World must step up protection for refugees, do more to solve conflict – UN agency chief

Filippo Grandi.
UN Photo/Mark Garten
Filippo Grandi.

World must step up protection for refugees, do more to solve conflict – UN agency chief

The global community is letting down millions of refugees and internally displaced people, and needs to renew efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts, focusing on protection and solutions, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“Without the shared sense of purpose needed to prevent, stem and solve conflicts, the world will continue to face new refugee flows, and must reinforce its capacity to respond,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in his opening address to the annual meeting of the Executive Committee of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Drawing attention to crises from Bangladesh to Yemen, Mr. Grandi presented a bleak picture of record numbers of people worldwide forcibly driven from their homes – 65.6 million at the end of 2016 – and he pointed out that the situation is getting worse.

“So far in 2017, more than two million people have fled their countries as refugees […] They often arrive sick, traumatized and hungry, in remote border locations, in communities affected by poverty and underdevelopment,” he continued.

UNHCR staff are working tirelessly to help them, often in circumstances where their own security is at risk, but the needs are immense.

“Many have urgent protection needs – children separated from their families, men, women, girls and boys exposed to sexual and gender-based violence, people with disabilities or facing other risks,” he stated.

Mr. Grandi stressed that refugee protection and security walk hand in hand and need to be tackled together.

“This is not only a matter of principles and values, but also of building regional and global stability. Refugee protection and security are complementary goals, and must be pursued in tandem,” he stressed.

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Last week the UN refugee chief was in Bangladesh where he witnessed first-hand one of the fastest-growing humanitarian emergencies in living memory, noting that “in just five weeks, half a million Rohingya refugees have fled terrifying violence in Myanmar, their rights progressively eroded over decades.”

Even more distressing was that while this was happening, a further 50,000 refugees had fled South Sudan, where the dreams which had accompanied independence lay shattered, and another 18,000 people had tried to escape fresh fighting in Central African Republic.

“Ongoing crises are deepening. And for many refugees, the search for safety and protection has become more dangerous,” he declared.

Mr. Grandi praised what he termed as a groundswell of civil society solidarity with refugees, often reinforced through public figure leadership, including mayors. He welcomed the individual and collective acts of compassion as countering “widespread measures to deter and exclude.”

“The international character of refugee protection has taken on new forms – through networks of cities, civil society organisations, private sector associations, sport entities and other forms of collaboration stretching across borders, he added.

In a wide-ranging address, the UN refugee agency chief praised the generosity of “major refugee-hosting countries – some of whose leaders have their own experience of flight and exile,” but said it was time to take more action globally.

“Measures to shore up their efforts, strengthen protection, mitigate the impact of a large-scale refugee presence, and genuinely share responsibility remain essential. This is the fundamental challenge before us,” he concluded.