Refugee Agency Chief Calls for Solidarity with World’s 82 Million People Forcibly Displaced, as Issues of Burden‑Sharing, Resources Dominate Dialogue
Human Rights Council President Hails Creation of New Special Rapporteur Mandate with Focus on Climate Change
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) punctuated its series of interactive dialogues today, with a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who rallied Governments to draw inspiration from the world’s 82 million people forcibly displaced who refuse to give up on their quest to build a better life.
In making that call, Filippo Grandi invoked the seventieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, celebrated this year, and appealed for renewed international solidarity. “We must never forget that nobody wants to live with the anxiety of exile,” he said, describing UNHCR’s focus on solutions. From Afghanistan and Yemen to Ethiopia and elsewhere, he requested more resources and the establishment of enabling conditions to serve those in need, hindrance free.
He objected to the construction of walls and the outsourcing of asylum management in wealthier countries, stressing that borders should be kept secure without compromising the dignity of refugees. He pointed to several countries in Africa leading the way with naturalization efforts, citing UNHCR’s decision in September to recommend the general cessation of refugee status for those from Côte d’Ivoire after years of exile. “If we are to face the immense challenges before us - conflicts, poverty, pandemics and the climate emergency ‑ we will need to work together,” he assured.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates praised UNHCR’s lifesaving work while also expressing concern about the rising numbers of refugees worldwide. Morocco’s delegate, on behalf of the African Group, called for a holistic approach to address the root causes of displacement, while the representatives of Egypt and Pakistan, whose countries host refugees, requested more burden and responsibility‑sharing. The representatives of the Russian Federation and Turkey meanwhile sounded the alarm that conditions in Afghanistan are veering towards a refugee crisis. Finland’s delegate, speaking for the Nordic countries, underlined the increase of sexual and gender‑based violence.
Later in the day, Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, updated the Committee on the activities of the Geneva‑based body, pointing to the adoption of four resolutions highlighting the link between the COVID‑19 crisis and human rights. She also drew attention to a resolution establishing a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, and another text recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
“These resolutions are the culmination of years of work and a result of strong political will and commitment to address a global environmental crisis and achieving environmental justice,” she assured.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 November, to take action on draft resolutions.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, presenting the Office’s annual report (document A/76/12) said the seventieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention marked States’ strong commitment to international solidarity when dealing with internally displaced persons. The same cooperation is needed today. “If we are to face the immense challenges before us ‑ conflicts, poverty, pandemics and the climate emergency ‑ we will need to work together,” he assured. Noting that tensions and conflict occur when resources are made scarce by climate change, he drew attention to climate-related displacement as “a growing reality”, inviting Governments to discuss this matter at the twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).
Noting that conflict continues to be the main driver of displacement, he turned first to Afghanistan, where millions of people have been displaced internally and abroad, with Iran and Pakistan and Turkey hosting generations of Afghan refugees. In Yemen, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and the Central Sahel, UNHCR requires more resources ‑ and the establishment of an enabling environment ‑ to serve those in need. He considered the construction of walls and the outsourcing of asylum management in wealthier countries alarming, stressing that borders should be kept secure without compromising the dignity of refugees. While appreciating the challenges posed by “mixed movements” in Libya and Central America, he said borders can be kept secure without depriving asylum seekers their rights, through processes that are fair and fast.
He said the UNHCR Global Compact on Refugees, affirmed by the General Assembly in 2018, has catalyzed a “whole of society” response to forced displacement, with the World Bank and others supporting host country services to ease the inclusion of refugees. He also pointed to the importance of bilateral donors that have provided billions of dollars to increase the proportion of grants available to refugee‑hosting countries. Touching on reforms within the Office, he said UNHCR has moved staff, resources and decision‑making closer to the field and improved planning and budgeting, while reinforcing risk management and oversight. He also announced that UNHCR published its first climate pledge earlier this year, which includes actions such as reforestation, use of renewables and a green financing facility.
“We must never forget that nobody wants to live with the anxiety of exile,” he said, describing UNHCR’s focus on solutions. He pointed to several countries in Africa leading the way by naturalizing refugees, highlighting UNHCR’s decision in September to recommend the general cessation of refugee status for refugees from Côte d’Ivoire after years of exile. Similarly, he also praised Canada’s actions to welcome settlers and Colombia’s initiatives that led to the protection of 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees. He then identified security concerns as a potential obstacle to the return of refugees, inviting the international community to strengthen the collaboration with countries of origins, including Burundi, Syria and Somalia. Indeed, the world’s 82 million forcibly displaced persons, despite the trials of COVID‑19, climate and conflict, have refused to give up. “My appeal to you today, and especially to the leaderships you represent, is to be inspired by them,” he said.
In the ensuing dialogue, all delegations praised UNHCR’s life‑saving work. At the same time, they also expressed concerns about the rising number of refugees, with Morocco’s delegate, on behalf of the African Group, calling for a holistic approach to address the root causes of displacement and appealing for greater solidarity. Burden and responsibility‑sharing were requested by the representatives of Egypt and Pakistan, who highlighted the large numbers of refugees hosted by their countries.
Regarding the situation in Syria, Lebanon’s representative recalled that her country hosts 1.5 million refugees from Syria, encouraging UNHCR to foster an environment that will ensure aid to Syria for their return. Several delegations also commented on the situation in Afghanistan with representatives of the Russian Federation urging the international community to work together to avoid a refugee crisis and Turkey’s delegate calling for a strengthening of cross‑border mechanisms.
On another note, Finland’s delegate, speaking for the Nordic countries, underlined the increase of sexual and gender‑based violence, inviting Member States to co‑sponsor the resolution that will be tabled. The representative of Italy meanwhile asked the High Commissioner about the best means to ensure the return of children refugees to school.
Also speaking were representatives of Syria, Venezuela, United States, Mexico, Ethiopia, Qatar, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Romania, Georgia, Malaysia, China, France, Republic of Korea, Cyprus, Côte d’Ivoire, Greece, India, Canada, Mali, Iran, Bangladesh, Algeria and Morocco, as well as observers for the European Union and the Sovereign Order of Malta.
Mr. GRANDI, responding, highlighted progress related to responsibility‑sharing, noting that development organizations are now factoring displacement into their programmes and financial instruments, while the United States and other countries are increasing resettlement efforts. However, the burden is still very much on host countries, which provide haven for 90 per cent of the 25‑26 million refugees around the world. He called for an increase in financial contributions, resettlement and cooperation in pursuing solutions that end the need for asylum.
In Africa, resource mobilization must be stepped up, he stressed, adding conditions on the continent have generated a series of commitments that are not yet fully concretized. The Secretary‑General’s High‑level Panel on Internal Displacement outlines a few solutions, in particular, to include refugees in the social services of host countries. Or, as Colombia has done, countries could integrate refugees into local economies.
Turning to the situations in Colombia, Somalia and Afghanistan, he said the solution may not be the return of internally displaced persons to their countries of origin, as they are likely to stay where they are. The challenge relates to urban development, he said, recalling the example of Burkina Faso, where people moved to urban centres for safety and then stayed permanently. To this end, UNHCR is ready to provide its expertise to discussions on reducing internal displacement.
“How do we define conditions to return?” Mr. GRANDI asked in relation to the situation in Syria. Guiding decisions on what people will need is what people themselves say, he emphasized, adding that Syrian refugees are asking for security and access to basic services. To establish those conditions, cooperation is pivotal, he said, calling for action to foster sustainable repatriation in areas where there is not yet a peace agreement or stability. In many cases, people want to return, provided that a minimum set of conditions is guaranteed. To find a way forward is always possible, he said.
Turning to the impact of COVID‑19 on education for refugees, he underscored the need to support host community education facilities, calling vaccine inequity “a blatant indicator” of many other inequalities and reiterating his appeal that host countries be prioritized in distribution efforts.
Stressing the importance of refugee‑led organizations, he called for increased interaction at the field level as a key component of support for refugees and internally displaced persons. He went on to voice concern over sexual and gender‑based violence against women refugees, as well as boys, emphasizing that his Office will prioritize a robust response. He also expressed concern about the situation of people discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation. Finally, on Afghanistan, he underscored the priority need for humanitarian action and joint efforts with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and other humanitarian organizations.
Report of the Human Rights Council
NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, presenting her report (document A/76/53), said the Geneva‑based body sharpened its focus on the numerous challenges posed by COVID-19 by considering numerous reports, holding five panel discussions and adopting four resolutions to highlight the link between the pandemic and human rights. The Council also examined recommendations on ensuring that human rights are respected during the crisis. It responded promptly to emerging human rights emergencies and convened three special sessions to address the situations in Myanmar, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, and Afghanistan.
Detailing recent developments, she said the Council in July established an international independent expert mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement. In October, it adopted a resolution establishing a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, and another text recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. “These resolutions are the culmination of years of work and a result of strong political will and commitment to address a global environmental crisis and achieving environmental justice,” she assured. The Council also held two sessions of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, with a third Working Group session to be held in November. These sessions have benefited from virtual work methods, enabling many States under review to be represented by high‑level delegations participating from their capitals.
She went on to note that the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States Trust Fund supported the participation of 19 delegates in the Council’s 2020 regular sessions, with a consensual decision ‑ adopted in March and a record 160 Member States sponsoring ‑ calling for a high-level panel discussion to be held in February 2022 marking the Fund’s tenth anniversary. “As a national of a small island developing State, I am deeply grateful to those who have contributed so generously to this important initiative”, she said, as it allows delegates from around the world to take their unique experiences back home. Turning to the invaluable role played by civil society, she said 260 organizations have participated in meetings throughout the year, sometimes at great risk to their own personal safety, delivering over 900 statements. “It is imperative that we continue to remain inclusive and representative,” she stressed, noting in a similar context the first consensual adoption of a resolution on cooperation with the United Nations in the field of human rights. With that, she urged States to “to build more bridges, to listen to each other and work collectively towards achieving our common goal of guaranteeing human rights worldwide”.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of the United Kingdom expressed support for the crucial role of the Human Rights Council in monitoring situations and reporting on violations wherever they occur. She asked whether there are any changes to the Council’s work methods and programme that would be beneficial to continue after restrictions are lifted. The representative of El Salvador reiterated her country’s commitment to focus on the rights of migrants, girls, youth and on the relation between human rights and climate change, noting that its work is having a genuine impact in multiple countries. The representative of Indonesia meanwhile warned that COVID‑19 has aggravated the already difficult situation in Myanmar. He called for strengthening multilateralism and universal health rights, including access to vaccines. He asked the Chair to share reflections on the current state of human rights during her presidency, and about the synergy between the work of the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council.
Meanwhile, the representative of Ethiopia underscored the need to preserve the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non‑selectivity, stressing that the Council should focus on the right to development, as well as on economic, social, civil, cultural and political rights. Its resolution 47/13, concerning the situation in Ethiopia, undermines national efforts and the Government’s ongoing work with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She rejected the text as politically motivated and adopted without consensus, expressing regret over the politicization of the Council itself.
The representative of Syria warned against creating a confrontational atmosphere in the Council through selectivity and the use of double standards, noting that the universal periodic review process should represent the constructive nature of human rights efforts. The Council’s work should be conducted in a transparent manner and refrain from partiality.
Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Republic of Korea, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Portugal, Australia, Cuba, China, Mexico, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Portugal and Yemen, as well as observers for the European Union and the Sovereign Order of Malta.
Ms. SHAMEEM KHAN, responding, clarified that the human rights situation in Yemen remains on Council’s agenda and that both technical assistance and capacity building continue to be provided. To critiques of the special procedures, she said these experts visit States upon invitation, issue thematic reports that are equal in application and provide constructive recommendations on the progress of States in their human rights journey. Recognizing the need for dialogue, she said she organized an informal conversation between States and the Coordination Committee earlier this year on the progress of special procedures mechanisms. On increasing the synergy between New York and Geneva, she referred to COVID‑19 restrictions and underscored the importance of visits to bridge the perceived gap between both cities.