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Adopting the 2030 Agenda

By Antonio Gutteres
UN High Commissioner for Refugees

UNHCRUNHighCommissionerforRefugeesAntonioGuterres.Development.PortraitImageMr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I started as High Commissioner ten years ago, there were 38 million people in the world displaced by conflict and persecution, but UNHCR was helping over a million persons return home every year. Global refugee numbers were declining, and old wars had recently been laid to rest in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan to make way for reconstruction and hope. Some of my colleagues were even wondering if UNHCR was going to have a future in these circumstances.

But things have taken a turn for the worse. Today, there are more than 60 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons worldwide as a result of conflict and persecution…

The world has changed in these ten years. There has been meaningful economic growth, the number of absolute poor has decreased to a record low as the World Bank announced this morning, technological advances have brought many important benefits. But it is also true that the world has become more fragile, conflicts have spread in unpredictable ways, and the nature of conflict has grown highly complex. One of the consequences has been a shrinking of humanitarian space, which has made the work of organizations like UNHCR much more difficult and hazardous…

To prevent a new spiral of fragility and instability, development actors have to be given more flexibility and better tools to act early and quickly, to stabilize and to build resilience. To achieve this, we need a fundamental review of the strategies and policies of bilateral and multilateral development cooperation…
For us humanitarians, it is of course essential to preserve the autonomy of humanitarian space, to enable us to act on behalf of all people who require our help, in full respect of the principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality. But we must also recognize that from the point of view of strategic analysis, humanitarian, development and security issues are three faces of the same complex reality…

UNHCR has been working hard to strengthen our partnership with development actors…But much remains to be done to bring about the culture change that is necessary to facilitate closer links between humanitarian and development interventions.

There is an opportunity to do this now, as governments just agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years. The SDGs are an important step forward, although they – like most development cooperation policies – still do not sufficiently take into account the reality that vast parts of the world today are mired in conflicts. But the principle of universality, the pledge that no one shall be left behind, and the explicit recognition that refugees and internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable, are a key entry point for ensuring the conflict dimension is not overlooked in the SDGs. UNHCR will identify a number of countries where refugees constitute a statistically significant portion of the population, and work with national authorities and donors to meet the SDGs in a way that includes all population groups…

For UNHCR, not leaving anyone behind also means achieving a durable solution, allowing refugees to restart their lives and be productive members of society…

UNHCR has therefore been focusing on new approaches, emphasizing comprehensive solutions strategies and working with partners and governments to strengthen refugees’ resilience and self-reliance in the near term and to prepare for solutions in the future…for me, there are two more aspects that the [World Humanitarian] Summit should not ignore. The first is the humanitarian-development connection, which I have already mentioned.

But the second is the imperative of building a more inclusive humanitarian system that better reflects the universal character of the values guiding our work and allows us to join the capacities of all humanitarian actors in the response. We have to overcome the current situation of different organizations from different cultural backgrounds sometimes working in parallel without effective coordination, which can result in gaps and overlaps and only hurts those we are trying to help.

It is obvious that a truly universal humanitarian community can never be achieved by translating perspectives from one part of the world into a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, in order to move beyond the essentially Western creation that is the present multilateral system and build a more universal partnership, we should focus on something that is already there but often overlooked – our shared basis of humanitarian values that spans all cultures. Refugee protection is an excellent example that humanitarian values are universal but being sometimes expressed differently. All major religions embrace the values and principles underpinning refugee protection – showing compassion and generosity towards people in need, sheltering persecuted strangers, and even early equivalents of the concept of non-refoulement…

UNHCR and the humanitarian world will be very different twenty years from now. The future will be determined by our readiness to change and adapt, provided that this change takes place within the same framework of organizational values – the respect for humanitarian principles, human dignity, diversity and human rights.

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