UNHCR IN 2019 foreword by filippo grandi

The need for common purpose

As we take stock and look ahead to 2019, the scope and complexity of UNHCR's work continues to deepen—a direct, and very visible, consequence of fractured societies, and of a world struggling to make and sustain peace. The need for common purpose to address refugee flows and the dynamics driving them, and to tackle the complex causes of exclusion and statelessness, has never been more pressing.

In the course of this decade, the number of people of concern to UNHCR has risen steadily against a bleak outlook for solutions, and this looks likely to continue. For refugees and the internally displaced alike, opportunities for return in safety and dignity have not kept pace with the rate of new displacements. Every continent has been affected, in truly global patterns—even though the impact is overwhelmingly concentrated in developing regions. Political solutions to conflicts have remained out of reach.

Populations of Concern to UNHCR

In January 2018, the total population of concern to UNHCR stood at 71.4 million people. This included people who have been forcibly displaced (refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people) and those who have found a durable solution (returnees), as well as stateless persons, most of whom have never been forcibly displaced.

The impact of large-scale refugee flows on the countries next to those in crisis has been jarring and profound. Communities in remote border areas and the urban areas where refugees seek protection have struggled to absorb the impact of new arrivals—on their services, infrastructure, labour markets, and the environment. Yet, by and large, borders have remained open to people fleeing conflict and persecution, and the generosity of both new and long-standing host countries has been remarkable.

Population flows have become more complex and difficult to address as displacement due to conflict and violence intersects with factors such as climate change, poverty and growing inequality. The lack of regular migration channels and pathways to solutions for refugees forces people into perilous journeys, prey to criminal networks and beyond the protection of the law.

UNHCR staff members at Triq Al Sikka detention centre on the outskirts of the Libyan capital assess the needs of refugees and migrants who have been intercepted and detained while trying to cross to Europe. © UNHCR/Sufyan Said

The reaction of some countries further away from conflict zones has been deeply regrettable. The institution of asylum—one of the most ancient and shared gestures of solidarity in the history of humankind—has been compromised, and the language of politics is increasingly ruthless. People fleeing brutality and war are turned back at borders, imprisoned indefinitely, and left to perish at sea. Deserving of compassion, and entitled to protection, they are instead branded as a threat, as 'illegal', their dignity denied, and needs for sustenance and security disregarded. As these disturbing trends unfold, we cannot help but look ahead with apprehension.

And yet, now as perhaps never before, the mandate and contribution of UNHCR is of deep and vital relevance. The need for a humanitarian, non-political entity to help States find practical, workable solutions to today's complex protection challenges, and to mobilise action towards lasting solutions, has never been greater, and there are also encouraging opportunities ahead.

Farmers from the refugee and host community say hello at the irrigation scheme in Melkadida, Ethiopia, where refugees and host communities share land to grow crops. © UNHCR/Diana Diaz

A rallying point for multilateralism and solidarity

Perhaps against the odds, the global compact on refugees has emerged as a rallying point for multilateralism and solidarity, reflecting a realistic balance of the interests and aspirations of host countries, of donors and of others. It is firmly based on existing protection standards, but brings to bear new approaches, arrangements and resources that are already shaping a more predictable, effective and sustainable response, and will be further galvanized as the implementation of the compact begins in 2019. The compact offers a means to set aside the politics, and converge around a practical, workable model.

Looking across all the regions where UNHCR and its partners work, a quick survey of just some of the complex displacement crises that will persist in 2019 demonstrates why the new approach, engaging a much wider range of actors than in the past, and with a strong emphasis on inclusion, self-reliance, and leveraging solutions, is so badly needed.

In Asia and the Pacific, the situation of the stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is an important example. Local response efforts to the initial crisis in 2017 were buttressed by a large-scale humanitarian response, which also had to grapple with the harrowing risks presented by the monsoons. Looking forward to 2019, investments in medium-term arrangements are needed, to reinforce economic opportunities, local infrastructure, and essential services for refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. The early involvement of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank is encouraging.

International solidarity is needed for the people of Rakhine, on both sides of the border, encompassing bilateral and multilateral development aid and supporting inclusive and sustainable solutions. This is because the solutions to this crisis lie in Myanmar, and robust action will be needed from the Government there to address the root causes of Rohingya displacement—entrenched discrimination, arbitrary denial of citizenship, and lack of development—and thus enable refugees to begin to envisage a safe, dignified and sustainable future back home. Together with UNDP, UNHCR stands ready to provide support, in the frame of our tripartite Memorandum of Understanding.

In the Middle East and North Africa the Syria crisis is entering a new phase in which a non-political, protection-focused approach will be critical as prospects of eventual refugee returns begin to emerge. The key question will be whether conditions on the ground evolve sufficiently to allow for safe, dignified and voluntary return, and for this to be sustainable over time. We will continue to work with others inside Syria to help create the conditions that allow the right to return to be exercised. A safe and secure environment must be guaranteed, as well as access to civil documentation; ways to resolve land and property issues; amnesties in line with international law; and, for some, a means of resolving citizenship issues. Unfettered humanitarian access will be vital to help build confidence.

Reinforcing support and solidarity to the countries across the region that still host 5.6 million refugees will be critical to sustaining their generosity, and also to avoiding premature returns arising from impoverishment and desperation. The resilience-based model developed in the Syria situation, and now at the heart of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), remains vital as a means of helping people retain and build the skills and capacities that will help them eventually attain solutions.

From Africa to Europe, the complex protection challenges presented by the mixed flows through Libya and across the Mediterranean will also continue to challenge us to find creative, life-saving solutions as thousands of refugees and migrants continue to travel along the same perilous routes. An emphasis on reducing arrivals in Europe has resulted in an increase in the numbers brought back to Libyan shores, where they are exposed to exploitation and detention in horrific conditions. UNHCR is working with the Government to secure alternatives to detention, and to bring the most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers to safety, despite operating in precarious and often dangerous circumstances. This operation complements the assisted voluntary return operation for migrants conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

But here, again, solutions must be accelerated, and expanded: more evacuation options; more and faster resettlement from both Libya and evacuation centres, genuine, targeted investments in countries of asylum and transit; and serious, substantive efforts to tackle the root causes of these movements. Rescue at sea and access to asylum in Europe must also be fully restored, and underpinned by a predictable set of arrangements for disembarkation that avoid the weight falling disproportionately on a small number of countries, and the divisive and politicized reactions that this inevitably generates.

In the Americas, the displacement crisis there will require our sustained engagement in 2019. Regional cooperation, building on the use of the CRRF in the context of movements driven by poverty, exploitation and gang violence, is now proving crucial in addressing the large-scale outflow from Venezuela and across the region. The countries affected are to be commended for keeping their borders open, and providing access to asylum or other protection-based stay arrangements. Together with IOM, we will continue to reinforce our regional inter-agency coordination platform, and our Joint Special Representative will continue to work with governments and partners to build regional alliances and foster support.

Political solutions to conflict have been largely absent in recent years, yet, as 2018 draws to a close, there are some grounds for optimism. In South Sudan, the revitalized peace process and steps towards political reconciliation are promising, and may pave the way towards solutions for millions of internally displaced people and refugees. The dialogue initiated between South Sudanese refugee representatives and signatories of the peace agreement must continue. In the Horn of Africa, dialogue between Eritrea and Ethiopia is encouraging, and may give scope for progress on solutions to displacement in that region.

A full spectrum of responses

Peace will almost certainly remain elusive in many of the displacement situations in which we are currently working, including protracted ones such as Afghanistan and Somalia. Yet even these situations are not static, and the CRRF includes important elements aimed at pursuing a constellation of solutions, and building the resilience that can pave the way towards these. The CRRF’s application, in 15 countries and through two regional frameworks, is bearing fruit and will increasingly shape responses across the full spectrum of operations. A number of States have taken humane and sometimes courageous decisions to review their laws and policies, reinforce refugee rights, and expand access to national programmes, labour markets and social protection systems.

As an example of how this is working, under the MIRPS comprehensive regional support and protection programme developed by UNHCR and regional governments, the Government of Honduras is committed to “formulating and implementing a prevention and protection strategy for schools” by 2020 within the Ministry of Education. With UNHCR support, teachers have begun working to improve safety and conditions in schools. UNHCR is helping them develop protection measures and security protocols both for staff and the students themselves. They are creating communication networks among themselves and school administrators to report issues and warnings to protect teachers and students.

Broader networks of stakeholders in a range of countries are including refugees and hosting communities in their own programming and activities. The leadership and expertise of the World Bank have been vital, helping trigger a sea change in how development entities engage. The World Bank's IDA18 refugee sub-window and its Global Concessional Financing Facility, together with other ongoing or planned investments by bilateral development entities and regional and international financial institutions, have already mobilised some $6.5 billion of development funding.

The full effects will take time to emerge, but some changes are already visible, and millions of refugees and members of local communities stand to benefit. The private sector, including the financial services sector, is also playing a prominent role, along with faith groups, sport organisations, and cities.

Progress in applying the CRRF will also help generate prospects for building protection and solutions for the internally displaced, helping UNHCR build on the synergies between these two areas of engagement, in line with our 2017-2021 Strategic Directions. UNHCR now leads, or co-leads, 24 of 26 protection clusters in the field, working to embed protection as an overarching objective in humanitarian operations in major crises including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Yemen. We are working with OCHA and partners in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee to develop more coherent approaches, oriented towards solutions. Following an operational review, we are now working on policies, preparedness and early engagement, data management, and building versatility and specialization in our workforce.

Resettlement, too, must be restored and reinforced as a tool for solutions, and an instrument for international responsibility sharing. The number of UNHCR resettlement submissions dropped by 54% between 2016 and 2017, to just 75,200 people – or 0.4% of the global refugee population. In 2018, despite there being 1.2 million people in need of resettlement, UNHCR again expects to be able to submit just over 75,000. Looking ahead, in 2019, it will be vital to boost the number of places and expand the number of partners, seizing this moment to make resettlement a truly global instrument.

Progress has been made in reducing the number of stateless people through acquisition or confirmation of nationality, as well as in improving data on statelessness. Since launching the 10-year campaign to end statelessness in 2014, more countries have acceded to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness than in the four decades following the Convention's adoption in 1961. In 2019, we will mark the half way mark of the #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness with a High-Level Event to mark achievements and galvanize further progress.

I hope as well that the 2019 anniversaries—of the OAU Refugee Convention and the Kampala Convention on internal displacement—will help galvanize work towards solutions in Africa.

Repositioning UNHCR for greater effect

As already mentioned, UNHCR's relevance, and potential contribution, has perhaps never been greater, but the evolving environment also calls for adaptation to meet emerging challenges and opportunities, including those presented by the global compact on refugees.

In 2017, we launched a series of internal reforms aimed at repositioning the organisation accordingly, and these will continue through 2019. The first phase of our reform process, to realign Headquarters functions in support of the field, is well under way. We established a new Division of Resilience and Solutions, reconfigured our partnership and communications functions, and are transforming our human resources capacities. In a decisive new phase, we have now launched a regionalization process and will move towards a decentralized model in the course of next year with the aim of building strong and empowered country offices, and moving authority closer to the point of delivery. Regional Bureaux will be located in their respective regions, and key systems and processes realigned and simplified.

This work is in line with broader UN reforms in the areas of development, and peace and security, and our strong commitment to the Grand Bargain. In 2018, we have provided cash in 100 operations globally, up from 42 in 2015, with a total value of half a billion US dollars.

Together with the World Food Programme Executive Director, with whom I co-chair of the Business Innovations Group, we will continue to strive to transform UN business operations and back offices to create efficiencies and re-focus resources on our core work.

Reinforcing the integrity of our operations will also remain a key focus. UNHCR is a value-based agency, yet operates in fluid, high-risk environments, in which the potential for fraud, corruption, exploitation and abuse is sometimes heightened. These, and other forms of misconduct must be robustly and transparently tackled. In 2018, we launched a new initiative that temporarily embeds additional risk management expertise in selected operations, and this will be further rolled out in 2019.

Our work to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment will also continue, striving to embed values such as tolerance, respect, diversity, gender equality into our institutional culture and personal attitudes, and to steer change in the power dynamics in our organisation.

I am deeply grateful for the strong confidence that UNHCR continues to receive from its donors. Funds available in 2018 are estimated to reach $4.5 billion. However the gap between requirements and available resources continues to grow and will reach 45% this year. Major crises in Africa, including in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, are particularly affected.

Looking ahead to 2019 and beyond, the global compact on refugees offers important grounds for optimism - the first global instrument of its kind in more than half a century and a practical, concrete instrument in which responsibility is shared through predictable arrangements and tangible contributions. Together, we must make it a compelling priority, moving the plight of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people beyond politics, and bringing attention back to what matters—dignity, rights, and shared humanity.

It is up to all of us to make it work; to ensure that its promise becomes a reality. With your support, UNHCR stands ready to play its part.

High Commissioner Filippo Grandi

For more information, access the full 2019 Global Appeal through this link.

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