Briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - Security Council, 8919th meeting
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Briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. 

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In the face of a slew of challenges, ranging from intractable conflicts to the climate emergency, strengthened multilateral action is needed to tackle the complex issues prompting migratory flows, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, informed the Security Council today. “With such challenges, the multilateral system has never been so important; yet, the international system has never been so prone to failure,” he said.

In a sobering address, Mr. Grandi went on to depict “the many faces of failure”, which ranged from instability and insecurity to famine, disaster and State collapse, as well as forced displacement, which, he noted, tends to create headlines when it impacts countries in the global North. But failure can also look like overblown and irrational reactions, as observed at the border between Belarus and the European Union, he said. Pointing out that 90 per cent of the world’s 84 million displaced are in developing countries, he commended the solidarity shown by countries such as Niger towards those in distress, despite limited resources, and in the face of a “perfect storm” combining conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The failure of the international community to build and sustain peace forces humanitarian actors such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to operate in situations of active conflict and rampant crisis, where they deal with rising expectations and diminished possibilities to deliver, he continued. Moreover, humanitarian actors are obliged to deal with “de facto” authorities who are not recognized, in a situation further complicated by political difficulties and sanctions. This protracts and aggravates humanitarian needs, he said, pointing to Myanmar, Yemen, Libya, Ethiopia and “most starkly”, Afghanistan, where more than 23 million people face extreme levels of hunger, as examples.

In Afghanistan, he warned that slow progress around fundamental issues is very risky. Noting that there has been an uptick in Afghans trying to leave the country in recent weeks, he pointed out that a widespread implosion of States and economies will inevitably trigger an outflow of persons to neighbouring countries and beyond. While the relative stabilization of the situation following the change of authority on 15 August has permitted more than 150,000 internally displaced persons to return to their homes, more resources are needed to ensure urgent needs are met ahead of winter, he said, making a specific appeal for the widest scope to be given for humanitarian exceptions, regarding the sanctions regime.

However, he emphasized that humanitarian agencies cannot replace the role of States and are not a replacement for political solutions. Expressing concern about the increasing politicization of humanitarian and refugee-related work, which is worsening the humanitarian situation in Syria and Ethiopia, he noted that humanitarian actors operate in a context of inadequate and often dangerous access; they are also “unfairly accused of taking sides, by all sides”. Noting that UNHCR had held its annual pledging conference today, in which it appealed to donors to meet the agency’s $9 billion budget for 2022, he said: “Saving lives cannot wait for political solutions to happen. But without those solutions, without stopping conflict and violence, the efforts that humanitarians make will remain very fragile.”

In the ensuing discussion, delegates expressed concern about the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in countries, including Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia and Libya. Some emphasized the need to tackle the destabilizing factors spurring migration flows, including conflict and environmental degradation, while others stressed the need to address human rights abuses experienced by migrants in transit to Europe, including in detention centres.

The representative of Estonia was among those emphasizing the need to combat migrant smuggling and trafficking, calling for concrete actions to be taken to protect vulnerable communities, from Somalia to Central America. He condemned any attempts to instrumentalize migrants and refugees by orchestrating their flow across European Union borders for political motives.

In a similar vein, France’s delegate condemned the politicization of migratory flows on the border between Poland and Belarus, which is endangering the lives of vulnerable individuals. In line with its commitments flowing from the global compact for refugees, France is helping States build capacity in asylum and resettlement. However, in Syria and Myanmar, conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified returns do not exist, he said, citing human rights violations by the Syrian regime against refugees upon their return.

The representative of Mexico said that solidarity is the way to respond to applications for refugee status, pointing out that Mexico’s recognition rate exceeds 70 per cent. He noted that in the first six months of 2021, his country ranked third in the world in terms of refugee applications received.

Meanwhile, the representative of Niger underscored the need for mitigation strategies for climate change impacts, given that environmental degradation and natural hazards are among the largest engines of migration. The international community must redouble its efforts to build peace and make resources available for displaced communities and their hosts, he said, adding that countries with scant resources are bearing the brunt of caring for displaced persons and must be better supported.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Norway, India, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, China, United States, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Russian Federation, Kenya, Ireland and Tunisia.

The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 12:15 p.m.