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Opening remarks at global refugee forum - 17 December 2019, Geneva

  • 17 December 2019 |

Geneva, 17 December 2019

Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen,It is a pleasure to join you.

If I may, I would like to begin with a short personal reflection.

Coming to Geneva for this refugee forum carries great meaning for me.

I am here among friends – not only good colleagues past and present, but also friends of one of the great causes of this or any time: answering the plight of people forced from their homes by war, conflict or persecution.

I have been fortunate to have had many formative experiences in my life: as a social volunteer in the poor neighbourhoods of Lisbon; being part of a democratic revolution in my country; public service in parliament and government.

But without diminishing any of those involvements, I would place at the top of the list the decade I served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Those were difficult years – a period that saw skyrocketing flows of people, plummeting solidarity among nations, and spreading discrimination against victims that compounded their already dire circumstances.

We tried our best to reduce suffering and improve lives. Thanks to outstanding work by UNHCR and the humanitarian community, and support from many leaders and partners, we made a difference.

Of course, there is far more to do: the numbers of refugees, the levels of hatred and the threats to long-established norms and standards all remain high.

Working as High Commissioner brought me in touch with people at their most vulnerable moments. They shared with me their suffering, their yearnings, their anger. I could never return to the comfort of my own home without feeling shaken and frustrated myself.

Through their eyes I saw, in dramatic fashion, certain basic facts about our world today.

I saw the way lives can be upended in an instant when struck by conflict or disaster; the way new mega-trends, above all the climate change, are creating new movements of people; and the way we are all connected, as disruptions and economies bleed across borders near and far.

I also saw a fundamental human trait: the will to kindness. Acts of compassion, the impulse of one person to help another in trauma – these are among the essential hallmarks of humanity and inspired me day in and day out.

I have brought those encounters and memories into my current role. In all it does, the United Nations is measured by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

One might say that as refugees go, so goes our world.

That sensibility is what brings us together today.

So I very much wish to thank the Government of Switzerland for co-hosting this important event together with UNHCR.

I am also grateful to the co-convenors -- the Governments of Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan and Turkey, which are all generous hosts of refugees and long-standing champions of the cause.

The world owes all countries and communities that welcome large numbers of refugees a debt of gratitude.

But gratitude is not enough. At this time of turbulence, the international community must do far more to shoulder this responsibility together.

The global context can seem forbidding. Divisions and rivalries around the world are contributing to unpredictability and insecurity. The climate crisis is deepening existing fragilities. Many in our societies feel alienated and left behind.

More than 70 million people have been forced from their homes, including more than 25 million refugees. UNHCR has described these numbers as the “highest levels of displacement on record”.

Now more than ever, we need international cooperation and practical, effective responses.

We need better answers for those who flee, and better help for communities and countries that receive and host them.

Developing and middle-income countries admirably host the vast majority of refugees and warrant greater support, not just in the humanitarian response but also in the context of development plans, as well as more financial support.

More fundamentally, we need to re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime, with the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol at its core.Indeed, at a time when the right to asylum is under assault, when so many doors are being closed to refugees, and when so many child refugees are being detained and divided from their families, we need to reaffirm the human rights of refugees.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Global Compact on Refugees gives us the blueprint.

And this Forum is an opportunity to give the implementation of the Compact energy and dynamism – by drawing together the expertise,4ideas, resources, commitment and new forms of collaboration that will drive it forward.

I urge you to be bold and concrete in the pledges you will make.

This is a moment for ambition.

It is a moment to jettison a model of support that too often left refugees for decades with their lives on hold: confined to camps, just scraping by, unable to flourish or contribute.

It is a moment to build a more equitable response to refugee crises through a sharing of responsibility. Humankind came together to address many huge refugee challenges across the 20th century; we should be able to do the same in the 21st. This is not an unmanageable situation.

This is also a moment to mobilize international cooperation and solidarity to galvanize real progress on access to education, livelihoods, and energy; to build the resilience of refugees and their host communities; to preserve humanitarian space and access to people in need; and to strengthen services, in particular for persons with disabilities and people who have faced sexual- or gender-based violence.

This work needs diverse coalitions.

I am encouraged that this Forum brings together States, refugees and stateless people, international and regional organizations, business leaders, financial institutions, civil society, faith organizations, the arts and the world of sport.

I am also glad that bilateral, regional and multilateral development institutions are emerging as central to these efforts. Large refugee flows can create enormous structural strains, and undermine development advances, especially where displacement becomes protracted.

Data and technological innovation will be crucial.

And we must ensure a comprehensive approach that addresses humanitarian, development, human rights and security aspects, targeting root causes and working to build and sustain peace.

United Nations reforms will help us advance this work by connecting the pillars and better supporting governments.

We stand by refugees, and will work with governments to include refugees and returnees in relevant development projects.

We will advocate for refugees and returnees to have access to national services in countries of origin, countries of transit and refugee-hosting countries.

We will advocate for their inclusion in regional frameworks and national development plans and reviews, as well as the new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework.

And we will work to provide technical, financial and programming support to host countries for this purpose.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Global Compact on Refugees is our collective achievement and our collective responsibility.

It speaks to the plight of millions of people.

And it speaks to the heart of the mission of the United Nations.

Throughout human history, people everywhere have provided shelter to strangers seeking refuge – bound to them by a sense of duty and humanity.

Solidarity runs deep in the human character.

Today we must do all we can to enable that humanitarian spirit to prevail over those who today seem so determined to extinguish it.

We cannot afford to abandon refugees to hopelessness, nor their hosts to bear the responsibility alone.

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations – a moment when tens of millions of people uprooted by war and persecution were piecing together their lives and starting to rebuild a future.

Helping them to secure that future, and ensuring a right to refuge for the generations that would follow, were pressing priorities of the new United Nations.

Today, protecting refugees and resolving displacement remain an imperative.This work is an expression of our determination to live and prosper together as a community of peoples and nations.

Together, through this Forum and implementation of a landmark Global Compact, we can chart a bold and practical path to help millions of people find protection and dignity, and to help all of us find a shared path towards a better future.

Thank you.


Progress toward sustainable development is seriously off-track

  • 10 November 2019 |

Op-ed by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, first published by the Financial Times (www.FT.com)


People around the world are taking to the streets to protest against rising living costs and real or perceived injustice. They feel the economy is not working for them — and in some cases, they are right. A narrow focus on growth, regardless of its true cost and consequences, is leading to climate catastrophe, a loss of trust in institutions and a lack of faith in the future. 

The private sector is a critical part of solving these problems. Businesses are already working closely with the UN to help build a more stable and equitable future, based on the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 global goals were agreed by all world leaders in 2015 to address challenges including poverty, inequality, the climate crisis, environmental degradation, peace and justice, by a deadline of 2030. 

There has been some progress in the four years since the global goals were adopted. Extreme poverty and child mortality are falling; access to energy and decent work are growing. But overall, we are seriously off-track. Hunger is rising; half the world’s people lack basic education and essential healthcare; women face discrimination and disadvantage everywhere. 

One reason for the faltering progress is the lack of financing. Public resources from governments are simply not enough to fund the eradication of poverty, improve the education of girls and mitigate the impact of climate change. We need private investment to fill the gap, so the UN is working with the financial sector. This is a critical moment for business and finance, and their relationship with public policy. 

First, businesses need long-term investment policies that serve society, not just shareholders. This is starting to happen — some major pension funds are cutting fossil fuels from their portfolios. And more than 130 banks with $47tn in assets have signed up to the Principles for Responsible Banking, designed in collaboration with the UN. They represent an unprecedented commitment to business strategies that align with the global goals, the 2015 Paris Agreement to prevent global temperatures from rising, and banking practices that create shared prosperity. I urge all financial institutions to sign up to this transformation. 

Second, we are finding new ways for the private sector to invest in sustainable growth and development. In October, 30 leaders of multinational companies launched the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Allianceat the UN. Top executives at Allianz and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are among those who have publicly committed to acting as agents of change in their own companies and more widely. They are all already backing major sustainable infrastructure investments including clean, accessible energy projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the use of innovative financial instruments to mobilise billions of dollars for food security and renewable energy. They will now take on an even bigger role in channelling capital towards sustainable development, matching opportunities with investors. 

I hope all business leaders follow their lead, investing in the economy of the future: clean, green growth that provides decent jobs and improves people’s lives for the long-term. Business must move further and faster if we are to raise the trillions of dollars required to meet the global goals. 

Third, we call on business leaders to go beyond investment and push for policy change. In many cases, companies are already leading the way. Sustainability makes good business sense. Consumers themselves are exerting pressure. One investor described sustainable finance as a “megatrend”. But private finance is often battling subsidies for fossil fuel that distort the market and entrenched interests that favour the status quo. Major investors including Aviva warn that subsidies for fossil fuels could decrease the competitiveness of key industries, including in the low carbon economy. Governments lag behind, reluctant to change outdated regulatory and policy frameworks and tax systems. Quarterly reporting cycles discourage long-term investment. Fiduciary duties of investors need updating to include broader sustainability considerations.

We need business leaders to use their enormous influence to push for inclusive growth and opportunities. No one business can afford to ignore this effort, and there is no global goal that cannot benefit from private sector investment. 

It is both good ethics and good business to invest in sustainable, equitable development. Corporate leadership can make all the difference to creating a future of peace, stability and prosperity on a healthy planet.


Message on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

  • 01 November 2019 |

Freedom of expression and free media are essential to fostering understanding, bolstering democracy and advancing our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In recent years, however, there has been a rise in the scale and number of attacks against the physical safety of journalists and media workers, and of incidents infringing upon their ability to do their vital work, including threats of prosecution, arrest, imprisonment, denial of journalistic access and failures to investigate and prosecute crimes against them. 

The proportion of women among fatalities has also risen, and women journalists increasingly face gendered forms of violence, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and threats. 

When journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.  Without the ability to protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and contribute to decision-making is severely hampered.  Without journalists able to do their jobs in safety, we face the prospect of a world of confusion and disinformation. 

On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, let us stand up together for journalists, for truth and for justice.

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