High Commissioner's Statement as delivered by Special Envoy to Somalia at the IGAD Inter-Ministerial Stocktaking Meeting on the Nairobi Declaration


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to congratulate you on the progress that has been made in the implementation of the IGAD Declaration for Somali Refugees and the Reintegration of Returnees in Somalia – or as it has come to be known, the Nairobi Declaration.

Forced displacement is one of the most pressing and compelling challenges that the world is facing today. Some 66 million people are currently uprooted by conflict, violence and persecution worldwide, including some 26 million refugees and asylum-seekers – a number unmatched since the immediate aftermath of the Cold War in the 1990s. Another 40 million people are internally displaced. The scale and pace of today’s forced displacement crises, and the extensive human suffering that they bring, are directly linked to weaknesses in the ability to prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts, and failures in international cooperation.

Of the 18 million refugees falling under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide, one third are in Africa. Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda together host more than 3 million refugees. Their generosity, and that of other host countries in keeping their borders open to those fleeing war and persecution, and offering them protection and support, often for years on end, is a global example, to be deeply commended.

But without adequate support and the promise of solutions, the impact of protracted exile on refugees, and host communities is stark. For all too many, life as a refugee has for decades been one of desperation and basic survival, dependent on aid and unable to contribute to rebuilding their own lives or to participate in the social and economic life of the communities around them.

Distinguished delegates,

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, and its Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework marked a ground breaking step forward in changing this tragic narrative – emphasising the important contribution that refugees can make to the communities and societies hosting them, with the right policies, and concrete forms of international burden and responsibility sharing that encompass, but move beyond humanitarian aid. Situating support to refugees and host communities within broader national development plans, underpinned by strong international support, is a critical dimension.

IGAD member states were among the first to start to translate these commitments into action, through the Special Summit on Somali Refugees held on 25 March 2017. In adopting the Nairobi Declaration and Plan of Action, the governments of this region demonstrated a decisive collective commitment to strengthening protection and pursuing solutions for Somali refugees, many of whom have spent decades in exile. The plan of action encompasses focused action on creating conditions for voluntary return in Somalia; delivering durable solutions, whilst maintaining protection and asylum space; promoting the self-reliance and inclusion of refugees in countries of asylum; and strengthening sub-regional co-operation – with all these elements underpinned by international co-operation and responsibility-sharing. The roadmap and results framework to realize these commitments were elaborated in detail at both the regional and national levels by technical teams working together with UNHCR.

The Declaration and Plan of Action have provided the engine for translating the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework annexed to the New York Declaration into action. It is now being applied in Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda, with the active participation of Sudan and South Sudan, and with strong support from UNHCR, the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank. Under the auspices of IGAD, this groundbreaking initiative is a strong statement of regional resolve to provide protection and deliver durable solutions for 844,000 Somali refugees as well as over two million internally displaced people inside Somalia. 

The Declaration and Plan of Action are already driving important changes in the lives of refugees and the communities hosting them. IGAD member states have already taken a number of steps in this regard, including through important policy changes in favour of refugee inclusion and self-reliance. For example, Djibouti and Ethiopia have formulated new policies and passed legislation giving more rights to refugees and facilitating access to education, the labour market and the issuance of civil documentation – as I saw myself during missions there last year. In Kenya and Uganda, as well as in other IGAD member states, the needs of refugees are increasingly being included in national development plans. Across the sub- region, taking the good practice lead of Uganda, a clear policy shift is emerging, moving away from refugee management regimes based on encampment to ‘out of camp’ models.

In Somalia, for the first time, a National Forum on Durable Solutions for Refugee Returnees and Internally Displaced People was convened in August 2017. The Forum brought together central and regional government officials and decision makers and resulted in a draft National Policy to support the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration. Furthermore, Somalia has elaborated a comprehensive National Action Plan for returnees – an important model for the role countries of origin should play in addressing a protracted refugee situation.

The regional thematic meeting hosted by Djibouti and IGAD in December 2017 on inclusion of refugees and responsibility sharing marked another important step forward. This first thematic meeting, on refugee education, resulted in a Declaration and Action Plan to advance access to quality education for refugees and host communities.

The Declaration also emphasised the importance of seeking solutions inside Somalia. Since 2014, UNHCR has supported the voluntary return of more than 114,000 Somali refugees from Djibouti, Kenya, Yemen and other countries of asylum, despite continuing challenges linked to conflict, drought and lack of essential services. These efforts will continue and must be supported if refugees are to retain the promise of a future that will allow them to rebuild their lives.

All these advances are part of a regional effort that is shaping up to be an important success story – and must be encouraged and supported by the international community. UNHCR will continue to be fully engaged, in particular through the involvement of our Special Envoy on the Somali Refugee Situation.  

Distinguished Delegates,

Over the last two days UNHCR has been facilitating, together with Member States, the most recent round of consultations in Geneva on the proposal on the forthcoming Global Compact for Refugees. The Compact, based on existing refugee law standards, and experience gained through operational engagement in comprehensive responses, will seek to address long-standing gaps in the international response to refugee crises.

It will seek to underpin the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework with series of concrete measures and mechanisms for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing among member states – as well as to clarify and develop the roles of a much broader range of entities - including local authorities, international organizations within and beyond the United Nations system; development actors and international financial institutions; regional organizations; civil society, including faith-based organizations; academics and other experts; the private sector; media; and refugees themselves. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commitment “to leave no one behind” is at the centre of the Global Compact for Refugees and it also speaks with resonance to the African Union’s Agenda 2063. 

Distinguished delegates,

The Nairobi Declaration and Plan of Action underline the same goals and objectives, and translates these into the specific context in the East and Horn of Africa. Indeed, the lessons learned in the regional application of the comprehensive response to the Somali refugee situation have made a significant contribution towards the elaboration of the Programme of Action set out in the current draft of the Global Compact for Refugees – in particular, by demonstrating the value of regional approaches, to a challenge which by its very nature stretches across borders. For the first time, IGAD member states are meeting, at a senior policy making and technical level, to routinely discuss issues related to refugee management and solutions, and to translate policy decisions into action.

Distinguished delegates,

The challenge ahead is to ensure that international co-operation for comprehensive refugee responses materializes. There are already good examples of increased involvement and contributions from development actors. Development partners have scaled up their investments in refugee-hosting communities as part of comprehensive responses, and these efforts are to be commended. I have also called for additional resettlement opportunities, as a tool of international protection and international responsibility sharing – including for an additional 40,000 places for refugees located in 15 priority countries along the Central Mediterranean route, such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. This request received a good response, as resettlement countries continue to make pledges, but more needs to be done in this regard.

Distinguished Delegates,

The Nairobi Declaration and Plan of Action are clear and ground-breaking - a powerful response to the duration and intensity of the suffering of the Somali people and a call to action by states in the region and beyond.  They mark a new energy and determination to help Somali refugees and internally displaced people rebuild their lives, and restore a vision of a future.

I am very grateful to IGAD for organising this important event, and thank you all for your active engagement. I firmly believe, that by working together, at the global, national and local levels, we can bring about a real shift in the way that the world responds to the plight of the Somali people.

Thank you.

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