Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Program
General Debate

Statement by the Government of Canada

Delivered by Mr. David Manicom, Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the 65th SESSION of the EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES

Geneva, 29 September – 3 October 2014

GOVERNMENT OF CANADA INTERVENTION TO THE 65th SESSION OF THE UNHCR EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

GENERAL STATEMENT

Mr. Chair,

On behalf of my delegation I would like to thank the High Commissioner for his opening remarks, and welcome the new members of the Executive Committee to this, its 65th session. We also wish to thank the High Commissioner for convening the High-Level Segment on enhancing international cooperation, solidarity, local capacities and humanitarian action for refugees in Africa, at a time when ongoing peace and security concerns have been further exacerbated by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa. Threats such as this tragic outbreak do not recognize borders but rather represent a global problem that requires coordinated international action across multiple sectors, including health and security.  This event must help us refocus international attention on the complexity of large scale health crises such as this terrible virus as well as other ongoing humanitarian crises faced by millions of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa. This tragedy has highlighted the importance of constructive dialogue and sustained action for those forcibly displaced around the world. 

Mr. Chair,

It has been an extremely busy and challenging year for humanitarian actors. Complex and cross-border displacement crises, including those in Syria, Central African Republic, Iraq and South Sudan – to name a few – have tested UNHCR and the international community’s capacity to deliver protection, assistance and ultimately solutions.  At a time when levels of displacement worldwide are at record highs, international commitment to fulfill moral and legal obligations to protect civilians and ensure respect for international law are all the more vital, as is UNHCR’s continued commitment to supporting such efforts by responding efficiently and effectively to the protection and assistance needs of refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons.

As UNHCR and other agencies wrestle with these compounding pressures, Canada would like to underscore the risks facing humanitarian workers. We call on the international community to redouble efforts to secure the safety and security of the women and men who put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of those most vulnerable.

Mr. Chair,

Allow me to draw the Executive Committee’s attention to two key issues for Canada: First, the unique role that UNCHR can play in reinforcing protection of children; and second, the plight of religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in situations of displacement.

The impact of conflict and forced displacement on a generation of children – from witnessing violence, losing family, child, early and forced marriage, to disruptions in access to basic services,  the risk of sexual violence and violence against women, – - results in tragic consequences. We note with concern the disproportionately high numbers of forcibly displaced and unaccompanied children affected by ongoing strife in protracted crises such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

In particular, we would like to emphasize the importance of ensuring that displaced children are provided with a safe and nurturing environment with the learning opportunities needed to reclaim their childhood. Education is a powerful tool in reducing the vulnerability of children. This is especially important in protracted refugee situations, where multiple generations of refugees can be affected in the long-term by limited education opportunities, which in turn limits their ability to become full and contributing members of their society.

We take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of UNHCR to work with Ministries of Education to include displaced children in existing national education systems, and urge UNHCR and its partners to continue to work closely with host states in addressing these challenges, particular to children who are internally displaced, in urban areas and in situations of mixed migration.

Mr. Chair,

Let me end on the plight of religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in situations of displacement.

Recent crises – whether Syria, Libya, Iraq, or CAR – have shown that vulnerable communities, especially religious ones, face increasing levels of persecution, violence and repression. We are extremely concerned that once such religious minority groups are displaced, they face further risks, have less access to formal and informal support and protection and therefore continue to face discrimination, violence and exploitation. Similar patterns are emerging for other vulnerable groups such as the disabled or those discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Canada remains committed to protecting the rights of religious communities in situations of armed conflict and forced migration, many of whom are specifically persecuted for their beliefs. Canada’s creation of the Office of Religious Freedom in 2012 and the High Commissioner’s 2012 Dialogue on faith and protection are important steps forward in working to understand and address the intersections among faith, persecution and protection. We encourage UNHCR to continue to develop its partnerships with faith-based organizations, to better understand the needs of these persecuted communities and guarantee that their human dignity is protected.  Sustainable solutions to forced displacement must include respect for the human rights of all individuals, regardless of ethnic descent, faith or sexual orientation.

In closing Mr. Chair, let me take this opportunity to underscore Canada’s continuing and steadfast support for UNHCR as a key agency providing protection, assistance and solutions for the world’s displaced. Canada has and will continue to take an active role in promoting the rights and well-being of displaced persons, in seeking to identify practical ways of responding to their need for protection and durable solutions and addressing the root causes of forced displacement.

Thank you.