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Arria-formula Meeting on Migrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers*

Tomorrow morning (July 13), Russia will convene a Security Council Arria-formula meeting titled “Migrants, Refugees and Asylum seekers crossing borders on Land and at Sea: New Wave of Crisis”. The Director of the International Protection Division of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Elizabeth Tan, and the Director of the Operations and Emergencies Department of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Federico Soda, are expected to brief. Two civil society representatives will also brief: Angelina Nyachola, a financial consultant, and Daniel Kovalik, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a labour and human rights lawyer.

The meeting, which will begin at 10 am EST and take place in the ECOSOC Chamber, will be broadcast on UNTV.*

The concept note prepared by Russia states that tomorrow’s meeting aims to address the pressing challenges faced by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, both on land and at sea, and to explore potential solutions to ensure their safety, security, and well-being. It also aims to foster a comprehensive understanding among Security Council members and member states about the complexities and humanitarian dimensions of migration and displacement, with a focus on dangerous border crossings.

The concept note mentions the 2021 report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, on the human rights impact of pushbacks of migrants on land and at sea (A/HRC/47/30). The report defines pushbacks as “various measures taken by States, sometimes involving third countries or non-State actors, which result in migrants, including asylum seekers, being summarily forced back, without an individual assessment of their human rights protection needs, to the country or territory, or to sea…from where they attempted to cross or crossed an international border”. It provides several recommendations to states on how to better protect the human rights of migrants at international borders, including by developing a human rights-based, gender-responsive, age-and child-sensitive approach to migration and border governance, harmonising domestic legislation with international human rights law, and putting in place appropriate administrative and legislative mechanisms to ensure access to rights and services to all migrants.

The concept note poses several points for discussion, including:

At the meeting, the briefers are likely to give a global overview of migrant movement on land and at sea, highlighting that the world is facing an unprecedented number of forcibly displaced people. According to UNHCR’s 2022 Global Trends report, at the end of 2022, 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide, including 62.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 35.3 million refugees, 5.4 million asylum seekers, and 5.2 million people in need of international protection. The report predicts that by the end of 2023, the number of people forcibly displaced globally may rise to 117 million. Tan and Soda are likely to provide an overview of the current responses provided by their respective agencies, while proposing new actions to better manage and respond to the crisis. They might also discuss measures to better protect the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Since the 1990s, the Security Council has increasingly considered the links between the situation of refugees and threats to international peace and security. The Council often discusses the situation of forcibly displaced people in country settings on its agenda. At tomorrow’s meeting, members may discuss several such country situations.

In Sudan, for instance, more than 610,000 people have fled the country since fighting erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April, according to a 10 July OCHA Situation Report. The war in Ukraine, recently reaching its 500-day mark, has led over six million people to seek refuge in other countries. The situation of migrants is often raised in Council discussions on Libya. On 14 June, a ship headed from Libya to Italy carrying an estimated 600 people capsized off the coast Greece, leaving at least 79 people dead. This is presumed to be one of the deadliest shipwrecks in Europe in recent years.

The Council has received several briefings under the agenda item “Briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”, allowing the High Commissioner to give an update on refugee matters pertaining to various situations on the Council’s agenda. Since 2000, there have been five briefings under this agenda item, most recently in November 2022. At that meeting, High Commissioner Filippo Grandi updated on UNHCR’s work in conflict zones, highlighted the climate emergency and its relationship to conflict and displacement, and called for additional resources for humanitarian aid.

Several members may highlight the need to protect the rights of migrants in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Some members might express the view that a discussion of migration is not within the Council’s purview and would be better suited to other fora. Other members who believe that there is direct correlation between the migrant crisis and the maintenance of international peace and security might welcome the meeting, noting that noting that the Council rarely discusses migration issues in depth.

Russia might use the meeting as a forum to criticise the practices of European countries and the US towards migrants, as the concept note suggests. Western members, on the other hand, may condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the resulting forced displacement of civilians.


*Post-script: An earlier version of this story indicated that the meeting would not be broadcast on UNTV since Russia decided not to seek Council members’ approval to do so. (In line with established practice, the webcasting of an Arria-formula meeting can be blocked if a single Council member objects.) After the story’s publication, Russia requested to webcast the Arria-formula meeting; there were no objections from Council members and the meeting was broadcast on UNTV. The story was amended to reflect that the meeting was ultimately webcast on UNTV.

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