Protection Statement

Delivered by Ms. Anne Burgess, Director, Humanitarian Affairs and Natural Disaster Response, DFATD, 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


Thank you Mr. Chair,

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I thank the Assistant High Commissioner for his overview. At a time when levels of displacement worldwide are at record highs, UNHCR’s continued commitment to meeting protection needs is all the more vital. We commend the Assistant High Commissioner for his leadership.

Today, I would like to address three dimensions of protection: the global protection environment, UNHCR’s protection role and capacity, and the Executive Committee’s role as a source of authoritative advice on protection challenges. Across these three themes, I will note the need for collaborative efforts towards new partnerships and innovative, practical approaches.

Mr. Chair,

Canada is concerned that globally we find ourselves in an era of unprecedented and accelerating forced displacement. It is deeply troubling to see ongoing persecution against religious minorities and other vulnerable groups; continuing growth in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons uprooted by armed conflict; violations of international humanitarian law, impunity and reduced asylum space; as well as increasingly intractable and protracted displacement situations, some now decades long. In the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, we have seen an increasing number of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants pursuing perilous journeys by sea and by land, often with tragic results.

Canada is committed to protecting and resettling refugees and displaced families, who continue to suffer because of conflict and civil unrest. In the context of the current influx of refugees and asylum-seekers to Europe, Canada’s engagement is focused on assistance in source and neighbouring countries in the Middle East. To date, Canada has committed over $800 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance in response to the Syria crisis, in addition to multi-year resettlement commitments for 11,300 Syrian refugees, 23,000 Iraqi refugees, and 5,000 refugees in Turkey. On September 12, 2015, the Government of Canada announced the creation of the Syria Emergency Relief Fund, in which the Government of Canada will match every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities in response to the impact of the conflict in Syria, up to $100 million Canadian dollars. Most recently, Canada announced additional measures to speed up Syrian refugee resettlement processing. This means meeting the overall commitment of resettling 10,000 Syrians by September 2016 –15 months earlier than planned and Canada’s existing commitment to resettle 23,000 Iraqis will also be fulfilled by the end of this year. We have also taken steps to make it easier for Canadians and Permanent Residents to sponsor refugees from the region.

The challenges of providing protection in the current global environment are indeed immense. It is clear that renewed efforts are needed to address the root causes of conflict and displacement, and to find solutions. It is also evident that this cannot be achieved by UNHCR on its own, or even by humanitarian action alone. Mass displacement can be a serious impediment for the development agenda. More than ever, there is a need to forge partnerships beyond traditional humanitarian actors. 

Mr. Chair

The protection of women, children and youth from violence, exploitation and abuse remains a priority for Canada, and we call for renewed efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR’s roll-out of Global Strategies on child protection and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have been important steps. My delegation urges UNHCR and its partners to continue to work closely with host states in addressing these abuses, with a particular emphasis on women, girls and boys in urban areas and situations of mixed movements. More must be done to ensure that areas meant to be a safe haven are free from further sexual violence and abusive practices such as child, early and forced marriage.

Canada notes with appreciation UNHCR’s efforts to better respond to the needs of refugees and displaced persons outside of camps, both in urban and rural areas. Refugees can better contribute to hosting communities when they are supported in achieving self-reliance, taking into account local conditions and economies. Moreover, community-based protection activities and related programming that also involve local residents can reduce xenophobia, encourage social cohesion and contribute to a better protection environment.

In this regard, the role of governments of affected states, including those hosting refugees as well as countries of origin, is crucial. Governments need to take action to enable effective collaboration between humanitarian and development actors, by including the needs of refugees and returnees in national development plans. Donor governments in turn need to support investments that support durable solutions as well as enabling strategies that support resilience and self-reliance for refugees.

It is important to emphasize the critical role UNHCR plays in coordinating the international refugee response, as well as within the broader humanitarian system as Lead Agency of the Global Protection Cluster. We encourage UNHCR to strengthen the resources it devotes to this role. 

Canada welcomes the renewed emphasis that UNHCR is placing on solutions, and applauds the efforts of the former Deputy High Commissioner towards stimulating new thinking. We encourage UNHCR, states and other actors to focus on solutions from the outset of crisis, to make even greater efforts to find new approaches, and to better connect ongoing efforts.

Mr. Chair,

In 2007, High Commissioner Guterres launched the annual Dialogue on Protection Challenges, with the aim of forging international consensus on the principles and practices of protection for refugees. Looking forward, the upcoming dialogue on “Addressing the root causes of displacement,” will be an important opportunity to engage a broad range of actors, with a view to forming new partnerships and enhancing both prevention and solutions.

In contrast, Canada has been discouraged by the inability of the Executive Committee in recent years to reach agreement on Conclusions. This Committee has a vital role to play as a source of constructive advice on contemporary protection challenges. My delegation is pleased that there is consensus on the forward-looking work plan and congratulates the Rapporteur on his leadership.

In closing Mr. Chair,

We look forward to continuing fruitful debate in this session, with a view to identifying directions for the coming year.

Thank you