UN Commissioner Discusses Global Refugee Crises, Reform

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called on the international community to collaborate on resolving ongoing refugee crises at the semester’s third Global Futures lecture in Gaston Hall on Wednesday.

Guterres’ lecture, titled “Present and Future Challenges of Global Forced Displacement,” continued the Global Futures Initiative’s semester-long theme on “The Global Future of Governance” by addressing the threat the refugee crisis poses to global peace and security.

The discussion was the third installment in a series of lectures that began with a talk on governing fragile states led by School of Foreign Service Dean Joel Hellman in early September. The second, which took place in late September, featured World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan in a discussion on global health governance.

University President John J. DeGioia began the discussion by citing Pope Francis’ call to support the refugee community and said that everyone, especially members of the Georgetown community, has an obligation to help.

“The challenges we are facing today … we must respond to as a global community,” DeGioia said.

Vice President for Global Engagement Thomas Banchoff also said that Guterres’ mission aligns with the goals of the Global Futures Initiative.

“[We] look forward to finding out with the help of the high commissioner how to best grapple with future crisis as a university in the national and international community,” Banchoff said.

Guterres, who has led the U.N. refugee agency since 2005, began his lecture by describing the increasing gravity of the refugee crisis. The UNHCR was established in 1950 to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, and has since grown to a staff of more than 9,300 people in 123 countries.

“What has changed is not that the refugee problem has become all of a sudden much more dramatic,” Guterres said. “What has changed is that refugees, for the first time, have come in big numbers to the rich world.”

According to Guterres, the number of people around the world displaced by conflict and persecution is currently at its highest since World War II. Syria, the Central African Republic, Somalia and Afghanistan are all in the midst of large-scale humanitarian disasters.

Guterres said that strong, multilateral governance mechanisms must regulate migration.

“I think it is unacceptable that [a refugee] that wants to go from Egypt to Italy has to pay a smuggler $5000, but a tourist that wants to go from Egypt to Italy pays $50,” Guterres said.

Guterres said the U.N. should incorporate the International Organization of Migration and give it regulatory capacity to monitor the global labor market.

“Lack of capacity of the international community to prevent crises and to solve them timely is having terrible consequences in the humanitarian dimension,” Guterres said.

According to Guterres, the international refugee community has not only grown in number, but has also begun to enter developed European countries. Guterres stressed that, as public attention often dictates funding, it is important to view refugee crises holistically.

“It is absolutely essential to make people understand … all crises are interlinked, from Nigeria to Mali, from Mali to Libya, from Libya to Somalia,” Guterres said. “It is important to make sure that those [lesser-known] situations are not neglected.”

Following Guterres’ address, Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration Director Susan Martin joined the discussion and inquired Guterres about the role of the United States in addressing the global refugee situation.

Guterres said the country needs to greatly increase its humanitarian aid and serve as the leader of a global coalition that brings together key stakeholders in each crisis to deescalate conflicts.

“The resources available for humanitarian aid are out of proportion, negatively, to the existing needs,” Guterres said.

Guterres’ address was followed by a question-and-answer session with faculty, students and other members of the university community.

When a student asked about what Guterres perceives to be the most difficult international challenge in the future, Guterres spoke of the evolution of increasingly globalized conflict.

“The biggest challenge is the combination of facing growing needs … and more people affected,” Guterres said. “We have less resources and less access to [reaching] those people.”

Guterres called on the university to engage in this issue.

“[Georgetown should] join efforts with other areas of civil society … to move towards a system of global governance, of multinational connection,” Guterres said.

Jessica Li (SFS ’19), an attendee, said that Guterres’s talk was engaging and educational.

“I thought it was interesting how Guterres emphasized the importance of developing a more multilateral approach and working alongside financial institutions to help the internally displaced,” Li said.


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