and there are others who are still returning because we are going to continue repatriation operations for a few more weeks. One thing that was decided, as has already been mentioned, is very important for the very few people who do not want to return for personal reasons; regularization measures are planned.
Mr. President, we are celebrating this success of Côte d'Ivoire in a very difficult global context. Conflicts are literally multiplying and forcing millions of people to flee. And if it's not conflicts, it's violence in all its forms: persecution, discrimination, all compounded by the climate crisis, food insecurity and other scourges. A few weeks ago, the number of refugees and displaced people around the world reached 100 million for the first time since counting began. A figure that continues to rise and that, of course, the crisis in Ukraine has propelled even further.
That's why I proposed to be here in Abidjan today, on World Refugee Day, to acknowledge the difference. The difference that you, Mr. President, that the Government and the people of Côte d'Ivoire and the Governments and peoples of West Africa have been able to make. A difference that is an example of research, stability, and of political will to resolve Ivorian exile.
I am here, Mr. President, to say loud and clear that it is an example we hope others will follow. Here' is concrete proof that this terrible figure of 100 million, and everything this figure represents, is not inevitable. And that we can start to make it decrease. That refugees can return home and participate in the development of their country.
Your challenges, Mr. President, members of the Government, remain considerable in this unstable world, weakened by the pandemic and by the war in Ukraine; devastating for Ukrainians, but with consequences as we know for the whole world.
This crisis unfortunately also risks causing us to overlook other very serious crises that also lead to displacement. And you have proof of that, even here, as you welcome refugees from Burkina Faso. And I also thank you for approving this very important asylum law.
And the challenges will also beg, on a smaller scale, those of your repatriated brothers and sisters. Their reintegration will be lengthy and sometimes complex and will require attention and resources to be sustainable. But I have complete confidence in the determination and will to succeed of the Ivorian government.
I am quoting Mr. President, a repatriated woman with whom I spoke the day before yesterday and who told me, I am quoting her: “Going home after 20 years is not easy, but it is less difficult because I am at home.” That is why I am here today, to tell everyone that solutions are possible, to tell exiles who are still suffering throughout the world not to give up, not to lose hope.
Thank you, President Ouattara, for embarking on this challenge. Thank you for having done it with visionsince our first meeting in Addis Ababa, if I remember correctly, a few years ago.
Thanks to the countries of the region for your humanitarian and pragmatic role at the same time. Thanks to the refugees themselves, and of course to the returnees, to the former refugees for their resilience and perseverance throughout their exile, that allowed them to prepare for this day of return.
Thanks to my colleagues, to our partners and our generous donors, all essential to this success. We wrote, if I dare to say, a small page of history together and we have to hope, on this World Refugee Day, that others will follow, so that all refugees can stop being refugees.
I wish you a happy World Refugee Day.