Statement by Ambassador Byrne Nason at the UNSC Briefing on UNHCR
Statement07 December 2021
Merci beaucoup, Monsieur le Président,
Thank you, Mr. President.
It was very good to hear from the Foreign Minister of Norway earlier.
I also want to thank you, High Commissioner, for your briefing and particularly for the warnings you delivered this morning. As always, Filippo, you have been honest with us; you tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear. And that is no surprise. I think the challenges that are faced by you and your staff on a daily base are really immense. I want to pay tribute to the tremendous and the tireless work of all UNHCR staff and their implementing partners in what’s really an increasingly complex and dangerous environment globally, so thank you.
I also want to recognise the deep generosity of the countries hosting very large refugee populations. We recognise the strain this places on countries, the strain it places on host communities, and on the refugees themselves, as we have heard this morning.
We are deeply respectful of the solidarity those countries show on behalf of all of us, and particularly on behalf of those of us at this table, who have the capacity to make decisions that we don’t always rise to.
Since this Council last heard from the High Commissioner, the number of those forcibly displaced has increased again – a record high of 84 million people. Conflict, and I want to underline, our collective failure to prevent or resolve it, is the reason for that. Indeed, looking at our agenda over the last year it’s surprising, frankly, that the increase has not been more pronounced.
In Afghanistan, almost 700,000 people have been newly displaced over the last year. Women, girls, boys, men, joining almost 3 million existing IDPs and 2.2 million Afghan refugees. This means about 6 million Afghans are now affected, greater than the entire population of the country I come from, Ireland. The scale, let alone the human cost of this, is truly shocking.
The level of humanitarian need confronting those, we have heard today, is seismic. The urgency of the response must match the level of need. The Security Council has a responsibility to act and to remove barriers or blockages preventing the provision of urgent, unhindered, lifesaving and live sustaining aid.
Many of those, we know, fleeing Afghanistan are women and girls. They are fleeing to secure the dreams they hold for themselves or for their daughters, fleeing a regime that would deny them an education – today is day 81 when Afghan girls cannot attend school. And some, particularly those women who speak out, are literally fleeing for their lives. It is those women and girls, their rights, freedoms and their political voice which we need to keep in mind as the Council as we determine the future mandate of UNAMA.
We’re also now 10 years into the devastating conflict in Syria. Almost half of that population remains displaced. The vulnerability and hardship endured by those who have been internally displaced in Syria is now exacerbated in tragic ways during this winter period, as we see harsh winter conditions destroying tents, schools, and of course we see loss of life. This, as if we needed a reminder, demonstrates once again the fragility of that situation and the imperative of ensuring that help can reach those most in need, regardless of political considerations.
In Ethiopia too, violence and instability over the past year have driven people from their homes as lives and livelihoods have been lost, with the denial of humanitarian aid in particular leaving many, many thousands of individuals with no choice but to flee. While we have seen some welcome if limited access for food aid in recent days, this Council must remain united in its demand to all parties to respect international humanitarian law, and for sustained, safe, unhindered humanitarian access.
We at this table here also have a responsibility to prevent any further worsening of this crisis. Without concerted action by all sides to seek a pathway to peace, supported by the region and by this Council, forced displacement will surely have catastrophic consequences for neighbouring countries and throughout the Horn of Africa. In our view we cannot afford to let such a catastrophe unfold on our watch.
We have heard today the importance of addressing the root causes of displacement.
We know that insecurity drives displacement globally, but we cannot discount other related factors such as hunger and climate change. This Council is only starting to fully grasp how climate related security risks are impacting its mandate and the people we serve. We thank the UNHCR for meeting with the Informal Expert Group on climate and security, chaired by Ireland and Niger. That meeting last month enlightened members of the Group on the interlinkages between climate, displacement and security, particularly in the Sahel. It is vital that the Council continues to draw on evidence from the field to inform our decision making.
As you told the Council last year, High Commissioner, when leadership fails - when multilateralism, which we represent here, in theory, day in, day out - fails, the consequences are felt by the most vulnerable, by those with the least power, by those quite literally who have no refuge. Ireland remains committed to an approach that is principled and emphasises the rights of refugees. At the core of this is the need to protect citizens, improve humanitarian conditions, and respect International Humanitarian Law. Any return of refugees and internally displaced persons must be safe, voluntary, and dignified. Displaced persons should retain as much autonomy and control, as possible.
Mr President, High Commissioner,
I conclude by emphasising once again Ireland’s support for the stalwart work of UNHCR, reflected also by our pledge this morning to UNHCR for 2022, in advocating for the worldwide protection of refugees; for those refugees living in overcrowded refugee camps; for those IDPs dwelling within host communities under strain; and for the families of those who have lost their lives fleeing insecurity.
We need to step up
Thank you High Commissioner, thank you President.