United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations
President, International Rescue Committee
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres discusses the current state of the world's refugees.
This meeting is part of the Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture series, which was established by the Council and the family of Arthur C. Helton, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who died in the August 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. The Helton Lectureship is an annual event at which one or more speakers address pressing issues in the broad field of human rights and humanitarian concerns.
GEORGE RUPP: My name is George Rupp. I have the pleasure of welcoming you here today for the Council on Foreign Relations meeting that is our Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture. And we have a spectacular lecture for that, namely the high commissioner of the UNHCR, Antonio Guterres.
Arthur Helton was a director of peace and conflict studies and a senior fellow for refugee studies and preventive action at the Council on Foreign Relations. A respected lawyer and human rights activist, he devoted his life to improving the lives of others. Tragically, he was killed in the August of 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. This lecture is dedicated to Arthur's lifetime mission of serving the world's refugees.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of his powerful book, "The Price of Indifference: Refugees and Humanitarian Action," which makes it all the more apt that tonight we have Antonio Guterres with us, who is here in New York on the occasion of the official release of the UNHCR landmark publication, "The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity." And I urge all of you to get a copy and read it. It is a—really a superb compilation that is not just an annual report, but a report every five or six years that really is extremely important for understanding the range of problems that uprooted people around the world face.
As we turn to our program, I have to go through the usual Council on Foreign Relations ritual of asking you to be sure to turn off all of your cellphones, BlackBerrys, all wireless devices, because they interfere with the sound system here. I'd like to remind you that this meeting is on the record. CFR members around the nation and the world are participating in this via a password-protected teleconference.
Now, you've got a biography of Antonio Guterres in your program, so I will be very brief and urge you to read more details. Antonio Guterres became the 10th U.N. high commissioner for refugees on June 15th, 2005. He is a former prime minister of Portugal, was elected by the U.N. assembly for a five-year term, and the U.N. General Assembly has elected him for a second five-year term in April of 2010. So he's a couple of years into that second term. As high commissioner, he oversees an agency that has almost 8,000 staff members and works in over 125 countries. Before joining the UNHCR, Guterres spend more than 20 years in government and public service.
We will begin with the program with an opening set of remarks from the high commissioner, then he and I will have a brief exchange, and then we'll open it up so that all of you can participate as well.
So we'll begin with you, Antonio.
ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, thank you very, very much. It's a great pleasure to be here in the Council on Foreign Relations, and especially with the memory of Arthur Helton that's always been a reference for our organization, and more than a reference, someone that's had an enormous influence in the way we were acting. And whenever he would feel that we were not doing the right thing, he would never miss an opportunity to tell us what was the right thing to be done.
And I'm particularly happy to see here with us—we're very honored with the presence of Mrs. Marjorie Helton and Mrs. Jacqueline Gilbert. It's—indeed, it's a pleasure to have you with us today, and I'm very honored to be able to talk also in your presence.
He was a scholar. He was an author, a professor. But he was essentially an advocate, and an advocate for a cause, a difficult cause, a very active one that's—really dedicated his life to that, to the extent that he sacrificed his life in those tragic events in Baghdad. So I am really very honored to be here today celebrating his memory.
Now, we live in a decade of people on the move, and I'm sorry that when one looks at today's world, the first challenge that is clear is that multiplication of new crises that we are witnessing around the world. At the beginning of 2011, we had Cote d'Ivoire; we had Libya; we had Yemen; we had Syria; we had the Horn of Africa, Somalia, with the compounded effect of conflict and the drought; then we had Sudan/South Sudan; Syria becoming much more serious in 2012; and Mali, the most recent one.
And today—and for the first time in my tenure, we have three acute crises at the same time: Syria, Sudan/South Sudan and Mali, with huge outflows of refugees, not to mention the problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a new outflow is taking place to Uganda and Rwanda at the present moment. And indeed, the number of people newly displaced, the number of refugees—new refugees in 2011 is the highest in the—in the decade—a multiplication of new crises that, to a certain extent, shows that the capacity of the international community to present conflict is considerably limited.
I have lived, when I was a young politician, in a bipolar world. It had its problems, but it was relatively predictable. When I was prime minister in Portugal, I lived in the unipolar world. And I remember that—the crisis of East Timor. The key question was to convince the president of the United States that an intervention was necessary. And when the president was convinced that the intervention was necessary, that intervention became immediately possible. He convinced Indonesia to accept the presence of international force; he convinced the Australians to send the bulk of that international force. Security Council met, unanimously approved the intervention, and we were able to avoid the genocide in East Timor.
Would the same happen today, I don't think there will be the capacity to do the same kind of intervention. We no longer live in a bipolar world. We no longer live in a unipolar world. But we are not yet also in a multipolar world. It's a rather confusing situation. And I would say that sometimes one gets the impression that nobody is in charge, and things happen. And things happen, and unpredictability is the name of the game.
I believe we will have more crises from now until the end of the year, but I will not be able to say where they will happen. There are several possibilities. And people will always argue that we could predict that crisis. Yes, there are problems in many parts of the world. But all things are developing in a way that generates a lot of suffering and a lot of displacement in so many places at the same time is indeed something that is new.
On the other hand, it seems that old crises never die. Afghanistan is there, and it goes on and on and on. Somalia—it goes on and on. The Democratic Republic of Congo goes on and on. And we have more than two-thirds of the refugees under UNHCR mandate, not to talk about the Palestinian refugees—that's unrelated to—(inaudible)—we have more than two-thirds of world refugees in a protected situation for more than five years.
With the multiplication of new crises, with old crises that seem never to die, we are indeed witnessing a very difficult period in relation to refugee protection and in relation to the capacity to provide solutions for the people we care for. To make it more complicated, there is a shrinking humanitarian space. There is more and more difficulty to accede some of the people that we need to support in different parts of the world.
And I believe there are three reasons for this shrinking humanitarian space. First of all, the changing nature of conflicts: We no longer have clear wars between two states or between a government and the rebel group. If you go to the DRC or to Mali, you see national forces, sometimes international forces. You see rebel groups, but you also see ethnic militias, religious militias; you see gangsters. And all these things get mixed in the same area. Sometimes you are a gangster in the morning and member of a militia in the afternoon.
And again, it's very difficult to have a dialogue with many of these entities. And humanitarians became, for many of them, a target. They are an obstacle in relation to their objectives. And that has increased enormously the insecurity to work. And IRC is, I think, a good witness of this situation and enormous insecurity to work in different parts of the world where we simply do not access to the people that need our support.
Secondly, humanitarian space is shrinking because in the tense dialogue between human rights—the human rights agenda and the national sovereignty agenda, in many circumstance the national sovereignty agenda has prevailed. And that, of course, has made it possible for many governments to just not allow humanitarians to act in areas of their territory, because they are afraid of having witnesses of things that are happening there from the outside world.
And finally, there is also a blurring sometimes of the distinction between the military part of the presence of international community and the humanitarian presence of the international community. Especially if you have a peacekeeping operation where there is no peace to keep, peacekeepers becoming party to the conflict, and all with the same blue flag. For instance, in the U.N., peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies, it's very difficult to make people understand the difference and to make people understand how we try to be faithful and loyal to the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.
And so with all these reasons, we are witnessing, in a world where displacement is becoming more serious and more protracted, that it is also a bigger difficulty to reach out to the people we care for and to whom we are supposed to help provide solutions.
Now, the displacement is also becoming more complex. Refugees, according to international law, to the '51 convention, are those that flee a well-founded fear of persecution. In the—(inaudible)—we say those that cross borders because of conflict or persecution But the truth is that we are witnessing a pattern of movement, and the forced movement in the recent past, that is much more complex than that, not to mention the voluntary migration that has always been an important component in the movement of populations.
If you look at today's global megatrends—population growth, urbanization, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity—all of them are becoming more and more interactive with each other. The world is to a certain extent become smaller. We could argue that for the first time the history of mankind, there are physical limitations to economic and social development. And this is enhancing conflict. Rising food prices has been an important factor of instability in any part of the world. Some people even say that this was a key element in the Arab Spring, for instance. So, rising instability, sometimes generating conflict, all forcing people to move just because the environments are no longer conducive to maintain communities in certain areas.
And so we have a group of people that flee and that can be protected, according to international law, because they are refugees as the '51 convention recognizes them, but we have protection gaps in relation to people that move, that cannot be considered as refugees according to the '51 convention but also move because they have no alternative. They cannot remain in the communities where they are.
Now, much of the movement that is taking place in today's world is not crossing borders; it's taking place within the borders of the countries involved, which means that we have today more internally displaced people by conflict than refugees crossing borders who are entitled to international protection. And again, if refugees are indeed entitled to international protection, and if the '51 convention has a strong mandate and gives a strong mandate even to my organization, the truth is that those that remain within the borders of their own country are supposed to be protected by their own government, and their own government, in some situations, is not able to do so, and in other situations is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution. This is probably the most—the most relevant aspect of the tension I mentioned between the human rights agenda and the national sovereignty agenda in the difficulties for the international community to be effective in protection and solutions to people displaced.
Now at the same time, we witness in some parts of the world a shrinking of the asylum space and the interaction of some political populism with some irresponsibility of some media. We see it mainly in part of the industrialized world, but not only there, we see a trend for—taking into account national security considerations, but mostly because of more restrictive approaches to migration, we see a trend in which some borders tend to be closed and some changes in legislation tend to try to the keep the refugees and asylum seekers out, not giving them the chance to accede territories where they might benefit from effective protection.
Eighty percent of the world's refugees live in the developing world. And I do believe it's very important—because, fortunately, all the countries that surround the crisis points of today have kept their borders open, I think it's very important to develop effective mechanisms of international solidarity in relation to those countries that have generously opened their borders, even that they are very poor, as it is the case of the neighbors of Mali—Mauritania, Niger and Burkino Fasso—or to a certain extent a country like Jordan, in relation to the Syrian refugees today.
And I believe that international solidarity is very important in resettlement, the resettlement program of U.S. being crucial in this regard, but also in development cooperation in order to help make solutions more sustainable—voluntary repatriation whenever possible, local integration where countries would be willing to do so, and support to those communities, which, of course, in my opinion would require a much stronger emphasis in both multilateral and bilateral programs of development cooperation, a much stronger focus on support to the communities that host those that come back home after the crisis is ended, and those that accept the refugees in their own communities during those crisis periods.
I would like to say that in all these, our partnership with the civil society is extremely important. We work hand in hand with the NGO movements and the Red Cross, Red Crescent movements all around the world, and in that partnership, very, very key—a very key relationship is with the IRC. And I'm indeed—and I would end that—extremely honored that this debate would be moderated by my very good friend George Rupp, saying that the kind of action that the IRC does around the world is something that I believe can be felt with a lot of pride by all citizens of this country.
RUPP: Well, thank you very much. That's a very nice high point on which to end. (Applause.)
Antonio, in as variety of places, you've focused public attention on the whole issue of climate change and the extent to which it generates displaced people both within a country's borders and crossing borders, and have talked, as you by implication did in your comments today, about the need for a new framework to be able to deal with that situation, especially because it is almost certain to get more extensive as we go forward.
Could you say a little more about how you think the international community is coming along on generating that kind of overall framework?
GUTERRES: I think we are in the—in the very beginning. Probably we should say we have not yet really started to do so seriously. I don't use the expression "climate refugees," because I think it's a simplistic expression. I believe climate change is an enhancer of a certain number of other factors. Food insecurity, for instance, is one of them. Obviously, there has always been drought, but climate change is increasing the frequency of severe drought in some parts of the world.
We always had natural disasters—floods or similar ones induced by the climate. What climate change is making is making them more frequent, more devastating and with more dramatic humanitarian consequences. So it's difficult to say this is a refugee of the climate or this is a refugee of the hunger or this is a refugee of poverty. I think we need to look into all—all these things combine with each other and combine with conflict and insecurity and force people to move. And indeed as refugee convention is very clearly limited to those that can be identified as victims of persecution or conflict, there is here a protection gap.
Now, these were discussed in our ministerial conference last year in relation to how to address these—the ministerial conference that was commemorating the sixth anniversary of the '51 convention. And the group of countries—Costa Rica, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Germany—have agreed to lead an international debate on the recognition of these gaps and how the international community should organize itself to address them.
I have no illusions that there is no chance to approve an international convention on that. I don't think the environment is favorable to that. I wouldn't suggest to try to amend the '51 convention, to be honest. I am convinced that if we would try today to draft the human rights instruments that were drafted in the '50s or after the Second World War, we would end up with worse documents than the ones that were possible at that moment. So I wouldn't suggest that.
My suggestion to the countries that are involved in these is to try to develop an instrument similar to what was developed for internal displacement, the guiding principles on internal displacement, that could be a nonbinding set of norms and rules that states might be willing to follow in relation to the way to address the protection needs and the assistance needs of this kind of people that is forced to flee for reasons that cannot be included in the '51 convention. That would be my suggestion. But this is the very beginning of the discussion, and some countries are very reluctant even to introduce these in the agenda.
RUPP: Well, there may well be questions from our colleagues, members who are listening about—to follow up on that, but let me go to a couple of other points, just to pursue a little further your opening comments.
You mentioned the complexity of conflicts and how our world today is not as simple as a bipolar world or a unipolar world, but much more complex with conflicts generated within countries, and that that in particular raises issues because it means that organizations like UNHCR need to work close proximity to military forces or armed forces of various kinds. Say a little more about how the changed nature of conflict and how the relationship between humanitarian and military organizations is developing.
GUTERRES: Well, this, today, is very complex problem. There is, within the U.N., a drive for integrated missions, as you know. There has been a lot of discussion on that, and I believe that in many circumstances, integrated missions are a very good thing in the sense that it allows for an effective coordination of efforts of different entities within U.N. and then together with the broader humanitarian community, and to have the support of the U.N. missions for our activity is, in many circumstances, positive. The problem is when you have a force—a peacekeeping force that becomes party to a conflict or when the mandate of that peacekeeping force creates obligations that involve that peacekeeping force in a conflict situation, sometimes creating even a kind of contradiction that is difficult to overcome.
I'll give an example: the initial mandate of the mission in the DRC gave to the U.N. force in the DRC (ph), the—(inaudible)—three responsibilities: protection of civilians; support to the buildup of state institutions, namely armed forces; and support to the Congolese army in the operations against the rebels, mainly in the eastern DRC. The problem is that the Congolese army became one of the worst perpetrators of violations of human rights. And so when you are supporting a military operation, as a government force against a group of rebels, you are to a certain extent also becoming, even if you do—and afterwards, this was corrected to a large extent—but you risk to be perceived by the populations as a—as a party to the conflict. And even worse, you need to—you risk to perceived, even if unfairly, as contributing to those violations of human rights.
In this context, it's quite difficult to go to the same village with the same flights and say we are here to do a strictly humanitarian work. And so indeed the preservation of the autonomy of humanitarian space—and in U.N. present language, to allow for integration to take place without structural integration—is, I think, essential in all those circumstances in which you have a peacekeeping operation where there is no peace to keep and where peacekeepers, as I said, become parties to the conflict.
But this is particularly difficult in areas where the kind of violence we are witnessing is not only of political or ethnic nature, but it's also banditry. Because you can, as a humanitarian organization, if there are two or three rebel groups, you can dialogue with them and create space. I remember going to Kilinochchi and speaking to the Tamil Tigers about humanitarian access in the areas they controlled. I remember more recently going to northern Yemen and speaking to the leadership of the Houthis on opening humanitarian access to the areas under the Houthi control.
But if you are dealing with a group of gangsters or if you are dealing with a group of—or with an organization that considers that humanitarian action is, in itself, something that should be destroyed or that is an obstacle to their campaign, organizations of more—it's a terrorist kind of activity, then we need a harder form of security. How to have that harder form of security, and at the same time keeping humanitarian principles is a very dilemmatic situation.
Organizations like the ICRC have decided that in all circumstances, they will go without armed escorts and without armed guards. But even the ICRC is having now a meaningful number of casualties in these situations. NGOs are very concerned with the fact that that can be associated in some situations also with U.N. missions, and for U.N. agencies this is also a very dilemmatic situation to which there is no easy solution.
In some—in some cases, the only solution is not to be there. But not to be there is to have a dramatic impact on or can have a dramatic impact in the lives of the people we were supposed to support, and we give up supporting because we believe we will be compromising with our humanitarian principles.
So this is the kind of decision—I don't think we can have a general rule that applies in all circumstances; it's a very dilemmatic kind of situation. I would say in case of doubt, stick to your principles. (Laughter.) That would be my suggestion.
RUPP: When in doubt, tell the truth or, in a situation of doubt, stick to your principles. We'll keep—we'll keep that mind.
The kind of standard or conventional view of refugees is that they are thousands of people housed in camp settings. You know perfectly well that the majority of refugees in the world today are not in camp settings and—say a little bit about how the UNHCR deals with the—with the conundrum of having refugees who are not as readily accessible and as close to each other as they are in camp settings, but have to be attended to in all kinds of other situations. Urban situations would be a good example.
GUTERRES: I think it's fair to say that we have not really been able to act effectively in urban contexts in the—in the least developed countries. I think that we developed successful programs of support to refugees in environments like the Moscows or Amman for the Iraqi refugees. But when one looks at the slums of Johannesburg or of Nairobi, I think we need to recognize that we are not yet there doing effectively our work.
And I don't think there is a way to do our work alone. I think it's not possible that when you have refugees scattered in these slums of the big megalopoleis of the developing world with other kinds of very vulnerable population. I don't think it is possible to have a targeted program only to the refugees; I think you need to have a comprehensive approach and to bring a group of partners and actors, including the national authorities, the local authorities and the local civil society, but also the different humanitarian and development partners, be them NGOs or agencies or international financial organizations, and try to define comprehensive programs for the communities in which the refugees are, but looking simultaneously at the refugees and the other vulnerable people that are in the same area. I believe we are in the beginning of trying to put these into an effective practical way. I think that ideas are now clear in our minds about in what direction we need to go. They would require a much more partnership-minded approach from our side in relation of what we do. But I think it's the future, and I hope it's the future.
It's horrible to live in the slums of Nairobi, but I can guarantee it is worse to live in Dadaab refugee camp. Even if assistance in the Dadaab refugee camp can be probably better in some aspects, to be confined to a camp, to suffer the limitations that governments put to refugees in many of these countries, where you have not the right to work, you have not the right to move freely, to—not to see—even if sometimes education is provided, health (sic) is provided, but not to see a future, no. I mean, I think it's better to have more freedom and more capacity that is given by an urban environment. But of course that creates a challenge to be able to provide in that environment the kind of assistance that people need and to do it, as I said, in a nonstrictly refugee approach, but in a comprehensive community approach.
RUPP: Well, you mention Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world, 500,000 refugees. And you also mention Nairobi, a place where very large numbers of Somalis have been for a very long time, so that you could have a nice little pilot project for the—simply in Kenya for the—and working with Somali refugees. And so your prescription is, in the case of the urban refugees, that there needs to be attention to the host population as well as the refugees there and that on balance, you'd rather be in Nairobi than in Dadaab.
GUTERRES: Yeah. But the Kenyan government has been very reluctant to accept the idea, as you know. And now, more recently, the Kenyan government has accepted to do the registration of refugees in Nairobi and so to recognize de facto that we have in Nairobi a refugee population, and that, I believe, will create the conditions for us to be able to develop something that was unthinkable just a few years ago. And I'm optimistic about the same approach in several other countries.
But as you can understand, for many countries in the developing world, to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees when they have extremely fragile economic and social institutions and situations also represents a threat. So many countries are themselves the ones that say, OK, fine, we are ready to accept these people, but with the condition that they are encamped.
And so this is not always a question in which we have a choice, even if our advocacy is always in favor—freedom of the movement for the refugees, knowing that sometimes it corresponds to a kind of challenge that some countries are not feeling, I would say, sufficiently at ease to accept, even if we hope that we will be moving more and more in that direction.
RUPP: Well, just so that we have—we end this part of our conversation, before we open up to others, on a positive note, I'll just mention that there are—there is good news on this front. An example would be the 1972 caseload of Burundians in Tanzania, who have been there for over 20 years. They have—they have—well, '72—I'm sorry. '72 was—so—well, you can do the arithmetic—way over 20 years. (Laughter.) And 160,000 of those will now be naturalized into Tanzania. So it does happen that even long-term camps finally wind up having people go back to where they can support themselves.
GUTERRES: But it's also true that we are having a very difficult road map for implementation and a lot of resistance by different communities to—because these people now should move into different areas of the country, lots of resistance. (I mean ?), it's --
RUPP: I tried to end on a positive—(laughter) --
GUTERRES: It's very tough—no, no, just to say it's positive and it reveals a --
GUTERRES:—but the implementation—and again, that is where international solidarity is very important. It is—let me be very frank. It's very difficult to come to visit a government in a country like Jordan, no, and to tell them you have to receive all the Syrians that came to you, but you also have to keep all the Iraqis that are there and all the Palestinians who are there, and then to see one country in Europe that is making push-backs of boats into the Mediterranean. I mean, it's very difficult to explain that.
And so if we want—and it is absolutely essential to have a open door policy, an open brother policy in the crisis areas, and to have a positive attitude of countries in the developing world in relation to refugees, it's important that they feel burden sharing, responsibility sharing and solidarity from the developed world. And we have sometimes some examples in countries of the developed world that make it very difficult—I mean, that are unacceptable, in my point of view, in the exercise of my mandate; that are even, in some circumstances, against international law. And we are very happy that recently the European Court of Human Rights has given decisions that correspond to jurisprudence against the Italian push-backs, against the devolution of asylum seekers or refugees to Greece, based on the Dublin II Regulation. I'm not going to get into details about these European Union things. That would lead us to a never-ending discussion. (Laughter.)
But I mean, courts have been quite active, and we are pushing lots of that activity. That is very important to guarantee that the rights of people are protected. But it's not only that—the rights of the people protected in those circumstances is the example that is given. I think that a much more active solidarity of the developed world in resettlement and in development cooperation with host countries and especially with host communities is absolutely essential if we want to preserve the asylum space in the global house.
RUPP: Well, let me now open the conversation up to members. When—if you have a question, raise your hand and I will call on you. Wait till you get the microphone. Say your name and your affiliation directly into the microphone. And please limit yourself to one question, so we can hear from as many members as possible.
OK. Your questions? Yes.
QUESTIONER: Sorry. Jacques- --
RUPP: Just wait till you get a microphone.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Jacques-Philippe Piverger. I'm a partner with the Clavarusta (ph) Company. I'm a term member here at the council. Thank you for the comments here this afternoon. I enjoy it.
And I was actually in Davos with some of your colleagues in January, and I went to the UNHCR Refugee Run and, to start off on a good note, very well done. I highly recommend everyone do that whenever you have a chance.
One of the key stats that they threw out that really stuck with me was the length of time that people spend, on average, in the refugees. I think it was in the neighborhood of 17 years. So maybe you could speak to some of the steps that are being taken in order to help to decrease the length of time that people spend in the conditions that are emulated in the Refugee Run. Thank you.
GUTERRES: Well, indeed we have launched --
RUPP: I think he was asking you.
GUTERRES: Yeah, yeah. We have launched an initiative on the so-called protected refugee situations. They selected a group of situations, and we tried everything to have a comprehensive approach to address the problem.
First thing I'd like to say is that we shouldn't have any illusion. There is no humanitarian solution for humanitarian problems. The solution is always political. We cannot be involved in the political solution, but we need to recognize that without political solutions, it's very difficult to solve the problems of people.
And obviously the preferred solution is voluntary repatriation, in safety and dignity, to the country of origin when conditions are met for the people to be able to go back.
The problem is the political decisions that are necessary for this to be possible and the peace agreements that are necessary and the stability of those peace agreements, and unfortunately the world is not making much progress in these areas, as you know.
Even with that, we launched, as I said, a certain number of initiatives trying to have a comprehensive approach.
First, one of the initiatives we did was to try to have regional approaches. For instance, we managed to bring together Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to address the problem of the refugees of the '90s. And I'm happy to report that these countries reached an agreement. And they had many, many problems before about rights of people of one country that was in the other and things of the sort. And this agreement led to a common plan, and that common plan was presented to the international community in the conference in Sarajevo just one month ago. And there was meaningful support in the international community, and we believe we will close the chapter with some returns and some solutions for the people that will be locally integrated in the countries where they finally decided to stay.
We have had recently an attempt which is still—and I would say a less advanced way, but we managed to bring together Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan into a common program both to support the sustainability of returns to Afghanistan—and 48 sites were selected with the Afghan government in which a certain number of investments will be made, considering that those sites have enough security for that to be possible—and creating conditions to attract the refugees of those areas that are still in the two other countries to go back, and at the same time supporting the local communities of those countries to stabilize these populations and to avoid the present trend, which is Afghans becoming a global refugee population. There are Afghans in almost 100 countries around the world.
So these kinds of initiatives are being taken. We don't enter into the political solution, but we try to bring countries together to take measures in order to have common strategies to address the possibility for having solutions for the people even if the conflict is still going on. In the case of the Balkans, the conflict fortunately has ended but the political problems are still, some of them, not entirely resolved.
At the same time, to use these settlements as a strategic—as a strategic instrument and not only as a protection instrument. The best example is Nepal. We had a protracted situation of the—of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, more than 100,000. And in the end, the solution—thanks to a group of countries, U.S. leading that process—has been already 60,000 have been resettled from Nepal to different countries. And now, finally Bhutan has accepted that they will receive back a certain number.
And so with these dynamics that resettlement has generated, we believe that we'll be able to solve this problem with a certain component of voluntary repatriation to Bhutan and a certain component of integration in the Nepalese society. And I can go on with a group of other examples. So we shouldn't give up, but let's not have illusions. Without a political solution, all these things will always be.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Stephen Kass, Carter, Ledyard, Milburn and Brooklyn Law School. I wonder whether you've considered whether the guiding principles that you're suggesting should also include preventive action to slow the prospect for migration across borders or even in terms of displacement, and whether you would consider any part of a climate adaptation fund being used in order to remove the stimulus from migration.
GUTERRES: Well, we have been extremely active in advocacy because there we enter into areas where we don't have a—I mean, the capacity to act. But in advocacy, one of the key issues we have been raising is exactly that one, that adaptation—there's a lot of discussion about climate change, not much discussion about the movement generated or enhanced by climate change.
And I believe that a absolutely key tool of prevention is a concentration of development cooperation projects in adaptation for climate change, giving resilience to the populations, and other forms of community development in rural areas. And fortunately—and I can speak for speak for the development cooperation policy of my own country when I was in government—one thing that was clear is that that development cooperation policy was helping urbanization and was not sufficiently supporting the strength of community development in the rural areas.
And urbanization is a first movement. When you have a first movement, then you have other movement—not that I consider that migration is not an important contribution to global development. It's something that, in my opinion, is a positive thing. But indeed, to have migration should be an option, not an inevitability due to the situations that we have discussed here today. And indeed, I believe adaptation for climate change is one of the key tools that need to be enhanced in order to make sure that we prevent forced migration that nobody wants—not even the ones that are unfortunately obliged to do so.
RUPP: Yes, Farouk (sp).
QUESTIONER: Farouk Afwari (ph). For this evening I'm—I work with George Rupp. You mentioned it's very hard to predict and project what's going to happen. But if you had to think about a couple of strategic surprises, positive and negative, that could take place, what would they be?
GUTERRES: Well, it's—as you can imagine, it is—it is not very wise to make predictions of situations that, first, might not happen but worse, could be interpreted as provocation to the countries involved. But I would say that we have a lot of sleeping conflict in the world. If you look at Central Asia or the Caucasus, you see lots of sleeping conflicts in the world—things that are frozen. I think it's important to avoid that things that are frozen reignite, and I think it's important to try to create conditions for things that are frozen to find a solution.
So this is just one possible way to look into problems, but there are others. We have other countries that we know have potential (focus of ?) enormous political instability. It's very important to try to avoid that. For instance, the next elections that are coming will generate that political instability. And several African countries are in this situation.
So whatever can be done by the international community to act in a preventive way, I think it's very, very important. But what's difficult is to predict in what specific circumstances a group of, I would say, causes of potential instability or conflict will generate that instability to become a real conflict. And that is what—I mean, it's easy to identify many areas where that might occur; what's difficult is to know exactly where that's going to happen.
And so if we—to have a very active preventive diplomacy and preventive action in relation to those potential areas is, I think, a very wise thing to do. Prevention is very—has many advantages. The first is that it avoids suffering. The second is that it's cheaper.
RUPP: Maybe looking ahead a little, you—why don't you comment on the Sahel and what's likely to be developing there?
GUTERRES: I must say that I feel very worried when I see so much attention in the global media and in the political—the global political debate about Syria, a meaningful amount of attention about Sudan, and practically nothing about Mali. Not because of Mali in itself, but because of what I believe we have—we are seeing developing in the whole area.
Today in Northern Mali, that is an area where there is very difficult access to humanitarian organizations—I believe the ICRC has some presence in some areas, a few others have some presence in a few areas, but very far from having conditions to fully operate in all Northern Mali—you have today the following actors, and I think there is another one that emerged very recently and I couldn't yet confirm.
But we have—we do not have any longer the Malian army because they had to flee to the south. But we have the MNLA that is the Malian—I mean, the traditional Tuareg independentist movement. We have the Ansar Dine that is a Tuareg Islamic extremist group aiming at creation of an Islamic state in the whole of Mali. We have the Mujalal (ph)—that is an inter-ethnic, also Islamic, extremist group called—(name inaudible)—that is also operating with an Islamic agenda, but it is not only a Malian agenda.
Then we have the al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb that operates in a group of countries coming from Chad to Mauritania and Algeria and having, for instance, kidnapped two members of an NGO in—(inaudible)—as far away as the region as can be imagined. You have then the Boko Haram, the Nigeria group, that apparently was already training in Northern Mali—there was a lot of illusions about Mali in the past—that apparently was already training in Northern Mali and now is operating there with apparently 200, 300 fighters. And our colleagues tell us that there are fighters from as far away as Somalia or Afghanistan in the area.
Now, the arms came from Libya. And as you know, the situation in Libya is today very complex. And many of the fighters that are members of these organizations I mentioned were in the Libyan army or in the militia that was supporting Gadhafi. And the arms came, and I'm talking now of heavy weapons. In the past—this is the (first ?) Tuareg rebellion in Mali. In the past it was, I mean, relatively—I mean, light armed rebellions.
Now we are talking about heavy weapons that the armies that the armies of the region have not the capacity to confront effectively. So the arms come from Libya. And this takes place in an environment in which you have now enormous flows of displacement inside Mali and into Mauritania, into Burkina Faso and into Niger. You have Touaregs in Niger, in Burkina Faso, in northern Mauritania, in Mali, but also in Algeria and in Libya. And at the same time, you have a food security situation that is dramatic in the whole of the Sahel because of the drought.
So I think there is a real risk if the capacity to solve the political problem does not exist and that you now—there has been some movement of the ECOWAS in order to try to, first of all, create some kind of political stability inside Bamako—I wouldn't say Mali—Bamako, and then some dialogue with some of these movements, but with not much effective consequences. If a political initiative, a strong political initiative is not taken and then effective response to humanitarian problems and to the stabilization of this population is not taken, I think that we have the risk to have a global problem that comes from Libya into Nigeria, from Mauritania into Somalia, and that will be taking into account that there are diasporas of these countries a little bit everywhere, including in Europe and probably in this part of the world. We might be facing a global threat to peace and security. And I don't see the international community being sufficiently worried with that.
So in some regards, this is a much more serious question than the Sudanese crisis that tend to be more localized in its—in its dimension. And so my concern is of course, first of all, the humanitarian concern. We have already a number of displaced populations that is enormous, and we have enormous and even bigger number of people suffering without being able to move. But it's not only the humanitarian dimension; it is the—is the peace and security dimension that can be really a very dramatic one.
And so when I was speaking about solidarity and the need of solidarity with the countries—all those countries in situations of this nature, it's not only a question of solidarity; it is a question of self-interest. I mean, I believe the developed world has (enlightened ?) self-interest to support these countries.
RUPP: All the way back.
QUESTIONER: Sasha Chanoff with Refuge Point. We work hand in hand with UNHCR to provide lasting solutions to some of the most vulnerable refugees. You painted an urgent and dire picture, and I just wanted to say, honorable High Commissioner, thank you for all of UNHCR's work and IRC's work. I wonder if you could comment a little more on trends in resettlement, which seems to be one of the ways that the international community can get at alleviating some of the most vulnerable refugees' plight. Are there any trends that you see moving forward?
GUTERRES: I think we have witnessed in the past five or six years a meaningful increase in the number of resettlement opportunities. We have, for instance, doubled our capacity of referrals. But we have been in the last few years more or less stuck at a certain level. The U.S. program is a vital program. The U.S. program has had all the problems related to the need of security checks and the time that those security checks require. I think that important progress is being made in order to address this question.
Some other countries have become recently resettlement countries, even in Latin America, in the southern part of Europe, but with small quotas. Canada and Australia are envisaging also increases in their quotas. But there was the creation of a European voluntary resettlement program in the European Union. So there are some good indications, but for the moment, in the last two or three years we are witnessing a stagnation in the increase of the number of resettlement referrals, and especially of resettlement movements.
The situation in Syria that was one of the most important sources of resettlement, namely of Iraqis, in the recent past—situation in Syria in these last few months has also not contributed to improve the situation, as we have, I think, a backlog of about 18,000 people waiting for resettlement in Syria.
RUPP: Let me just underscore a point that you made earlier, Antonio, that as important as resettlement is as one way of addressing the problem of refugees and uprooted people, over 80 percent of refugees are in the developing world, not in the developed world. And that really does underscore the need—I'm only repeating what you said earlier, but the need for a kind of solidarity on the part of the developed world, with the enormous burden of supporting refugees that is being carried by the developing world.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Alan Heimer (sp) from Columbia University Medical Center. And congratulations. Some people think you have the best job, certainly challenging job, in the United Nations. Certainly the title of high commissioner is wonderful.
GUTERRES: I don't complain. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: You mentioned before that there's a separate refugee organization in the United Nations that deals with Palestinians. And I understand that the compensation or the payments of the costs for those refugees per capita is much more than your—the other refugees receive. To what extent is it helpful to have two separate organizations in the United Nations dealing with refugees?
GUTERRES: Well, as you know, the UNRWA was created before the '51 convention. And the Palestinian refugee outflow took place in '48. And at that time this mechanism was created. And this mechanism is linked to a set of other U.N. resolutions. And the mandate of UNRWA is different from the mandate of UNHCR. And namely, the solutions perspective that exists in this context is totally dependent on the political negotiations that are taking place.
For that reason, there has always been an enormous resistance everywhere to the idea of merging the two organizations. And I'm afraid I don't envy the work of the colleagues of UNRWA. So I would not be—I (can't guarantee the promoter ?) of that operation.
I think that what would again be important is to have a political solution. So I don't think that a technical—a technical change within the U.N. would help much, and I don't think it would be possible because my belief is that there would an enormous resistance to that.
We do support Palestinian refugees out of the area. And I think it's important to say that we had a very important engagement in reaction to the Palestinian Authority in Iraq and got stranded in the borders between Iraq and Syria and between Iraq and Jordan, and it was possible, and I think that this has shown an enormous amount of good will of many actors to do the resettlement of these Palestinians into a group of countries, namely in the Western world. And this was the first time in which this was possible. But in any case, it is still a very politically complex issue. (Laughter.)
RUPP: A very stringently observed pattern here in the Council on Foreign Relations is that we end on time. So we can—we can have one more brief question if, Antonio, you assure us it'll be a brief answer as well. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Maureen White from—(off mic)—Maureen White, State Department. I want to return your attention to the—another protracted refugee situation, which is Afghanistan. As you know, I witnessed your heroic attempts in Geneva last May to put forward a regional solution to the Afghan refugee problem and to get the international community to endorse it. And it was a very significant achievement that you attained there, and I commend you for that. But one stickler during that meeting was the unwillingness of the hosting countries, Iran and Pakistan in this case, to commit to maintaining asylum space or, for that matter, to even use the word "asylum." As the situation is—builds for the rest of this year, particularly in Pakistan, where the proof-of-registration cards are going to expire, how do you see the—maintain—maintenance of the asylum space evolving?
GUTERRES: I'll say that in Iran, things are moving quite normally, in the sense that the Iranian government is doing the renovation of the cards now. I think they are in the eighth or ninth renovation. They granted about 300,000 work permits to the Afghan refugees. We are talking of a population of 1 million, so basically, I mean—with many children, so this number corresponds to the needs that existed. And there was an agreement between UNHCR and Iran to integrate the refugees in the health system through—I mean the system of insurance, in which we have a contribution. So I mean—and I recently met with the minister of interior. I mean, I don't see any problem emerging in Iran.
In Pakistan there is a very—I went to Islamabad before the conference, exactly because the situation became—after the incident at the border—remember there was a number of Pakistani soldiers that were killed, and the situation became a little bit more complex. And I went to Islamabad.
The good news is that there was a formal guarantee by the prime minister, that was reaffirmed even in the—that returns will be voluntary. What is not yet clear is what is the legal regime that will be possible in Pakistan after the end of the year when the present policy ends. And the present policy was a quite positive one that we were able to negotiate in the recent past, allowing for not only voluntary repatriation but for a certain number of (forms ?) that I cannot call local integration but in any case allow for many Afghans to have a much more normal life in Pakistan.
What we have agreed was to create a working group, presided by the Ministry SAFFRON, that has been the most positive ministry on these, with the other ministries and with our participation, to try now to find a way to move through the deadline of the end of the year. We are not yet there, but I mean I've been—I must say I am confident that we will at least avoid the worst, and I am hopeful that we will be able to maintain a positive—a positive situation if at the same time the effort in Afghanistan that we are developing in the context of this program that I mentioned also shows that there is a commitment of the international community to support those Afghans that go back and to make it more attractive than what it is at the present moment.
RUPP: Well, thank you very much for that—(inaudible). (Applause.)