Ottawa, Canada, 9 May 2022 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for action to tackle climate change – a major factor contributing to the world’s worsening refugee crisis.
Last month Mr Grandi addressed government officials and diplomats at a reception hosted in his honour at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa. The main purpose of the evening was to provide him an opportunity to share UNHCR’s views of the critical issues causing global migration that urgently need to be addressed, and to consider possible solutions for how these issues could collectively be resolved. Guests included Canada’s Minister of International Development, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion, along with more than 30 ambassadors and senior leaders from civil society.
Mr Grandi took the opportunity to applaud the Canadian government for what he called “a star programme” amongst resettlement programmes around the world: “Tonight is an opportunity to thank Canada for this exemplary role, this leadership role it is playing in the world to support the cause of refugees, not only morally and politically but also for the financial contributions it has made in many of the countries represented here.”
Vulnerable populations living in some of the world’s most fragile and conflict-affected countries are often disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Mr Grandi noted that 90 percent of refugees originate from countries most vulnerable to climate change, and that the countries with the highest numbers of refugees are also amongst the most vulnerable to climate change: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.
Mr Grandi remarked that as the UN’s protection agency, UNHCR has had to adapt to succeed in its mandated role, including ensuring the environmental sustainability of its own facilities and operations and assuring climate resilience for displaced persons and their hosts by facilitating access to protection and assistance. He emphasised that waiting for disaster to strike is not an option, and that there is an urgent need to invest in preparedness to prevent further climate-caused displacement.
In recent trips to Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Mr Grandi visited programmes undertaken by UNHCR in partnership with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). UNHCR and the AKDN have a long history of collaboration, especially in South and Central Asia and the Middle East, to serve and support displaced and at-risk populations. The two organisations are currently working together to provide extensive humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
Dr Mahmoud Eboo, Representative of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat to Canada, spoke about the longstanding partnership between the institutions of the Ismaili Imamat and the UN system across a wide spectrum of issues, including refugee resettlement, food insecurity, cultural restoration, humanitarian assistance and access to health care. He noted that the Aga Khan’s grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, served as the 21st president of the Assembly of the League of Nations; his father, Prince Aly Khan, served as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN; and his uncle, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr Grandi also paid tribute to the extraordinary leadership of Prince Sadruddin in expanding the scope and scale of UNHCR into an agency capable of managing and responding to humanitarian crises globally.
In discussing the current realities of displacement and migration, Canada’s Minister for International Development, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, spoke about the need to change the mindset from one that focuses on a humanitarian crisis, to one where we collectively try to ensure that young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Minister Sajjan also emphasised that governments, UN agencies and international organisations like the AKDN, all working together on development efforts, are crucial to conflict prevention efforts.