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U.N. Refugee Agency Marks 60th Anniversary, Chief Highlights New Challenges

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U.N. Refugee Agency Marks 60th Anniversary, Chief Highlights New Challenges

Posted by Meghan Higginbotham on May 17, 2011

For 60 years now, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has provided life-saving services to some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. To mark the anniversary, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres addressed an audience at the Brookings Institution to discuss the new challenges and necessary steps to address the changing nature of displacement today.

Today, UNHCR coordinates life-saving security and support for more than 10.4 million refugees and 14.4 million internally displaced persons, or IDPs, worldwide. However, because of the limits of the refugee agency’s mandate and new forms of displacement, the agency estimates there are an additional 12 million IDPs not receiving support from UNHCR but who live in precarious conditions. As we’ve seen through recent natural disasters and outbreaks of violence, the number can swell quickly when crisis hits. Guterres highlighted three emerging causes of displacement that are adding to the demands on UNHCR today: population growth, urbanization, and climate change. Here’s a clip in which Guterres discusses these emerging dynamics affecting migration:

In the face of these challenges, Guterres called on the international community to “address the protection gaps in relation to the new forms of forced displacement (both internal and across borders) that we have in today’s world.”

He said he is concerned about a recent risky trend, particularly among the United States and European leadership, to look at international affairs through a security lens, rather than one grounded in the promotion of human rights. “[T]he human rights agenda in general has been losing ground in relation to the national security agenda,” he said. Touching on impending U.S. budget cuts to foreign aid, the high commissioner said, “Humanitarian aid is just a drop in the bucket in relation to the real budgetary problems the United States is facing.”

He noted that two-thirds of the world’s refugees are within an “arc of crisis” – a region spanning from Central Asia, through the Middle East and as far as the Horn of Africa, including Sudan and Chad – and suggested that continued aid is critical for maintaining stability or preventing tenuous humanitarian situations from worsening.

With World Refugee Day approaching on June 20, Enough’s Darfur Dream Team is planning a Summer Service Challenge to get American students involved with their local refugee communities. More details to come soon.