9641st Meeting (PM)
SC/15713

Global Refugee Crisis Growing Worse, with Aid Workers near Breaking Point, Little Respect for Basic Rules of War, High Commissioner Warns Security Council

As Violent Conflict Rages in Gaza, Sudan, Elsewhere, Speakers Voice Concern over Underfunded Humanitarian Programmes

Stressing the grave and unprecedented challenges to peace and security, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the Security Council in a briefing today that 2024 is even worse than last year in terms of the number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide.

Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, reported that last year, 114 million people were displaced by war, violence and persecution.  “Next month we will update this figure.  It will be higher,” he said, adding that humanitarians are near a breaking point and that respect for the basic rules of war is almost non-existent.  Among the many haunting images from the conflict in Gaza is that of desperate people trapped and often killed inside a war zone. “Their safety should be our — your — paramount concern,” he said, adding that under international law, an occupying Power must not force a civilian population to flee the territory it occupies.

Turning to Syria, he highlighted the presence of 5.6 million Syrian refugees and proposals by some European countries to send them back to so-called “safe areas” in the country.  The refugees’ voluntary, safe return home is the best solution, and the Government must alleviate the fear many have of being targeted or concern over abysmal living conditions in the country.  At the same time, donors must increase support to early recovery activities as per Security Council resolution 2642 (2022).  “If we are serious about solving the Syrian refugee problem — and we must be — the only way forward is to overcome political constraints and work on both tracks, with all stakeholders,” he said.

In Myanmar, over 3 million people have been displaced by fighting, and humanitarians operate in a high-risk environment.  And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, no other place on Earth is as dangerous for women and children as the east of that country.  In Ukraine, international humanitarian law gets violated every day and displacement continues to increase.  And in Sudan, 9 million people are displaced inside the country or refugees in neighbouring countries.  Yet despite the need, the international community continues to neglect the situation with aid activities inside that country funded at only 15 per cent and the refugee operations at 8 per cent.

Short-sighted foreign policy decisions, often founded on double standards, pay lip service to compliance with international law, he said, urging the Council to act and not add to the “cacophony of chaos”.  It is too late for the tens of thousands already killed in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and many other places, he said.  However, “it is not too late to step up help for the millions who have been forcibly displaced to return home voluntarily, in safety and with dignity”.

In the ensuing debate, many speakers stressed the unprecedented refugee crisis in Gaza and called for Israel to immediately halt its attack on Rafah.  The representative of China urged Israel to implement relevant Council resolutions, immediately stop its attack on Rafah and its collective punishment of the Palestinian people.  Slovenia is currently most concerned with those living in Gaza, its representative said. “My delegation has been clear for months:  We need a ceasefire.  And we need it now.”  Highlighting last week’s ruling by the International Court of Justice, he called on Israel to respect international law.  Algeria’s delegate, meanwhile, condemned Israel’s deliberate targeting of the camps for Palestinian refugees and displaced persons.  “The situation in Rafah is just one chapter of the systemic violence carried out over years of occupation, aimed at undermining the resilience of refugees and eliminating their right to return,” he said.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed regret over the trend of politicizing refugee and issues related to internally displaced persons.  “The countries of the West, who are the ones who provoke the lion’s share of conflicts around the world, are extremely reluctant to provide funding for UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] programmes aimed at assisting refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and many other conflict-torn countries,” she said, an argument that was countered by the representative of France.

“The tyranny of the Syrian regime has led to the displacement of more than 13 million people,” the French delegate said.  “UNHCR is not the problem — those responsible are in the Syrian regime.”  He also recalled that, regarding the situation in Sudan, France organized a humanitarian conference with Germany and the European Union, leading to more than €2 billion in funding.

Noting that Africa accounted for about 46 per cent of the world’s internally displaced persons in 2023, the representative of Sierra Leone pointed out that humanitarian programmes remain substantially underfunded, with UNHCR projecting a $8.5 billion funding shortfall.

Several delegates highlighted their financial contributions to UNHCR.  The representative of the Republic of Korea said his Government decided to quadruple its unearmarked contribution to UNHCR to $18 million in 2024.  The United States’ delegate, meanwhile, stressed that his country is the largest single humanitarian donor in the world — providing nearly $15 billion in global humanitarian assistance in fiscal year 2023 alone.  UNHCR is an indispensable part of advancing solutions.  However, “more than ever before, we need humanitarian financing development efforts and private sector investments to work in concert to effectively address today’s complex forced-displacement crises”, he said.

Offering other long-term solutions, Ecuador’s representative suggested the Council could provide peace missions or special political missions with mandates that allow them to coordinate work with UNHCR and other UN agencies to guarantee minimum security conditions during transit and resettlement in host communities of refugees and migrants.

Switzerland’s delegate said that, as part of the Rabat initiative, his country, Gambia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have launched a process to establish a network of national focal points for missing migrants and refugees.  Preventive action can be strengthened by greater use of scientific data and methods to anticipate displacement caused by extreme climatic events.  “We need to use these tools more extensively to enable early action,” he said, calling on the Council “to make the most of the resources at its disposal to support displaced people and efforts to prevent and resolve the many crises and armed conflicts that require its attention”.

BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES

Briefing

FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stressing today’s grave challenges to peace and security, said the number of people displaced by war, violence and persecution reached 114 million at the last count by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  “Next month we will update this figure,” he said.  “It will be higher.”  Since briefing the Security Council in October and warning that humanitarians were near a breaking point, the situation has only grown worse, he added, highlighting that non-compliance with international humanitarian law proliferates. Parties to conflicts — almost all of them — have stopped respecting the basic rules of war.  Civilians are killed in growing numbers.  Rape and sexual violence are used as weapons of war. Civilian infrastructure is destroyed. Humanitarian workers are targets. And since the brutal conduct is meant to terrify, civilians have no choice but to flee, he said.

What has happened in Gaza since the Hamas attacks 7 October and throughout the Israeli offensive is a case in point.  “Let me add my voice to those who have been urging you to pursue an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages, and the full resumption of humanitarian aid,” he said.  Among the many haunting images from this conflict is that of desperate people trapped and often killed inside a war zone.  “Their safety should be our — your — paramount concern,” he said. “The atrocious dilemma of whether Palestinians should exit Gaza — or not — is one that Israel has the clear responsibility to avoid.”  Under international law, an occupying Power must not force a civilian population to flee the territory it occupies, he said, adding that another forced exodus of Palestinians will only create one more intractable problem.

On Syria, he highlighted the presence of 5.6 million Syrian refugees and proposals by some European countries to send back refugees to so-called “safe areas” in the country.  Reiterating that the voluntary, safe return of Syrian refugees to their homeland is the best solution, he noted while most refugees would like to return eventually, very few would like to currently, with many expressing either fear of being targeted or lack of confidence in the Syrian Government, or concern over abysmal living conditions in Syria.  The Government is responsible for alleviating these fears, while donors must increase support to early recovery activities as per Security Council resolution 2642 (2022).  “If we are serious about solving the Syrian refugee problem — and we must be — the only way forward is to overcome political constraints and work on both tracks, with all stakeholders,” he said.

Meanwhile in Myanmar, over 3 million people have been displaced by fighting, he said, noting that the situation in Rakhine State is especially worrying.  Humanitarians operate in a high-risk environment, compelling some agencies to temporarily relocate from certain areas.  He appealed to the parties to ensure the protection of civilians and aid workers and for neighbouring countries to allow safe access for refugees. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, gun violence is common and no other place on earth is as dangerous for women and children as the east of that country.  “How can members of the United Nations, how can ‘we the peoples’ pay so little attention to a place where sex with a child can be bought for less than a cold drink? he asked, adding:  “What a shameful stain on humanity”.

In Ukraine, international humanitarian law gets violated every day, he said, pointing to unrelenting attacks on the Ukrainian power network, which cause enormous hardship for civilians.  He recalled visiting Ukrainian children going to a makeshift school in the Kharkiv underground — the only place safe and warm. Displacement in Ukraine, too, is increasing, mostly within the country.  Turning to Sudan, he said 9 million people are displaced inside the country or refugees in neighbouring countries.  Despite pledging over $2 billion at a conference in Paris in April, the international community continues to neglect the situation. Aid activities inside Sudan are funded at only 15 per cent and the refugee operations at 8 per cent. Almost no child in Sudan has gone to school for months and sexual violence is rife in Darfur and other war zones. “Daily, refugees arriving in Chad tell us of appalling stories of women raped in front of their children and of children murdered in front of their mothers,” he said, adding that there has been a 500 per cent increase in the number of Sudanese arriving in Europe in the year after the outbreak of violence.

Compliance with international humanitarian law also has an element of self-interest, he said, pointing to short-sighted foreign policy decisions, often founded on double standards, with lip service paid to compliance with the law, “but little muscle flexed from this Council to actually uphold it and — with it — peace and security.”  International humanitarian law is the clearest representation of the effort to find a common ground.  Urging the Council to act, not add to the “cacophony of chaos”, he said it is too late for the tens of thousands already killed in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and many other places.  “But it is not too late to put your focus and energy on the crises and conflicts that remain unresolved, so that they are not allowed to fester and explode again,” he stressed.  “It is not too late to step up help for the millions who have been forcibly displaced to return home voluntarily, in safety and with dignity. It is not too late to try and save countless millions more from the scourge of war.”

Statements

The representative of the United Kingdom, observing that around 1 million Rohingya refugees live in camps in Bangladesh — following the ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar military in 2017 — reported that, as a leading donor to the Rohingya response, London has provided over $57 million to support the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and over $496 million to those people in Bangladesh.  Further, Sudan is now the “world’s largest displacement crisis” with more than 8.8 million displaced people, including 2.1 million who have fled to the neighbouring countries, he said, noting that his country has doubled its assistance to $110 million. Spotlighting his Government’s new commitments to support refugees and host communities at December’s Global Refugee Forum, he stressed:  “We must now work together to translate the commitments we have all made into tangible action that helps to address the needs of the displaced.”

The representative of China voiced concern over the grave international refugee situation, noting that the total number of refugees and displaced persons worldwide has exceeded 110 million.  Low- and medium-income countries have hosted three quarters of the world’s refugees, he observed, urging the international community to practice “true multilateralism” and strongly support UNHCR.  Armed conflict — the primary driver of refugee flows — is yet to be resolved in Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar, while the Ukraine and Gaza crises have created “a fresh and urgent refugee problem”. Accordingly, the Council should focus on its primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, he said, underscoring the need to accelerate post-war reconstruction in conflict-affected areas and create conditions for the return of refugees. Further, he urged Israel to implement relevant Council resolutions and the orders of the International Court of Justice, immediately stop its collective punishment of the Palestinian people and halt its attack against Rafah.

The representative of the United States recalled that the country is the largest single humanitarian donor in the world — providing nearly $15 billion in global humanitarian assistance in fiscal year 2023 alone, including nearly $2.9 billion to support refugees, internally displaced persons and others in need since the Russian Federation’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  Further, the United States is by far the most significant humanitarian donor in Sudan and throughout the region.  Citing a refugee admissions programme welcoming refugees from every continent and corner of the world — 79 nationalities from 95 host countries this fiscal year — he also noted its work to help resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex-plus refugees fleeing persecution from around the world.  “Indeed, over the last several decades the United States has admitted more than 2 million refugees,” he stated.  UNHCR is an indispensable part of advancing solutions; however, “more than ever before, we need humanitarian financing development efforts and private sector investments to work in concert to effectively address today’s complex forced displacement crises”, he said.

The representative of Sierra Leone said the UNHCR Global Appeal 2024 report projects the number of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people has risen to 130 million people.  “It is important to bear in mind that these figures reflect the status of actual people,” he said, adding that civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflicts across the globe.  Significant populations have also been displaced by climate emergencies, natural disasters, energy and food crises.  Africa accounted for about 46 per cent of the world’s internally displaced persons in 2023, of which 32.5 million persons were displaced by conflict and violence, he said, reiterating his unwavering commitment to the protection of refugees and displaced persons as a fundamental principle of international law.  Calling for enhanced support for host countries and for increased protection of internally displaced persons and refugees, and promoting conditions enabling their voluntary return under safe and stable conditions, he noted with concern that humanitarian programmes remain substantially underfunded, with UNHCR projecting a $8.5 billion funding shortfall.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said that “we must shed light on existing chronic refugee problems, while simultaneously keep our eyes focused on emerging and rapidly evolving crises.” The world is experiencing new conflicts and divisions, which are generating “scores of refugees” in need of assistance, he observed.  To that end, his Government decided to quadruple its unearmarked contribution to UNHCR to $18 million in 2024, he said, noting that its unearmarked contributions from the private sector are a significant resource for the Agency. Furthermore, the complexity of recent conflicts and divisions casts a clear message to States:  get back to basics, the fundamental rules and norms that underpin international society.  Underscoring the importance of paying special attention to refugees at risk of persecution, torture, expulsion or forced return, he urged States to respect the principle of non-refoulement.

The representative of Guyana highlighted UNHCR’s life-saving assistance to millions of refugees, migrants and other displaced people, which has safeguarded the human rights of vulnerable populations and provided much-needed support to Governments in managing crises.  She emphasized that the global community must remain committed to aiding displaced people by filling the Agency's funding gap. Amid a confluence of war, violence and climate crisis that have forced millions from their homes, “UNHCR’s work is now more important than ever”, she stressed, urging the Council to recommit to supporting these efforts.  Voicing concern over the increasing prevalence of climate-related displacement, she observed that climate change is leading to large-scale internal and cross-border displacement of millions of people.

The representative of Ecuador emphasized that women, children, people with disabilities and those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities in situations of displacement and refuge face higher levels of vulnerability due to transnational organized crime networks, trafficking for sexual exploitation, recruitment and use, and illicit trafficking of migrants.  In this context, the Security Council could provide peace missions or special political missions with mandates that allow them to coordinate work with UNHCR and other UN agencies to guarantee minimum security conditions during transit, resettlement in host communities and in the identification of durable solutions.  The strategies are not simple, he acknowledged, and require the coordinated work of all concerned actors.  Ceasefire agreements, political will of sending and receiving States, sustainable financing, and addressing the roots of the problems that generate displacement can alleviate the human mobility situation.

The representative of the Russian Federation stressed that Israel’s bloody military operation in Gaza is now in its eighth month and indiscriminate bombing has already forced more than 1.8 million Gazans to flee their homes.  The situation in Rafah is egregious, she said, adding that an estimated 1 million civilians have sought refuge there.  “The situation in Gaza and the smear campaign against UNRWA once again clearly illustrates the regrettable trend of politicizing refugee and IDP [internally displaced person] issues,” she said, adding:  “The countries of the West, who are the ones who provoke the lion’s share of conflicts around the world, are extremely reluctant to provide funding for UNHCR programmes aimed at assisting refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and many other conflict-torn countries.”  Turning to Syria, she asked how the High Commissioner assesses the real donor impact of the most recent conference on that country held in Brussels.  In Ukraine, meanwhile, there has been a mass exodus of people to the Russian Federation, she said.

The representative of France emphasized that in 2023, 110 million people were forcibly displaced, while “the tyranny of the Syrian regime has led to the displacement of more than 13 million people.”  He recalled that France announced at the Brussels VIII conference on 27 May a new contribution of €150 million for 2024, stressing:  “UNHCR is not the problem — those responsible are in the Syrian regime.”  Turning to Gaza, he warned that humanitarian aid is only trickling in, reiterating the call for an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of the hostages and an end to the intervention in Rafah.  On Sudan, with the displacement of nearly 9 million people, he recalled that France organized a humanitarian conference with Germany and the European Union, leading to more than €2 billion in funding. Further, access to displaced people in areas of Ukraine under Russian Federation control is essential.  Also noting the situations in Nagorno-Karabakh, Myanmar, and internally displaced people and refugees of the Rohingya minority, he cited UNHCR’s essential role in meeting the needs of these populations.

The representative of Switzerland stressed the obligation to respect relevant international laws, for example by facilitating the search for people who have disappeared during forced displacement.  As part of the Rabat process, Switzerland, Gambia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have launched a process to establish a network of national focal points for missing migrants and refugees, he said, noting that the second World Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2023 resulted in an additional $2 billion in financial commitments toward humanitarian work, a sign of solidarity with refugees and the countries and communities that host them. In conclusion, he argued that climate change is likely to adversely affect food security and create more insecurity and conflict.  Preventive action can be strengthened by greater use of scientific data and methods to anticipate displacement caused by extreme climatic events.  “We need to use these tools more extensively to enable early action,” he said, calling on the Council “to make the most of the resources at its disposal to support displaced people and efforts to prevent and resolve the many crises and armed conflicts that require its attention”.

The representative of Japan said that his Government recognized the growing burden on neighbouring countries that host large numbers of refugees and displaced people.  Acknowledging that such people are put in vulnerable situations and face grave threats, Japan will continue implementing programmes on the ground focused on human security, including through UNHCR.  “We must adopt a medium- to long-term comprehensive approach,” he stressed, reporting that Tokyo launched the Multi-Stakeholder Pledge on the Humanitarian-Development Peace Nexus at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2023.  Noting that it also promotes “peace initiatives”, he said that in Zimbabwe, Japan is implementing a project to promote livelihood improvement and local integration of former refugees.  The country also plans to expand similar assistance to Kenya and Ethiopia.  “We must all envision and work towards realizing a future where every refugee and displaced person can share their dreams,” he underscored.

The representative of Malta said that “the numbers speak for themselves”, noting that the vicious cycle of conflict and displacement require the prioritization of conflict prevention. Observing that climate change exacerbates other factors that contribute to the displacement of persons, making it a “threat multiplier”, he stressed that the Council has a responsibility to act and exert influence to overcome barriers preventing safe, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian access.  Welcoming the humanitarian efforts on the ground in Gaza, he added:  “Our efforts are clearly just a drop in an ocean of dire needs which the people in Gaza continue to face.”  He expressed concern over complex, bureaucratic measures hindering the aid delivery in Rakhine State and underscored the need for protecting refugees from all forms of violence in Afghanistan.  He also commended UNCHR’s gender- and age-responsive approach that promotes gender equality as an integral part of its protection mandate.

The representative of Slovenia said that given the record number of forcibly displaced people, the role of UNHCR remains indispensable.  “We are currently most concerned with those living in the Gaza Strip,” he said.  “My delegation has been clear for months:  We need a ceasefire.  And we need it now.”  Highlighting last week’s ruling by the International Court of Justice, he called on Israel to respect international law.  Turning to the tragedy in Sudan, he said that civilians, including refugees, suffer horrific violations.  “Safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need must be ensured,” he said, adding that in Syria, refugees and displaced people also face immense humanitarian needs.  He also expressed concern over the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Ukraine.  Noting that many humanitarian crises are man-made, he said the Security Council cannot remain silent.  “We cannot let our own resolutions go unimplemented,” he said.

The representative of Algeria said that the refugee issue remains one of the most pressing challenges facing global humanitarian organizations.  As the number of refugees continues to rise, it places an increasing burden on the UN and its agencies, which is further exacerbated by limited resources and donor priorities that often do not align with the urgent needs of this vulnerable population.  Most refugees reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, which — despite their limited capacities — bear the brunt of the costs and burden associated with displacement. Emphasizing the need to bridge the funding gap UN organizations face to support refugees, he said this requires collective responsibility and burden-sharing.  He also condemned Israel’s deliberate targeting of the camps for Palestinian refugees and displaced persons.  “The situation in Rafah is just one chapter of the systemic violence carried out over years of occupation, aimed at undermining the resilience of refugees and eliminating their right to return,” he asserted.

The representative of Mozambique, Council President for May, speaking in his national capacity, said that as a former Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the High Commission for Refugees, he had an opportunity to work with UNHCR in different countries.  “We, in Mozambique, attach special attention to the issue of refugees,” he observed, reporting that, at present, his country is dealing with the humanitarian situation of internally displaced people from Cabo Delgado, caused by terrorist attacks in that region.  For decades, Mozambique has provided a home for thousands of refugees, mostly from the Great Lakes, he continued, observing that, in his country, since 2017, terrorist attacks coupled with the negative effect of cyclical climate change have displaced over 1 million people.  Noting that Mozambique hosts over 28,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, he said that in 2023, UNHCR facilitated the resettlement of 107 refugees and the voluntary repatriation of 316 people.

Mr. GRANDI, speaking for a second time, stated that, as speakers mentioned, funding has always been a challenge.  “For many years, budgets that were approved by our executive committee were never fully funded,” he recalled — mobilized at 50 to 60 per cent, requiring prioritization of activities to focus on the most urgent needs.  While citing the United States as by far the largest donor, he called on other delegations to avoid excessive earmarking of resources.  He noted that Japan’s representative had called on development organizations to make responses more sustainable, especially in long-term refugee situations.

Taking up specific issues, he noted that Ecuador’s delegate mentioned the idea of arranging with missions to ensure they play a role in issues of displacement, reminding that once special missions leave with their dimension of protection of civilians, it often remains with the humanitarian organizations to deal with the issue, with much fewer capacity resources.  Recalling that the United Kingdom raised the issue of the Rohingya minority, he pleaded to “put it back on the international agenda”. On Syria, it is crucial to solve refugees’ plight in Lebanon and Jordan, by working with the Syrian Government and also scaling up investments on living conditions.

Responding to the Russian Federation, he stated that the figure utilized for Ukrainian refugees in that State is the figure “shared with us by the Government of the Russian Federation”, and that the Office is always prepared “to do more if needed for Ukrainian refugees in Russia to whom we have fairly limited access”.  On Gaza, he assured that while having no operational activity in UNRWA spheres, “we have constantly joined the Secretary-General and the United Nations system in calling for immediate ceasefire, release of hostages and access of humanitarian aid into Gaza”.  He then thanked Switzerland in particular “and all of you” for having approved Security Council resolution 2730 (2024) on the protection of humanitarian personnel.

For information media. Not an official record.