Statement by the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations, during the UN Security Council Open Video Teleconference Briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 18 June 2020

Mr President,

At the outset, I would like to thank France for convening this meeting on refugees, which is timely as we will be observing World Refugee Day, this coming Saturday, on 20 June 2020. This year’s World Refugee Day comes at a time when the number of displaced people around the world is considered to be at its highest, and against the backdrop of negative socio-economic changes. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for a more inclusive and equitable world.

I would also like to thank Mr Filippo Grandi for his enlightening briefing. South Africa commends the efforts of the High Commissioner for Refugees in pursuing its mandate of refugee protection, and promoting their inclusion amidst difficult conditions.

Mr President,

There are a number of drivers that result in forced displacement such as violent conflicts, human rights violations and persecution, natural disasters, humanitarian risks and climate change. These drivers are further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are deeply concerned about the additional risks imposed by COVID-19 on refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and migrants, who are already living in difficult conditions and often lacking access to essential facilities and services. Addressing the structural drivers of conflict, requires long-term strategies, joint partnerships and ownership. The role of States in pursuing political solutions and preventive diplomacy remains paramount.

We concur with the observation that the magnitude of the current figures presented by the UNHCR indicates that the world needs a concrete solution to address this high number of refugees and displaced persons that we are witnessing for the first time in history. In this regard, I wish to highlight the following:

Firstly, the African continent is one of the regions affected by massive forced displacements and also hosts more than a third of the worlds displaced population. The African Union has doubled its efforts to address this phenomenon. The Global Compacts on Refugees and Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration underscore the recent global shift to put refugees, asylum seekers, Internally Displaced persons and migration topics at the centre of the global policy discourse. In order to advance the aspirations of Agenda 2063, the African Union Assembly adopted the Common Africa Position on Humanitarian Effectiveness, which articulates Africa’s new humanitarian architecture with a view to address the root causes and achieving durable solutions.

Secondly, on global action to address the needs of refugees, we agree with the sentiments in the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), in as far as these relate to averting and resolving large refugee situations. This requires early efforts to address drivers and triggers of refugee crises, as well as improved cooperation amongst human rights, political, humanitarian and development actors as well as efforts to promote conflict prevention and peace building through mediation.

We welcome the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) that took place in December 2019, which enhanced international cooperation and solidarity and galvanised support for equitable and predictable burden and responsibility sharing in refugee situations.  South Africa made concrete pledges at the GRF which will ensure enhanced protection for refugees in our country.

Thirdly, we believe that the achievement of peace on the Continent is a prerequisite towards sustainable solutions on forced displacement. In this regard, South Africa has dedicated itself to this crucial aspiration. In collaboration with the African Union, we have made strides towards preventing and ending conflicts through our involvement in high-level political mediation and reconciliation efforts, as well as contributing to peace-keeping and peace-making missions on the African Continent. The fact that 75 per cent of the new African Union Peace Fund will be used to support mediation and preventive diplomacy, is indicative of the growing recognition by the African Union of the importance of political solutions to Africa’s conflicts.

Fourthly, it is important that host countries with the collaboration of UNHCR promote, facilitate and coordinate voluntarily repatriation in safety and dignity to their homes or places of habitual residence.  Repatriation must take into consideration specific contexts and cultural dimensions, and it must not be the result of a forced choice between undignified displacement or undignified return. Furthermore, it is important that repatriation must not lead to further internal displacement once people return. We would like to emphasise that displaced persons must be involved in every stage of the repatriation process.

In closing Mr President,

South Africa commends, specifically those African countries who opened their borders to accommodate refugees regardless of their resource constraints, and calls on the international community to deliver on its commitment to burden- and responsibility-sharing. We further commend those countries globally who continue to accept refugees in need of resettlement. In this context, I wish to underscore that regional and international collaboration as well as partnership is vital.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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