29 December 2023
We are about to end a year in which war, displacement, disinformation, inflation, coups and natural disasters have taken center stage.
It has been truly a deeply troubled year, dominated by increasing global divisions.
We started the year with the devastating earthquake in southern Türkiye and northern Syria, which claimed countless lives, including three UNHCR colleagues, and brought enormous destruction to their homes and lives and those of refugees and hosts.
Later in 2023 we have seen more than seven million people forced from their homes in the brutal power struggle playing out in Sudan. Many other crises continued. Hundreds of thousands more people have been uprooted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar in the past two months alone.
We end the year in anguish because of the war in Gaza. Because of the untold civilian death and suffering. Because of the killing of dozens of our UNRWA colleagues.
And the climate emergency continues to punish the most vulnerable, including the displaced, three times over – forcing them from their homes; creating hardships for them whilst in exile; and meanwhile ravaging their homelands making return an increasingly distant prospect.
Tragedy piles on top of tragedy in so many places around the world, weighing on each of us as we struggle to respond as best as we can with fewer resources but more needs to be met.
In this challenging context, so much of the world – and especially the most vulnerable, including many forcibly displaced – can just hope. Must hope, in order to look at the future with less fear and apprehension. Hope for an end to the violence; hope for collective responses to the great global challenges; hope for peace.
One thing that struck me so starkly in my visits to around 30 countries this year, including and especially in the most remote and difficult locations, is how so many of you ARE part of that hope. Hope that you are delivering day after day.
Not false hope based only on nice words, but hope conveyed through real, concrete actions that save and change lives as you strive to protect; to help; to solve people’s plight.
And it is not just me who has noticed this.
And as we look forward to 2024 and to what we have to do, I have two challenges for each of us.
First – let us recommit to putting refugees, displaced, and stateless people at the center of everything we do. Let us listen to them better – not just to those who have been resettled and are accessible and well-connected, but also and especially those in difficult, remote places without mobile phone reception. Let us listen to their fears and worries of course, but also their aspirations, and do whatever we can to make those a reality.
Second – let’s also do more to highlight the successes achieved, no matter how small they may seem. This is not to be blind to the very worrying realities of today, but to recognize that so much of the world is searching for solutions to our challenges — including forced displacement — and wants to embrace and be inspired by them. Let’s all try to do more of that.
And in so doing, we will create not just hope, but real change for those we serve.
Thank you again for all you do and to every one of you, to your families, to your loved ones, my best wishes for 2024.