GENEVA – Speaking via video-link from Geneva on Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described Africa as a “humanitarian theatre”, referring to the recently published Global Trends report from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which shows a significant increase in the number of people in Africa forced to feel their homes.
At the same time, he said, Africa is a “humanitarian leader”, and a positive example for other parts of the world, with many nations on the continent championing progressive policies towards refugees: “Unlike in other regions, including regions where countries have more resources and more means to respond, borders tend to stay open to refugee flows.”
Referring to the role of the Security Council in tackling the challenges associated with refugees, migration and displacement, Mr. Grandi called on States to redouble political efforts to find solutions, because, he said, where they are successful — as in the relatively rare case of Cote d’Ivoire —refugees and displaced people do return home.
The UN refugee chief wrapped up his briefing with a tribute to the solidarity shown by Africans towards those forced to flee their homes, pointing out that, unlike in other parts of the world, such solidarity is not a subject of political debate: “We owe it to millions of ordinary Africans in villages, towns, and cities who, out of a sense of duty, cultural tradition, or their own values, keep their doors open and share often scarce resources”.
Bience Gawanas, Special Adviser on Africa to the Secretary-General, also addressed the meeting, echoed Mr. Grandi’s recognition of African solidarity to displaced people. She declared that the Security Council has a responsibility to find coherent solutions to displacement, as opposed to “siloed” approaches to peace, humanitarian affairs and development that are neither effective nor durable.
Ms. Gawanas said the best way to deal with displacement, is to deal with the root causes so that people do not need to leave home in the first place. The international community, she continued, must listen to young people who do not simply want stability, but better prospects and hope for the future.
She said it was critical that the Council and international community overall, continue to support host countries, both financially, and by removing barriers that prevent refugees from working, or from fully integrating within host communities.
The informal meeting, entitled “Responding effectively to the needs of refugees, displaced persons and returnees: the role of the UN Security Council and its members”, was organised by the three African members of the Security Council—Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa—in conjunction with the African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the UN.
Its aim was to find ways to improve the situation of refugees, displaced persons and returnees; discuss the role of the Security Council in implementing the Global Compact on Refugees – which provides guidance on how to meet the needs of refugees and host communities – and discuss how the partnership between the African Union and the UN can positively impacting refugees and internally displaced people.
The meeting took place amidst significant international efforts to address the global refugee crisis. More than 70 million people currently have had to leave their homes (the highest number ever recorded), including 25.9 million refugees, 41.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and 3.5 million asylum seekers, according to UNHCR.
The meeting also marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Organization of African Unity Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance for Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.