UNITED NATIONS - Cohesive global action is needed to support the world’s refugees and internally displaced people, whose numbers were rising dramatically due to an emerging “multiplication of factors”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday, as he launched the agency’s 2012 report.
The book also describes practices developed by the Office of the High Commissioner (UNCHR) and its partners in response to evolving challenges, such as the marked increase in the number of people displaced by such factors as climate change, natural disasters and food scarcity.
According to the report, trends in forced displacement were testing the international system like never before and there were an estimated 33.9 million people “of concern” to UNHCR at the start of 2011, up from 19.2 million in 2005.
As Guterres told correspondents, many of the millions of people displaced by emerging factors did not fall under the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention — which had established UNHCR — and its 1967 Protocol. Also over the course of 2011, the world had witnessed the emergence of the highest number of new refugees in the last decade. Those numbers reflected the difficulties faced by the international community in the area of prevention, he stressed.
Within the scope of displacement caused by conflict, there had been three major emerging crises over the last year: those in Syria, South Sudan and Mali.
Meanwhile, said Guterres, “as new crises multiply, old crises seem never to die”. An estimated 70 per cent of the world’s refugees were in protracted situations, meaning that they had been refugees for more than five years. Large numbers of displaced people still existed due to older conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other countries.
Moreover, as the problem of displacement increased in its dimension, the world’s capacity to help was weakening. Not only was the humanitarian space of many nations shrinking, but the asylum space was also diminishing. While most countries still kept their borders open during crises in neighbouring countries, a debate about restricting refugee entry had recently emerged. The use of such restrictive policies — coupled by an atmosphere of xenophobia — had been increasing in some developed nations, he said.
Indeed, he said, “generosity is not necessarily proportional to richness”. There were hundreds of thousands of refugees in developing countries, including Kenya, Pakistan (1.7 million Afghan refugees) and others. “We need a new deal in burden sharing”, he added, including more resettlement opportunities in the developed world, support for local integration and assistance for local communities that took in refugee populations. There was also a need to accelerate the international discussion that was beginning around the protection gap faced by those displaced by climate change and other emerging factors.
A correspondent asked to hear more about “concrete solutions” to the problems that the High Commissioner had outlined and, in response, Guterres stressed that “there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems”. The answers were always political. However, the “drama” in today’s world was that there was a diminishing capacity to find political solutions in both prevention and conflict resolution. Indeed, providing humanitarian assistance was like giving an aspirin to a sick patient when an antibiotic was actually needed. Situations today tended to prolong themselves, and often became protracted.
Responding to a correspondent who wondered why 2011 had been “such a bad year” in terms of the rising number of those displaced, Guterres blamed the multiplication of new conflicts. “Those conflicts are unpredictable”, he stressed, adding that it was very difficult to predict where the next crisis would be. The increase also related to the fact that there was no clear system of global governance, as well as a decreasingly clear set of power relations between States. “It gives us the sense that no one is in charge”, he said, which thereby exacerbated existing problems and the same situation was emerging in 2012.