Thank you chair,
I have the pleasure to speak on behalf of the EU and its Member States.
We appreciate the update by UNHCR on its operations in Asia and the Pacific and commend UNHCR for its strong engagement throughout the region. The EU and its Member States are concerned that several complex forced displacement situations are further exacerbated by the direct and indirect impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We support the greater attention paid regionally to forced displacement and encourage international rules and standards to be promoted in the region.
We will focus our remarks on the two largest forced displacement situations –Myanmar and Afghanistan – where the EU and its Member States have been providing significant support, not only financially through humanitarian and development assistance, but also by contributing to raising global attention on these crises.
The EU and its Member States stand with the people of Myanmar/Burma. We condemn in the strongest terms the military coup carried out in the country on 1 February 2021 and call for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained or arrested and for the restoration of the legitimate civilian government. We further condemn the escalating use of violence and military and police repression against peaceful demonstrators and call for maximum restraint to be exercised by the authorities. We remain firmly committed to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the ones in the most vulnerable situations and call upon the authorities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
We fear that the current situation in Myanmar could further aggravate the crisis in Rakhine State and delay the process of addressing the root causes of it and the prospect of finding sustainable solutions for the Rohingya refugees. The EU and its Member States reiterate the importance of creating conditions for the safe, voluntary, informed, sustainable and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons, in accordance with international law and standards. We support UNHCR’s continued presence and focus in Myanmar to contribute to these efforts.
The EU and its Member States commend the neighbouring countries, particularly Bangladesh, for generously hosting the large number of Rohingya refugees in the region. We are chocked to hear about the devastating fire that broke out in the refugee camps yesterday and express our condolences with all those affected. We remain firmly committed to help address the needs of the refugees, internally displaced persons and host communities in the region, in the spirit of burden- and responsibility sharing and in line with our commitments and pledges during the International Rohingya Donor Conference that the EU co-hosted together with UNHCR, the US and the UK in October 2020. The EU and its Member States continue to provide funding and support to UN agencies, NGOs and other partners to address the significant existing short- and longer-term needs of Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. We stress the importance of humanitarian access as well as close collaboration and partnership with and between aid organizations, to address the needs in a comprehensive, efficient and effective manner across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. We are concerned about the deteriorating protection environment for women and girls, and urge UNHCR and all its partners to strengthen its gender-based response to prevent, mitigate and respond to sexual- and gender-based violence, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services, and combat human trafficking, child labor, forced marriage and other risks Rohingya refugees are facing.
The Afghan refugee situation remains an important challenge in the region and beyond. Under any future political scenario, humanitarian needs are expected to increase. In the long run, the Afghan peace negotiations may lead to a durable peace, improving the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons. The EU and its Member States call upon all parties to not lose this momentum for peace. Returns to Afghanistan from the region are expected to be limited in the short- to mid-term, due to increased violence and lack of livelihood opportunities in the country. We are concerned that the severe spring drought which is predicted for most parts of Afghanistan may lead to more displacement, in Afghanistan, in the region and beyond.
The long-standing EU solidarity and partnership with the people of Afghanistan was recently reconfirmed at the Afghanistan Conference, co-hosted by Afghanistan, Finland and the UN in Geneva last year, where the EU and its Member States pledged considerable support for both emergency assistance and long-term development needs. We will continue to provide need-based humanitarian assistance in line with the humanitarian principles and call on all actors to fully respect international humanitarian law, including by ensuring immediate, full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
The EU and its Member States recognize the importance of a comprehensive regional response to offer protection and finding lasting solutions for forcibly displaced Afghans as well as providing necessary support for the host countries and communities affected by this protracted displacement situation. This includes promoting and supporting protection, inclusion and self-reliance of Afghans in host countries, facilitating access to basic services, livelihood and documentation/regularization. We commend the Republic of Iran and Pakistan for their long-time generosity, hosting millions of Afghan refugees. We encourage UNHCR to explore additional opportunities for maintaining and supporting the inclusive policies of the host countries vis-à-vis Afghans.
The EU and its Member States will continue our strong engagement and support for the regional response, including through the newly established Support Platform for Afghanistan (Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, SSAR). The EU is honoured to be the first Chair of the Core Group of the SSAR this year, which also includes several EU Member States, as a demonstration of our commitment to contribute to mobilize greater attention, support and partnership for the Afghan refugee situation, politically as well as financially.
In conclusion, I would like to express the continued commitment by the EU and its Member States to contribute to collective efforts to address forced displacement in the Asia and Pacific region in a spirit of solidarity and partnership.