Helen Clark: Statement to the Informal Meeting of the General Assembly on Ways to Advance a Comprehensive Response to the Global Humanitarian & Refugee Crisis

Nov 19, 2015

I am pleased to attend this important meeting, hosted by the President of the General Assembly.

Around the world, we see many people on the move, looking for safer and more conducive environments in which to live and work.  The drivers of migration are well known. The persistence of poverty and lack of opportunity are significant factors. Flight from conflict and lawlessness also plays its part. The disruptive effects of climate change on livelihoods will add to these push factors.

Sadly, the number of people fleeing war and conflict is at an historically high level.  Some sixty million people are displaced, 95 per cent of whom are displaced in their respective region of origin.  On average, a refugee or internally displaced person spends more than seventeen years in displacement. 

In the Arab States region, with the Syria crisis far into its fifth year, 6.5 million people are displaced inside Syria; in Lebanon, 25 per cent of the population consists of Syrian refugees; in Jordan, the figure is around twenty per cent. Turkey hosts more than two million Syrians and Iraqis, and Iraq and Egypt too are hosting significant numbers of Syrians. 

The impacts of displacement are keenly felt at the local level in host communities and countries, where increased population flows can alter the dynamics of local labour markets, affect the demographic composition, and increase the demand for essential services. It is critical therefore that we look at the impact on the receiving communities and countries which are bearing the greatest burden, and the capacity of those countries to cope.

Turkey, for example, estimates that it has spent around $7.6 billion on its humanitarian response, which includes some of the best equipped refugee camps ever built – complete with schooling, healthcare and social services. Each refugee is given Temporary Protection Status that allows them access to these services. 

UNDP has championed a resilience based approach to these crises. This approach aims to support people, communities and local institutions and services in the host communities to cope with the adverse impacts of the crisis, and to retain or recover, wherever possible, the basic qualities of life which are essential for human dignity.

We have been implementing this approach in Syria, and in the host communities to Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. Our programmes in each country are tailored to the local needs and framed within national plans. They share a focus on keeping livelihoods going, and creating new ones; maintaining infrastructure in a changing context - with significantly growing demand, and helping preserve social stability in times of tremendous strain.

• In Syria, our programmes have reached around 4.5 million people directly and indirectly over the past two years. We have created many thousands of emergency jobs, including for female heads of households and people living with disabilities, and have removed over 300,000 tons of solid waste from communities. The removal of rubble allows people to return to their homes, and shops to reopen.  

• Critically, every cent invested supports people to stay within Syria, and builds hope for sustained recovery once peace is achieved. I want to underline how critical we believe it is to support this resilience-based approach in Syria.

• In Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, UN agencies working together have:

• provided food assistance to 1.8 million people and primary health care to 1.5 million people;

• improved access to safe water for 675,000 people;

• provided 546,000 children with school supplies and/or grants to help them access education;

• created jobs for over 60,000 vulnerable people in host community populations; and

• assisted an additional 88,000 vulnerable members of host communities with skills training to increase their employability.

• In Lebanon, UNDP is leading on the implementation of a planned USD $140 million programme over 2 years to support Syrian refugees and host communities with the delivery of basic services and livelihoods support in 200 high risk municipalities.

• In Jordan, I recently inspected our work with partners to rehabilitate the Al Akeidir landfill in the north of the country. The massive increase in population in municipalities served by the landfill has led people to cope by illegally dumping or burning solid waste, resulting in an extremely littered environment. Our programme to support the host communities in Jordan has also included support for micro-business start-ups and other job creation.

• In Turkey, we are working to increase the capacities of host communities in the waste management and livelihoods sectors in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Kilis at the Southeastern border of Turkey. Together with  national and local partners, UNDP is introducing waste separation programs in six refugee camps while strengthening capacities for waste management in urban settings. 

This valuable experience in Syria and in the countries hosting Syrians can help inform how other protracted crises around the world are dealt with.

On 9 November, I was pleased to open a Resilience Development Forum for the Syria crisis convened by UNDP and hosted by the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This Forum brought together a wide range of partners responding to the crisis to discuss the lessons learned and to chart the way forward for the resilience-based approach.  

I urge the international community to explore ways to increase support for these approaches. It is important to support the capacity of national and local authorities in host countries to lead and co-ordinate effective responses to crises, and to increase private sector engagement in the recovery and development processes.  

Just last week, I participated in the Valletta Summit on Migration in Malta, which brought together European and African Heads of State and Government in an effort to strengthen co-operation and address the current challenges, but also the opportunities of migration.  I was pleased to note the commitment of countries of origin, transit and destination to find durable solutions to address the root causes of displacement. 

In conclusion, let me reaffirm UNDP’s commitment to step up its efforts in support of durable solutions to host communities and countries which are bearing the greatest burden and to look at how the people within countries in the epicentre of a crisis, like the nineteen million Syrians still in Syria, can be supported.  The longer term answers lie in building peaceful and inclusive societies which offer people the opportunity and security they need for sustainable development. 


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