Protecting internally displaced persons through German development cooperation

Speech by Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn at the Elbe Model United Nations, 4 April 2017 in Dresden

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Commemorative events in Dresden and stumbling blocks throughout the city are reminders of the Nazi past and of the 7,000 people who were persecuted and killed here under that regime. In total, more than 6 million Jews were persecuted and murdered by that regime. The images of Dresden from 72 years ago which show a city in ruins tell us that the suffering of civilians caused by war – in this case, a war which had been brought about by Germany itself – are not unknown to this city.

Today, there are more than 65 million displaced people worldwide. We are witnessing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. To this day, people are fleeing war and persecution. They are forced to leave their home region because they are no longer safe there. 

The lessons of two world wars led countries to adopt the Geneva Refugee Convention in 1951. They committed to protecting people who are fleeing war and persecution.  Many countries, especially the direct neighbours of countries in crisis, but also European countries such as Germany, Sweden and Greece, are giving refugees this protection.

By far the majority of displaced people – more than 41 million (in 2016) – do not cross any international border at all. Rather, they seek refuge in other regions of their own country.

However, this has a decisive impact on their status under international law: the responsibility for the wellbeing of IDPs (internally displaced persons) lies with their countries of residence.

Internally displaced persons do not have a special status. Legally, they are considered citizens of the country within whose territory they live, and as such they should – in theory – be protected by that country. Countries in a state of war, however, rarely meet this obligation.

Through our development cooperation activities we are supporting both refugees under the Geneva Convention and internally displaced persons. With regard to the current refugee situation, three factors play a vitally important role for us:

1. Developing countries are hosting 86 per cent of all refugees worldwide

However, these countries are often grappling with considerable challenges themselves. They are doing a tremendous job.

Roughly one quarter of all refugees worldwide, for example, are in Africa. The world's biggest refugee camp is in Kenya. The camp of Dadaab has more than 400,000 inhabitants!

Uganda, for its part, has taken in a million refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Uganda has a very generous refugee policy. Refugees there have the right to work and are given a piece of land which they can farm. Yet, food is starting to run low and there is a lack of housing.

In the context of the Syria crisis, more than 4.8 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. The countries most affected are Jordan (one in ten inhabitants there is a refugee), Lebanon (one in five inhabitants is a refugee) and Turkey (one in 26 inhabitants is a refugee).

2. The second deciding factor for our development policy is that 99 per cent of IDPs live in developing countries.

That means that the pressure on scarce resources in developing countries is further increased. The communities that host refugees are also the most affected. Infrastructure is to a large extent insufficient; schools, hospitals and water supply systems are often completely overstretched.

Among the five countries with the highest number of IDPs are Colombia (7.1 million), Syria (6.6 million), Iraq (4.4 million), Sudan (3.2 million) and Yemen (2.1 million).

The German government is using its influence at the international level to ensure that the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are implemented. We are working to ensure that the protection under these principles is strengthened through national and regional legislation as well as through political action. We are also working to ensure that the African Union's Kampala Convention – to date the only convention under international law dealing with the protection of IDPs – can de facto be implemented.

3. The third deciding factor for our work is that people often remain displaced for a long time

Wars and political persecution tend to be protracted. Many refugee children have never known a life without displacement. They have never seen the place that was home for their parents, they have received their entire education in the place where their parents found refuge. In 2014, a study listed 53 countries in which internally displaced persons had been living in displacement for more than 10 years.

The three factors I have just mentioned have had a strong impact on our development policy. We have responded accordingly.

We are working at the international level to promote more forward-looking policy making

For us and for others it has become clear that a purely humanitarian response alone will not be enough to meet the complex challenges of the current refugee situation. Financially, too, it would simply not be feasible in view of the underfunding of the humanitarian system.

We, just like other organisations, such as the UNHCR, are aligning our work more with approaches such as Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD). These are more effective in linking and coordinating short-term humanitarian operations with the goals of long-term development efforts. We agreed on this in the New York Declaration and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). We are supporters of the implementation of the CRRF and are helping to pilot it in Tanzania, for example.

The CRRF provides the basis for a Global Refugee Compact which is scheduled to be adopted at the United Nations by the end of 2018. Germany will actively contribute to the drafting of the compact.

In the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which Germany is co-chairing together with Morocco, we are advocating a development-oriented approach to migration. The GFMD Summit will take place this year in Berlin from 28 to 30 June. Both at a bilateral level and within the GFMD, Germany will actively contribute to drafting a Global Migration Compact, which also is to be adopted by the end of 2018.

Our multilateral response to the crisis:

In order to alleviate immediate suffering, the German government is working through UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) to help the people on the ground. Last year, the German government made available 61 million euros in humanitarian aid for Syria and 307 million euros for Africa.

In addition to the funds made available for humanitarian assistance, my ministry, the development ministry has provided a total of 62.4 million euros over the last four years to support ten projects by UNHCR. We have managed to reach at least 1.4 million people with our support.

One of the UNHCR projects involved activities to reintegrate returnees and internally displaced persons in the DR Congo. The support reached not only 124,000 refugees from the Congo who had fled to Uganda and Rwanda, but also hundreds of thousands of IDPs in North Kivu.

The BMZ has provided extra funding for the World Food Programme to finance vouchers for refugees in Iraq and Lebanon, which they can use to purchase food in private shops in neighbouring communities. This approach helps boost the local economy, creates retail jobs and prevents conflicts from arising between refugees and host communities.

Our bilateral response to the exceptional situation was the creation of a special initiative in 2014: Tackling the root causes of displacement, reintegrating refugees

Through that initiative we want to

  • curb the push factors for displacement,
  • stabilise the regions hosting refugees and IDPs and
  • support refugees and IDPs on the ground.

Our initiative focuses on the Middle East and the crises in Syria and Iraq and on Sub-Saharan Africa (Lake Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria). But we also take account of displacement issues in Latin America (especially Colombia) and Asia (Afghanistan, Myanmar) and Ukraine.

In 2016, the BMZ made a total of 3 billion euros available for displacement-related measures; for 2017, this spending has been increased to 3.5 billion euros.

Because of the limitations and short-term effect of purely humanitarian measures, we are making it a priority to create medium-term opportunities in those places where people actually find refuge.

We are, for example, creating job opportunities and incomes. Under the Partnership for Prospects initiative we created more than 61,000 jobs in 2016 alone. This included some 25,000 jobs in repairing roads, roofs and sewers in Iraq.

We are supporting education: Syrian refugee children should have the opportunity to continue their education in their mother tongue. That is why we are funding teacher salaries in Jordan and Turkey, giving some 300,000 children the chance to go to school. By 2019, more than 600,000 children in Iraq are to benefit from schooling thanks to UNICEF programmes.

We are strengthening the infrastructure in the areas where refugees and IDPs are living. We are, for example, building a photovoltaic system in Jordan. It will supply energy for 80,000 refugees and Jordanians. Or an example from Ethiopia: Our support has provided access to water supply for 107,000 refugees and 15,000 locals.

And other projects are strengthening civil society or municipal administrative structures in opposition areas.

In addition, we are supporting more than 30 projects of non-governmental organisations with a total of roughly 140 million euros from our special initiative. These projects deal with, for example, psychosocial support in Iraq, local economic development in Colombia or food security in South Sudan. In these environments, non-governmental organisations are important partners for us: they are able to support people even in countries in which government-level cooperation is difficult or impossible for political reasons.

As you can see, on the one hand, our work involves responding to crises, helping to stabilise countries. In the region around Syria and Iraq we have increased our support for education, training and jobs nearly fourfold in just three years.

Development cooperation activities can help to mitigate the impacts that crises have on people. They can contribute to ensuring that people's rights to education, food and health are safeguarded despite such strokes of fate.

On the other hand, the main task of development cooperation is to prepare the ground in the medium term and the long term so that people can deal with conflicts of interest without using violence. The main aim of development cooperation is to create favourable conditions for people by taking a forward-looking and proactive approach instead of simply responding to crises.

The structural causes of displacement include:  food insecurity, resource shortages, poverty, inequality, marginalisation, persecution and environmental degradation. These issues often play a role when conflicts escalate into violence. These issues, however, are made by humans, so they can also be changed by humans.

We use structural approaches to prevent these issues from leading to an escalation of violence; that is to say, we promote good governance, democracy and the rule of law. If public goods such as education and health are ensured by the state, and disputes can be dealt with by independent courts, then citizens can lead a life in dignity, protected by rights and laws.

Based on our forward-looking approach we are currently developing an overarching strategy together with our African partners, for example! Our ministry is calling for bringing a new dimension to cooperation: We want to agree on a pact for the future between Africa and Europe which will get the private sector involved. We want to improve the general conditions.

Not just with public funds, but through more private investment. We are also supporting partnerships at the municipal level, civil society and foundations.

Formal vocational training also plays a key role when it comes to creating opportunities. We are supporting the African Union in its TVET initiative for Africa.

Germany is already doing a lot. Others, too, need to do more to live up to their responsibility. This holds true for the European Union and the United Nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reminder that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". And also that we "should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood".

With a view to finding a long-term global solution to the crisis, in particular when it comes to tackling the root causes of displacement and achieving burden sharing, multilateral arrangements are crucial.

In the medium-term to long-term, however, we want to provide structural support to developing countries so that they can improve the living conditions for their citizens. The aim of our development policies is to help bring about positive changes, for instance by encouraging political reforms, greater adherence to the rule of law and technological progress.

We are convinced that people should have prospects for the future in their home countries. For us, the overall objective of development policy is the enhancement of life chances for as many people as possible. So that people have the opportunity to develop according to their potential. And to live a life in dignity. 

Let us work towards that together!

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