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António Guterres: "we're witnessing human suffering on an epic scale"


interview

António Guterres: "we're witnessing human suffering on an epic scale"

For the fifth consecutive year the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has reached 42 million and aid is now at a critical level. Euronews met with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres who highlights the most pressing issues that a growing number of people are facing.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Mr. António Guterres welcome to euronews. For the 5th consecutive year there are more than 42 million forcibly displaced people throughout the world. What can we understand from this?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
I think it’s a combination of two factors. On the one hand there has been a multiplication of new crises. Since the beginning of 2011, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Yemen, Syria, the Horn of Africa – Somalia – and then more recently Sudan, South Sudan and Mali. And at the same time, old crises never seem to die: Afghanistan is still going on and on; Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. And more than 70 percent of the world’s refugees have been refugees for more than 5 years.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Is the worldwide economic turmoil affecting the aid for refugees?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
The world economic crisis has made two impacts. It’s reduced the amount of humanitarian support for people in need but it’s also triggered instability and conflict in many situations. There is a clear link, for instance, when you have high food prices and social instability at an urban level.

Michel Santos, euronews:
So are there more requests for assistance and less money? How is the UNHCR dealing with this?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
At present, we have three acute huge displacement crises at the same time: Syria, Sudan, South Sudan and Mali. This of course forces us to deploy as many people as we can to ask for an enhanced effort from our partners and financial resources are really key. We are in an extremely difficult situation to have to be able to respond to the needs of so many people in dyer circumstances. I can say that we’re witnessing human suffering on an epic scale.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Syrian refugees are arriving in neighbouring countries almost every day. Do you think that the UN Security Council should do more do prevent this?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
As UNHCR we cannot have political action, but
of course we recognise there is no humanitarian solution, the solution is always political. The problem is that if you look at what’s happening today in the world you can see that the international community has a limited capacity to prevent conflicts and a limited capacity to solve conflicts in a timely way.

Michel Santos, euronews:
The exodus of Syrian people is putting pressure on neighbouring countries. Who is paying for assisting the refugees?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
It’s a different situation from country to country. Turkey has assumed its responsibility and is providing protection. In Lebanon and Jordan we are cooperating with the two governments and local authorities but also with other UN agencies: with the Red Crescent and Red Cross movement and with NGO movements, with the support of the international community – the donors of the international community – in order to provide people with the assistance they require. I think Syria is something that everybody is aware of. Mali is much more difficult for instance. From a displacement point of view, there are a number of refugees and it’s double in relation to Syria.

Michel Santos, euronews:
In Africa, where is the biggest concern for the UNHCR?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
In Africa at the moment, there are a number of crises, but I’ll underline four: Sudan, South Sudan – there are now 190 thousand refugees from Sudan in South Sudan and Ethiopia; Somalia, one million refugees from Somalia are in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen; The Democratic Republic of Congo, probably has the worst human rights violations happening today, are happening in eastern DRC, the situation of women… rapes… it is an appallingly dramatic situation; and Mali. If you look at what’s happening in Northern Mali, you have a rebellion in which the arms and the fighters come from Libya, and you have different rebel groups of a local, secular nature, local Islamic radical nature, the Boko Haram from Nigeria. I do believe there is a risk of having the same crisis from Libya to Nigeria, from Mauritania to Somalia, where the impact on global peace and security would be very, very damaging.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Is the world responding properly to the hunger and drought in the Horn of Africa?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
There has been a massive response. Two of our sister agencies have been strongly involved: the World Food Program and UNICEF, but of course the scale of the problem is such that even with this massive response it will not be easy to fully meet the challenge, especially if donor support fails.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Is there any particular region where the refugee situation is improving?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
Now we have hope in relation to Myanmar. Recent confrontations between the Muslim and Buddhist communities are of course a matter of great concern to us. But peace agreements or at least ceasefires have been signed with several of the other ethnic groups that had rebellions in the country. And we hope that in the near future, especially for the refugees that are now in Thailand, of which there are 50 thousand – we hope there will be an opportunity for them to be able to go back in safety and with dignity as soon the conditions are met.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Climate change: is the number of refugees related to this phenomenon increasing? Is the UNHCR prepared for that?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
Refugees according to the legal definition are those who are fleeing conflict or persecution but the truth is that we are witnessing more and more new challenges: forced displacement due to other reasons. Climate change is probably the main accelerator, the defining factor of our times. Either because the environment is devastated and there are no conditions for human life to be sustained or because these factors trigger conflict and insecurity and that also makes people flee.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Some refugee camps have existed for decades – like ones in Palestine or even the Kenyan one, Dadaab. Are there solutions or have they become permanent?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
The solution is political and I can guarantee that even if we work really well and even if assistance is properly delivered, living in a refugee camp is always a horrible thing.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Finally, as I’m Portuguese I have to ask this question: you’ve been the Prime Minister in Portugal, are you considering a return to active political life? Would you eventually put yourself up for the Portuguese presidency one day?

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
The answer is very simple: no.

Michel Santos, euronews:
Mr. Guterres, thank you very much.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
Thank you.

To hear the full interview, click here.

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