In an opening speech to the UNHCR’s Executive Committee, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi appealed to member states to provide protection to people fleeing conflict and persecution, regardless of ethnicity and nationality.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports the number of people forcibly displaced by armed conflict, violence, discrimination, persecution, and climate shocks has hit an all-time high of 100 million.
High Commissioner Filippo Grandi says the climate emergency increasingly drives displacement, making life harder for those already uprooted. He says the link between climate change and displacement is clear and growing.
“We see it in the Horn of Africa, for example, where people are forced to flee by a combination of conflict and drought — more than one million have been displaced in Somalia alone since January 2021. Around 80% of refugees are from countries that are most affected by the climate emergency,” he said.
Most African refugees flee for safety to neighboring countries. However, many make the perilous journey to Europe in search of asylum and a better life.
Grandi notes that they and refugees fleeing conflict and persecution from other parts of the world, such as Afghanistan and the Middle East, too often are turned back by European countries.
He says the reception of these refugees stands in stark contrast to the generous welcome by European countries to some seven million Ukrainian refugees who fled Russia’s invasion of their country.
“The Ukrainian crisis debunked so many myths that we have heard over the years from some politicians: ‘Europe is full!’ ‘Public opinion is against taking in more refugees.’ ‘Relocation is impossible,’” he said.
He says efforts to deny access to the territory for those seeking asylum, often through violent pushbacks, must be rejected.
“I also reject what we have heard some politicians on this continent tell their voters: that Ukrainians are ‘real refugees’ while others — fleeing similar horrors, but from different parts of the world — are not. There is only one word to define this attitude: racist,” he said.
Grandi adds failures on the part of member states to uphold their international protection obligations are deeply worrying and concerning.