December 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2021
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Briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Expected Council Action

In December, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi will brief the Council. The briefing will focus on the situation of refugees in several country-specific situations on the Council’s agenda. No outcome is expected.


Since the 1990s, the Security Council has increasingly considered the links between the situation of refugees and threats to international peace and security. The High Commissioner for Refugees has briefed the Council several times about specific country situations on the Council’s agenda, including the Sahel in December 2012 and Syria in December 2015. In addition to country-specific briefings, the Council has received several briefings under the agenda item “Briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”, which allows for a general update by the High Commissioner on the situation of refugees pertaining to various settings on the Council’s agenda.

The first of these briefings took place on 10 November 2000 by then-High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. Since then, the Council has received four briefings under this agenda item, most recently in June 2020 under the French presidency. At that meeting, Grandi highlighted the impact of cross-border threats on refugees, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

In addition to formal Security Council briefings, Council members held an informal Arria-formula meeting in June 2019 with the participation of the High Commissioner for Refugees. The meeting—organised by former Council members Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, in conjunction with the AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN—focused on “Responding effectively to the needs of refugees, displaced persons and returnees: the role of the United Nations Security Council and its members”.

In the past decade, UN member states have shown significant concern over the issue of forced displacement. In 2016, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, reaffirming the importance of the international refugee regime and paving the way for its affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) two years later. The GCR remains a key global framework for addressing the issue of forced displacement through more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing and offers guidance for states and international organisations about how to support refugees and meet their needs in ways that benefit them and their host communities. Its objectives are to ease pressures on host countries, promote refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin to facilitate refugees’ safe return. The main vehicles for follow-up and review under the GCR include the Global Refugee Forums (GRF) held every four years, the High-Level Officials Meeting held two years after each GRF, the biennial GCR indicator report and the High Commissioner’s annual reporting to the General Assembly. The first High-Level Officials Meeting will take place on 14 and 15 December at the International Conference Centre (CICG) in Geneva.

Key Recent Developments

Nearly 18 months have passed since Grandi last briefed the Council, and the number of displaced people in the world remains at an all-time high. According to UNHCR’s 2021 Mid-Year Trends report, the number of forcibly displaced people—a term encompassing refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people (IDPs), and Venezuelans displaced abroad (a category referring specifically to Venezuelans who may require international protection under the Cartagena Declaration criteria, but who have not applied for asylum in the country in which they are present)—rose by 1.6 million between January and June, exceeding 84 million people by mid-2021. More specifically, the number of refugees increased by roughly 172,000 and IDPs by 2.9 million.

On 16 November, UNHCR released the first GCR indicator report analysing the progress made since 2016 towards achieving the four GCR objectives. The report provided evidence of tangible progress, such as increases in bilateral official development assistance to refugee situations in developing countries, more partnerships supporting refugee responses, broadened legal access to decent work, and effective implementation of policies aimed at mitigating poverty and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees and host communities. The report also showed the need for more third-country opportunities, targeted support to boost refugees’ self-reliance, more assistance to refugee-hosting countries, and greater focus on addressing the root causes to foster conditions favourable to refugees’ voluntary repatriation.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is how to address forced displacement in country situations on its agenda. Nearly half (47 percent) of all refugees come from three situations on its agenda: Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria. Syria’s crisis, now in its 11th year, continues to be the world’s greatest source of displacement, accounting for 27 percent (6.7 million) of all refugees. In Afghanistan, more than half a million people were internally displaced between January and June 2021 as a result of intensified violence. Several thousand Afghans fled the country when the Taliban took control in August 2021. On 27 August, UNHCR projected that half a million more Afghans would become refugees by the end of the year. The number of refugees from South Sudan rose by one million (to 2.2 million) during the first six months of 2021 amid increasing violence and deteriorating conditions. South Sudan remains the largest refugee crisis in Africa.

Other key issues for Council members are how to promote unhindered humanitarian access to forcibly displaced populations and the depoliticisation of humanitarian action. The humanitarian situation in several country situations on the Council’s agenda has become progressively dire in recent years. At the same time, the space in which humanitarian aid is carried out has become more tightly circumscribed. In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where over 60,000 people have been forced to flee across the border into Sudan since the outbreak of violence in November 2020, seven UN officials were declared “persona non grata” and given 72 hours to leave the country by the Ethiopian authorities on 30 September. According to the UN, this decision may have affected aid distribution to the region.

An additional issue is how to address the instrumentalisation of forced displacement and migration for political ends. In Belarus, thousands of migrants and refugees have been trapped in the border areas between Belarus and its neighbouring countries because of apparent manipulation of migration by the Belarusian authorities. EU member states have accused Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko of abetting migration across the Belarus border to pressure the EU to lift the sanctions that the bloc has imposed on Minsk. They allege that Belarusian authorities are orchestrating the crisis by encouraging migrants and refugees to travel to Belarus and facilitating their illegal crossing into EU countries. Poland and Lithuania have both declared a state of emergency and have banned journalists and aid workers from their border zones. As a result, a UNHCR team has been granted access to the Belarus-Poland border only four times since the beginning of the crisis and only from the Belarusian side.

The Council may also wish to consider how to address the impact of cross-border threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, on displaced populations. The latest report of the High Commissioner for Refugees, covering the period July 2020 to June 2021, maintains that the COVID-19 pandemic “exacerbated existing humanitarian and protection challenges” and that solutions were limited in that regard. Separately, in a decision issued on 7 January 2020, the Human Rights Committee—composed of 18 independent human rights experts established to monitor states parties’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—determined that countries may not deport individuals facing “climate change-induced conditions that violate the right to life”.

Council members could consider convening private meetings or informal interactive dialogues to discuss the many challenges related to displacement in particular cases. Unlike closed consultations, these meeting formats allow for the participation of non-Council member states. As a result, they could enable a frank exchange of ideas among Council members and affected countries that may be conducive to strategic thinking and problem solving.

Council members may also use the opportunity to ask Grandi for further information on country-specific situations, as occurred during his 9 April 2019 briefing, and on how member states can better advance principled, safe, voluntary, dignified and informed refugee returns, as occurred during his 22 June 2020 briefing.

Council Dynamics

The Council is generally united in its support for UNHCR and the work of the High Commissioner. It appears, however, that political sensitivities in the Council over issues such as Syria and Myanmar have affected Council deliberations on the issue of refugees. While all Council members agree on the need to promote the safe and voluntary return of refugees, there is a divergence of views on whether such conditions for return have already been met in these countries. For example, during the June 2020 briefing by the High Commissioner, Russia suggested that Syrian refugees were being prevented from returning to their homes and maintained that significant progress had been made with regard to returns despite “barefaced efforts” to block this progress. Other Council members, notably the P3 (France, the UK and the US), expressed the view that conditions had not been met in Syria for the safe return of refugees and voiced concerns about possible reprisals against returnees. At that briefing, Grandi called on the international community to keep working with Syrian authorities to establish confidence for returnees and urged Council members to depoliticise humanitarian issues.

The briefing is also expected to highlight divisions among Council members in relation to the migrant and refugee crisis on the border of Belarus and neighbouring EU countries. EU member states have accused Belarusian authorities of orchestrating the crisis. Russia, however, has insisted that the migrants and refugees arrived through legal means and criticised the EU’s response as a violation of international conventions.

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Security Council Letters
22 June 2020S/2020/560 This contained a record of the briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees on 18 June 2020.
General Assembly Documents
20 August 2021A/76/12 This was the latest report of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

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