Meeting: United Nations High Commission for Refugees – Executive Committee Meeting, 68th Session
Date/Location: Monday, October 2, 2017; 15:00-18:00; Assembly Hall – Palais Nations, Geneva
Speakers: M. Yackoley Kokou Johnson, Ambassadeur extraordinaire et plénipotentiaire, Représentant permanent de Togo auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève; H.E. Mr. Peter Sørensen, Ambassador, Permanent Observer to the United Nations Office at Geneva for the European Union; S.E. M. Lejeune Mbella Mbealla Ministre des relations extérieures de la cameroun; Lt. Gen. Abdurahman Bello Dambazu, Minister of Interior for Nigeria; Mr. Simon Henshaw, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. Department of State
Written By: Marli Kasdan
UNHCR met for its 68th executive committee meeting last week in Geneva at Palais Nations. The meeting began with representatives of member states and international organizations convening on Monday for the General Debate in order to discuss pressing issues faced by refugees across the globe. Framed by the protracted crisis in Syria that is causing widespread displacement in the Middle East along with massive refugee flows to Europe, the ethnic cleansing that has forced Rohinyga Muslims to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh, protracted displacement in the Lake Chad Basin stemming from Boko Haram, and a rising tide of populism across Europe and the United States fueling animosity towards refugees, the debate was ripe with commitments across the board to “do more for refugees”. However, UNHCR and the member states of the UN will only live up to this commitment if words are turned into action. Below are highlights from this meeting:
The debate began with Ambassador Yackoley Kokou Johnson from Togo speaking on behalf of the African Group. He stressed that the full support of the international community is essential in order to address refugee crises in Africa, noting that the UNHCR budget for Africa is severely underfunded. There is a funding gap of over 50%, with actual funding for UNHCR operations in Africa only financed at 27%. Ambassador Johnson discussed the importance of using cash based transfers to address humanitarian crises in order to stimulate the local economy and provide a sense of empowerment and choice to those who receive assistance.
Ambassador Peter Sørensen spoke on behalf of the EU and its member states. His address focused on the need to mobilize funds for refugees, and he outlined the top priorities for the EU in its response to refugees and migration. These priorities included development oriented with a focus on reducing aid dependency and fostering self-reliance, as well as a major focus on protection and empowerment of women and girls in refugee situations. He also noted the EU Commission’s recommendation to resettle 50,000 refugees across Europe over the next two years.
The Minister of Exterior Relations from Cameroon, Lejune Mbella Mbella, spoke about the sharp rise in migration and humanitarian crises, particularly in Africa. He emphasized that Africa, and in particular Cameroon, share an outsized burden of hosting refugees compared with the rest of the world. His main focus was on the more than 90,000 Nigerian refugees residing in the northern region of Cameroon due to displacement from violence caused by Boko Haram. The delegate from Nigeria, Abdurahman Bello Dambazau, followed this statement by praising the cooperation between Nigeria and Cameroon to voluntarily repatriate Nigerian refugees who want to return home.
Lastly, the delegate from the United States, Mr. Simon Henshaw, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration, spoke about U.S. support for refugees worldwide, despite the recent anti-refugee sentiment coming from the Trump administration. The United States called on the government of Myanmar to allow UN access to Rakhine state and urged further international engagement in responding to the Rohingya crisis. He also spoke about the crisis in Syria and announced that the United States pledged $697 million for new humanitarian assistance in the region. In conclusion, Mr. Henshaw emphasized the use of cash based transfers in response to humanitarian emergencies and the need to put the dignity and safety of refugees at the center of effective refugee response.