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68th session of UNHCR’s ExCom – Permanent Representative’s intervention during the 68th session of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ Executive Committee.

Friday, 06 October 2017

68th session of UNHCR’s ExCom – Permanent Representative’s intervention during the 68th session of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ Executive Committee.

The Permanent Mission of Greece in Geneva actively participated in the latest ExCom meeting that took place from 2 – 6 October 2017 at the Palais des Nations.

“Your Excellency the High Commissioner for Refugees,
Esteemed Chair and members of the Executive Committee,
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by saying that we align ourselves with the statement delivered by the EU.

Esteemed Chair,

It is always an honor and a privilege to represent Greece in fora such as the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees given its monumental role and imperative contribution to the alleviation of suffering of millions of people worldwide. The staggering number of refugees around the world is, unfortunately, on the rise again; and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is always there trying to provide assistance and protection to those which need it the most.

I cannot stress enough the gratitude and appreciation of the Greek Government and the Greek people to UNHCR’s significant assistance to my country which was faced, almost overnight, with an overwhelming amount of refugees, mainly from Syria. For the past two years, Greece has been at the forefront of an unprecedented refugee –and migrant- crisis in the recent history of Europe, which no one country alone can cope with effectively. The assistance provided to us by International Organizations such as the UNHCR, the European Union and the International Organization on Migration has been vital and for that we are truly grateful.

However, dealing effectively and efficiently with refugees does not only pose a challenge for Greece, or Europe for that matter; it is a global concern that requires global answers and global responsibility and burden sharing. This is why Greece is standing fervently behind the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and recognizes the opportunities it offers. Almost one year ago, all UN member states came together, recognized the fundamental need to work together as a true community of nations, and decided to begin discussions on the two Global Compacts. This decision is also evidence of the different needs that refugees and migrants have. The uncontested need for international protection rests with refugees according to the system put in place by the 1951 Geneva Convention. It is our belief that this international protection system must be maintained and made stronger.

Annex I of the New York Declaration encompasses the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, thus elements of a comprehensive response based on the principles of international cooperation and burden and responsibility sharing. Eleven countries are now formally applying the CRRF and regional cooperation has already taken off in this regard. Also, informal discussions on specific issues pertaining to the future Global Compact on Refugees are already underway; more thematic sessions are envisaged for the coming months before formal negotiations begin next year in Geneva. The objectives envisaged in the CRRF are of paramount importance: easing pressure on host countries and host communities, enhancing refugee self-reliance, expanding access to third country solutions and supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Practical, applicable and tailored-made approaches and solutions should be our guiding principle.

This will be an exercise of humanity and solidarity the world has never witnessed before. Greece remains committed to this end and, in this spirit, calls for the strengthening not only of the mandate of the High Commissioner, but also of the UNHCR as a whole due to its role as custodian of such important humanitarian principles. We all need to work together, not only for addressing the root causes of war and persecution, but also for providing perspective to those entitled to international protection. Integration of people granted asylum is another key concept and what we should all focus our efforts on. Greece is already working on this by, inter alia, adopting legislation on free access to education for all refugee children, on free access to basic health services and on practical measures to facilitate earning a basic living through legislation on social and solidarity economy.

Saving lives at sea, the essential prerequisite of any sort of international protection, is continuing, as the number of refugees reaching our shores is still on the rise. The tireless efforts of the Hellenic Coast Guard, of FRONTEX and the Greek people themselves are well known by now and are ongoing. The amount of asylum applications is unprecedented for a country the size and capacity of Greece, already reaching 31.000, and thus we turn to our partners for solidarity and responsibility sharing. If adequate relocation and resettlement programs are not implemented, regional and global responsibility and burden sharing remains limited. We must all recognize our moral and legal duties to our fellowmen, women and children that had to flee their homes and their livelihoods and are faced with unfathomable tribulations. We must all come together, states, donors, regions and individuals with a view to strengthening the international refugee system; at the same time, we should refrain from closing borders, closing our eyes and our hearts to those in most dire need.

I am confident that through common efforts and common perspectives this will come to fruition.
Thank you very much Chair.”