Ten years ago, when Antonio Guterres assumed his post as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 38 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world. Now, as he prepares to step down, that number has grown to more than 60 million.
The high commissioner just presided over a two-day conference looking at the root causes of displacement and possible solutions. Guterres said ending the conflicts that force people to flee would, of course, resolve the problem, but that seems unlikely.
He noted that humanitarian actors are no longer able to provide the minimum support needed to provide refugees with protection and lifesaving aid. The reason, he said, is that countries are closing their doors and are unwilling to provide enough financial support to take care of the burgeoning numbers.
Though peace remains elusive, Guterres said what is needed now more than ever is a surge of diplomacy for peace. He said progress in reducing the displacement crisis would depend greatly on the outcome of several crucial peace negotiations currently underway.
“We have, as you know, three very important processes — one related to Syria with the Vienna talks, one related to Yemen and one related to Libya," he said. "I think that the results of these three diplomatic initiatives will be vital. … We had this year a degradation. The result next year depends largely on what will be the progress achieved by these peace negotiations.”
Guterres said one telling statistic in his agency’s newly released study on forcible displacement was the 78 percent increase in asylum claims in the first six months of this year.
He said the study revealed most of those seeking asylum in Europe were not from countries of conflict, such as Syria. He said they were coming from host countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
He said Syrians were leaving these countries of asylum because their minimum needs were not being met and they saw no future. He said one way to lessen the displacement crisis would be for governments to provide the resources to allow refugees to live in a safe and dignified manner in their countries of refuge.