19/11/2001
Press Release
GA/SHC/3668



Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

44th Meeting (PM)


WORLD’S BURGEONING REFUGEE PROBLEM REFLECTS INADEQUACIES

OF CURRENT PROTECTION SYSTEM, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD


The world's burgeoning refugee problem clearly reflected the inadequacies of the current international protection system, several delegations told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this afternoon as its discussions about

refugees continued.

The world, the speakers said, was very different today than it was in 1951, when countries signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees, designing a global approach to the issue.  There were now increasing incidents of "mixed flows" of genuine asylum seekers and economically-motivated migrants.  Because of the diverse natures of migration, addressing the issue in a comprehensive fashion became much more difficult.  Growing numbers of refugees prompted host countries to suffer increased tensions, and by extension, implement tougher immigration laws and harsher border regimes.


That, according to the representative of New Zealand, created an atmosphere in which a strong demand for illegal migration had thrived.  These people were exploited by criminal groups seeking to make money from trafficking people and smuggling migrants.  The activities of such criminals had pushed the issues of irregular migration to new levels of human tragedy, putting the international framework for refugee protection under increasing pressure.


That was the topic of last year's global consultations on international protection, a joint venture of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  One result, IOM's representative described, had been the creation of the UNHCR/IOM Action Group, which was charged with moving the issue forward.  The Group would review the substantive policy questions at stake, explore ways for the two organizations to enhance collaboration in that field, and serve as a resource so IOM and UNHCR could better assist States in developing appropriate policies and programmes on migration

and asylum.

Further, the delegate of the Republic of Korea said, the upcoming First Ministerial Meeting of the State’s Parties to the Convention on the Status of Refugees, to be held in December in Geneva, would serve as an appropriate forum to reaffirm commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Convention and its core principles.


Also speaking during the abbreviated meeting were representatives from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Brazil, Croatia, and Canada.


The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday to continue with its deliberations on refugee issues.  The Committee will also introduce several draft resolutions.

Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of questions related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions.


ALEKSANDAR TASIC (Yugoslavia) said for the past 10 years, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had had to deal with the problems of the largest refugee population in Europe.  During that period, it had provided shelter to some

640,000 refugees, mostly from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.  Presently, 391,531 refugees and 74,849 war-affected persons, as well as 250,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, the autonomous province of the Yugoslav constituent Republic of Serbia, were still in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  Another 10,000 refugees had come to the country following the recent events in the Republic of Macedonia.  Most of the refugees lived with families of relatives and friends, while only 10 per cent of them were accommodated in over 400 collective centers around the country.  This most vulnerable population group was in constant need of international assistance concerning food, clothing, items of hygiene and heating fuel for the coming winter period.


Mr. Tasic said the refugees and the internally displaced persons were equal in rights with the citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which bore their social, health care and education costs.  By far, the largest number were in the Republic of Serbia.  The Government of the Republic had worked out a National Strategy for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons.  In addition to repatriation, the Strategy provided for concrete integration measures, considering the desire of many refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia to remain in Yugoslavia.  Integration was a complex issue, calling for the solution of accommodation, employment and social problems.  For a country in transition that was plagued with many years of conflict and economic decline, that was an extremely difficult task.  His country could not solve it without the assistance of the international community.


Particularly difficult was the situation of the 250,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, he said.  They could not return to their homes because of the absence of security and freedom of movement for non-Albanians, who faced continued violence and an atmosphere of intolerance.  Nonetheless, in order to protect the interests of the internally displaced persons and the Serbs who continued to live in Kosovo and Metohija, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM), had carried out the registration of 178,000 internally displaced persons living in its territory and called on them to participate in the elections. 


LEE YOUN-SOO (Republic of Korea) said his delegation hoped that all Member States responded positively to the efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and his staff’s efforts to improve that body’s financial mechanisms.  He hoped States would provide appropriate support to find a durable solution to the financial predicament facing the UNHCR.  He was pleased to note that the agency had enhanced its emergency preparedness and response capacity.


He said the agency had wasted no time in responding to the volatile refugee situation in and around Afghanistan, by setting up contingency plans and coordinated efforts with other United Nations agencies.  In joining the efforts of the international community to support Afghan refugees, his Government had donated $12 million in kind, half of which was in response to massive United Nations relief appeal. 


He said the refugee situation had become much more challenging in the new century.  Mixed flows of refugees, asylum seekers and other types of migrants with varying political or economic motivations made the issue difficult to approach in a comprehensive fashion.  He drew attention to persons who were left in refugee-like situations outside their countries of origin but were not formally recognized as refugees.


In that context, he continued, the UNHCR’s launching of global consultations on international protection was timely.  He hoped those consultations would result in practical initiatives that would enable the international community to address the multifaceted nature of the refugee issue.  The December First Ministerial Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Status of Refugees would serve as an appropriate forum to reaffirm commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Convention and its Protocol. 


He went on to say that one of the major issues demanding the utmost attention was the safety of humanitarian workers.  The recent tragic events involving the staff of the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been painful reminders of the serious risks such workers faced on a daily basis.  He called upon all States to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers.  He added that the UNHCR could not face all the challenges stemming from refugee issues alone.  To maximize its performance it would need well-coordinated cooperation with other agencies as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).


FERNANDO COIMBRA (Brazil) said the handling of refugees' situations was a multifunctional task that required coordinated efforts by all stakeholders -- governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the refugees themselves.  As humanitarian non-governmental organizations were partners in effort to assist affected populations, their role was of particular importance.  His Government also attached great importance to the process of the global consultations on international protection, which were launched by the UNHCR.  It was important that the existing instruments undergo an in-depth discussion to be updated as necessary.  This would help the international community better face the evolution of the refugees' situation.  New challenges had come onto the scene, particularly those related to women, children and the elderly, as well as those related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Mr. Coimbra said it must not be forgotten that those new challenges had to be tackled at a time when the international community was facing a situation in Afghanistan deemed by the UNHCR as the world's worst refugee emergency.  Brazil was attentive to this situation and pledged to welcome refugees wishing to settle in Brazil.  The Brazilian National Commission for Refugees was currently processing requests for resettlement presented to it by the UNHCR.  That initiative was based upon an agreement signed between the Government and UNHCR in 1999, with a view to establishing Brazil as a resettling destination for refugees.  Resettlement would take place according to specific projects, which would involve the High Commissioner, local governments, NGOs and other stakeholders.


The commitment of Brazil was not enough, however.  To effectively play its role as a country for resettlement, Brazil needed to count on support, he said.  Partnerships with civil society had proved to be an important way to meet the basic needs of refugees.  Measures had also been taken to facilitate access by refugees to the labour market by providing identity papers and working permits.  Access to social security and public health institutions had been assured as well.  However, and even though there was awareness of the budgetary restrictions, it was believed that UNHCR’s presence in Brazil would contribute to the implementation of the country's refugee programmes.


SARAH PATERSON (New Zealand) said prior to 11 September, there were already 3.6 million refugees -- victims of famine, conflict, persecution and poor governance -- who had fled Afghanistan to camps in Pakistan and Iran.  The physical protection of those people, the protection of their human rights and the provision of food and other humanitarian assistance must be of paramount concern to the international community.  While attention was focused on the plight of Afghan’s refugees, the 6 million people of concern to UNHCR in Africa, and the other 13 million refugees worldwide should not be forgotten.


Those fleeing conflict in Afghanistan were extreme examples of a phenomenon occurring throughout the world, she continued.  Addressing the root causes of the problems which had forced so many from their homes was fundamental to solving the growing global refugee crisis.  The failure of the international community to achieve durable solutions to such issues had created a strong demand for illegal migration which had been exploited by criminal groups seeking to make money from trafficking people and smuggling migrants.  The activities of such criminals had pushed the issues of irregular migration to new levels of human tragedy, putting the international framework for refugee protection under increasing pressure.


Migrations, she said, had long been a cause of international and domestic tensions.  The increasing incidents of “mixed flows” of genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants had led to tougher immigration laws and increasingly harsh border regimes.  That phenomenon had also blurred the line between compassionate offers of asylum and the need to take tough deterrent action.  Exploitation of legal systems by smugglers and traffickers created huge costs for destination countries and increased pressure on their refugee determination procedures.  It could also result in incidents of prolonged detention of asylum seekers and in criticism of the 1951 Refugee Convention.  To that end, she hoped the upcoming Ministerial Meeting of the Convention’s States Parties in December would be an opportunity for Parties to reaffirm their commitments to its core principles.


She went on to say that the world’s burgeoning refugee problem clearly reflected the inadequacies of the current international protection system.  The world was very different today than it was in 1951 when countries had first gathered to design a global approach to the issue.  As the world had grown more crowded and transportation and communications had become more rapid, the need to address mass movements of people forced or choosing to leave their home countries was no longer confined to bordering states.  Demand for refugee resettlement vastly outstripped the capacity of countries to absorb them.  A collective approach was required, as no country could hope to solve those problems alone.  A comprehensive global approach was necessary to create an environment which offered protection to those genuinely fleeing persecution, as well as to cripple criminal actors involved in smuggling.  All countries must be willing to contribute to global burden-sharing, both domestically and internationally, to resolve the growing refugee issue.


DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC (Croatia) said reconstruction efforts had been enhanced in Croatia.  An expanded programme of organized reconstruction would be completed by the end of the year, and would be followed by an additional programme, which would be completed by the end of 2002.  That programme would especially benefit Croatian citizens who were returning, or would return, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  To date, there had been 286,172 returnees to and within Croatia, regardless of ethnic origin.  Most of them were former internally displaced persons, mostly of Croatian ethnicity, who were residing temporarily as displaced persons in other parts of Croatia.


Ms. Simonovic said the number of regional returns to Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was also significant, with 3,602 cross-border returnees.  There had also been 22,673 returnees from the Danube region, that brought minority returns of Serb ethnicity to 86,275.  Also, Croatia had integrated over 120,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 30,000 from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who obtained Croatian citizenship.  The Government already started the implementation of its programme of direct assistance and support to refugees residing in Croatia who wished to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina.


She said her Government approved its social programme in March 2001 as a way to overcome the extremely grave situation in areas of special concern.  It was an additional time-limited programme to compensate limitations of the existing social welfare system for displaced persons, returnees and refugees.  Since last May, food parcels had been distributed to the most needy population of the areas of return.  Some of the most needy beneficiaries among registered social cases, returnees and displaced persons, were also granted monthly subsidies on electricity costs, as well as increase cash allowances.  Croatia was deeply appreciative of the financial assistance pledge to date from a number of countries under the auspices of the Stability Pact, as well as through the other regional and international mechanisms, including the European Union, the World Bank and the various bodies in the United Nations family.


GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said that with the terrorist attacks on the host country still fresh in the minds of all, it was important to reaffirm collective commitment to ensure that refugee protection was not abused by those responsible for acts of terrorism.  The 1951 Convention on the status of refugees and its protocol provided the international community with the tools needed to exclude from protection those who committed serious crimes or whose actions were contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


He went on to say that while the plight of the Afghan people had rightly received considerable attention recently, it was important to recall the protracted nature of the crisis affecting that country; the refugee populations it had produced over the years; and what that growing population meant to neighbouring countries.  All those issues and factors should be considered in any current response measures.  While Canada recognized the legitimate security concerns of Afghanistan’s neighbors, it believed that the international community must ensure that civilians seeking to cross borders were protected, if only temporarily, until it was safe for them to return.  It was critical that the

civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements be maintained in accordance with international principles.


While Canada had been pleased with the UNHCR’s response to recent emergency refugee situations, he urged caution to ensure that refugee situations in other world regions were not overshadowed by the plight of Afghanistan.  He said that within Africa, Europe and other parts of Asia, there were several refugee situations still awaiting solutions.  The international community must continue to address the root causes of refugee movements.  Support for peace-building and conflict prevention efforts were essential so that when refugees were prepared to repatriate, their return could be made sustainable for the long term.


ROBERT PAIVA (International Organization for Migration) (IOM) said the future held many challenges regarding to international movements of people, and IOM and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would face many of them together.  The international community needed to understand and manage more effectively the nexus between asylum and migration.  That had been among the key issues considered in the context of the past year's global consultations.  One welcomed result had been the creation of a joint UNHCR/IOM Action Group tasked with moving this issue forward.  The Group would review the substantive policy questions at stake, explore ways for the two organizations to enhance collaboration in that field, and serve as a resource for IOM and UNHCR better to assist States in developing appropriate policies and programmes on migration and asylum.


While it was too early to see the overall lasting effects of the events of 11 September it was certain that there were already many changes in the way people interacted with one another.  Unfortunately, that could be seen in the way refugees, asylum seekers and migrants were now being perceived by many individuals and societies.  In too many countries, they were bearing a disproportionate share of the reaction to the events of 11 September -- suddenly regarded with suspicion and often being seen, unjustifiably, as potential enemies.  Such attitudes could not be allowed to prosper and must be vigourously condemned and combated.


The situation in Afghanistan had provoked massive displacement of all kinds, he said.  It was a topical example of the challenges of managing complex population flows consisting of people traveling side by side, but seeking different migratory outcomes.  The IOM agreed that the expeditious processing of asylum claims, coupled with community education efforts to dispel misconceptions about asylum seekers and refugees, could help to improve the situation.  Beyond that, there was an urgent need for the international community to explore ways and means of identifying management principles and practices that helped promote orderly movement, deter irregular migration and preserve asylum.


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