News

UNHCR Meeting Features Launch of Nansen Initiative to Protect People Displaced by Natural Disasters

2 October: At the opening of the 63rd Session of its Executive Committee, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres highlighted the launch of the Nansen Initiative to protect people displaced by natural disasters, including those caused by climate change, and warned that the organization currently faces unmatched levels of humanitarian crises.

The Session is being held from 1-5 October 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland, and will, among other things, review and approve the agency's programmes and budgets, and also consider evolving protection needs for refugees and internally displaced people. Guterres, in his opening speech to the committee, urged Member States to do more for displaced persons, noting that “we live in dangerous times, in an unpredictable world."

The Session also featured the launch of the Nansen Initiative on 2 October, by the governments of Norway and Switzerland. Named after the polar explorer and first High Commissioner for Refugees Fridtjof Nansen, the initiative seeks to develop an international agenda including normative and institutional measures to protect persons forced to leave their countries as a consequence of natural disasters.

In a press release, the Government of Switzerland highlighted that such persons are not protected under the UN Convention on Refugees, as they are not victims of persecution, and that an intergovernmental process is needed to close the current legal gaps. The release recalled a pledge made by Norway and Switzerland at a UNHCR Ministerial Meeting in December 2011, where the two countries agreed to cooperate with other interested parties to find solutions for those displaced by natural disasters.

Over the next three years, the Nansen Initiative will hold consultations with governments and civil society representatives in regions particularly affected, and will organize a global dialogue to formulate a protection agenda. The initiative will be headed by a steering group of six to eight representatives from the global North and South, chaired by Norway and Switzerland, and assisted by a consultative committee made up of civil society and international organization representatives. The Nansen Initiative has its secretariat in Geneva. [UNHCR web story] [Statement by head of UNHCR] [Government of Switzerland press release]