Third Committee Emphasizes That Conflicts, Climate-Induced Displacement, Cost-of-Living Crisis Driving Refugee Numbers to Record Level
Refugee Chief Highlights Ukraine Conflict as One of Fastest Refugee Crises Since Second World War
States must urgently respond to a fast-growing global refugee crisis through concrete actions, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today, as delegates shared problems and best practices during an interactive dialogue and general debate on refugees and displacement.
Briefing the Committee, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that, “while climate, the lasting effects of COVID‑19 and the cost-of-living crisis all have grave consequences, the inability of the international community to prevent or resolve conflict continues to be the biggest driver of displacement”. Currently 104 million people in the world are displaced, he added, noting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to one of the fastest refugee crises since the Second World War, displacing 14 million people.
He commended Europe’s “whole of society” approach to refugees, adding that its inclusive response dispels politician’s statements that Europe is full and cannot take on more. Highlighting other crises, he spotlighted 850,000 people displaced from conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, and more than 1 million people displaced in Myanmar since the military takeover. Addressing climate-induced displacement, he pointed to floods in Pakistan, a country that already hosts many Afghan refugees, as well as other affected regions, including the horn of Africa, Latin America, South-East Asia and the Middle East. Turning to his agency’s budget, he said that it normally receives $5 billion from bilateral and multilateral donors, but this must rise, as the war in Ukraine has increased its spending by more than $1 billion and current funding is lacking by $700 million.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, representatives of Brazil and Sweden voiced concern over UNHCR funding, with the latter condemning Moscow’s war against Ukraine. The representative of Myanmar expressed concern that those who fled after the illegal military coup in that country are traumatized, recounting that many have taken their own lives.
Indonesia’s delegate decried that 86 per cent of refugees are hosted by developing and least developed countries with limited resources. His country upholds the principle of non-refoulement in rescuing Rohingya refugees, he said, but many countries have implemented push-back policies. Lebanon’s delegate stressed that the international community should devote equal attention to long-standing conflicts, underlining that her country hosts 2 million Syrian displaced people and 500,000 Palestinian refugees.
In the general debate on the UNHCR, the representative of Honduras noted that her country’s rural and poor areas are exploited by armed groups and traffickers, inducing high numbers of internal displacement. Meanwhile, the representative of Belarus voiced concern over discrimination of refugees on racial or ethnic grounds, adding that neighbouring countries had “problems” receiving several thousands of refugees from his country last year, but they have ensured good conditions for millions of Ukrainian refugees.
The representative of South Africa highlighted climate change-induced displacement, stating that her country has worked with nations to build local adaptive capacity and strengthen resilience to prevent, prepare for and respond to displacement of persons. Colombia’s delegate underscored the importance of the socioeconomic integration of refugees, highlighting the importance of alleviating pressure on host countries to ensure self-sufficiency for migrants.
Also speaking in the general debate on the UNHCR were representatives of Venezuela (on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations), Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation, Egypt, China, Kenya, Lebanon, Cameroon, Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan and Kuwait.
The Committee also concluded its debate on racism and self-determination today, with delegates, including Ghana, Burundi, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the United Republic of Tanzania and Eritrea voicing concern over the targeted nature of human rights investigations in China. The representative of Fiji emphasized that climate change is further preventing the enjoyment of human rights. “There is little law and Constitutions can do to protect land rights if land is subsumed by rising sea waters,” he said. Also speaking in the general debate on racism were representatives of Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Nicaragua, Singapore, United States, Cuba, Türkiye, Brazil, Ecuador, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Libya, Jamaica and Armenia. The Director of the International Organization for Migration also spoke, as did a representative of the Holy See and the European Union, in its capacity as observer.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 November, to continue its discussion on UNHCR and refugees.
Interactive Dialogue: Mercenaries
SORCHA MACLEOD, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, briefed the Committee on the Group’s activities as well as the thematic report (document A/77/268). Highlighting conversations with civil society actors, two expert consultations and invitations for country visits in the coming year, she said that the Group’s work is more relevant than ever.
Turning to the thematic report on private military security companies in maritime countries in an international humanitarian law context, she underscored pressing challenges and human rights violations committed by those companies. Piracy is a key driver in the ongoing use of mercenaries at sea, she added, citing human, drug, wildlife and wildlife commodities trafficking. Private military and security companies can provide a wide range of security services, but their activities are poorly regulated. She pointed to relevant reports, including on disproportionate use of force at sea; violations of the rights to life and liberty along with other physical integrity rights; violations of due process guarantees; and abuses of labour rights. All of these are increasing due to added competition among companies coupled with a lowered quality of security services provided, she said. Weak vetting of workers and poor industry oversight contribute to violations.
She called on States — especially flag, coastal and port States — to adopt international and domestic regulation measures, which should be consistent across all jurisdictions, to prevent shopping by ship owners who take advantage of weak frameworks. Further, she called on the Committee to address unregulated floating armouries, including, potentially, through the establishment of State-controlled armouries onshore. Highlighting the abuse of labour rights of private security personnel, she said that legislative frameworks must also address human rights violations, such as disproportionate use of force and violations of the rights to life and liberty as well as due process guarantees. Expressing concerns about reports received by the Group on the increasing use of maritime vessels to transport weapons for mercenary purposes as well as coerced mercenary recruits from several countries, she underscored a lack of accountability and access to justice for victims, given the specificities of the maritime space. “It is imperative that States address these gaps by effectively regulating the maritime sphere in line with the recommendations made in our report,” she said.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as an observer, said the bloc’s maritime security policy goes beyond international obligations to protect its citizens from consequences of unlawful acts. He stressed that the role of mercenaries should not be confused with private military and security companies, pointing to the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits as a guide for activities to private and military companies during armed conflict. He invited Ms. Macleod to focus on mercenary activities.
The representative of Cuba expressed concern about the United States’ use of mercenaries to destabilize legitimately elected Governments, violating the United Nations Charter. He expressed further concern about countries using mercenaries to protect extraction activities, where grave human rights violations usually follow, he said. Reaffirming the country’s position, he said that Cuba will submit the draft resolution on mercenaries who violate human rights and impede the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination again this year.
The representative of China said her country has always maintained that private military security companies must adhere to human rights law. Expressing concern about human rights violations cited in the report, she urged countries to launch investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.
Responding to the delegates, Ms. MACLEOD said that her Group has a broad mandate, as the only legally defined term it operates with is “mercenary”. She noted that rising deployment of mercenaries around the world increases threats for civilian populations, as mercenaries do not have an interest in ending conflict and may target civilians, resulting in mass killings and sexual and gender-based violence. Adding that deploying mercenaries can also result in the killing of human rights defenders and journalists, she underscored that, in all situations, they act with impunity. She acknowledged the importance of the Montreux Convention and encouraged all States to sign it but highlighted its limits. Crimes committed in maritime space have less chance to be redressed due to a lack of oversight and an almost non-existent civic space, which is why her Group focused on these special circumstances, she said.
Recounting a disintegrated rights framework, especially during the COVID‑19 pandemic, when private security personnel were unpaid or simply abandoned by ship owners, causing the hijacking of a floating armoury in one instance, she called for oversight and clarification on who has the right to use force, especially in relation to arrest. This will ensure investigation and accountability for victims, she said. Highlighting that only 37 states are part of the United Nations Convention on Mercenaries, she urged States to sign it, calling for participation in the drafting of the legally binding instrument that will regulate activities of mercenaries on land and at sea.
General Debate Statements
AMINATA LY DIOP (Senegal), associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, said that the COVID‑19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities and created new ones, destroying much of the progress achieved in development. Eliminating racism and discrimination remain among the most pressing concerns that States must address, she added, calling for a collective commitment and strong political will. Noting that these phenomena are on the rise and disproportionally affect persons of African descent, indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, she said that policies to eradicate them should not only be based on strengthened coercive frameworks, but also on awareness-raising. Universality, objectivity, non-selectivity and non-politicization must guide States’ approaches when addressing these issues, she added.
PATRICIA CHAND (Fiji), associating herself with the Group of 77, emphasized that climate change is compounding inequalities and further limiting the enjoyment of human rights. “There is little law and Constitutions can do to protect land rights if land is subsumed by rising sea waters.” Stressing the vulnerability of small island developing States, she called for the establishment of a loss and damage finance facility to secure and protect the rights of climate refugees and climate-induced internally displaced persons. Looking forward to the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm el-Sheikh, she expressed the hope that the commitment made in 2009 to jointly mobilize $100 billion annually in climate finance will be honoured, in accordance with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.
GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that a reductive conception of the human person lies at the core of racism. That often stems from prejudice imparted through an inadequate education that fails to underscore the value of every person as a member of the human family. Responses to racism must therefore begin with a renewed commitment to quality education, thus enabling every human being to realize their full potential and pursue the common good. Migrants, especially those who come from a different cultural background, are still the subjects of racism and xenophobia, he added. More vigilance is needed in the face of such attitudes, which only cause more suffering and anguish for those who leave their homes in search of peace, prosperity and security.
NNAMDI OKECHUKWU NZE (Nigeria), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, pointed out that, as the end of the International Decade for People of African Descent approaches, the challenge today is to examine how far the international community has gone in achieving the objectives contained in the proclamation of the Decade. Calling on the international community to join forces in fighting discrimination against Africans and people of African descent, he stressed the need to ensure that “we stem the unfortunate tide that is making migrants the slaves of today”. He further reiterated the importance of supporting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which provides major safeguards for the treatment of migrants in a way that prevents racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerance.
WEERASEKARAGE CHATHURA RAMYAJITH WEERASEKARA (Sri Lanka) expressed concern over the manifestation of all forms of terrorism and violence through online platforms and invited States to strengthen national legislative frameworks to curb such incidents. Noting that his Government has prioritized building trust and reconciliation among communities, he said it maintains a zero-tolerance policy on religious hatred or intolerance. Reminding of the warning of the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who observed that matters of internal concern are best resolved by internal mechanisms, he said that China would be best equipped to address their internal issues for the common good of its people. To combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination, he stressed the need to “put aside the petty ethnicity associated with manipulative politics and look at what we, as the international community, can realistically achieve”.
DANIEL AGYEKUM NSOWAH (Ghana) encouraged continuous commitment to the implementation of the provisions in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and its follow-up processes, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent. Welcoming the ongoing negotiations to elaborate a global convention on countering the use of information and communications technology for criminal purposes, he underscored the need for Member States to engage in the negotiations in a manner that ensures that the document, when adopted, would include actionable elements that stand the test of time in combating racism in all its forms online. He went on to express concern over the process for drafting and releasing the report of the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Xinjiang, saying that it could have been carried out in a more orthodox manner while also guarding against the politicization of human rights issues.
DAHMANE YAHIAOUI (Algeria), associating himself with the Group of 77, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, said that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action remains a top priority in dealing effectively and collectively with the threats of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. It was in this regard that Algeria, in December 2017, introduced General Assembly resolution 72/130 declaring 16 May as the International Day of Living Together in Peace. The right of peoples to self-determination is a cardinal principle of Algeria’s foreign policy, he said, emphasizing that his country’s support for those living under foreign occupation is a significant example of its position in this respect.
OLIMPIA RAQUEL OCHOA ESPINALES (Nicaragua), associating herself with the Group of 77, the Central American Integration System and the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, observed that from the transnational slave trade to the genocide committed against the Jewish people, racism and discrimination have served as excuses for cruel ideologies. Nicaragua saw leadership from Afro-descendent and indigenous communities across its territory, she said, recognizing the multi-ethnic nature of her country. Highlighting laws on the rights of indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent based on the principles of self-determination and non-discrimination, she pointed to the national plan to combat poverty and ensure development. She underscored her Government’s priority to guarantee universal access to health, quality education and food sovereignty for all without any form of discrimination. Moreover, opposing interference in China’s domestic affairs as well as politicization of human rights issues, she supported Beijing’s efforts to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
EUNICE TEO (Singapore), associating herself with the Group of 77, stressed that the COVID‑19 pandemic has deepened inequality and voiced concern over a dramatic increase in hate speech on social media. Eliminating racism and xenophobia is an existential issue for Singapore, which is one of the most religiously diverse societies on Earth, she said, highlighting a variety of religions in the country, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. Underscoring that discrimination cannot be eliminated by law itself, she pointed to expanded common spaces in the country to promote interactions across communities.
NICHOLAS HILL (United States), associating himself with the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 50 States regarding human rights violations in China, said that his country's greatest strength is, and always has been, its diversity. Promoting racial equality and justice is a top priority for the current Government, as demonstrated by its efforts to support underserved communities. On foreign policy, he noted the appointment of the Department of State's first Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, tasked with leading efforts to advance the human rights of persons belonging to marginalized racial and ethnic communities around the world. “Responsible nations must not shrink from scrutiny of their human rights records. Rather, they should acknowledge it with the intent to improve,” he said.
YOANGEL VALIDO MARTÍNEZ (Cuba), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, said it is worrisome to see in certain countries, like the United States, the promotion of supremacist and racist ideologies. That country has not been able to address the systematic racism affecting Latino, indigenous and Afro-descendent minorities, he added, pointing to the high percentage of people of African descent in prisons, the unequal impacts of the pandemic and the cases of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Noting that the root causes of racism must be addressed, he cited his country’s programme in that regard. Citing the six-decades-long blockade imposed on his country by the United States, he said that his people will not give up defending their right to self-determination and will choose the State’s path for social and economic development. Nothing is as precious for them as their country’s sovereignty and independence, he said.
AYSE INANÇ ÖRNEKOL (Türkiye), expressing concern over the disturbing rise in racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism and hate speech globally, noted that the pandemic only further exacerbated pre-existing inequalities. Noting increasing hostile acts against members of religious and ethnic groups, stigmatization and the use of racist propaganda in politics, she called on politicians and the media to combat these threats and encouraged partnerships with religious communities, civil society and technology companies. Regional and global organizations must be better utilized to draw the world’s attention to the gravity of the issue and find comprehensive joint solutions, she added. Strengthening current mechanisms and establishing new platforms that victims can use to directly report incidents can serve as concrete steps in that direction, she suggested, noting that Türkiye will host the next meeting of the Istanbul Process.
ELAINE CRISTINA PEREIRA GOMES (Brazil) noted that her country is home to the world’s largest population of people of African descent. It is committed to combatting racism, xenophobia and all related intolerance, she said, noting that in 2021, the Government launched a new set of initiatives to protect the rights of people of African descent, including human rights education for law enforcement officers, programmes to protect young victims of violence and measures to increase the oversight of police officers. She detailed affirmative action measures and quotas in universities and the public service, explaining that these have created opportunities and inclusion for Brazilians of African descent. Underscoring Brazil’s support for the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, she called on States to engage in negotiations for the United Nations declaration on human rights of people of African descent and to overcome differences through cooperation, not politicization.
ELIZABETH NORALMA MENDEZ GRUEZO (Ecuador) reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the International Decade for People of African Descent, for which the Government established national programmes and public policies to reach justice and development goals. Ecuador has prioritized access to justice and affirmative action policies to increase school enrolment, as well as ethnic and intercultural education to fight discrimination, raising the profile of Afro-Ecuadorians. Further, her country created a Human Rights Secretariat and National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities to ensure full access of public services to people of African descent and improve socioeconomic indicators. Identifying herself as Afro-Ecuadorian, she hailed the creation of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent and its work deracializing societies around the world.
NARMIN AHANGARI (Azerbaijan), noting that racism and xenophobia are among the root causes of armed conflict and serious violations of human rights, stressed that hate propaganda fuels identity-based intolerance and destabilizes societies. Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic country and all its citizens are entitled to the full enjoyment of human rights and freedoms on non-discriminatory basis, she emphasized, adding that her Government has taken steps towards eliminating all forms of racial discrimination. Moreover, she stressed the importance of ensuring accountability, criminal investigations and persecution of perpetrators. In facilitating the return of the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons to its liberated territories, Azerbaijan is committed to rebuilding the ethnic and diverse communities which populated the region prior to the occupation, she asserted.
EKATERINE LORTKIPANIDZE (Georgia), associating herself with the European Union, shared that in 2020, her country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the General Prosecutor, the Supreme Court and the National Statistics Office signed a memorandum of cooperation to create a joint data system for crimes committed on grounds of intolerance. She also drew attention to a human rights course curriculum for public servants, designed with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which provides information on basic concepts of human rights and their practical dimension. She went on to say that the human rights situation in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, which are occupied by the Russian Federation, remains alarming.
HALLEY CHRISTINE YAPI NÉE BAH (Côte d'Ivoire), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that the growing gap between rich and developing countries is accentuating marginalization and racial exclusion, with peoples of African descent paying a heavy price in the sports, professional and cultural spheres. The fight against racism cannot be effective unless its root causes including poverty, climate change and conflicts are addressed. Noting that Côte d’Ivoire has chosen to become a “welcoming land”, she said that acts of racism can lead to prison sentences of five to 10 years as well as fines.
KIM NAM HYOK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), associating himself with the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations and with Cuba on behalf of a group of countries, voiced concern about the ongoing abhorrent practices of human rights abuses such as racial discrimination and xenophobia in various parts of the world. In the United States, the right to life is seriously violated due to systematic racism and racial discrimination, he cautioned, pointing to 2,500 people killed by the police since 2020. Calling the United States “a barren land of human rights”, he rejected attempts to misuse Xinjiang and Hong Kong-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs.
MARISKA DWIANTI DHANUTIRTO (Indonesia) said that each country must promote and protect the human rights of their citizens. They also have the right to determine their own approaches and policy options in pursuing development efforts and addressing national security challenges, guided by international norms. “This right must be respected,” she said, emphasizing that work in that regard at the international level, including in the Third Committee, should be guided by the principles of impartiality, objectivity and inclusivity. Efforts must be aligned with the Charter of the United Nations, including with regard to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States. Encouraging constructive engagement, she added that nationally led and nationally owned mechanisms to promote human rights must be supported, she said, encouraging constructive engagement.
JOSELYNE KWISHAKA (Burundi), underscoring the importance of sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other States, commended China’s efforts to promote human rights through a people-centred approach. Stressing the need to prevent manifestations of racism and xenophobia, she drew attention to China’s fight against terrorism and violent extremism in Xinjiang. The assessment of human rights concerns in Xinjiang by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, prepared with neither a mandate from the Human Rights Council nor the consent of the country concerned, constituted a grave violation of the principle of universality and non-selectivity, she said, adding that issues related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet fall under the domestic affairs of China.
MAJDA MOUTCHOU (Morocco) said that her country’s culture of tolerance and promotion of intercultural religious dialogue dates back 12 centuries. Further, legislation offers foreigners the same fundamental rights as those enjoyed by Moroccan citizens. A member of the anti-discrimination Rabat and Fez Plans of Action as well as the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Communities, she said the country could host the Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations this year in Fez. She recalled that Pope Francis congratulated Morocco on its efforts to combat extremism, which leads to violence and terrorism, an affront to God and religion itself.
Mr. ALSERKEEK (Libya), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, stated that the worst kinds of racism and discrimination are those suffered by people under colonialist foreign occupations, with racist laws seeking to control their territories and resources as well as force persons into displacement. Stressing that African people have been the most affected by racism, he called on States that have colonized others to be morally responsible and compensate for the “dark age of our history”. Noting that Israeli practices against the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories are flagrant violations of international law, he expressed his country’s continued support for the Palestinian people “until they realize their legitimate right for a State and self-determination”.
JOHN MARTIN PANGIPITA (United Republic of Tanzania) said respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of States and non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign countries represent basic norms governing international relations. Opposing the practice of politicization of human rights issues, including those concerning Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, which are “China’s internal affairs”, he called on all parties to adhere to the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity of human rights. Further, he commended the efforts of China’s Government on protecting and improving the livelihood of its people and the progress made in poverty alleviation.
PÄR LILJERT, Director of the International Organization for Migration, stated that the international community has witnessed over the last years how digital technologies and platforms have been deployed in xenophobic and racially discriminatory rhetoric and exclusion of migrants. Stressing the importance of including these platforms in raising awareness of how such speech and attacks have a direct impact on everyone in society, he emphasized that “in the absence of tolerance and empathy, inequalities, discrimination and intolerance towards others are set to grow”. Highlighting that digital technologies must provide new means to advocate for, defend and exercise rights, he underscored that the international community needs to ensure all people are connected, respected and protected in the digital age, in line with the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. “From the large-scale international arena of global diplomacy to bullying at school, we need to look at structural issues that perpetuate racism and focus on the inclusion of those voices that are most affected and have been traditionally left behind and unheard,” he said.
YANIQUE NISSAN DACOSTA (Jamaica) said as the Third Committee begins its deliberations on this agenda item, there is another opportunity to reflect on slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and its continued debilitating impact on Africans and people of African descent. In the case of Jamaica, where approximately 90 per cent of the population are people of African descent, the residual effects of centuries of enslavement and exploitation constitute a daily reality. Too often, Jamaica’s people exist in a social order in which chronic persistent poverty leads to pernicious violence and crime, therefore further undermining the country’s efforts towards achieving sustainable prosperity for its people. It is in this vein that Jamaica remains unwavering in its determination to further the call for the international recognition of reparatory justice as a necessary path to healing, restoration of dignity and progress for people of African descent. There is increased momentum within the United Nations framework towards the improvement of the lives of Afro-descendants who have suffered the pains of racism, racial discrimination and the legacies of enslavement, including structural underdevelopment. Member States should engage in frank, open and inclusive dialogue with a view to identifying pragmatic means by which reparatory justice can be achieved.
TIGRAN GALSTYAN (Armenia) said that open political debate, freedom of opinion, vibrant civil society and free media are key elements that raise society’s level of protection against hatred, propaganda and indoctrination. Incitement to hatred and hate crimes as well as denial, justification or glorification of past crimes constitute early warning signs, which, if unaddressed, pave the way for future atrocities, he emphasized. The Armenian people know first-hand the grave consequences of State-led xenophobia and hate propaganda, he continued, adding that a century after falling victim to a genocide, the Armenian people continue to face incitement of identity-based hatred in the region. Noting that international and regional organizations and non-governmental organizations have documented State-led hate propaganda at all levels in neighbouring Azerbaijan, he expressed particular concern over the indoctrination of youth. The recent aggression of Azerbaijan against Armenia in mid-September included multiple confirmed cases of summary executions of prisoners of war, mutilations and gender-based violence, he said, citing his country’s proceedings before the International Court of Justice. Noting that policies dehumanizing people of a particular ethnicity remain a serious threat to peace and security in the region, he said that politicized and selective condemnations are a source of concern for the integrity and objectivity of the entire human rights discourse.
Right of Reply
The representative of China, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, rejected Washington’s smear campaign against his country. It is the eleventh time that the United States has provoked spiteful attacks against China during a Third Committee discussion, he stressed, adding that its interest in the human rights situation in China serves as a pretext for maintaining its hegemony. Opposing Washington’s coercive diplomacy and unprovoked attacks against China, he advised the delegation of the United States to “stop telling other countries what to do”.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Azerbaijan rejected Armenia’s claims that her country is propagating anti-Armenian hatred and destroying Armenian cultural heritage. On the contrary, she said, Armenia carried out its own ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis on a massive scale. Further, as Armenia’s national heroes include Nazi collaborators, it is not one to call another country xenophobic, she added. Recalling decisions by the International Court of Justice ordering Armenia to stop racial hatred directed at ethnic and national Azerbaijanis, she called on the country to come to terms with its misdeeds.
The representative of Armenia, exercising the right of reply to respond to Azerbaijan’s delegate, noted that his delegation has already responded to Azerbaijan’s false accusations and usual diversions, which are repetitive and becoming overused, in other fora. He further pointed out that the delegation of Azerbaijan should listen carefully when the name of its country is mentioned and reflect on why, in what context and during which kind of discussion it is mentioned, so it would not only react with the “same old manipulative arguments”. He urged Azerbaijan to implement recommendations made by human rights treaty bodies and others as soon as possible.
The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking in a second exercise of the right of reply, said that Armenia continues to deny its responsibilities for numerous war crimes committed by its forces, agents, officials and other persons under its direction and control, and refuses to punish perpetrators and offer appropriate remedy and redress for its breaches. Adding that international organizations have more than once expressed their serious concern about the spirit of intolerance and discriminatory policies and practices pursued in Armenia, she called on that State’s delegation to refrain from using discussions under the agenda item on the elimination of racial discrimination to voice intolerance against Azerbaijan.
The representative of Armenia, speaking in a second exercise of the right of reply, highlighted Azerbaijan’s long-standing record of systemic and well-documented human rights violations against its national minorities. Azerbaijan should mitigate the high level of xenophobia and hate propaganda in all spheres of its public life, he asserted.
NADJA MICAEL (Eritrea), aligning with the African Group, said that colonialism and slavery have lasting consequences on societies. Despite commitments to remedy past injustices, racism affects migrants, prohibiting them from practicing their religion or cultural practices. She called for stronger political will to fight racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Stressing the need to maintain the thematic and non-politicized nature of the Committee’s discussions, she expressed her opposition to politically motivated criticism of China. Eritrea supports the Chinese government in its human rights efforts, she said, recalling the visit of former High Commissioner for Human rights, Michelle Bachelet, to the country.
Interactive Dialogue: High Commissioner for Refugees
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), pointed to grave consequences if the international community fails to work together in addressing today’s challenges, especially for the more than 103 million people — up by 41 million since 2010 — forced from their homes. “While climate, lasting effects of COVID‑19 and the cost-of-living crisis all have grave consequences, the inability of the international community to prevent or resolve conflict continues to be the biggest driver of displacement,” he said. Noting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to one of the fastest displacement crises since the Second World War, forcing around 14 million people from their homes, he added that the refugee response in Europe was excellent and showed the kind of “whole of society” response envisaged in the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018.
The European response also demonstrated that politicians’ remarks about Europe being full, relocation being impossible and public opinion being unsupportive of refugees are false, he said. “The political support, the public support, the operational response all prove that receiving refugees, even in large numbers, is possible when there is leadership, sensible policies, good management and above all, a shared approach”. Expressing deep concern about the plight of people inside Ukraine, he stressed that civilian infrastructure must never be targeted in conflict. Yet, it is being destroyed day after day, exacerbating the extreme hardship faced by civilians, including the more than 6.2 million who are internally displaced. Humanitarian work can mitigate some damage, but will be insufficient in responding to widescale destruction, he said, stressing that the UNHCR has stepped up its operations and called on States to lend expertise and resources in warding off winter’s worst effects.
Turning to other crises, he said that violence in Tigray, Ethiopia, has displaced more than 850,000 people in the first half of the year alone, and the situation has worsened with the recent surge in hostilities. In the Sahel, he said armed groups control a significant amount of territory in Burkina Faso, and nearly 2 million are now internally displaced. More than 1 million people have been displaced in Myanmar since the military takeover last year, with no solution in sight for almost 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, he added. Further, tens of thousands continue to be driven from their homes by fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with little or no international attention. There are still more than five million Syrian refugees in Türkiye, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries in the region, he said, adding that complex population movements are also growing through the Americas. Stressing that the UNHCR has responded to 37 new emergencies in the past 12 months, he underscored the protection and assistance it provided to States and efforts with the World Food Programme (WFP) to address food insecurity in refugee settings. On extreme weather events driven by the climate emergency, he pointed to floods in Pakistan — a country that, like Iran, has been host to Afghan refugees for generations. Less attention, perhaps, has been paid to the human suffering caused by climate change in the Horn of Africa as well as the Sahel, Latin America, South-East Asia and the Middle East, he said. Adding that the climate emergency, coupled with conflict, is leading to displacement in Somalia, he said such a phenomenon can be seen in many already fragile States, noting that displacement from Somalia impacts neighbouring countries, like Kenya, which are also affected by climate change. The cost-of-living crisis, which dramatically affects the displaced and other vulnerable people, is also precipitating further desperate measures, including, in some cases, onward movement. We have seen people resort to dangerous journeys at sea, and also know how poverty robs people, especially women and girls, of their dignity and rights, he said. While the UNHCR cannot influence global macroeconomic trends, it is working to offset their harshest consequences, including through traditional relief activities. He also highlighted work with institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), so that they consider forced displacement a relevant factor in planning support to States, especially where the percentage of refugees and their economic impact is significant. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that about $3.3 billion bilateral development funds are injected into refugee situations each year, in addition to around $2 billion per year from multilateral development banks and humanitarian resources by UNHCR and its partners. This must continue and grow, especially in the form of grants, he said.
While contributions from individuals, foundations and companies will exceed $1 billion or around 20 per cent of UNHCR’s overall income, the war in Ukraine has increased its budget by more than $1 billion, he said, noting that despite donations of $400 million since the summer, the UNHCR faces a shortfall of nearly $700 million in several critical operations. Noting that the Agency has not experienced this kind of financial challenge for years, he appealed to States to urgently help with additional contributions in the coming days and weeks to prevent painful cuts to basic support for refugees.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of South Africa, on behalf of the African Group, said the continent is home to one third of the world’s forcibly displaced persons, including 6 million refugees and asylum seekers and 15 million internally displaced persons. Around 30 million internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers live in Africa, representing almost one-third of the world’s refugee population. Expressing concern that several national humanitarian programmes remain substantially underfunded, she asked how the UNHCR can help to ensure accelerated implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees.
The representative of Egypt underscored that, despite increasing pressure, his country continues to host 290,000 refugees and 9 million migrants and people in refugee-like conditions from over 60 countries. They live in Egypt freely, neither in camps nor in closed centres, in complete upholding of their right to free movement. Furthermore, Egypt’s “One Refugee” policy stipulates for the equal provision of basic services to all refugees and asylum seekers, particularly education and health care. He asked the High Commissioner about best methods to attain more equitable burden-sharing between all Member States, in accordance with the Global Compact for Refugees.
Along similar lines, the representative of Brazil voiced concern over the unprecedented $700 million UNHCR funding gap as well as the proliferation of conflict scenarios, the recovery from global health emergencies and the increase in natural disasters. He stressed that Brazil has granted humanitarian visas to people affected by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine, giving special attention to women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
The representative of Sweden, on behalf of the Nordic Countries, pointing to the 100 million people forcibly displaced worldwide — a 50 per cent increase since 2015 — condemned Moscow’s senseless war against Ukraine, which has aggravated the situation. The UNHCR remains underfunded, she asserted, calling on the Agency to continue mobilizing the private sector. She asked about the main prioritization criteria for the UNHCR in times of ever-increasing needs and underfunding.
Echoing her concerns, the representative of the United States reiterated his country’s commitment to provide assistance to the record number of forcibly displaced persons. However, even with concrete steps, durable solutions will remain out of reach for most refugees, as the humanitarian community is struggling to respond to a long list of protracted crises, including the ongoing impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, climate change and conflicts, he cautioned.
The representative of Mexico, stressing the importance of policies with a humanitarian focus, asked the High Commissioner how Member States can deal with an increased number of refugees.
The representative of Myanmar expressed concern that those who fled after the illegal military coup face danger of death, torture and arrest. Many are traumatized and psychologically affected, he cautioned, pointing to suicides among refugees.
The representative of Bangladesh recalled that his country hosts more than 1 million Rohingya refugees. Recognizing the critical support of the UNHCR in providing humanitarian assistance, he drew attention to the adverse impact of climate change, which amplifies vulnerabilities and displacement.
In the same vein, the representative of Indonesia, underscoring that 86 per cent of refugees are hosted by developing and least developed countries with limited resources and capacities, said his country upheld the principle of non-refoulement by rescuing Rohingya refugees in past years, even when many countries implemented push-back policies.
The representative of Lebanon, noting that one conflict should not prevent the international community from devoting equal attention to long-standing conflicts in other parts of the world, stressed that her country hosts 2,080,000 Syrian displaced and 500,000 Palestinian refugees.
Also speaking were representatives of Guatemala, Italy (associating with the European Union), France, Poland, Canada, Qatar, Liechtenstein, El Salvador, Portugal, Algeria, Switzerland, Türkiye, Albania, Iran, Cameroon (associating with the African Group), Malawi (associating with the African Group), Nigeria and Morocco. The observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta also spoke.
Responding to delegates, Mr. GRANDI agreed with the statement made by the representative of Canada, asserting that the treatment of Ukrainian refugees in Europe should be a baseline to build on. He praised the European Union’s Temporary Protection Directive to give refugees more freedom and opportunities, while putting less burden on States. He further stressed that the UNHCR will continue to pay attention to the protection of refugees, prioritizing activities related to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse as well as mental health challenges. Acknowledging that refugees continue to be pushed back to their countries of origin or to places of danger, he said the agency will continue to raise this issue whenever necessary. Turning to the situation in Myanmar, he pointed out that the international community must not forget about the Rohingya refugees who fled before the military takeover.
On the issue of registration, documentation and biometrics, he noted that, although this is a complex issue that warrants different applications in different parts of the world, appropriate technology should be utilized whenever possible to ensure that refugees are documented and identified. Highlighting that refugees should be treated “like everyone else” if he or she becomes a threat to security, he added that a certain movement of people may include people who later become a threat. On burden and responsibility sharing, he recalled that the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Refugee Forum were established to ensure as much sharing of responsibilities as possible. While admitting that this has not been achieved yet, the international community has made progress in that direction with 1,400 pledges so far and has been holding the Forum every four years.
On measuring the impact of refugees on host countries, he said the new joint data centre with the World Bank, based in Copenhagen, can be used for that purpose. He further stressed the need to pay attention to countries on the refugee route, because strengthening their capacity to deal with flows may reduce the exposure of people on the move to traffickers and other risks. Touching on resettlement, he stressed the need to accelerate measures to give people nationalities, recalling that the UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign is ending in 2024.
General Debate Statements
SILVIO GONZATO, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, stated that the war in Ukraine alone has displaced 13 million people, triggering the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. He stressed that the bloc remains a leading donor in supporting emergency responses and bringing together humanitarian and development efforts in line with its policy on displacement. Welcoming the UNHCR’s efforts to ensure implementation of pledges made at the first Global Refugee Forum in 2019, he expressed hope that the second forum next year will offer an opportunity to further mobilize development actors and international financial institutions.
Pointing out that access to health care for forcibly displaced and stateless persons remains a significant challenge, he underscored that the Executive Committee Conclusion adopted this year will serve as an important framework for the UNHCR and its partners to continue their work on mental health and psychosocial services. Commending the agency for its engagement in situations of internal displacement in 33 countries this year, he further welcomed the launch of the Secretary-General’s Action Agenda on Internal Displacement and called for a robust engagement by all stakeholders in supporting its implementation.
JOAQUÍN ALBERTO PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, called for the urgent adoption of measures aimed at providing international protection to Palestinians. Noting unilateralism, extremism, “exceptionalist” conceptions and foreign interventionism as some of the root causes of the global crises that generate human displacements around the world, he underscored that the impact of unilateral coercive measures, in contravention of all norms of international law, represents the most sophisticated cause of global emergencies of human displacement by depriving more than one-third of humanity from the full enjoyment and realization of their human rights.
Emphasizing that the best guarantee for the success of the UNHCR’s mandate is to ensure full adherence to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence, as outlined in General Assembly resolution 46/182, he stressed the need to avoid any risk of being politically exploited by external actors. In this regard, he urged all parties to operate in strict compliance with national and international legislation and to prevent their work from being misused for economic or commercial advantages.
ABDULAZIZ M. ALWASIL (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, stressed his group’s commitment to providing refugees with assistance in line with humanitarian principles in international conventions and treaties and the teachings of Islam. Expressing concern over the increasing number of refugees and displaced around the world, exceeding 100 million, he said that States in the Council used every tool possible to provide health care, food and relief services to refugees. Underlining cooperation with the UNHCR, he stressed that the States in his group are among the biggest donors, in terms of humanitarian relief and development assistance. The international community should work together to protect refugees across the globe after their suffering caused by war, violence, persecution and disasters, especially during post COVID‑19 recovery.
STEPAN Y. KUZMENKOV (Russian Federation), associating with Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations, underscored that his country is dedicated to upholding its national obligations to refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless persons, stemming from the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. One of Moscow’s priorities is to reduce the number of stateless persons, he said, adding that their number in the Russian Federation is on a steady decline. Starting in February 2022, 4.5 million people have come voluntarily to the Russian Federation from the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine, fleeing the nationalist Kyiv regime, he recalled. Moreover, Moscow supports the voluntary return of Syrian refugees and voluntary repatriations of Syrian forced migrants, he said, underscoring the need to achieve lasting stability in Syria.
MOHAMED OMAR ELFAROUK HASSAN MOHAMED (Egypt), aligning himself with the African Group, said his country continues to host 300,000 refugees as well as 9 million migrants and stateless people from over 60 States. He stated that his country established a joint platform for refugees and migrants in 2021, in cooperation with the United Nations system, which provides basic services to migrants and refugees along with necessary resources to promote their inclusion and social cohesion. Stressing the need to promote international efforts to support States and societies hosting refugees based on the principles of burden– and responsibility-sharing, he expressed concern over the decrease in funding for the UNHCR and called on the international community to provide financial support so the agency can continue to implement its operations.
WANG LIXIN (China) said the global refugee situation remains dire, with the number of refugees and displaced persons in 2022 set to exceed 100 million, a record high, posing new challenges to global security and development. Inviting the international community to cooperate in addressing the refugee issue and its root causes and create conditions for refugees to return to their homes, he said that States should support the coordinating role of the United Nations and its multilateral agencies. Developed countries should fulfil their aid commitments and support developing countries, in particular refugee-hosting countries in their COVID‑19 pandemic response. Adding that States should include refugees in development pandemic responses and economic recovery plans, he stressed the importance his country attaches to international cooperation on refugees.
ANDREW ODHIAMBO BUOP (Kenya), aligning himself with the African Group, said that his country remains one of the largest hosts of refugees in Africa. Despite progress being made, he continued, his country has faced challenges that emerge for host countries, such as the overexploitation of scarce resources, acute environmental degradation, stress on the livelihoods of host communities and conflict between host communities and refugees. While low budgetary provisions to Governments to cater for refugees has also been an issue, he added that his country has also witnessed the exploitation of refugee camps to recruit, plan and execute terrorist attacks. In this regard, he called on the international community to honour international obligations and collectively support refugees, host countries and countries of origin as well as work with all other relevant stakeholders in the protection, assistance and eventual repatriation of refugees to their home countries.
TEBOHO JULIAH BABEDI (South Africa), aligning herself with the African Group and speaking in her national capacity, expressed concern over the low levels of returns of persons to countries of origin, urging the UNHCR and international community to intensify discussions around impediments to increased resettlement. Commending the agency for forging collaborations with Member States and other stakeholders to fast track the voluntary repatriations of those not in need of international protection, she pointed out that this is a problem that undermines the credibility of the asylum-seekers system and deprives those who deserve international protection of the opportunity. Voicing concern over the increasing displacement of persons exacerbated by the impact of climate change around the world, she shared that her country has worked with countries to build local and national adaptive capacity and strengthen resilience to prevent, prepare for and respond to displacement of persons.
LEONOR ZALABATA TORRES (Colombia) underscored the importance of socioeconomic integration of refugees as well as the elimination of various forms of discrimination. Her Government is designing public policies to provide better quality education, employment and other minimal rights, she said. Colombia is pleased to be the co-host of the 2023 Global Refugee Forum held in Geneva, she noted, highlighting the importance of best practices to alleviate the pressure on host countries and ensuring the self-sufficiency of refugees. Protecting all migrants and refugees is a shared responsibility, she said, calling for strategies that deal with causes of displacement.
JEANNE MRAD (Lebanon) stressed that her country continues to host the largest number of refugees in the world in proportion to its population. Noting that there are 2.8 million Syrians living in its territory, or more than half of the Lebanese population, she stated that this has had negative effects on its people in all aspects, including financial, economic, social, environmental and security. The host society is beginning to feel the strain on its population, she emphasized. In this regard, she pointed to the importance of promoting the Syrian people’s voluntary return, noting that her Government has established 17 centres to support this goal.
NELLY BANAKEN ELEL (Cameroon) said her country is facing multiple humanitarian emergencies, including the fight against Boko Haram, harmful effects of the situation in the North-West as well as South-West and chronic vulnerabilities of communities. These crises lead to an increased level of food insecurity, heightened risk of epidemics and vulnerability to climate shocks, she said, highlighting her country’s humanitarian emergency assistance plan and other measures. Noting that humanitarian coordination between different stakeholders, Governments, United Nations agencies and other actors is essential for the success of any humanitarian programme, she stressed the importance of considering the context, resources and situations in concerned nations. Adding that the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence by all humanitarian actors should be respected, she underscored the need to meet development needs.
ISABELLA REGINA RIVERA REYES (Honduras) said her country’s geographical location, combined with wide, remote rural areas and extreme poverty, leads criminal organizations to use part of the territory for transit routes for trafficking. Between 2014 and 2018, Honduras documented 250,000 internally displaced persons, she observed, pointing to prolonged internal displacement caused by organized crime. The ongoing need to protect high-risk communities brings ongoing challenges, particularly in urban areas, she stressed, noting that internal urban displacement in Honduras is taking place gradually. She cautioned that armed groups and cartels have benefited from institutional weaknesses that allowed them to pursue their economic interests and control the population.
IGOR PILIPENKO (Belarus) underscored that his country has not closed its borders to anyone and has always fulfilled its obligations under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Expressing concern over the trend to discriminate refugees based on racial and ethnic grounds, he pointed out that certain neighbouring countries of Belarus had “problems” receiving several thousands of its refugees last year, but this year it was possible to ensure decent conditions for millions of Ukrainian refugees. Noting that the UNHCR’s latest report does not include any assessment of the effect of unilateral coercive measures on its ability to assist refugees, he expressed hope that in future reports this issue will be given due attention.
AZRIL BIN ABD AZIZ (Malaysia), noting that there has been an exponential increase in the number of asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Malaysia over the years, said that there are now approximately 200,000 registered in his country. Although Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the Government continues to provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and refugees to the best of its ability, he said. He stressed that during the COVID‑19 pandemic, his country, in collaboration with the UNHCR and other non-governmental organizations, administered vaccines to undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and UNHCR cardholders. Underlining the importance of education, especially for refugee children, he cited national measures to promote it. Noting that the continued influx of asylum seekers and refugees coupled with the slow resettlement process results in most of them remaining in the country for a long time, he said this poses a significant strain on his country’s resources. Urging the signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention to uphold their international legal obligation to resettle or relocate more refugees, he stressed the need to address the root causes of refugee and migration challenges.
VATHAYUDH VICHANKAIYAKIJ (Thailand), expressing alarm that over 100 million people are displaced worldwide for the first time, stressed that this is a “staggering milestone that should never have been set”, serving as a sobering reminder that more urgent and stronger actions are needed to address all causes of displacement. To allow for targeted attention and adequate resources for appropriate persons, he continued, his country supports a more systematic mechanism to distinguish people with international protection needs from economic migrants. Pointing out that Stateless people face obstacles in accessing basic rights, such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement, he said his Government has approved revised criteria for determining legal status to accelerate registration of 400,000 people with status complications, enabling them to apply for permanent resident status.
AKAD YASAR MOHAMMAD AL-KASAWNIH (Jordan) stressed that his country has been a place of asylum for refugees who have fled wars for years. Noting that it has the largest number of refugees in proportion to its population, or 3.7 million people coming from 53 nations, most of whom are Palestinian and Syrians, he said they are provided with health care and other essential services. Adding that Jordan hosts 1.3 million Syrians, of which 676,000 are refugees, he said this is a great burden on its limited resources. He asked the international community to honour its commitments, sounding the alarm about the deteriorating situation of refugees in the region and the importance of assisting host countries, especially given the food crisis. Noting that the problem of refugees is related to the situation that has created them, he stressed the importance of shedding light on financing as well as finding fair and lasting solutions under international law to address the issue of Palestinian refugees, who represent 39 per cent of registered refugees in Jordan.
Mr. ALABHOUL (Kuwait), associating with the Gulf Cooperation Council, pointed to the 100,000 refugees, mainly from Arabic countries, that are fleeing violence and natural disasters as well as violations of their human rights. Welcoming the UNHCR’s help for Palestinian refugees, he condemned the illegal activities of the Israeli occupation, including settlements, appropriation of Palestinian land and deprivation of natural resources that change the nature of the occupied territory, in flagrant violation of international law. He called on the international community to find a peaceful solution to the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons there through a ceasefire and negotiation with all the stakeholders.