Last month, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi spoke at a lunch hosted by Australia for UNHCR.
When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi took to the stage in Sydney on 20 April, an expectant hush descended on the room. This was the first time the leader of UNHCR had visited Australia in more than a decade. In the room were donors and refugee advocates and they were looking forward to hearing what the High Commissioner had to say.
And of course, he didn’t disappoint. From the role of the private sector to the escalating impacts of climate change, the High Commissioner provided many insights into the challenges facing the world’s refugees and displaced people.
The challenge, he said, was greater than in many decades.
“Last year, we surpassed 103 million refugees and displaced people around the world, people mostly fleeing conflict or other crisis situations.
“More and more, we see people moving in large numbers across entire continents and beyond, pushed by a variety of factors – conflict, human rights violations, yes, but also climate change and poverty,” he said.
UNHCR declared a refugee emergency 35 times last year.
The High Commissioner spoke of the importance of private sector partnerships and how they can provide opportunities to sustainably respond to protracted refugee crises. One example discussed was the IKEA foundation in southern Ethiopia, which partnered with UNHCR to design a number of projects focused on sustainability, including creating alternative sources of energy to firewood. “Through business models imported from the private sector, we have one of the most exciting and sustainable programs in the entire region,” he said.
The High Commissioner reminded donors of the impact of their generosity and support. UNHCR works in more than 130 countries and needs about $US11 billion annually to do its work.
“We rely almost entirely on voluntary funding," he said. Although government contributions are typically consistent and reliable the High Commissioner expressed UNHCR only ever receives 50-60 per cent of its funding needs, which is challenge for the protection agency.
Thankfully, contributions from individuals, corporations, foundations and other private sources have increased substantially in recent years.
“Out of the $US6 billion received to fund our programs, over $US1 billion came from private donations. This is amazing.”
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The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.