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APRIL 2016



What is humanitarian

diplomacy, and how has its practice

evolved since the establishment of

the Office of the United Nations

High Commissioner for Refugees in


Kelly T. Clements:

From the

perspective of the United Nations

refugee agency, the UNHCR, the

aim of humanitarian diplomacy is

to protect, assist and find solutions

for refugees, internally displaced

persons, stateless persons and other

persons of concern to the agency.

Humanitarian diplomacy does

not have a clear definition in inter-

national law but draws strongly on

the principles of independence,

neutrality and impartiality. It requires

advocacy with governments and

engagement with both sovereign states

and non-state actors. It involves persuading state and non-state

actors to keep borders open to gain access to, protect and assist

refugees and to work toward durable solutions.

UNHCR is a non-political humanitarian organization, yet

there is nothing about the refugee situations it confronts that is

not political in nature. To address both the root causes of refu-

gee movements and immediate threats to their safety, UNHCR



Q&Awith Kelly Clements,

Deputy HighCommissioner for Refugees

An experienced practitioner addresses today's unprecedented challenges.



engages with political actors in a diplomatically sophisticated

manner to gain and maintain the trust of all parties, taking no

side other than that of the refugee. Humanitarian diplomacy

thus underpins the work of UNHCR.

During my time in the State Department with the Bureau of

Population, Refugees, and Migration, humanitarian diplomacy

was embraced, trained and practiced by the bureau’s leader-

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements, second from right, and

members of the UNHCR team in Serbia talk with Syrian and Iraqi refugees stranded on the

border between Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on March 8.