U.S. Statement as Delivered by
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration
UNHCR EXCOM PLENARY
I am very pleased to be in Geneva once again for the Executive Committee of UNHCR. The scale, complexity, and urgency of today’s humanitarian crises are unprecedented. The crisis in Syria continues, while the generosity of the governments hosting the more than three million Syrian refugees is stretched thin. The unfettered savagery of ISIL jeopardizes gains made in a democratic Iraq. The promise of South Sudan as a new democracy fades tragically with the resurgence of conflict and ethnic violence. And while the deadly cycle of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic is never far from our minds, last week’s high-level communiqué adopted on the margins of the UN General Assembly sparks hope that peace will return and suffering and divisiveness will end.
UNHCR has been front and center in confronting all these human tragedies. Its operations have been strained and its staff called upon over and over to do more. Yet UNHCR has not shirked its mandate – and we are profoundly grateful.
Mr. High Commissioner, the leadership you have shown makes clear to the world’s public, governments, and leading humanitarians that UNHCR plays an essential role in challenging today’s inhumanity. You continue to be an inspirational leader, speaking out about the world’s crises – from Syria to the Central African Republic, from migrants perishing at sea, to fundraising for a sister UN agency – the World Food Program.
Today, I want to highlight four simple realities about how we must move forward if we are to mount predictable and responsive international humanitarian operations. We need to improve the so-called “architecture” of humanitarian response to meet today’s crises. But we also need a humanitarian architecture that can adapt to new challenges.
First, we must do away with our overreliance on reactive disaster response. Humanitarians and development experts can no longer work in siloes. Development actors must be truly engaged and willing to help build resilient
societies better able to withstand calamities and resolve protracted crises. The United States is contributing both development and humanitarian resources in places like Lebanon and Jordan. These resources are helping them manage the strain of hosting refugees. Doing the right thing for refugees need not impede a country’s legitimate development aspirations. We commend UNHCR for its efforts to expand partnerships with national and international development agencies.
Second, we must wholeheartedly support an “alternatives to camps” policy globally. UNHCR has made good progress improving its performance and recalibrating its approach to urban refugees. Two-thirds of the refugees UNHCR now serves live outside of camps, with most living in cities. UNHCR’s recently released Policy on Alternatives to Camps represents a transformational policy shift. Our collective goal should be to phase out existing camps, avoid establishing new ones, and ensure that refugees hidden in cities get the help they need. We look forward to a transparent, consultative and public dialogue as UNHCR implements this new policy.
Third, gender-based violence has no place in today’s world – and we all must do our part to put a stop to it. At last week’s Call to Action Ministerial at the UN General Assembly, Secretary Kerry said, “Gender-based violence plagues every country and it perpetuates conflict. It creates instability that can flow from generation to generation, and it tears apart the ability of states to hold together as states in some cases. It makes all nations that experience it less secure, less prosperous, and clearly less free.” This is a fight that demands action from all of us, and I am grateful that UNHCR is leading the charge in implementing Secretary Kerry’s Safe from the Start initiative.
And fourth, we must focus more carefully on the dangers confronting humanitarian workers. As we face the security challenge of deciding when to leave perilous environments, we also must continue to find ways to stay and deliver protection and assistance where it is desperately needed. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on this subject with UNHCR and its non-governmental partners.