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

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 2, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, High Commissioner Grandi, for your briefing. It is good to have you here with us this morning.

The United States remains steadfast in our support for your mandate and for UNHCR’s work, which is more critical now than ever.

With new and protracted crises leaving over 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, over 22 million of whom are considered refugees, the stakes of this global challenge could not be higher or more evident.

This Council has a vital role to play in stemming the underlying political dysfunction and conflict that give rise to and prolong mass displacement and humanitarian need.

When we act on our mandate, and follow through consistently, we can be successful. Therefore, it is imperative that we do more to act on our mandate and work to prevent, end, and mitigate conflicts, especially by following through on the decisions we make in this room.

As we do so, it is important to have briefings like today’s from you, Mr. High Commissioner, to remind us of the critical nature, real-world impact, and human dimension of crises occurring worldwide.

As you have described to us this morning, several situations globally highlight the importance of more robust action to solve these problems.

In Burma, more than 603,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh – only since late August – to escape escalating insecurity and alleged human rights abuses by security forces.

An unknown, but likely significant, number of Rohingya are internally displaced within Burma after their villages were burned or they were forced out of their homes.

While reported violence has lessened, continued insecurity and fear of further violence threatens to drive more Rohingya into neighboring countries.

The government of Bangladesh has stepped up impressively, taking in the displaced and providing for their safe, temporary care. But, undeniably, this is a burden on Bangladesh’s resources – and, of course, many Rohingya simply want to be able to return safely to their rightful homes in Burma.

We welcome Burmese State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment that refugees will be able to return home. We encourage the Governments of Burma and Bangladesh to work closely with UNHCR throughout this process, and to allow UNHCR and other relief organizations to have full access to displaced populations across the country.

Now in South Sudan, we can see the human cost of a government’s failure to uphold its most basic obligations to its citizens. Refugees there are among more than two million South Sudanese who have fled to Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and other countries. Refugees have found safety and protection in these neighboring countries, but the resources of host communities and governments are limited. Inside South Sudan, another 1.9 million people are displaced, facing ongoing food insecurity and threat of famine.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly four million people are now internally displaced. Many IDPs in DRC live in protracted displacement. This is due to continuing conflict, limited access to livelihoods and basic services, and the absence of political will by the government to address conflict and underdevelopment, deterring the investments needed to pave the way for durable solutions. And the devastating impact of renewed and intensifying conflicts in the Kasai region there have led to the displacement of nearly 1.3 million people over the last year, both within the DRC and into neighboring countries.

As the civil war in Syria continues, an estimated 13.5 million people remain in dire need inside Syria alone, including 6.3 million IDPs, and another 5.3 million are refugees. These numbers are simply staggering, amounting to half of Syria’s population before the civil war began.

In Syria, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against civilian populations and bombed entire cities into ruins, in explicit and irrefutable contravention of international law.

Adding to this, the Syrian regime’s obscene refusal to allow humanitarian organizations to access vulnerable populations and continued practice of redirecting humanitarian assistance for political purposes and its military tactics further compound suffering.

Those who make it out alive have fled, largely to neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, which are playing an indispensable role in providing safety and support to these refugees in the midst of the unimaginable and indescribable conditions caused by both ISIS and the Assad regime.

The spread of violent extremism over the last decade has also created a new wave of suffering and displacement, characterized by unthinkable violence and inhumanity.

The example of Boko Haram, for example, has continued to drive the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin to devastating proportions. While recent gains against Boko Haram and ISIS in West Africa have led to nearly 1.3 million persons returning to areas of origin, nearly 2 million still remain internally displaced or are refugees in neighboring countries.

Now ultimately, in each of these situations and in others around the world a sustainable resolution to the underlying political conflict and development are essential to ending the global refugee crisis. So this Council must take action toward those ends. We also have a duty to press Member States to step up and ensure that UNHCR is fully resourced for delivering on the growing demands it faces.

Given the magnitude of this global crisis, the UNHCR 2018 budget and the wider global humanitarian appeals have once again climbed above last year’s figure to historic highs – reflecting the extraordinary humanitarian needs of forcibly displaced people all over the world.

The United States has provided over $8 billion in humanitarian aid in fiscal year 2017, representing a historic high – including nearly $1.5 billion to UNHCR.

We must all follow through on commitments made to increase contributions to humanitarian appeals and to promote durable solutions for the displaced. We all too often throw around numbers – 20 million, 600,000, 4 million – to describe people in a way that’s easier to handle, talking numbers instead of actually talking about real people.

However, in DRC last week, Ambassador Haley met with women in camps who described living in absolute fear – fear that if they left the camp they would be raped; fear that if their children left the camp they would be abducted. No person should have to live like that, no individual should have to experience what these individuals experience each and every day.

But in the photos from Ambassador Haley’s trip from these same camps, there are children smiling and waving, showing the innocent hope and joy that they still have while living in a world where horrible things are happening all around them. The sad reality is, that without action by their government and the engagement of the international community, they will likely end up like their parents – fathers pulled off to war, mothers living in constant fear. But we can change that. If those children can have hope in such a dire situation, so should we.

And we must translate that hope into concrete action to change their lives for the better. We owe it to them, and to children all over the world, to take our mandate as a Council seriously and to hold these governments accountable when they fail to protect their people. Only then can we do our part to create a future where they can live out their dreams and fulfill their potential as human beings.

To those children we say: We hear your voices, we are here for you, and we will act for you.

Thank you, Mr. President.