What's In Blue

Posted Mon 6 Dec 2021

Briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Tomorrow (7 December), the Security Council will convene for a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi under the agenda item “Briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”. Council members are expected to deliver statements following Grandi’s briefing. Members are encouraged to ask questions of the High Commissioner during their interventions to which he will be able to respond.

Grandi is expected to describe the situation of refugees in several country-specific cases on the Council’s agenda, including Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, among others. He is also expected to discuss global forced displacement trends, presenting the main findings of UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends report. Reflecting on the first six months of 2021, the report provides key statistics and figures on refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and stateless persons. A complete overview of global forced displacement in 2021 will be presented in UNHCR’s Global Trends report, to be released in June 2022.

According to the Mid-Year Trends report, the number of forcibly displaced people—a term encompassing refugees, asylum-seekers, 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. In this first half of 2021, UNHCR provided services to over 20.8 million (an increase of 172,000), while asylum-seekers climbed to 4.4 million (an increase of 237,000), and the number of IDPs increased by 2.9 million, reaching a total of 50.9 million in mid-2021.

Grandi is expected to call for greater international cooperation to reverse these trends. Speaking at the 72nd annual UNHCR Executive Committee meeting at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 4 October, the High Commissioner warned that the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide will top 100 million without “robust conflict resolution efforts” to address the multiple crises fuelling these trends. Grandi is likely to stress the need to strengthen implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and to increase burden- and responsibility-sharing among countries. As at mid-2021, developing countries hosted 85 percent of refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad, while Least Developed Countries provided asylum to 27 percent of the total.

At tomorrow’s briefing, the High Commissioner may refer to the first Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) Indicator Report, which takes stock of the progress made since 2016 towards achieving the four GCR objectives: 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. Released on 16 November, the report offers evidence of tangible progress in increasing support to low-income host countries and in expanding access to work and education. However, the report shows 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.

The High Commissioner may also highlight a wide range of thematic issues, including the adverse effects of cross-border threats—such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic—on forcibly displaced people. According to UNHCR, roughly 90 percent of refugees and 70 percent of the IDPs it serves are from countries most vulnerable to climate emergencies. While Grandi may welcome the pledges made at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to reduce emissions, increase funding and support for adaptation, and address loss and damage, he may express concern that the conference did not result in more concrete actions to carry out those commitments.

According to UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends report, almost all countries included refugees, asylum-seekers and other forcibly displaced people in their national COVID-19 vaccination plans. Nonetheless, there remains a significant vaccination equity gap between wealthy and low-income nations. Furthermore, COVID-19 lockdown measures have disproportionately affected refugees and forcibly displaced people. Data collated by UNHCR reveals that Venezuelan refugees and migrants faced homelessness and eviction as a result of containment policies and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions. Grandi may urge Council members to prioritise equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity.

Tomorrow, several Council members are expected to emphasise the need to protect aid workers and provide humanitarian access for forcibly displaced people. 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 provided has become more circumscribed. For example, seven UN officials were declared “persona non grata” in the Tigray region of Ethiopia 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, which has witnessed large-scale displacement since the beginning of hostilities in November 2020, including the flight of over 60,000 refugees into Sudan to escape the fighting.

The High Commissioner may also raise concerns regarding 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.

Council members are likely to be divided on this issue. While European Council members are likely to condemn Belarus for perpetrating the crisis, Russia may criticise the EU’s response to the migrants and refugees. On 14 October, Poland’s parliament enacted a law enabling migrants to be sent back at the country’s border and asylum requests from those who enter the country illegally to be rejected. UNHCR has advised the Polish authorities that the new legislation “contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention, EU law and national regulations by undermining the fundamental right to seek asylum”.

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