Mr Chairman, Mr High Commissioner, distinguished delegates of governments and civil society
This is the third time I act as head of the Norwegian delegation to a session of the Executive Committee, which is both a great pleasure and an honour. I would like to start by expressing my condolences to the friends, colleagues and relatives of all those who have lost their lives working for UNHCR. I admire humanitarian staff who are willing to take the risk of being killed, abducted or seriously injured in the line of duty. You all deserve our deepest appreciation.
In his statement this morning, the High Commissioner discussed many issues of great humanitarian importance. I would like to comment briefly on five of these.
Firstly, I would like to echo his concern about the human suffering caused by the most serious ongoing conflicts. I am particularly worried about the situation in the Middle East, where the suffering caused by events in Syria is growing day by day.
Dealing with the resulting internal and external displacement requires huge efforts by UNHCR, host communities and the humanitarian community as a whole. We welcome reports from the field indicating that the UNHCR is now making real progress in responding to the crisis.
Secondly, there is the lack of progress regarding protracted refugee - situations affecting more than seven million people today. Unlocking them is a priority for Norway. People have a right to lead a life in dignity, and should not be kept in limbo for years. Finding lasting solutions requires a sustained political engagement.
We call upon UNHCR to work closely with host governments, development actors such as UNDP and the World Bank and the donor community. Donor countries should also politically engage. We are prepared to raise this issue in our dialogues with governments and we call on other donors to do the same.
Let me underline how much we appreciate the efforts of neighbouring countries, which accept huge numbers of refugees and still keep their borders open, even in the midst of economic hardship.
My third point is about innovation and new challenges. During last year’s commemoration, I pointed out that the Refugee Convention has been a most successful international instrument, and has created a unique protection regime worldwide. It has not been changed, but has been adapted to new and unforeseen circumstances.
Norway commends and supports UNHCR adaptive approach, as expressed in new policies on for example urban refugees, out-of-camp protection, mixed flows and gender, age and diversity. We would like UNHCR to remain committed to gender equality, both in the field and in staff recruitment and promotion.
In addition, the Norwegian government requests UNHCR to focus more on the risk of persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. No one should fear for their life or safety for these reasons, yet we know that this is a problem in several countries. We must not be guided by ignorance and taboo, and suggest that we begin by gathering more evidence and talking more openly about this issue.
My fourth point is about partnerships. Agencies are most effective when they coordinate their efforts.
Norway therefore welcomes UNHCR’s commitment to the Transformative Agenda and encourages the agency to contribute high-calibre leaders in humanitarian emergencies. UNHCR and NGOs should also work together.
We welcome the Structured Dialogue and the Partnership Framework and urge UNHCR to establish transparent routines, standard operating routines and recourse mechanisms that are accessible to everyone.
My fifth and last point concerns a topic that the High Commissioner mentioned only briefly. This is displacement caused by natural disasters. We have seen the effects in for example the Sahel region and the horn of Africa. Some of these are related to climate change – extreme weather events, desertification, floods, water stress and rising sea levels – while others, such as earthquakes and volcano eruptions, are not.
When I said that the Refugee Convention should be applied flexibly, I was not thinking of natural disasters. In fact, I want us to reserve the term “refugees” for those provided for in the 1951 Convention. This is one reason why the Norwegian government does not approve of the term ‘climate refugees’. They are not refugees fleeing a hostile government. In fact, their governments are probably giving top priority to protection of their own people.
Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people are fleeing from natural disasters – almost 14 million in 2011 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Norway and Switzerland are therefore launching the Nansen Initiative – a bottom-up process of consultation and research.
Its aim is to build up knowledge about cross-border displacement due to natural disasters and environmental degradation, and to develop a better understanding and consensus on how to protect people who are displaced in this way. We hope this will result in an agenda for action at national, regional and international levels.
We will launch the Nansen Initiative at a side event tomorrow during the lunch break. I would like to invite you all to attend.