20/05/2004
Press Release
SC/8099



Security Council                                           

4973rd Meeting (AM)                                         


SOLUTIONS TO REFUGEE PROBLEM COMMON RESPONSIBILITY, REQUIRE


ADEQUATE RESOURCES, RUUD LUBBERS TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL


Never before had there been so many opportunities for lasting solutions to the refugee problem in so many parts of Africa, including Eritrea, Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burundi, said High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers in his briefing to the Security Council this morning.


He said there was a common responsibility to reduce the risk of conflicts recurring and to ensure that such progress continued.  However, many challenges lay ahead, including the need to strongly support the peace processes at all levels and to ensure the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants, including youths.


Despite some gains, he expressed concern about the inequity of resources committed to Africa.  While emergency teams struggled to move tens of thousands of refugees from the border areas in Chad, that life-saving operation and the funds being sought to prepare for their eventual repatriation remained seriously under-funded.  Operations in Liberia also faced severe shortages.  Funding was a political point that must be addressed in order to end the hostilities in the Sudan and sustain the peace process in Liberia.


The humanitarian situation on both sides of the Sudan-Chad border was appalling, he said.  In view of the increasing insecurity in the border areas, where tens of thousands of refugees remained scattered and without effective access to humanitarian assistance, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been working tirelessly to move the population further inside Chad to safer areas.  Despite the massive logistical constraints, more than 60,000 refugees had already been relocated.  Despite the terrible situation in Chad, it was, sadly, the safest place for Darfurians today.


Regarding refugee security, he said that although host governments were primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of refugee-populated areas, the international community had a responsibility to assist States that lacked the capacity and resources to do so themselves, as acknowledged in Security Council resolution 1296 (2000).  The United Nations could help advocate that countries assume their responsibilities.


In Afghanistan, he said, more than 3 million refugees and internally displaced Afghans had returned to their homes since the end of 2001.  His office was working with the Governments of Iran and Pakistan to facilitate the return of 1 million more this year.  Both countries had shouldered a great burden in hosting Afghan refugees for more than 25 years.  But despite that progress, some 3 million Afghans remained in Iran and Pakistan.  The closure of refugee camps in the border areas would help alleviate the security liability for Pakistan and the international community at large.


While the war in Iraq had caused no massive refugee movements, the power vacuum and unremitting turmoil there had led to the collapse of public services and insecurity for the majority of Iraqis, he said.  Although opportunities for the refugees to return home to a situation of stability remained bleak, the UNHCR was working to help those Iraqi refugees in Iran who were interested in repatriation.  Internal displacement issues in the north, where the UNHCR would assist with the return and reintegration of displaced Kurds, were now being addressed by national staff and non-governmental organizations.


Posing questions to the High Commissioner were the representatives of Brazil, Chile, Angola, France, Romania, Germany, Philippines, United States, Algeria and Pakistan.


Beginning at 10:20 a.m., the meeting adjourned at 12:15 p.m.


Background


The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


Statement by High Commissioner for Refugees


RUUD LUBBERS, High Commissioner for Refugees, said that wherever there was displacement there were movements across borders.  Therefore, by definition, conflicts that generated refugee movements necessarily involved neighbouring States and thus had regional security implications.  As most vividly seen in the Great Lakes region and more recently in West Africa, the lines of conflict frequently ran across State boundaries, due to the various ethnic and cultural ties of the affected communities.


That also led to mixed movements of populations, including not only refugees, but also armed elements seeking sanctuary in neighbouring countries, he said.  The presence of armed elements in refugee camps and settlements had grave consequences for the safety and welfare of refugees, including possible military incursions, forced recruitment and sexual abuse.  Those factors created an unstable and insecure operating environment for humanitarian workers.  In addition, the presence of armed elements posed security concerns for host communities and receiving States and had an impact on regional peace and security.


He said that in February 2001, Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) made incursions into refugee-populated areas in Guinea, and armed rebels from Liberia also circulated among the refugee camps.  Despite the subsequent stabilization efforts in the region, it was still suffering from cross-border armed movements in West Africa, with its many refugee camps.  The ManoRiver region, with its cross-border movements of armed elements and arms, had now expanded to include Côte d’Ivoire.


A current case of great concern involved parts of the Sudan and the spill-over effect on Chad, he said.  In southern Sudan, positive developments in the peace talks had given rise to hopes for the return of 60,000 Sudanese refugees currently exiled in neighbouring countries.  Yet, those developments were increasingly overshadowed by the situation in Darfur, he said.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had taken part in the high-level United Nations mission to Darfur.  At least a million people had been displaced as a direct result of violence and had suffered gross human rights violations.  The UNHCR was working with partners to assist the affected population in Darfur and to try and create the conditions for their eventual return when the agency would have access.


The humanitarian situation on both sides of the Sudan-Chad border was appalling, he said.  In view of the increasing insecurity in the border areas, where tens of thousands of refugees remained scattered and without effective access to humanitarian assistance, the UNHCR had been working tirelessly to move the population further inside Chad to safer areas.  Despite the massive logistical constraints, more than 60,000 refugees had already been relocated.  Despite the terrible situation in Chad, it was, sadly, the safest place for Darfurians today.


Regarding refugee security, he said that although host governments were primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of refugee-populated areas, the international community had a responsibility to assist States that lacked the capacity and resources to do so themselves, as acknowledged in Security Council resolution 1296 (2000).  The United Nations could help advocate that countries assume their responsibilities.


Turning to peacekeeping, he said that in many countries where the UNHCR worked, the return and sustainability of refugees and displaced persons was directly dependent on peacekeeping.  The concept of multidimensional peace operations had worked well in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone and was coming together in Liberia, despite the enormous challenges placed on the Mission there.  Given the nature of conflicts today, greater attention must be devoted to finding a formula for peacekeeping missions that operated in cross-border situations, where appropriate and where endorsed by the affected governments.  All too often, conflicts became regional, but the response remained country-based.  Chad was a good example.


He said the UNHCR had begun to support the various United Nations endeavours on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).  In many cases, there was a link between combatants and the family members in the agency’s refugee camps.  Thus, the UNHCR could support the DDR efforts by ensuring the protection of the families of the combatants, linking up with other actors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on family reunification, and including demobilized combatants in community-based reintegration programmes.


He said that in West Africa, the UNHCR had been advocating a regional approach to DDR, with the cooperation of the United Nations missions in the region and the Mano River Union countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), as well as Côte d’Ivoire and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  The Conference of Mano River Heads of State, which should be taking place today, would provide a good opportunity to raise the issue again.  The UNHCR was working as part of a “coalition” of actors, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF, under the umbrella of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).


However, there had been disturbing reports on Tuesday of DDR-related riots in Monrovia.  Disarmament and demobilization was still a challenge and could only be successful if the necessary resources for reintegration were made available from the beginning.  It was the only method to ensure that conflict did not recur in the region.


Turning to the question of return and the impact on peace and stability, he said that the popular notion of a “post-conflict situation” was, in many senses, misleading.  Countries where internal armed conflict had ended were frequently characterized by deep social divisions, chronic political instability, damaged infrastructure, high unemployment and trauma.  As a result, they remained dangerously perched between the prospect of continued peace and the danger of a return to war.


The longer refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) were forced to stay away from their homes, the more embittered they became, he said.  In most cases, where there were refugee movements, displacement was either forced or coerced in some manner.  And even if displacement was not the original intention of the conflict, it sometimes became an overriding factor, further exacerbating the conflict.  As time went by, the camps and settlements where they found temporary shelter might become breeding grounds for despair, and the refugees themselves became vulnerable to political and military manipulation.  In such cases, the prolongation of displacement could itself become an obstacle to peace.


The critical factor was to determine the conditions for the safe and sustainable return of refugees their homes, he emphasized.  Peacekeeping alone could not sustain peace; it could only create the space in which peace might be built.  There was the transition from war to peace, but also the transition from a breakdown in State institutions to the rule of law.  Regarding the differences between refugees and IDPs, the movement across international borders was not the issue.  Rather, the defining characteristic was the lack of State protection.


Continuing, he said that those programmes should be incorporated systematically into post-conflict relief efforts and planning should begin at the outset of any emergency.  With that in mind, the UNHCR became a member of the United Nations Development Group, with the aim of ensuring that refugees and returnees were included in the formulation of post-conflict policies, as well as longer-term development programmes.  Reviewing a number of his initiatives, he drew attention to one called the “4 Rs”, which helped connect the transitions between repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction.


Turning to some encouraging news regarding Africa, he reported that never before had there been so many opportunities for durable solutions in so many parts of the continent, including in Eritrea, Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burundi.  There was a common responsibility to reduce the risk of conflicts recurring and to ensure that that progress continued.  Many challenges lay ahead, however, including the need to strongly support the peace processes at all levels and to ensure disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants, including youths.


Despite some gains, he raised concern about the inequity of resources committed to Africa.  While emergency teams struggled to move tens of thousands of refugees from the border areas in Chad, that life-saving operation and the funds being sought to prepare the ground for eventual repatriation to the Sudan remained seriously under-funded.  His operations in Liberia also faced severe shortages.  While the Council was not seized with funding issues, funding was a political point, which needed to be addressed, in order to end the hostilities in the Sudan and sustain the peace process in Liberia.


In Afghanistan, the situation had begun to improve since the end of 2001, he said.  More than 3 million refugees and internally displaced Afghans had returned to their homes.  His Office was actively working with the Governments of Iran and Pakistan to facilitate the return of 1 million more this year.  Both countries had shouldered a great burden in hosting Afghan refugees for more than 25 years.  Despite that progress, there were still some 3 million Afghans remaining in both Iran and Pakistan.  He was seeking to accelerate the closure of refugee camps in the border areas, in order to help alleviate the security liability for Pakistan and the international community at large.


Notwithstanding such an effort, the lack of security inside Afghanistan was clearly a key factor preventing or discouraging returns, he stressed.  That was particularly evident in areas where factional fighting continued to create a negative climate for resolving displacement.  Disregard for the rule of law and other factors, such as forced recruitment, illegal taxation, and house and land occupation, also prevented returns from taking place.  Those problems must be addressed with high priority.  He was aware of the plans of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to a number of locations, as well as to establish more Provincial Reconstruction Teams.  Those should actually be provincial stabilization teams.


He said that while he welcomed those plans, he recently wrote to the NATO Secretary-General to express concern about the modest troop pledges made at the Berlin Conference and the slow pace of the expansion. The ISAF expansion was of crucial importance to the successful completion of the Bonn process.  That was also a key issue for the return of refugees and displaced persons, particularly leading up to the elections.


The war in Iraq had caused no massive refugee movements, but the power vacuum and unremitting turmoil had led to the collapse of public services and insecurity for the majority of Iraqis, he said.  Although opportunities for the refugees to return home to a situation of stability remained bleak, his Office was working to help those Iraqi refugees in Iran who were interested in repatriation.  Internal displacement issues in the north, where the UNHCR would assist with the return and reintegration of displaced Kurds, were now being addressed by national staff and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  He hoped to be able to resume work with international staff in Iraq, as soon as security permitted.


Concerning the security of United Nations staff, he said that, with more than 4,000 UNHCR staff in the field –- often in very remote and dangerous locations –- that issue was of particular concern to him and his Office.  The bombing of the United Nations Office in Baghdad last August was a tragic reminder of the risk that staff members took in the name of peace and justice. He disagreed that the United Nations should start operating in a radically different way in each country in which it operated, on the basis that it was now a terrorist target everywhere.  “If it comes to that, we might as well pack up and go home”, he said.


At the same time, he said, Security Management Teams established in the field must be empowered to take decisions on the ground relevant to the local circumstances.  That should not be eroded by the bureaucratization and centralization of the security management system.  He supported the practice that the highest United Nations official in a country should have the ultimate responsibility for the security of all United Nations staff there.  He asked for the Council’s continued support in helping to ensure the safety of United Nations staff.  The Council’s influence and ability to take decisive political action was critical in helping to avert humanitarian catastrophe.  It was important that the Council continue to provide leadership and direction in bringing together the different domains of the United Nations system.


Members’ Comments and Questions


RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil) said that voluntary repatriation and reintegration were sometimes not feasible, and, to make matters worse, public perception of the refugee problem had been affected worldwide by incidents of trafficking and smuggling.  It was important that countries adopt more restrictive immigration and anti-terrorist measures, while continuing to keep their borders open to refugees.  He agreed with the High Commissioner that global counter-terrorism efforts should not hinder the rights of persons to seek refuge.  He asked Mr. Lubbers to expand his comments on the resettlement of refugees presently.


Turning to the refugee crisis in the Sudan, HERALDO MUÑOZ (Chile) asked for information about the reported thousands of refugees in Chad coming from Darfur, and for details about those refugees in the territory of the Central African Republic.  In the case of the Darfur camp, what kind of security was being provided by the Sudanese Government and what degree of control did it have over the Janjaweed militia?  Since the humanitarian ceasefire on 8 April, to what degree had the access of humanitarian workers to the zone been eased?  Also, had the United Nations provided sufficient food to those camps?  In view of the fact that the rainy season would soon commence, what was the plan for grappling with an even larger humanitarian crisis?


ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) asked Mr. Lubbers to elaborate on the coordinating of the whole United Nations system and all relevant outside bodies.  He also requested more information about financial support, which was a main bottleneck for programmes, and how the High Commissioner was intending to tackle those challenges.


EMMANUELLE D’ACHON (France) asked, given there were now three United Nations peacekeeping missions in West Africa, all with robust mandates, how did the UNHCR envisage possible synergy between them, specifically with respect to refugees.  Given the forthcoming elections in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, would repatriation and returns be organized in such a way that those people would also be able to participate in the elections?


Also on the situation in Darfur, particularly the refugee camps in Chad, she said her country was concerned about the situation in that region and had contributed to the High Commissioner and to a French non-governmental organization operating in the field.  She asked Mr. Lubbers for an estimate of the current number of nomads crossing the border and on the overall flows of refugees into Chad.


Also regarding the situation in Darfur, MIHNEA IOAN MOTOC (Romania) said that, according to the recent figures of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2 million refugees had been reported recently.  That should be compared to the reported 1 million refugees in April.  If those figures were accurate, what was the motivation for that dramatic increase?


Regarding Kosovo, he said that the Secretary-General’s report of 30 April on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said that the Mission had been called on to work with the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, and that UNMIK had formed a support team, which included the UNCHR, among others.  Could Mr. Lubbers provide an update on those efforts?


GUNTER PLEUGER (Germany) said his country supported the UNHCR’s programme for voluntary returns in Africa and would continue to support all initiatives in that respect.  The sustainable reintegration of refugees was a major concern of his Government, which had contributed much to various programmes in various African countries.


He asked the High Commissioner how he saw the further development of the situation in Darfur in the near future.  Specifically, were there large numbers of additional refugees crossing the border and how would the UNHCR be able to cope?


Concerning security of United Nations staff, he said he agreed that a country-to-country approach should be chosen.  But, Mr. Lubbers had also stated that security management in the field must be empowered to take decisions on the ground and should not be eroded by the centralization and bureaucratization of the central management system.  He asked exactly what had been meant by that assertion.  Also, integrated missions were a good approach.  How was the UNHCR assessing implementation of existing guidelines?


BAYANI MERCADO (Philippines) noted that refugees lived in a constant state of insecurity and were among the most vulnerable groups in the world today.  They were exposed to many threats to their lives, and exploitation of their vulnerability could give rise to serious security-related concerns to the host States and their neighbours.  Because of those vulnerabilities, insurgents and criminal elements could easily infiltrate the refugee camps.


He said that the civilian character of refugee camps had been maintained, but while the need to separate other elements was desirable, keeping the civilian nature of the camps might not be that easy since civilians might arm themselves for security.  The blurred lines between the civilian and military nature of camps might expose the host countries.  Maintaining the camps’ civilian character, therefore, had become a priority security issue.  How was the UNHCR addressing that? he asked.


CHARLES ROSTOW (United States) said that the United States would contribute an additional $88.3 million, bringing to $247 million its total contribution for refugee support.  Of that, $44 million was targeted for Africa.  The UNHCR probably had greater impact on more people than any other United Nations office.  Everyone was very concerned about the dire humanitarian situation in and around Darfur and Chad.  He asked about UNHCR’s planned protection for Darfur and whether any contingency plan was in place in the event of additional refugee flows into Chad.


MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria) asked for more information about the finance problems caused by those emergency situations.  He also sought information about what was being done to alleviate the burden of host countries, which were mostly developing countries.  And, what about the forgotten crises?


Council President MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), speaking in his national capacity, said there was a slight dichotomy in the international response to people’s security and humanitarian requirements in the sense that, for peacekeeping, once the Security Council had taken a decision, then the necessary resources were mobilized.  With regard to the humanitarian response, however, the Council was dependent on voluntary contributions from governments and the response of host governments on the ground with regard to access and cooperation.  How could the international security and financial response to crisis situations be synchronized?  The Afghan Cabinet was finalizing the electoral law and it had been agreed in principle that the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran would also participate in the elections.  While the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) would be mainly responsible for coordination in that regard, he hoped that the High Commissioner’s staff would be able to assist.


Response by High Commissioner


Responding to members’ questions, Mr. LUBBERS said that the political situation in relation to refugees had become more difficult because many countries had to deal with mixed flows of people, including migrants who might have been told that they could enter a particular country more easily as a refugee.  They, in turn, turned to human traffickers.  The UNHCR had the task of reducing irregular flows of people and it could carry out that task more easily if there were clearer ways to report immigration.  If there were permanent solutions to the refugee problem, such as integration or permanent settlement in the receiving country, there would be less need for people to turn to traffickers.  Countries must learn to share the burden, and it was unfair to think the problem could be solved country by country.


Regarding Darfur, he said there was still no outflow from the western Sudanese province to the Central African Republic.  The reason was geographic:  the problem had started in northern Darfur, away from Sudan’s border with that neighbouring country.


He said the effective ceasefire in the Sudan had given the army a spare capacity to start its action in Darfur.  The world had seen the army working with the Janjaweed militia, which sometimes crossed the border and reached the refugee camps in Chad.  The “cleansing” action had not been motivated by ethnic considerations, but by the wish to break the rebellion.  There was a certain militarization on both sides of the Sudan-Chad border.


Many attempts had been made to get access to the border, he said.  While the ICRC, Médecins sans frontières and other organizations were working in the area, there was very little access.  The UNHCR was overburdened and would make a plea to the Government of the Sudan, with which it had a very good working relationship.  The Darfur refugees faced a food problem but not a dramatic one, he said.  The World Food Programme (WFP) was working to solve it.  Also, the UNHCR was working to provide shelter before the start of the rainy season.


Regarding cooperation with other United Nations bodies, he said the agency worked closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs.  Besides dealing with refugees, it dealt with internally displaced persons at the request of the system, as in Darfur.  When it came to the question of return, refugees could no longer be distinguished from IDPs because they were all returning to the same places, as in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.


On financial support, he said that was always an uphill battle.  While other bodies had their assessed contributions, the UNHCR had to seek voluntary contributions.  In the beginning, the agency was funded by the regular budget, but that was no longer the case.


In response to a question about West Africa, he said it would be good if the Mano River Union countries could work together in tracking down illegal weapons.  They should also work together politically to solve their refugee problems.  For example, if a Liberian lived in Guinea for 10 years, he should have the right to become a citizen.  Such an initiative by the heads of State would be a valuable contribution.


Returning to the question of Darfur, he said the UNHCR had to plan for at least 100,000 refugees.  Some fleeing Sudanese were put up with relatives on the Chadian side, but, with increasing insecurity in the border area, that had become less of an option.  There was a need to accommodate a larger number of people, with the possibility and expectation that more would come.


On Kosovo, he said there had been enormous drawbacks since the violence in March and perhaps a different approach was needed.


He said the UNHCR had improved considerably even under the previous High Commissioner, Sadako Ogata.  Its success was due to training and technical communication.  The agency had become very secure.  The UNHCR had done a study with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and had found that it had a very secure and highly professional operation.


Regarding security, he said it was necessary to locate refugees at some distance from the conflict and to ensure that young people did not come into close contact with, and therefore become attracted to, military or other armed elements.


Stressing that spending money on refugees was beyond mere humanitarian work, he reiterated that it was really about creating a more secure world.


Regarding the Tripartite Agreement, he said the UNHCR would try this year to repatriate half a million Afghan refugees from Pakistan.  It was laudable that Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran could participate in elections.


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