With record numbers of refugees and displaced people worldwide, the new head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is urging greater diplomatic efforts to find solutions to the conflicts and abuses driving people from their homes.
“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” Filippo Grandi said on Thursday at his debut press conference after taking office at the first of the year.
“We owe it first and foremost to the forcibly displaced themselves, but we also owe it to States…States are desperately looking for solutions to situations involving refugees,” he declared, stressing that “even under more desperate circumstances we have to think of solving displacement.”
Noting that there are now some 60 million people displaced around the world as a result of conflicts from South Sudan to Syria, Mr. Grandi pledged to work closely with partners. He urged governments to invest more energy and resources to solving wars and conflicts and providing solutions to the causes of refugee crises.
The new UN High Commissioner for Refugees stressed that countries which host especially large numbers of refugees, such as Lebanon, now home to over one million Syrians, need better help.
He also highlighted resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification as tools which can allow refugees to find safety in other countries, “not through trafficking but by what we call legal pathways.”
Following a year in which over one million refugees and migrants arrived on Europe’s shores, Mr. Grandi said he would urge the European Union to pursue a “coordinated and cohesive” approach to dealing with people seeking safety, and warned that the rest of the world was watching the continent’s response closely.
He said that if Europe erected barriers and closed doors, the rest of the world would do likewise.
“The EU is struggling with an equal sharing of the burden of refugees within the Union, within the continent,” he said while noting that less than 10 per cent of the world’s current refugee population was actually in Europe.
“The massive arrival of refugees in Europe has opened the eyes of this very rich part of the world to the fact that refugees have massive needs that are not met,” he added.
Mr. Grandi also noted that UNHCR is ready to help refugees return home to countries that have become safe again. Focusing on refugees and forcibly displaced people in Côte d’Ivoire and Colombia, he underlined the importance of successful peace talks and reconciliation to create these opportunities for return.