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UN refugee head says global compact is chance to chart a different course

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A Rohingya father carries his children through a paddy field near the Anjuman Para crossing point on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Opening a key meeting in Geneva, Filippo Grandi said the UN Refugee Agency’s mission is more urgent than ever.

GENEVA – One year on from the world pledging to work together to improve its response to refugee situations, the tragedy of forced displacement has deepened, the head of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, declared today.

Opening a key meeting in Geneva on a new global compact for refugees, Filippo Grandi noted that throughout the world people were still having to flee their homes, victims of a collective failure by the international community to prevent and resolve conflicts.

“Our mission is more urgent than ever … The exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh is the most visible, but innocent civilians still flee for their lives in CAR, the DRC, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and elsewhere,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

Grandi was delivering the opening address to the High Commissioner’s 10th Dialogue on Protection Challenges, which takes place from 12-13 December.

The meeting will primarily take stock of the results of consultations that have taken place since 193 member states of the United Nations in 2016 adopted the New York Declaration committing members to better share responsibility for the world’s refugees and support the communities that host them in a global compact. This included drawing up a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).

“The global attention on refugees may wax and wane amidst the vagaries of international politics, but the New York Declaration remains as a high-level political commitment to change the way we respond to refugee crises,” he told delegates to the meeting at Geneva’s Palais des Nations.

“The global compact on refugees is our chance to chart a different course.”

“The global compact should be the instrument to transform that commitment into action, so that refugees have a fighting chance to rebuild productive and meaningful lives, and contribute to the communities that host them and to their own futures,” he added.

Calling for the compact to change the way the international community engages with refugee issues, Grandi maintained that a failure of international cooperation had also undermined protection for those fleeing conflict and persecution in the form of closed borders, restricted access, and the politicization of refugee movements.

“Refugees pay the price (of this), as do the handful of countries who bear the brunt of hosting refugees without reliable support from others with greater means,” he said, adding: “At a time when multilateralism is faltering in other spheres, the global compact on refugees is our chance to chart a different course through practical engagement and cooperation based on humanitarian values.”

Grandi described the New York Declaration as a milestone giving refugee situations high political visibility and commitment and an important reaffirmation of fundamental humanitarian values.

“Refugees pay the price, as do the handful of countries who bear the brunt.”

He praised the 13 countries that have already started the CRRF rollout, and those who have participated in reviewing key lessons learned to date, along with experiences from other large-scale refugee situations. He also welcomed the results of recent pledging conferences.

He termed the five thematic discussions, held between July and November 2017, as “positive, forward-looking and full of ideas”.

Some 500 representatives from governments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector, academics, international organisations and financial institutions, and refugee youth delegates from around the world are expected to attend the talks.

Uganda was the first country that decided to apply the CRRF once the New York Declaration was adopted. Addressing the forum in Geneva, Deputy Permanent Representative Benedict Lawrence Lukwiya highlighted how its refugee policy “has endured the pressure of a continuing influx” of more than 1 million refugees.

“This is because the government recognized early enough the need to go beyond refugee protection and emergency relief, to begin to address the longer-term development needs. Secondly the government also recognized that the humanitarian response also needs to be supported if we are to ensure effective delivery and concrete results in subsequent areas of our refugee hosting responsibilities.

“Uganda’s refugee coordination model and refugee response plan focused on solutions right from the onset of the refugee influx as well as life-saving interventions and environmental protection. Success in these areas is being supported by the policy of integrated service delivery support for host communities and inclusion of refugees in government planning.”

Lukwiya concluded with an appeal to all donors and stakeholders to follow through on their pledges to begin to fulfil the “burden sharing objectives that we have set ourselves in the New York Declaration. And this should also include third country resettlement opportunities for refugees in Uganda.”

The global compact on refugees will build on the existing international framework for refugee protection, including the 1951 Refugee Convention, and aims to share more equitably the responsibility for hosting the world’s refugees and to help them rebuild their lives.

It will set out concrete steps to be taken by governments and others to ensure communities hosting refugees get the timely support they need, that refugees are better included in host communities (with access to health, education, livelihoods), and that solutions to the plight of refugees are sought from the start of a refugee situation.

UNHCR will begin formal consultations on the compact with governments and other stakeholders in February 2018. The High Commissioner will propose a compact to the UN General Assembly towards the end of 2018.