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Activities of Secretary-General in Switzerland, 15-17 December 2019

Secretary-General António Guterres arrived in Geneva on Sunday, 15 December 2019, after completing his work at the twenty-fifth Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid.

On Monday, 16 December 2019, he started his visit by meeting with Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and with Børge Brende, the Forum’s President.  He also met with Nikolaos-Georgios Dendias, Foreign Minister of the Hellenic Republic, as well as with United Nations staff in Geneva.

The Secretary-General spoke on Tuesday morning, 17 December 2019, at the opening of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

In his remarks, he said that his work for 10 years as High Commissioner for Refugees had brought him in touch with people at their most vulnerable moments.  He recalled:  “They shared with me their suffering, their yearnings, their anger.  I could never return to the comfort of my own house without feeling shaken and frustrated myself.”

The Secretary-General said that he brought those encounters and memories into his current role.  In all it does, he said, the United Nations is measured by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.  One might say that, as refugees go, so goes the world, he added.

The Secretary-General noted that more than 70 million people have been forced from their homes, including 25 million refugees.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has described these numbers as the “highest levels of displacement on record”.

Now more than ever, he said, we need international cooperation and practical, effective responses.  More fundamentally, we need to re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime, with the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 protocol at its core.

Indeed, the Secretary-General said, at a time when the right to asylum is under assault, when so many borders and doors are being closed to refugees, when even child refugees are being detained and divided from their families, we need to reaffirm the human rights of refugees — and the Global Compact on Refugees gives us the blueprint.  [See Press Release SG/SM/19915.]

The Secretary-General later spoke at a press conference with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, to discuss what the Forum had achieved.

He emphasized that this is the moment to ensure that the human rights of refugees are upheld, to re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime and to address the root causes that lead people to flee in the first place.

The Secretary-General said that the pledges announced at the Forum by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank and by the private sector are welcome examples of the crucial role that these entities play in responding to refugee situations.  Together with others, ongoing or planned investments, by the private sector and other bilateral development entities and other financial institutions, all these have ensured tangible results for refugees and host communities.  He hoped that following the Global Refugee Forum, these will quickly accelerate in the near future.

The Global Refugee Forum was also an occasion for the Secretary-General to meet with Ignazio Cassis, Federal Councillor and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland that co-hosted the Forum; with President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnene Hassen of Ethiopia and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas of Germany, co-conveners and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre of Somalia, special guest of the meeting. 

The Secretary-General also met with President Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also a co-convener of the Global Refugee Forum, before departing Switzerland for Italy.

For information media. Not an official record.