As the number of refugees driven from their homes reaches historical highs, one is hard-pressed to see the light at the end of the tunnel, said Udo Janz, former director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Resources are not sufficient to address the problem and UNCHR’s financing is not sustainable at the current level of displacement, he said.
Durable solutions to address the crisis are a function of governments’ political will to maintain the Convention on the Status of Refugees, Mr. Janz argued.
“[I hope] we will ultimately see a resolution of those conflicts that allow people to either return, integrate locally wherever they might be, or take advantage of resettlement opportunities,” he said.
Mr. Janz spoke to Warren Hoge of the International Peace Institute during the Independent Commission on Multilateralism’s sixth retreat, on forced displacement, refugees, and migration, held on July 10-11.
Listen to the interview:
Eleven million Syrians, nearly half the population, driven from their homes; the number of people on the run right now at a historic high; the average duration of someone—a refugee or displaced person—out of their homes before they can go back, at more than 17 years. With these kinds of numbers, is this the new normal?
I certainly hope that it will not be the new normal. I do believe they are the exceptions and hopefully will remain so and that we will ultimately see a resolution of those conflicts that allow people to either return, integrate locally wherever they might be, or take advantage of resettlement opportunities of which there are far and few between, to get on with their lives and to resume their productive activities as much they can.
That sounds like a far shot at the moment, when you look at the developments in Syria or elsewhere, South Sudan, CAR (Central African Republic)—there are many conflict areas in the world that don’t seem to come to a close, new ones open up, and hence, the numbers are reaching historical highs. One is hard-pressed to see the light at the end of the tunnel at the moment.
What kind of dent in this problem can UNHCR and the UN in general put with the resources they now have?
In the first place, the resources are not sufficient even if the budget of UNHCR is at a historical high. It is a banking transaction that goes as quickly as possible into feeding people, providing shelter, providing protection in countries of first asylum, and to the extent that one can reach them, IDPs (internally displaced person) within the country of origin.
What is required in the first place is to stabilize the population and see to it before they are forced by circumstances to take secondary flight, doubly penalized for not receiving the assistance back home, not receiving it in their countries of first asylum and hence move on to find protection and assistance elsewhere.
The financing of UNHCR’s operations—which right now is voluntary—is this sustainable?
I would think it is not sustainable at the current level of displacement that we are coping with. All of our appeals, at best, are funded to less than half of the appeals that are going out. The consequences are dramatic. In fact, it endangers the refugee regime as we have come to know it with open borders, with protection being provided in the first port of call.
If we cannot assist governments and countries of first asylum by taking off part of that burden, in Jordan, in Lebanon [for example] to deal with the extraordinary generosity that government and people have provided to the incoming Syrians, then we really will face greater problems down the line.
Finally, the Convention on the Status of Refugees is now 60 years old. Should it be updated, should it be amended?
I think this would really open the Pandora’s Box. It is a system that has proven its value; it is the only protection instrument that replaces the protection responsibilities of governments. The High Commissioner is personally responsible, as is his office, to ensure the protection of those who can no longer benefit from the protection of their governments.
Durable solutions for refugees’ plight is obviously a function of governments’ political will to maintain that system and ultimately bring the numbers to a manageable proportion so that the regime can in fact thrive and deliver protection to whoever needs it. That’s what we want to see continuing and strengthened.