ExCom Meeting: UNHCR chief warns that displacement crises multiplying, becoming more unpredictable

News Stories, 3 October 2011

© UNHCR/J.-M.Ferre
High Commissioner Guterres at the opening of the annual Executive Committee meeting.

GENEVA, October 3 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned today that an increasingly complex international environment is making it harder to find solutions for the world's more than 43 million refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people.

Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting in Geneva of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee, Guterres said the international community needed to up its collective game to prevent conflict, to adapt to climate change and to better manage natural disasters.

"Unpredictability has become the name of the game. Crises are multiplying. Conflicts are becoming more complex. And solutions are proving to be more and more elusive," he said. "In such challenging circumstances, we must recognize our shared responsibility. And we must exercise our shared commitment."

Guterres pointed to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, describing it as the worst situation he had seen in his time as high commissioner. He spoke of a visit he had made in July to Dollo Ado, in south-east Ethiopia, where he met a woman refugee named Musleema who had lost three of her six children in the flight from Somalia. Humanitarian organizations, prevented from working in many areas of Somalia, were in little position to help.

"All of us could see this escalation coming from a long way away. Nonetheless, we, the international community, were slow to react to signs that things were starting to deteriorate," he said. "What is worse, we also didn't have the capacity to prevent them from getting this bad in the first place."

This year has seen a succession of full-blown displacement and refugee crises, from Côte d'Ivoire, to uprisings in the Arab region, to the flight of hundreds of thousands of people from and within famine-stricken Somalia. Guterres paid tribute to all countries neighbouring this year's crisis zones in Africa, Europe and the Middle East including for keeping their borders open, even under the pressure of large-scale refugee or migrant-related influxes.

But he also warned of the dangers of rising xenophobia, which he said was threatening the protection space available to refugees.

"In my view, multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious societies are not only a good thing, they are inevitable," he said. "Building tolerant and open communities is a slow and delicate process. But non-discrimination is a core human rights principle, and it is the duty of all states to acknowledge and give effect to it. Refugees cannot become collateral damage of anti-immigrant attitudes and policies."

UNHCR relies on voluntary contributions for its work. In 2010, donors provided a record US$1.86 billion in contributions, and this amount is expected to be exceeded in 2011. Guterres acknowledged that the funding environment was nonetheless becoming more difficult and said UNHCR would be intensifying its efforts to broaden its income base, including by reaching out even more to the private sector for support.

He also appealed to the Executive Committee for better understanding of UNHCR's need for flexibly earmarked funding to help the organization manage the many refugee crises it deals with in locations that receive few international headlines. Last year, 82 per cent of donor funding was partly or tightly restricted to specific situations or issues.

Guterres devoted much of his speech to the drive at UNHCR to improve efficiencies, and of efforts to strengthen the organization's capacity to respond quickly and in a more structured way to fast-breaking crises and their aftermath. Since 2006, he said, UNHCR, had reduced its headquarters costs from 14 to 9 per cent of overall expenditure and staff costs from 41 per cent to 27 per cent.

UNHCR aims to be able to respond, within 72 hours, to simultaneous emergencies affecting up to 600,000 people. To support this, the organization increased its emergency stockpiles in 2011 by 20 per cent, reinforced its capacity to deliver aid, increased the number of senior staff on standby for rapid deployment, and created new posts to help refugee protection. Guterres promised a new drive, over the next two years, to complement these measures with strengthened accountability and oversight.

Meanwhile, Tunisia's Acting President Fouad Mebazaa told delegates about the challenges faced by his country earlier this year after hundreds of thousands of people, mainly migrant workers, fled to Tunisia to escape fighting in Libya. "We believe humanitarian issues are global in nature and essence, and, as such, the challenge can be met collectively thanks to a community approach and action and a global alliance driven by the collective responsibility and the concept of sharing," he said.

2011 is a symbolically important year for UNHCR, marking the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Moreover, October 10 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Fridtjof Nansen, the League of Nations' first High Commissioner for Refugees. The annual Nansen Refugee Award will be presented on Monday evening to the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity, an aid group responsible for rescuing thousands of sea arrivals along the Yemeni shore.



ExCom: Guterres WarningPlay video

ExCom: Guterres Warning

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres opens the annual meeting of UNHCR's governing committee with a warning that displacement crises are multiplying and becoming more unpredictable.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Executive Committee

The governing body meets annually to discuss programmes, budgets and other key issues.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian RefugeesPlay video

Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian Refugees

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, Nigerian refugees get a chance to tell their stories to High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres during his visit.
Jordan: Winter Camp VisitPlay video

Jordan: Winter Camp Visit

Syrian refugees living in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan are still trying to overcome the damage done by the storm that hit the region last week. On his second day visiting Jordan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres visited the camp to see the impact of the damage. He was also able to hand them the key to their new home, a caravan that arrived part of a convoy to help those living in tents at the camp.
UNHCR: Protection Speech at ExComPlay video

UNHCR: Protection Speech at ExCom

UNHCR's Head of News Adrian Edwards interviews Volker Türk, the agency's protection chief, about his address to UNHCR's governing Executive Committee on the global protection environment.