WASHINGTON, DC, United States, May 4 (UNHCR) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has called on the international community for stronger global solidarity to help tackle current humanitarian crises and upheaval.
"An often overlooked dimension of displacement is the contribution of neighbouring countries that border countries in conflict," Guterres told journalists at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday. "These countries are often themselves poor, volatile and at risk of further instability. They are in need of international assistance to help support refugee and displaced populations."
UNHCR staff are currently engaged in tackling large humanitarian emergencies across the globe, including the Libya and Côte d'Ivoire crises. In both these cases, neighbouring countries emerging from their own difficulties – Tunisia, Egypt and Liberia – have welcomed large numbers of refugees.
Guterres said that at a time when many countries were closing off their borders to those in need of protection, Tunisia and Egypt had set good examples by sharing their limited resources with people who have fled Libya.
"I witnessed myself, on a recent trip [to the Libya-Tunisia border], poor Tunisians coming to the border to help refugees by sharing their resources with those in need. I saw them giving food, blankets, whatever they had," he said. The same generosity has been shown on the Egyptian border.
In Tunisia and Egypt, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration worked together to repatriate tens of thousands of migrant workers who had fled from Libya. UNHCR is focusing on finding a solution for third-country refugees, now twice displaced and mainly of sub-Saharan origin, trapped at the borders after leaving Libya and unable to return to their homelands.
Guterres outlined specific actions that could help alleviate the burden on refugee-hosting countries. They include a call on resettlement countries to accept some 3,000-4,000 refugees from sub-Saharan countries who were displaced by the conflict in Libya.
He also stressed the need for development assistance, particularly to provide jobs for unemployed youth and university graduates. And lastly, Guterres asked for proactive migration policies allowing for refugees and other at-risk migrants to find safety in the industrialized world.
Guterres also highlighted the role that Liberia has played in the Côte d'Ivoire crisis. "Liberia finds itself in a very difficult situation and has opened its border to refugees. On a recent visit, I saw Liberians giving rice seeds to refugees. Liberia is in a complex situation transition from war to peace and democracy and again we see generosity," he said, referring to the long civil war that only ended in 2003.
While visiting Washington this week, the High Commissioner has emphasized that massive political and economic support to refugee-hosting countries, mainly from North America and Europe, is required for effective democratic regimes to emerge and to help increase security at the regional and global levels.
"The world needs to show the same solidarity to Tunisia, Egypt and Liberia as these countries have shown toward refugees," said Guterres. "It is in the enlightened best interest of the western world to see the success of the revolutions and emergence of democratic societies."
By Lilli Tnaib in Washington, DC, United States