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SOWR 2012 Addresses Gap for People Displaced by Climate Change

31 May 2012: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched its flagship publication, "The State of the World's Refugees," which provides a global update on the status of refugees since 2006. The report examines the international response to displacement resulting from climate change and natural disasters, highlighting a normative gap in the protection of people displaced across borders owing to these phenomena, which will need to be address by the international community.

"The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity," launched on 31 May 2012, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, highlights that natural disasters are displacing more people than conflict, and the long-term effects of climate change are expected to lead to large scale population movements within and across borders. Climate change, the report notes, has the potential to accelerate other global trends that create or affect refugees and internally displaced peoples (IDPs), such as conflict, urbanization and economic inequality. The report says although UNHCR's core mandate does not include displacement caused by natural disasters and climate change, the agency has a clear interest in such movements of people and the capacity to respond to their humanitarian needs.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said at the launch of the report, “generosity is not necessarily proportional to richness” and called for "a new deal in burden sharing," such as more resettlement opportunities in the developed world, support for local integration and assistance for local communities that took in refugee populations.

The report emphasizes that those who are forced to move outside their countries for reasons linked to climate change or natural disasters fall into a legal gap, as the existing protection legal framework under the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees does not cover this type of displacement. But it indicates that UNHCR is prepared to work with States and other actors to develop a guiding framework or instrument to apply to situations of external displacement outside those covered by the 1951 Convention.

The report's eight chapters address key challenges, starting with the reduced space for humanitarian action in Somalia and Afghanistan, inter alia, noting that protracted conflicts mean that fewer refugees are able to return home and restrictive state policies limit possibilities for local integration and resettlement, and threaten the institution of asylum. It notes that refugees and displaced people are increasingly living in cities rather than in camps, making humanitarian assistance more challenging. The closing chapter addresses the book's central theme: how to develop international solidarity to help States shoulder their responsibilities for the forcibly displaced?

The report highlights the work of UNHCR after 60 years of its establishment, noting that work with refugees – those that flee across an international border to escape war or persecution – continues to be at core of the agency's work. The report also notes that the agency is increasingly working with people who are displaced within the borders of their own countries, and with those that are considered stateless persons, not as citizens by any country. [Publication: The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity] [UN Press Release] [UNHCR Press Release] [Press Conference with UN High Commissioner for Refugees]