Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Program
General Debate

Statement by the Government of Canada

Delivered by Mr. David Manicom, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the 66th SESSION of the EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES

Geneva, 5 - 9 October 2015

Government of Canada Intervention to the 66th Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee


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 its 66th session.

This Committee meets at what is a watershed moment for UNHCR and, indeed, for the humanitarian community. After more than 10 years in office, High Commissioner Guterres will step down in January 2016. On behalf of my delegation, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon the agency’s exemplary record of achievement under the High Commissioner’s leadership and to consider what challenges await his successor.

The past decade has been one of change. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of persons of concern to UNHCR increased by over 35 million people to a record almost 60 million today. Similarly, the number of refugees more than doubled in that same time period, reaching more than 14 million. In the meantime, UNHCR consistently faces shortfalls in funding, which has only doubled while needs have increased six-fold.

These alarming figures are the result of a growing number of major emergencies, increasingly protracted displacement situations, and increasingly complex linkages between refugee protection, migration, development, human rights and international security. At least fifteen conflicts have erupted or restarted in the past five years alone, creating new displacement. The war in Syria is now the single-largest driver of displacement. At the same time, protracted crises in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and other areas are forcing millions to move or become long-term internally displaced persons or refugees. Yet another troubling trend is the rise in the number of refugees seeking safety through perilous sea journeys as states grapple with reconciling the protection challenge with political and security implications. We have seen this most recently with the influx of migrants and refugees by sea and land in Europe.

Fortunately, given this increasingly challenging humanitarian landscape, UNHCR is in many ways a stronger, more modern and more effective agency than ever before. The organization’s mandate and leadership role have been confirmed, including through the agreement with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Mixed Situations, UNHCR’s own Refugee Coordination Model and UNHCR’s leadership of the Global Protection Cluster. Meanwhile, transferring certain headquarters functions to regional offices has enhanced institutional efficiency overall.

UNHCR has reinforced the centrality of protection through the roll out of its Global Strategies on refugee women, refugee children, sexual and gender-based violence, and alternatives to detention. There is now renewed focus on durable solutions and new approaches to refugees outside of camps. Finally, the High Commissioner’s creation of an important new global forum on protection in the Annual High Commissioner’s Dialogue has helped build bridges to new actors and address contemporary issues, such as the role of faith-based organizations. These are significant accomplishments.

But the scale of the challenges confronting UNHCR and the global humanitarian community is daunting. UNHCR will continue to face unprecedented levels of displacement and a growing gap between needs and resources.

Humanitarians frequently find themselves struggling to cope with responsibilities that require long term investments in the development of national capacity. These needs are better dealt with by other actors such as governments and development actors.

Furthermore, too often, UNHCR struggles to uphold the principles and norms of refugee protection in the face of sullen resistance or outright violations by the very states that created those principles. And even this Committee, comprised of those states most committed to the work of UNHCR, finds itself increasingly divided and struggling to live up to its humanitarian values.

The upcoming World Humanitarian Summit will be an important opportunity to collectively commit to improving the international humanitarian response system. In particular, we must reaffirm principled humanitarian action, commit to improving respect for international humanitarian law, and ensure that the needs of affected people – with particular attention to the protection needs of those affected by armed conflicts and protracted crises – are at the forefront of our collective responses. We encourage UNHCR to continue to actively engage in preparations for this event.

Looking ahead, Canada calls on the organization and the next High Commissioner to focus on three strategic objectives:

  • First, to ensure the agency’s strategies and programming respond to the needs of refugee women and children, who make up the vast majority of those most affected by displacement and who remain most at risk even in countries of asylum;
  • Second, to work collaboratively within the United Nations system and the broader international community to break down barriers and better align resource and capacity to unlock lasting solutions for victims of forced displacement; and
  • Finally, to fearlessly and tirelessly uphold the principles of the international refugee regime, reminding UN member states at every opportunity of their joint accountability for the achievement of both international protection and lasting solutions.

In closing, Mr. Chair, let me underscore Canada’s continuing and steadfast support for UNHCR as a key agency providing protection, assistance and solutions for the world’s displaced. Canada is committed to ensuring that during such uncertain times, the most vulnerable are protected, and their practical and urgent needs are being met. Canada will continue to support international refugee protection efforts through humanitarian and development funding and resettlement initiatives. This is complemented by our domestic actions, which have seen extensive reforms to Canada’s asylum system, making it faster, fairer, and improving the overall integrity of our system while maintaining our commitment to the values and principles exemplified by the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol. We are pleased to be able to work closely with partners like UNHCR to reach the most vulnerable people with life-saving assistance that can help them rebuild their lives.

Thank you.