Statement by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, to UNHCR Executive Committee
NEW YORK, 6 October 2020 – "Thank you, High Commissioner Grandi, for the invitation. And to esteemed Committee Members — and of course, to the UNHCR staff members around the world.
"At every level, UNICEF is proud to be a close partner of your organization. Together, our staff members work shoulder-to-shoulder, serving and supporting children and families on the move around the world. And together, we’re seeking to provide a fairer deal for millions of refugee children and their families for the years to come.
"Few are as vulnerable as people on the move. Those fleeing violence or discrimination. Seeking help and hope in another country.
"At the same time, few are as inspiring as these people. Their strength. Their commitment to keeping their children safe. Their unshakeable belief in a better tomorrow, despite all they have endured. Their hope.
"When I think about these people, I remember our joint visit, Filippo, to Lebanon two years ago. A memory also prompted by the tragic explosions in Beirut this summer. An emergency that found our teams across UN agencies coming together to support people in urgent need.
"I remember the remarkable young people we met in Lebanon. Some were Syrian refugees. Some were migrant or refugee children from other countries. Still others were poor Lebanese children, living in the streets. Less than half were enrolled in school — and many were working as child labourers.
"Like all people on the move, these children told us stories of all they had endured. Violence. Conflict. Crushing poverty. The loss of loved ones. The loss also of homes and a sense of community. Of belonging.
"But I also remember them telling us something else. Their ideas. Their dreams. Their hopes for the future. Hopes undimmed by all they’d endured — and the challenges that still lie before them.
"These dauntless young people are joined by millions of others around the world. From Iraq and Libya. To Ecuador, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Rwanda. And so many other places.
"They join millions of refugee children around the world — children who are generously supported by host countries. But also children who are missing out on their right to grow, prosper and develop. We share and amplify your advocacy:
- Of the 12 million refugee children in the world, one third are out of school.
- 1 in 2 refugee children is enrolled at primary school — that number drops to less than one in four by secondary school.
- In most refugee settings, every child shares a shower with around 22 other people.
- Less than half of refugee households in settlements have a toilet, and for each useable water tap there are over 350 users.
"And now we add to this list of challenge and deprivation a new entry — the COVID-19 pandemic. A threat not only to their health and even survival — but to all of the systems that they count on. Water, sanitation, protection, education, and economic security.
"There has never been a more important time for UNICEF and UNHCR to join forces.
"In the immediate term, thanks to our donors and partners across the humanitarian system, our agencies are delivering lifesaving supplies and services.
"We’re working with communities to provide information and messaging to prevent infection.
"We are working with partners, including Microsoft and academia, to provide online and distance learning to millions of out-of-school children. And it is refugee children who have been at the centre of our thoughts.
"And we’re providing water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to refugee and host communities battling COVID-19.
"Embedded across all of these responses is a commitment to the future. To helping refugees and host communities — even those living through the world’s most complex emergencies — build capacity and strengthen the systems of national, regional and local governments and communities.
"And always, to helping the most vulnerable children and families. Especially the most vulnerable of all — children and families on the move. Refugees. Migrants. IDPs. Stateless people and returnees.
"Our agencies bring a lot to the task. Along with our programmatic expertise and reach, UNICEF has developed strong relationships with governments. Combined with UNHCR’s rich programming and expert staff members, we’re working around the clock to ensure that more refugee children are included in national systems and services, and that they get the same treatment as other children.
"Last year, UNICEF stood with UNHCR at the Global Refugee Forum. We committed to doubling-down on our joint work to help refugees, host communities and the host countries that so generously make this possible.
"One of the results of this commitment is our Blueprint for Joint Action — our roadmap to help countries live up to their SDG pledge to leave no one behind.
"We’re looking at a first group of 11 countries, representing about 20 per cent of global refugees, over the next two years. We’re gathering data and evidence. And we’re examining what works — what programmes, services and innovations are having the most impact, so we can look at scaling up and expanding them to other countries.
"The next step is to expand this work to all countries. We want to reach 10 million refugee and host community children and family members with the support that they need across a number of sectors. From education and child protection — to better water, sanitation and hygiene systems that can support their futures over the long term. Systems that last.
"This is also an opportunity to bring to life our joint commitment to UN reform — to become more agile, effective and cost-efficient by tapping-in and joining up each other’s processes, partnerships, supplies and human resources.
"As we unite our processes and work on the ground, we will also unite our voice and speak as one.
"Together, we are joining forces to keep the world’s focus on the needs of refugees — under COVID, but also over the long term. We need governments, foundations, businesses, philanthropists and civil society groups large and small to join our work. We need their funding, but also their ideas, innovations and commitment to the future of refugees. So, let’s reach them together.
"In every community hosting refugees, you can find our two organizations working together. Let us expand that, and ensure that in boardrooms and halls of power, in Zoom calls and at conferences, we continue matching the urgent and long-term needs of refugees with commitments, large and small, to their futures.
"So in conclusion: Let’s continue our work to make lives better for refugee children and families around the world. On behalf of your thousands of friends at UNICEF, thank you."