UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. refugee chief sharply criticized the Security Council and world leaders Thursday for failing to prevent and resolve conflicts that have displaced nearly 66 million people around the world.
Filippo Grandi told the U.N.’s most powerful body the sharp rise in forced displacement from 42 million people in 2009 “reflects weaknesses in international cooperation, and declining capacity to prevent, contain and resolve conflicts.”
He stressed that a full response to this huge displacement “can only be achieved through action to restore security, resolve conflict and build peace.”
Grandi said competing interests are being pursued through “proxy wars” instead of being resolved through diplomacy and dialogue. “The focus is on short-term interests rather than long-term collective security,” he said.
“Have we become unable to broker peace?” Grandi asked, pointing to old and new conflicts from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Mali, Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said he asked that question in the Security Council because he sees “the direct impact of these failures every day, on the lives of tens of millions of people, forced to abandon their homes with grim prospects of being able to return for generations.”
As examples, Grandi pointed to more than 2 million refugees who fled Afghanistan almost 40 years ago who are still in Iran and Pakistan, 11 million people driven from their homes during the Syrian conflict, and millions more who have fled fighting and instability in Iraq.
All three conflicts are on the Security Council agenda along with many others in the Mideast and Africa.
But Grandi said that aside from Ivory Coast, the council in its responsibility for international peace and security has not succeeded in bringing an end to a political crisis or conflict that allowed refugees and large numbers of internally displaced people to return home.
He lamented that only a half million refugees worldwide returned home last year and stressed that “sustainable peace is critical to securing solutions to displacement.”
In Myanmar, which has seen the most rapid refugee exodus since the mid-1990s, Grandi said security and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Rakhine state “are essential prerequisites for the return of refugees.”
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine since a series of attacks on Aug. 25 by Rohingya insurgents. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine that the United Nations and human rights groups have criticized as disproportionate and a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn’t recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group, instead insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country, and it has denied them citizenship.
Grandi stressed that Rohingya are not just refugees but stateless refugees. For people to go back home and stay, “the very complex issue of citizenship” must be addressed, he said.
“Without that, no return will be sustainable,” he said. “I don’t think any return will happen in any significant number if that issue is not unblocked.”
He said there must also be reconciliation, investment and development in Rakhine, which is one of Myanmar’s poorest states.
Grandi said he discussed the issue of stateless Rohingya with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a July visit. Two days ago, he said his office was invited to a workshop with the government to discuss the issue.
Grandi was the first high commissioner for refugees to address the Security Council since 2009 and he urged its members to focus on rising displacement, especially in Central African Republic and Burundi.
“Responding to refugee crises in Africa, generally speaking, continues to be frustrating, as they are often generated by conflicts suffering from a deficit of political attention,” he said, “and they are made more difficult by a serious deficit of resources.”
In South Sudan, which is engulfed in civil war, 2 million people have fled to Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda — with more than a half million arriving this year alone and putting immense pressure on the host countries, Grandi said.
In addition, he said, 2 million South Sudanese are displaced inside the country and living in a “dire” situation.