Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 9, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, High Commissioner Grandi.

The United States is committed to assisting those displaced by circumstances beyond their control. As such, we remain the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance worldwide.

We’re focused on providing assistance as close to refugees’ homes as possible to help them until they can return home safely, voluntarily, and with dignity. However, humanitarian needs vastly outpace the capacity of any single donor. We encourage other States, as well as development actors and the private sector, to increase humanitarian contributions worldwide.

Mr. President, as many colleagues have said, the Global Compact on Refugees provides a basis for predictable response and greater burden-sharing among Member States. We support the Compact’s primary objectives. We encourage non-refugee hosting countries and countries that do not provide humanitarian assistance to do more. We support easing pressure on refugee-hosting countries, including through third country options, and facilitating opportunities beyond traditional resettlement. We also support efforts to improve conditions in countries of origin to allow for safe and voluntary returns.

We commend the tremendous efforts of the many hosting countries. This includes countries that have opened the doors to an unprecedented plight of millions of vulnerable people from Venezuela and from Syria.

We note the admirable steps countries around the world take to protect refugees. Ethiopia is expanding refugees’ access to work, education, and other basic services. Jordan has committed to allowing all children access to public education. In Turkey, nearly four million refugees have access to free healthcare, work, and education. Thailand has granted nationality to over 30,000 stateless people, and Pakistan has started a national conversation on offering citizenship to refugees born there.

We must avoid temptation to press prematurely for returns of individuals to countries or regions that they fled. Syria is one example where, as the High Commissioner just told us, most refugees are not ready to return. The conditions in many places of return are not safe. We’re concerned about the reports of involuntary returns in some contexts and call upon states to act in accordance with their obligations under international law and to respect the principle of non-refoulement. We encourage UNHCR and its partners to redouble efforts to monitor conditions of those who return to their areas of origin, both refugees and IDPs. And in this context, I would like to ask the High Commissioner for his non-politicized view of the current options for the Rukban camp residents and to what extent he believes that they have a safe, voluntary, and dignified option to return.

Mr. President, we encourage states to avoid actions that could exacerbate displacement. Refugee returns are more likely to be sustainable if basic safeguards, such as legal rights, access to land, housing, social services, and economic inclusion, are in place. These decrease the likelihood that refugees would need to seek safety across international borders again.

We wholly support the High Commissioner’s discussion on finding solutions at the outset of a displacement crisis, addressing the root causes and the drivers of displacement, and effectively managing movement due to multiple factors, or mixed migration flows. As Secretary Pompeo said, “The best way to help is to work to end conflicts that drive displacement in the first place.” Seeking to resolve these conflicts is a core responsibility of this Council – and one we must fully embrace.

Mr. President, for over a year we’ve sought to address the root cause of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela through this body, to no avail. To suggest to Venezuela’s neighbors, who collectively host over three million refugees, that the situation does not threaten regional security and stability is as erroneous now as it has been since this crisis began. We’ll continue to sound the alarm on the dire humanitarian situation of the Venezuelan people, including in tomorrow’s discussion.

Mr. President, thank you again for convening today’s meeting to discuss the situation for millions of displaced people around the world who have the same hopes and dreams for the future that we all have – access to education for our children, to basic rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship, and most importantly, to safety and security to live our lives. The United States will continue to lead efforts to support that future.

I thank you.