UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Expected Council Action
In October, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, will brief the Council. The briefing will focus on the situation of refugees in several countries on the Council’s agenda. No outcome is expected.
Background and Key Recent Developments
Over the past three decades, 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, Syria in December 2015, and Myanmar in February 2018. 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 briefing under this agenda item took place on 10 November 2000 by then-High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. Since then, the Council has received five such briefings, most recently on 2 November 2022 under Ghana’s Council presidency. During that meeting, Grandi emphasised that the 24 February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine had resulted in one of the fastest and largest displacement of people seen in decades, noting that around 14 million people had been displaced because of this conflict. He further stressed that various other conflict situations in the world, including Ethiopia, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had resulted in significant displacement. He emphasised the need for the Security Council “to overcome its divisions and disagreements, at least when it discusses humanitarian issues, and hopefully when it addresses, or strives to address, the root causes that are displacing people around the world”.
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 on 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 took place in December 2021. The next Global Refugee Forum is set to take place on 13-15 December 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.
The global displacement crisis has continued to worsen since High Commissioner Grandi briefed the Council last year. By the end of 2022, the number of forcibly displaced people had reached 108.4 million, a 19 million increase from the end of 2021. UNHCR’s report, Global Trends: Forced Displacement 2022, released earlier this year, indicates that 52 percent of people displaced abroad in 2022 came from three countries of origin: Syria (6.5 million), Ukraine (5.7 million), and Afghanistan (5.7 million).
One recent crisis that has led to large-scale displacement is the conflict in Sudan. In April 2023, fighting erupted between rival armed forces in Sudan and resulted in the displacement of four million people internally. According to data released by UNHCR in September, about one million other Sudanese sought refuge in neighbouring countries. UNHCR projects that the number of Sudanese refugees will reach 1.8 million by the end of 2023.
Several natural disasters have also caused significant human displacement this year. In September, devastating floods in eastern Libya caused the displacement of over 40,000 people. In February, earthquakes in south-eastern Türkiye and northern Syria displaced an estimated three million, including in areas already hosting displaced persons from the Syrian conflict.
Key Issues and Options
One key issue is the combined effects of conflict, natural disasters, and climate change on the humanitarian needs of refugees and other displaced persons.
Another key issue is how to address UNHCR’s funding gap. In 2023, UNHCR’s budget rose to $10.8 billion due to the increase in displaced people globally. According to data provided by UNHCR, only 32 percent of its global budget has been funded to date. While the Council does not control the purse strings, members could discuss how the funding gap exacerbates the humanitarian conditions facing persons displaced by conflict and appeal to member states to increase their financial support to UNHCR.
Another important issue is addressing the protection of refugees and displaced persons, including taking account of the differential effects of displacement on men, women, and children. In their interventions in this month’s briefing, members may discuss ways to protect refugees from sexual and gender-based violence, abuse, and exploitation.
In the future, Council members could consider convening private meetings or informal interactive dialogues to discuss the many challenges related to displacement in particular regions. These closed meeting formats allow for the participation of non-Council member states, one way in which they differ from closed consultations. As a result, they could enable a candid exchange of ideas among Council members and affected countries that may be conducive to strategic thinking and problem-solving concerning particular displacement crises.
The Council is generally united in its support of 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 been met in these countries.
Several Council members blame Russia for creating the displacement crisis in Ukraine and have repeatedly urged Russia to withdraw its troops from the country. They have also underscored concerns that Russia is forcibly migrating civilians, including children, to Russia. Russia denies accusations that it is forcibly transporting Ukrainian civilians to Russia, maintaining that such accusations are part of a disinformation campaign by Western countries.
Some Council members have emphasised the links between climate change and the displacement of people. During the November 2022 briefing, several members noted that the effects of climate change on displacement have been particularly evident in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa, areas already affected by conflict.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BRIEFINGS BY THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|2 November 2022S/PV.9178||This was a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.|
|7 December 2021S/PV.8919||This was a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.|