United Nations Refugee Chief, Briefing Security Council, Appeals for Ceasefire to Halt ‘Spiral of Death’ as Humanitarian Crisis Grips Gaza
The head of the UN refugee agency appealed to the Security Council today to call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, emphasizing that there is urgent need for its 15 members to overcome their differences, unite and resolve a raft of conflicts which have displaced staggering 114 million people around the world.
“The conflict in Gaza is the latest — and perhaps largest — piece of a most dangerous jigsaw of war that is rapidly closing in around us,” Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told the Council, emphasizing that more than than 2 million Gazans — half of them children — are going through a hell on Earth.
“A humanitarian ceasefire, coupled of course with substantive delivery of humanitarian aid inside Gaza, can at least stop this spiral of death,” he told the Council, “and I hope that you will overcome your divisions and exercise your authority in demanding one. The world is waiting for you to do so.”
This is a grave moment globally and the choices of the Council now will have repercussions for generations to come, he warned. “Will you continue to allow this jigsaw of war to be completed by aggressive acts, by your disunity or by sheer neglect? Or will you take the courageous and necessary steps back from the abyss?”
Surveying crises in many other parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine, he said that UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations are struggling with funding shortfalls as they cope with 114 million refugees and displace persons. UNHCR itself needs $600 million before the end of this year and “the prospects for next year are dismal”. For its part, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) remains chronically underfunded, he added.
The High Commissioner briefed the Council six days after it failed to adopt either of two competing draft resolutions — one from the United States, the other from the Russian Federation — addressing the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza that followed the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas. (See Press Release SC/15464.)
During the debate that followed, delegates called for humanitarian aid to be secured alongside conflict resolution, processes for the dignified return of refugees and alternative ways to address funding gaps.
Ghana’s representative said that, despite UNHCR’s commendable efforts, the situation is not improving due to the escalation of conflicts and the effects of man-made and natural disasters. In the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, more than 20.5 million people are displaced, he said, calling for a greater commitment to multilateral mechanisms to tackle the situation.
Japan’s representative said that, with global displacement numbers soaring, the international community must think beyond immediate relief assistance. Durable solutions should be crafted to ensure long-term stability, combining development strategies with peacebuilding efforts.
The United Arab Emirates’ speaker said that addressing the root causes of displacement would prove more efficient and cost-effective for the international community, while Ecuador’s representative called for strengthened coordinated actions to combat organized transnational crime networks and human trafficking.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that creating favorable conditions for the return of refugees is key in achieving long-term stabilization in Syria. China’s delegate said that those countries which bear the main responsibilities for the refugee problem should step up their assistance to refugees and refugee-hosting countries.
The United States’ representative said that his country will, during the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva from 13 to 15 December, call on the international community to look beyond traditional humanitarian donors and organizations to a broader coalition of development agencies, as well as private sector and civil society actors. Twentieth-century solutions can no longer be relied upon for twenty-first-century problems, he said.
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the 114 million refugees and displaced people globally is a tangible but sometimes neglected symptom of the world’s current extreme disorder. Forced displacement is a consequence of the failure to uphold peace and security, with brutal conflict its main driver. Disregard for international law is becoming the norm, as seen in the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians and the killing of Palestinian civilians in the ongoing Israeli military operation. More than 2 million Gazans, half of them children, are going through hell on Earth. “A humanitarian ceasefire, coupled of course with substantive delivery of humanitarian aid inside Gaza, can at least stop this spiral of death,” he told the Council, “and I hope that you will overcome your divisions and exercise your authority in demanding one. The world is waiting for you to do so.”
Hopefully, a ceasefire will be a first steps towards embarking once again one the path towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he continued. Over the years, including those when he headed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a solution was always described as elusive, when in fact it has been deliberately neglected, cast aside as no long necessary and even ridiculed. Dealing with violence, followed by ceasefires, was deemed more expedient that focusing on a real peace. “I hope that now, amid the horrors of war, we can at lease see how grave a miscalculation that has been,” he said, emphasizing that there can be no peace without a just solution to the conflict, including an end to the Israeli occupation.
“The conflict in Gaza is the latest — and perhaps largest — piece of a most dangerous jigsaw of war that is rapidly closing in around us,” he said. In Sudan, where almost 6 million people have been forced from their homes, violence is worsening, yet the world is scandalously silent. In Lebanon one in four people is a Palestinian or Syrian refugee. In central Sahel, political instability and the climate emergency are wreaking havoc, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo horrifying, widespread violence is driving people from their homes every day. The 100,000 refugees who fled Nagorno-Karabakh within a matter of days were the result of another unresolved conflict that was allowed to simmer for decades.
“Each new crisis seems to push the previous ones into dangerous oblivion, but they stay with us,” he said, recalling that 11 million people have been displaced in Ukraine following the Russian invasion. “Their suffering must not be forgotten and this conflict, too, must be resolved.” The Council must address all these crises with a strong, united voice, “carrying the authority which the Charter […] but which the world does not hear any more, drowned as it is in rivalries and divisions.”
While humanitarians are being asked to pick up the pieces, to help more people in more places and to try to hold more things together, but little political capital is being spent on making peace, he said, noting efforts in Syria to create conditions for refugees to return voluntarily, as well as situations in Burundi, Myanmar and Afghanistan. However, humanitarian workers need resources and UNHCR urgently needs $600 million before the end of the year. Prospects for 2024 are dismal as big doners are cutting aid and others not engaging in multilateral support. UNRWA has been chronically underfunded, while others — including the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — face the same financial crunch. “The gravity of the moment cannot be overstated […] Will you continue to allow this jigsaw of war to be completed by aggressive acts, by your disunity or by sheer neglect? Or will you take the courageous and necessary steps back from the abyss?”
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta) said that, in the context of the crisis in Gaza, the Council has a collective responsibility to uphold international humanitarian law and ensure the delivery of vital aid. Civilians must be safeguarded, forcible displacement prevented and basic needs met. She echoed calls by the Secretary-General and hundreds of humanitarian organizations for a ceasefire to enable the delivery of aid to all those in need. She also voiced concern about the 42 million displaced children globally, many of whom are alone and at risk of recruitment by armed groups. Turning to the Central Mediterranean, she said that front-line countries such as Malta need support, in addition to partnerships to manage refugee flows. The Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine is leading to suffering beyond Europe, exacerbating food insecurity and causing further displacement, she added.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that despite UNHCR’s commendable efforts, the situation is not getting any better due to the escalation of conflicts and the combined effects of man-made and natural disasters. In the Sahel and the Horn of Africa more than 20.5 million people are displaced, he said, calling for a greater commitment to multilateral mechanisms to tackle the situation. In addition, Member States must adhere to their obligations under the Global Compact for Refugees and the Global Compact for Migration. He also encouraged cooperation between multilateral frameworks and regional mechanisms, adding that greater attention should be given to enhancing regional early warning mechanisms. “We underscore the importance of mobilizing support in addressing the governance and development deficits which lie at the root of many of the conflicts and political instability.” Greater attention also needs to be paid to other aggravating factors, such as climate change and prioritizing climate resilience in affected countries.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said that humanitarian aid must go hand in hand with conflict resolution and prevention efforts. “We call on all parties to guarantee rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access in accordance with international humanitarian law.” Better conflict prevention requires that the Council and peacekeeping missions take more action on the link between climate change, peace and security, he said, citing the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) as a good example of how peacekeeping operations can be empowered to better respond to climate risks. It is also vital to ensure the protection of displaced persons, 40 per cent of whom are children who are particularly vulnerable to abduction, sexual exploitation and recruitment by terrorist groups. Noting that Switzerland, in collaboration with ICRC, established the Global Alliance for the Missing following the Council’s adoption of resolution 2474 (2019) on missing persons in armed conflicts, he said that Member States must implement that resolution through concrete actions.
MARIA ZABOLOTSKAYA (Russian Federation), noting that more than 50,000 Syrians returned to their country in 2022, said that creating favorable conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons is an important step in achieving long-term stabilization in Syria. “We note the efforts of the Office [UNCHR] to resolve the problems of Ukrainian internally displaced persons and refugees,” she added, recalling that after the unconstitutional coup in Kyiv in 2014, hundreds of thousands of Russians and Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine came to Russia. Since February 2022, more than 5 million people have left Donetsk People’s Republic, Luhansk People's Republic, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts and have got to various regions of Russia. She also drew attention to the tragic situation of refugees from Africa. “For many of those who try to get to Europe, the Mediterranean Sea has become a mass grave,” she said, accusing European countries of protecting their “flourishing garden” from guests from the jungles. She asked the High Commissioner to keep the Mediterranean region in focus and to exercise influence on the European Union to ensure its compliance with international obligations.
YAMANAKA OSAMU (Japan) pledged his country’s steadfast support to UNHCR, to which it is a major contributor. Condemning Hamas’s brutal terror attack on Israel, he called for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages. “At the same time, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is catastrophic,” he said, emphasizing the need to scale up assistance to meet the urgent needs of the Palestinian people for food, water, fuel and medicine. “It is important for us to redouble our diplomatic efforts so that the situation calms down and does not spill over across the region.” With global displacement numbers soaring past 110 million, the international community must think beyond immediate relief assistance which, though essential, is just a part of the solution. Durable solutions should be crafted to ensure long-term stability, combining development strategies with peacebuilding efforts. In that context, he spotlighted his country’s multi-stakeholder pledge, emphasizing the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, in anticipation of the second Global Refugee Forum in December.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÉRE (France) spoke of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where aid is only trickling in, adding that the effects are already being felt in Lebanon, which already hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees. With an increasing number of conflicts, rising food insecurity and the consequences of climate change, UNHCR is assisting more vulnerable people than ever. New challenges include Sudan, where nearly 6 million people have fled their homes, and the displacement of more than 100,000 people in Nagorno-Karabakh. Further, since the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Europe has seen the largest population displacement since the Second World War, he said. France, which hosts more than 115,000 Ukrainian refugees, will remain mobilized to respond to emergencies and significantly increased its contribution to UNHCR in 2022 and 2023. It is for the Security Council to create the conditions for a lasting settlement of crises so as to address the root causes of displacement, he added.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said that all civilians must be protected in all conflicts, including the one between Israel and Hamas. He noted that UN officials describe the situation in Sudan as the fastest-growing displacement crisis, while refugees in neighbouring Chad are in dire need of international support. Ukrainians fleeing the Russian Federation’s invasion, the Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh and people in Gaza all need help. Since 2021, the United States has contributed more than $1 billion to UNRWA, but much more help is required. Emphasizing the need to prioritize action and commit to new ways of working, he said that the United States will call on the forthcoming Global Refugee Forum to look beyond traditional humanitarian donors and organizations to a broader coalition of development agencies, as well as private sector and civil society actors, so that there can be a more sustainable response. Twentieth-century solutions can no longer be relied upon for twenty-first-century problems, he added.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania) said that conflict situations around the world, including in Ukraine, Myanmar, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Middle East, offer little hope that the high numbers of displaced people will decline. The situation compels immediate action at the highest level. The Council can help to assist vulnerable populations, including through sustainable solutions that tackle the root causes of displacement, as well as to strive to prevent and resolve conflicts. The scale and complexity of the situation involving displaced persons requires heightened international cooperation and support, he said, adding that assistance and burden-sharing must be provided to the low- and middle-income countries that host most refugees. He also spotlighted his country’s Private Sector Humanitarian Alliance initiated in September, which helps mobilize resources within days of crises, in adherence to UN humanitarian aid principles.
EUFRÁSIO JOSÉ MARIA IRACHANDE GOUVEIA (Mozambique) said that refugees are often vulnerable and in need of protection, yet their ordeal is often compounded by hostile receptions and biases amplified by their demonization. More worryingly, he added, selective treatment of refugees based on their places of origin, plus entire electoral platforms built on the politics of fear, nativism and identity, have gained legitimacy — something that was unthinkable a few years ago. Mozambique today is hosting more than 28,000 refugees and asylum seekers, in addition to 700,000 internally displaced persons. Most countries like Mozambique which host refugees are the ones that do not shy away from their international obligations, but at the same time, they are the ones facing multiple challenges. Mozambique fully supports the noble work of UNHCR to protect and save lives and build better futures for the world’s refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, he said.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), noting that the number of people forced from their homes has reached a record high, said that this trend is sadly set to continue as new emergencies — including in Gaza — push the limits of an already strained humanitarian system. The Council has a role in tackling rising displacement, he said, emphasizing the need to shine a light on neglected crises. To that end, he spotlighted the extra $5.5 million of humanitarian support provided by the United Kingdom to the Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and sought refuge in Bangladesh in 2017. The Council, and those with influence, must insist that conditions are in place that enable refugees to return in a safe, voluntary and dignified way. At the upcoming Global Refugee Forum in December, the United Kingdom will make several pledges to drive initiatives on education, inclusion and protection for refugees and host countries.
GHASAQ YOUSIF ABDALLA SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates) said that States must ensure that all internally displaced people and refugees have access to basic services. This requires strengthening coordination with relevant humanitarian organizations and United Nations agencies, as well as enhancing cooperation with host Governments. She said almost 2 million people in the Gaza Strip have been subjected to continuous Israeli bombing for three weeks. As a consequence, two thirds of Gaza's population are living in difficult conditions. She added that the protracted Rohingya refugee crisis is not getting sufficient attention from the international community, and urged the intensification of diplomatic efforts to find a solution. The deteriorating humanitarian conditions that the Rohingya face must be addressed and appropriate conditions created for their voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified return to a stable homeland. Efforts must also be made to address the root causes of displacement, she said, noting that such an approach would be efficient and cost-effective for the international community.
GENG SHUANG (China), noting that the humanitarian funding gap continues to widen and now stands at 40 per cent, said that many humanitarian agencies are forced to lower their standard of assistance and that countless families are forced to suffer cold and hunger in the harshest conditions. With refugee relief and protection efforts facing tremendous headwinds, the international community must mobilize resources and create the greatest synergy in supporting multilateral institutions such as UNHCR. Developed countries must fulfil their assistance commitments, he said, adding that those countries which bear the main responsibilities for the refugee problem should step up their help to refugees and refugee-hosting countries. He called for Israel to heed calls for a ceasefire and stop the forcible transfer of Palestinian refugees, adding that humanitarian corridors and sustained support for UNRWA are also needed. He went on to say that UNHCR should continue to prioritise Africa in its work.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) acknowledged the political, economic and climate-related causes of displacement, adding, however, that he was particularly concerned for those who are displaced by violence. In 2022, more than half of all refuge applicants came from Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan, he said, emphasizing: “This trend will surely continue this year.” Recalling that Ecuador has the highest number of officially recognized refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean, he said that it is essential to consolidate partnerships at the national, regional and global levels in order to promote a safe, orderly, regular and responsible migration, and to guarantee the rights of persons in a situation of human mobility. He called for strengthened coordinated actions to combat organized transnational crime networks and human trafficking, and also called for donors to help overcome UNHCR’s financing deficit.
CHRISTOPHE NANGA (Gabon), noting that the latest figures from UNHCR do not include the disastrous consequences of the situation in Gaza since 7 October, said that armed conflicts remain the biggest cause of the refugee phenomenon, together with the corrosive effects of climate change and environmental degradation. Mass displacement is inextricably linked to the denial of rights and exposes displaced persons to additional violations of their rights once they are on the move. The fact that 90 per cent of new refugees in the first half of this year emanated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, Somalia and the Latin America and Caribbean region justifies the United Nations’ close attention to those populations and their distressing circumstances. He drew attention to Gabon’s $2 million contribution to UNHCR to help tackle the knock-on effects of the crisis in Sudan on neighbouring countries such as Chad and Central African Republic.
MAURO VIEIRA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil and Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, saying that low- and middle-income countries have generously kept their borders open and host around 90 per cent of all displaced persons. Stressing that forcibly displaced people are paying a high price for the inability of the international community, especially the Security Council, to ensure peace, he said that border governance measures must be in accordance with international humanitarian law, including the prohibition of collective expulsions, the principle of equality and non-discrimination, the right to seek asylum and the rights of the child. Brazil’s refugee protection system is based on respect for human dignity, he said, noting that it has granted humanitarian visas to people affected by the crises in Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti and Ukraine while also receiving and integrating Venezuelans who have arrived in the country since 2017. Any measures related to forced movement of civilian population or individual civilians from Gaza that are not consistent with international law must be revoked, he added.
Mr. GRANDI, responding to comments and observations raised, emphasized that UNHCR does not have a mandate to operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which is UNRWA’s responsibility. In that context, he called for strong support to be lent to that “very poorly funded” agency, about which he knows all too well, having led it himself. He emphasized the need to allow more supplies across Gaza’s borders as soon as possible before the humanitarian crisis becomes unsustainable, and for which a humanitarian ceasefire — mentioned by several speakers — is a priority. He reiterated his concern about the impact of the crisis in the region and beyond, including the risk that it will overlap with other situations, such as in Lebanon, which hosts 1 million Syrians, as well as Palestinian refugees. He called for an end to the war and for a political solution to be found.
On points raised by the Russian Federation’s representative about the return of Syrian refugees, he said that he is engaged in dialogue with the Government of Syria on creating conditions for their return. These include action by Damascus on their rights and protections, as well as their access to services and homes, and international support. On the situation in the Central Mediterranean, he noted the arrival of people from recent conflict areas, including those from Sudan and Syria, and commended efforts to address these complex flows. However, if the root causes are not addressed, there is a high risk that migratory flows will increase. Regarding internally displaced persons, who account for two thirds of the world’s 114 million forcibly displaced, he highlighted a meeting held today to pursue solutions with interested Member States. He thanked Mozambique’s speaker for his statement, adding that hopes to visit that country soon.
Regarding climate change and its connection with displacement and conflict, as borne out in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, he said that such links will be discussed at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including resources to address that aspect of the climate crisis. He went on to emphasize the “dramatic” financial shortfall faced by humanitarian organizations, with UNCHR still needing $600 million “to simply do the work we must do”. As well, he hoped that the Council will strive to find solutions to conflict, thereby providing the necessary foundation required for his organization to address the plight of persons displaced by conflict.