The opening of the 71st session of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reflected the UN agency's concern at the increase in the number of displaced persons and the "outsourcing of asylum beyond a country's borders". The economic and financial consequences of the coronavirus, which affect all countries, could have an impact on the States whose contributions form the backbone of the organization.
In his speech at the opening (October 5) of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, the agency's High Commissioner, took stock of the global situation. In his view, despite the many worrying signs and abuses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining humanitarian budgets will be a relatively inexpensive way of saving lives, protecting vulnerable people and enabling them to live with dignity and in a safe environment.
Nearly 80 million people displaced
Despite UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for a global ceasefire, conflict, violence, discrimination, human rights violations and political crises continued, bringing the total number of forcibly displaced people to almost 80 million, double the number 10 years ago. Over the past year, more than 140,000 people have been uprooted in Yemen, where the threat of famine hangs over 24 million people. In Central America, 100,000 Nicaraguans sought refuge abroad, most of them in Costa Rica. The head of the UNHCR expressed concern at the "escalation of tensions and military action between Armenia and Azerbaijan".
Shocking situation in the Sahel
The head of the UNHCR said that "few situations have shocked him as much" as the one in the Sahel, where he visited earlier this year. Over 600,000 people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. In recent years, many schools have been closed or destroyed (+3,600) and, "worst of all, thousands of women have been raped." According to Filippo Grandi, we need to restore a sense of urgency to the response in the Sahel."
Filippo Grandi urged states to ensure that travel restrictions due to COVID-19 "remain temporary and non-discriminatory" and comply with international human rights obligations. The United States has announced a drastic reduction in the quota of refugees admitted to its territory, to no more than 15,000 by 2021.
Ashamed to be European
Filippo Grandi warned against "dangerous lines of thinking" that have emerged in some countries, including the "outsourcing" of asylum beyond a country's borders. The High Commissioner said this approach could "violate international law, put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk and set precedents that threaten asylum". He added that "as a European", he found it "shameful that it took more than a month to let only 27 people disembark" from the cargo ship Mearsk Etienne.
More than 110 states have found ways to keep their asylum systems running while taking the necessary public health precautions. The head of UNHCR cited the example of Uganda, which, while already hosting over 1.4 million refugees, has nevertheless reopened its borders to allow 3,000 people fleeing the murderous militia violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo to cross and find refuge. Canada is establishing itself as a champion of innovative approaches and resettlement. In 2019, less than a quarter of 1% of the world's refugees were resettled.
In the context of increasing displacement and COVID-19, the head of UNHCR stressed that humanitarian aid alone would not suffice. It is important that internally displaced and stateless people are included in national responses. This means providing them with access to social services, implementing measures to combat food insecurity, and recognizing their right to education and work. Climate change also poses a threat to many populations. In this respect, Filippo Grandi encouraged the development of better forecasts and predictive analyses to enable effective targeted responses.
UNHCR received $4.2 billion in 2019. To date, the UN agency has received 52% of the 2020 budget, as well as $460 million from the pandemic appeal. For the first time, the generosity of private donors will exceed 500 million dollars.