Dynamic Leader, High Commissioner UNCHR Filippo Grandi
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) under the leadership of High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has performed outstandingly since he has taken charge of his office in 2015. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. Today, over 68 years later, organization is still hard at work, protecting and assisting refugees around the world.
On 18 November 2015, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed action by the General Assembly to elect Filippo Grandi of Italy as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Grandi succeeds António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres of Portugal to whom the Secretary-General expressed his utmost gratitude for his tireless efforts and dedication in protecting refugees, displaced persons and Stateless people, and for bringing the plight of the most vulnerable, and their pursuit of a dignified existence, into the centre of the United Nations agenda.
Grandi was Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) from 2010 to 2014 and its Deputy Commissioner-General from 2005 until 2010. Having been engaged in international cooperation for over 30 years, Mr. Grandi brings vast experience to his new position from his work in refugee and humanitarian operations and policies, addressing human consequences of major conflicts, encompassing protection, emergency management, donor relations and political affairs.
He served as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and has a long-standing career with UNHCR, notably as Chief of Mission in Afghanistan and Chief of Staff in the High Commissioner’s Executive Office at Headquarters. His vast UNHCR field experience includes positions in Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. He also led emergency operations in Kenya, Benin, Ghana, Liberia, the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
Born in 1957, Grandi holds a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy from the Gregorian University in Rome, a degree in modern history from the State University of Milan and an honorary degree (D.Litt.) from the University of Coventry, United Kingdom. Filippo Grandi was born in Milan, Italy in 1957. He has been engaged in international cooperation for 33 years, primarily with the United Nations. He has served in field operations in many of the major refugee and humanitarian crises of the last three decades. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish.
The High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. As of December 2018, 149 States are parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and/or to its 1967 Protocol. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees.
In its efforts to achieve this objective, the Office strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, and to return home voluntarily. By assisting refugees to return to their own country or to settle permanently in another country, UNHCR also seeks lasting solutions to their plight. UNHCR’s Executive Committee (102 Member States as of October 2018) and the UN General Assembly have authorized involvement with other groups.
These include former refugees who have returned to their homeland, internally displaced people, and persons who are stateless or whose nationality is disputed. As of December 2018, 91 States are parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and 73 to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The Office seeks to reduce situations of forced displacement by encouraging States and other institutions to create conditions which are conducive to the protection of human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
In all of its activities, it pays particular attention to the needs of children and seeks to promote the equal rights of women and girls. The Office carries out its work in collaboration with many partners, including governments, regional organizations, and international and nongovernmental organizations. It is committed to the principle of participation, believing that refugees and others who benefit from the Office’s activities should be consulted over decisions which affect their lives.
In the course of 2018, conflict, persecution and civil strife continued to uproot millions of people, in harrowing circumstances. In many parts of the world, the politics around refugee and migration issues became more acrimonious and polarized, with direct consequences for the lives of many refugees who were denied refuge, separated from family members, or pushed back to situations of danger.
Yet at the same time, a groundswell of solidarity was evident. Long-standing host countries stood firm in their commitment to protection principles and humanitarian values, and people across all walks of life came together to welcome and support refugees, including in countries where official policies became more restrictive. For UNHCR and its partners, 2018 brought many challenges. In the first part of the year, we faced a race against time to stabilize conditions for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, ahead of the monsoon season.
The Venezuela crisis reverberated across an entire region, as a growing number of destitute and vulnerable people sought stability and refuge beyond its borders. Hostilities in Yemen intensified, exposing millions to hunger; and the number uprooted by recurrent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic also soared. Countries such as Cameroon, Ethiopia and Nicaragua were affected by new or accelerating displacement.
The plight of refugees and migrants moving in mixed flows exploited, imprisoned and even enslaved while undertaking perilous journeys called for resolute action and practical solutions, even as insecurity and other restrictions often limited our scope of action, in Libya and elsewhere. An average of six people lost their lives each day trying to cross the Mediterranean, with search and rescue capacities reduced and governments failing to agree on predictable disembarkation arrangements.
Millions of internally displaced people returned home in Iraq and Syria, often to widespread destruction and hardship, while in Afghanistan, Somalia and other long-standing displacement situations, the scope for solutions remained very limited. By the end of the year, the number of people of concern to UNHCR around the worldasylum-seekers, refugees, returnees, the internally displaced and stateless had reached 74.8 million people, the highest figure ever.
Amidst these challenges, with the support of committed donors, and working closely with generous host countries and other partners, UNHCR continued to be present in the field—saving lives, securing protection and helping build a future for millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons. Some 39% of our workforce was assigned in “hardship” duty stations, often in insecure environments, separated from their families. We made this was also a moment of transformation.
On 17 December 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees was affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly, presenting a new set of opportunities to translate the principle of responsibility-sharing into concrete action, building on a growing number of positive examples of the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.
The Compact presented an important opportunity to broaden the base of support for refugees and make it more predictable, to accelerate the shift away from outdated camp-based response models; to drive refugee inclusion in local communities; to mobilize development resources, civil society and the private sector; and to refocus attention on solutions. Making this work requires adaptation, innovation and the ability to influence and shape responses on the ground.
This is the driving rationale behind UNHCR’s internal transformation process, and the regionalization and decentralization phase that we launched in 2018. Our aim is to ensure that we have strong and empowered country operations, with the authority and weight of our organization behind them, able to engage a wide range of partners, build and implement strategies, take decisions and direct resources in a quick and nimble way.
This work is aligned with the UN Development System reforms that are now being rolled out, in which we are fully engaged. With the affirmation of the Compact, we now have a framework to transform our response to major refugee situations around the world, including by broadening the base of support beyond traditional host, donor, and resettlement countries, and making it a truly whole-of-international community affair.
The first Global Refugee Forum, to take place in December 2019, will offer an unprecedented opportunity to showcase, and further galvanize, innovative and tangible ways of applying the principles of solidarity and equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing in practice. At this moment when division and intolerance have gained ground in many parts of the world, it is critical that we are able to demonstrate, in practical, meaningful ways, that international cooperation and multilateralism still work. By giving substance to the Compact, and working together to translate its promise into action, we can do just that and help strengthen cohesion and build opportunities for millions of uprooted people and hosting communities worldwide.