With nearly 80 million people now living in forced exile, the head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, urged the Security Council on Thursday to overcome its differences and start resolving conflicts so that refugees and internally displaced persons can finally return home.
“We, the humanitarians, follow (Council) debates very anxiously and very closely. We worry about your divisions… but we expect from you – the world expects for you – unity, at least where humanity is most wounded and trampled”, said Filippo Grandi on Thursday.
“We expect from you – the world expects from you – decisive, clear and unanimous messages to end conflicts and pursue avenues for peace”, he said.
He urged the Council not only to echo and support Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for a worldwide ceasefire in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, but also to take the politics out of pressing humanitarian issues.
Record number on the run
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees addressed Council members via video-teleconference as the Geneva-based UNHCR published its latest Global Trends report, which showed that 8.7 million people were newly displaced in 2019 alone.
Overall global displacement reached 79.5 million people, the report says. That is about one per cent of humanity, almost double the number of people in crisis from a decade ago - and the highest number since the systematic compilation of refugee data began.
“These trends somehow show how, when leadership fails, when multilateralism – which you represent – doesn’t live up to its promise”, the High Commissioner told Council members.
‘Grotesque international squabbles’
All too often, he added, refugees and internally displaced persons find themselves no more than statistics, pawns in political debates, “or frankly…as part of grotesque international squabbles on who can push them back, or push them away harder, and further.”
Their plight is aggravated by poor governance, the global climate emergency, prevailing inequality and exclusion – and, now, the novel coronavirus pandemic, he said.
He pointed to the Sahel, saying that COVID-19 is having an impact on population flows that were on the decline, but now growing again between countries in the region and towards the global North.
COVID hasn’t silenced the guns
“COVID-19 has stopped many things, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped war”, he said, emphasizing that the number of internally displaced persons – “refugees in their own countries” – surged by 700,000 in just two months, with new displacements in 19 countries.
He added that “in spite of all the political rhetoric,” 85 per cent of refugees find themselves in poor or middle-income countries, typically those neighbouring their nations of origin.
Most refugees from Syria tell UNHCR that they want to return home, but they are concerned about their security, their rights, and access to jobs and education, he said.
“But I want to be quite frank with you,” the High Commissioner added.
“The quest for solutions for those most impacted – in particular the return of refugees and displaced people – continues to be difficult, because the political tensions in the region and international political tensions, which you are very familiar with, are very high.”
Depoliticize humanitarian affairs
“So my strongest appeal today is, in fact, to please depoliticize humanitarian issues, including issues related to refugees and to their return, whenever possible.”
He continued: “We really need you, the Security Council, to work on an international posture that allows, finally, solutions to this conflict to emerge; that creates space for communities to actually recover – something that frequently we tend to forget.”