High-Level Segment of the 66th session of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR

Published: 7 October 2015

Statement delivered by Robert Tickner, Under Secretary General ad interim, Partnerships

 on behalf of the

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Mr Chair,

On behalf of the IFRC and its 189 National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you, at a time when we are witnessing the largest displacement and movement of people in recent history. First, allow me to reaffirm the tremendous respect we have for UNHCR, and the deep appreciation we have for the critical role you are playing in responding to the needs of so many vulnerable people on the move. Let me also pay tribute to all other actors; governments, civil society, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and volunteers, who are responding with humanity to the needs of refugees and migrants. These human hands and hearts reaching out are an inspiration to the world.

There are currently some 60 million people who have been displaced by persecution, war, or conflict – the most we have seen in the post-World War II era. We are jointly facing a global challenge, requiring a global response and long-term strategy which promotes our shared humanity and duty to protect migrants and enhance community resilience.

Let me take a moment to put this into context. This is not the first time that Europe or the world has dealt with crises of population movement. The echoes of refugees wondering and waiting along the borders of Europe for safe passage inspired unprecedented cooperation, leading to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and the eventual resettlement of people to places of safety.

At that time, the Austrian government, UNHCR, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (who we now know as IOM), the League of Red Cross Societies (now known as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), the ICRC, and a group of Austrian and international NGOs met to plan a response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

The response, from all accounts, was a successful one. It was backed by a generous response from many states, recognizing their responsibility under international refugee law established just a few years before.

Now, six decades later, we face a similar challenge. Our best hope lies in working together in partnership. None of us – not States, not the UN, not the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and not NGOs – can respond effectively unless we are coordinated. Lives depend on our collaboration being successful and people around the world are watching how we respond at this time and have a special interest in making sure their own governments do not suffer from a hardening of the heart when compassion is needed most.

There are, of course, many differences between the situation in 1956 and the one we are now facing. The crisis we are responding to now is in many ways more complex than it was in 1956. The situation today, despite the focus on Europe, is not a European crisis.

UNHCR has reminded us again and again that the vast majority of the world’s refugees are not in Europe. The heaviest burdens continue to be carried in the Middle East: in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan; and in East and Central Africa, in Kenya, Chad and Cameroon.

This is a global crisis that reflects how deeply interlinked we are. Our Red Cross Red Crescent response provides support to people at all stages of their journeys with dignity and respect, and  we are uniquely placed to do this because we are present in all countries.

We need to be realistic. There is no humanitarian solution to this problem, or, more accurately, this collection of crisis that have been left unaddressed for too long.

The IFRC urges governments to implement the commitments in Resolution 3 of the 31st Red Cross Red Crescent International Conference, which requested  that  relevant laws and procedures are in place to give National Societies access to all migrants without discrimination and irrespective of their legal status – while recognizing the specific protection of asylum seekers and refugees under international law.

As our Secretary General Elhadj As Sy stated recently.

 “When we talk about migration, we tend to talk about the number of people who have died, or the number of people who have arrived on the shores of Europe. But this is not about numbers. It is about real people. Behind each number, there is a story of a father, or a mother who simply wants the best for their children. We need to break the silence on this situation……. We need to halt the indifference about the plight of people on the move and protect humanity.”

The decision to flee one’s home is always a last resort. IFRC continues to work in partnership with UNHCR and others.  We stand ready to do much more together to address these challenges and to promote safe, orderly and dignified human mobility. Mr Chair history will judge us harshly if we fail to meet these challenges and we cannot afford to fail.