UNHCR's Guterres says global humanitarian crises at levels unmatched in recent history

News Stories, 1 October 2012

© UNHCR/J-M.Ferré
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres addresses members of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee today at the annual ExCom meeting in Geneva.

GENEVA, October, October 1 (UNHCR) The head of the UN refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, warned today that UNHCR and other humanitarian actors are under increasing strain from a combination of simultaneous major new conflicts and unresolved old ones.

In a speech to the opening of the annual meeting of UNHCR's Executive Committee, Guterres said UNHCR was facing a level of refugee crises unmatched in its recent history, with simultaneous new emergencies in Syria, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"Already in 2011, as crisis after crisis unfolded, more than 800,000 people crossed borders in search of refuge an average of more than 2,000 refugees every day. And this was higher than at any time in the last decade," he said. "And so far this year, more than 700,000 people have fled from the DRC, Mali, Sudan and Syria."

Guterres said UNHCR's capacity to help the world's forcibly displaced was being "radically tested" by this acceleration in new crises. He praised countries that have kept borders open to people fleeing conflict, and thanked donors for continuing to provide generous support, particularly during a period of global economic strain.

However, the High Commissioner also warned that the costs of helping the world's more than 42 million forcibly displaced were escalating fast, with protracted large-scale displacement situations continuing for example, in Afghanistan and Somalia.

"We are at a moment when the demands on us are rising while the means available to respond have remained at a similar level to last year. Our operations in Africa, in particular, are dramatically underfunded," he said. "At this moment, we have no room for any unforeseen needs. No reserves available. In today's unpredictable operating environment, this is a cause for deep concern."

Guterres said that to ameliorate matters UNHCR had instituted new efforts to improve efficiencies, among them cutting back on non-essential procurement and tightened control on replenishment of aid stockpiles. In addition, he said UNHCR which relies on voluntary contributions was seeking increased funding from non-traditional sources, including in the private sector.

Guterres, who has been the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees since 2005, said continued support was needed for those nations that host the world's major refugee populations mainly developing countries. He also spoke of the importance to UNHCR of partnerships with other humanitarian actors, including national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in countries and regions with large displaced populations.

The High Commissioner said that while ending conflict required a political solution, humanitarian actors should also do more to improve prospects for peace including through advocacy, investing in livelihoods, education and other activities to enhance self-reliance among refugee populations.

"The majority of those who fled Côte d'Ivoire last year have already returned home. In Myanmar, I hope that positive developments will pave the way for a resolution of the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Thailand and other countries in the region," he said. "I also strongly hope that next year will be one of opportunity for Somalis, enabling us to leverage potential solutions in ways which have never been possible in the past."

Currently made up of 87 members, ExCom meets in Geneva annually to review and approve the organization's programmes and budget, advise on international protection and discuss a wide range of other issues with UNHCR and its inter-governmental and NGO partners.

This year's meeting is chaired by Jan Knutsson, permanent representative of Sweden to the UN, and runs from today to Friday. It is expected to look at many issues, including evolving protection needs for refugees and internally displaced people, and the situation of the world's millions of stateless people.

Guterres spoke of progress since 2011 in efforts to increase the number of states that have acceded to the main statelessness conventions and he called on states to bring an end to statelessness within the next decade.

For displaced people worldwide he appealed to ExCom members to do even more: "We live in dangerous times, in an unpredictable world. More and more people are forced to flee in search of refuge," he said. "I urge all ExCom members to renew their collective commitment to addressing their plight, and that of all those who find themselves uprooted from their homes and communities, as the crises of today and tomorrow continue to unfold."

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UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012Play video

UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012

Refugee agency chief António Guterres opens annual ExCom meeting with warning that UNHCR being stretched by multiplication of new refugee crises.

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The High Commissioner

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

Controller and Director (D-2) in Geneva, Switzerland

Closing date for receipt of applications: 1 December 2014.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria Crisis

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UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012Play video

UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012

Refugee agency chief António Guterres opens annual ExCom meeting with warning that UNHCR being stretched by multiplication of new refugee crises.