|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
38th Meeting (PM)
21st Century Proving to Be ‘Century of People on the Move’, Innovative Approaches
Needed to Address New Patterns of Forced Displacement, Third Committee Told
Refugee Head Says Humanitarian Crisis in Horn of Africa ‘Worst I Have Seen’;
In Such Challenging Circumstances ‘We Must Recognize Our Shared Responsibility’
The twenty-first century was “proving to be a century of people on the move”, and innovative approaches were needed to address new patterns of forced displacement, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) was told today by the head of the United Nations refugee agency.
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said displacement patterns had changed over the years, and further dramatic changes were likely. Population growth, urbanization, climate change and food, water and energy insecurity were all compounding instability, triggering conflicts and creating new patterns of forced displacement. The world community needed to recognize protection gaps existed as the world changed, and open the way for innovative approaches to address those gaps.
On the current humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, he said: “It is the worst I have seen in my time as High Commissioner — the result of decades of conflict, drought and food insecurity in a region increasingly impacted by the effects of climate change. All of us could see this escalation coming from a long way away. Nonetheless, we, the international community, were slow to react to signs that things were starting to deteriorate. What is worse, we also didn’t have the capacity to prevent them from getting this bad in the first place.”
The failure to prevent conflict, adapt to climate change and manage risk of natural disasters would only cause further dramatic suffering, inevitably forcing increasing numbers of people to flee. “In such challenging circumstances, we must recognize our shared responsibility. And we must exercise our shared commitment,” he said.
Hailing the sixtieth anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the fiftieth anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, he noted his Office was continuing reforms and had strengthened its emergency preparedness, but the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons continued to grow. “Displacement continues to grow worldwide as new conflicts multiply and old ones fail to be resolved. Some 43.7 million people are now uprooted due to conflict and persecution, the highest number in over 15 years. In 2011 alone, another 750,000 people became refugees in other countries,” he said.
Voluntary repatriation figures were now at their lowest in 20 years — fewer than 200,000 refugees chose to return home in 2010, against an annual average of over a million in the last two decades. That had made resettlement even more vital, but the number of places available annually had remained at 80,000 for the past three years, and there was a worrying trend of racism and xenophobia that threatened the protection space available to refugees. “In anxious times such as these, messages of ‘otherness’ and exclusion play on common fears of the new and unfamiliar,” he said.
The deadly attack yesterday on his Office in Kandahar, Afghanistan was a “cruel blow”. “Three of our staff were killed and two others wounded, in the first attack of this kind on one of our offices in Afghanistan, where we have been working for nearly three decades. Too many humanitarian workers continue to pay for their commitment with their lives,” he said.
During a question-and-answer session, Afghanistan’s representative joined the High Commissioner in expressing condolences to the victims and families of yesterday’s attack. Also in that session, Kenya’s representative noted his country was bearing an unusually high burden from refugees during the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. The current system was not working at all, he said, calling for a strategy to galvanize world support for the problems there.
During general discussion, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the lack of a guarantee of physical security for humanitarian agencies continued to be a major threat in conflict situations such as Somalia. A more robust international response under the Security Council’s leadership was needed to augment African efforts towards stabilizing the situation there, he said.
Liechtenstein’s delegate said his country was particularly concerned about the number of stateless persons — they were estimated to come close to 12 million, but only 3.5 million were identified as such by the Office of the High Commissioner. “The large shadow reflects the notorious difficulties of stateless persons to claim their fundamental rights and freedoms. Additionally, there is a serious risk for statelessness to increase due to new challenges, such as climate change,” he said.
Also participating in today’s discussion were the representatives of Angola (on behalf of Southern African Development Community), European Union, Thailand, China, Zambia, Canada, Russian Federation, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria and Egypt.
The representatives of Estonia and Morocco exercised their right of reply.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 2 November, to consider the report of the Human Rights Council and to engage in a dialogue with the Council’s President, before continuing its discussion on refugee issues.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to consider the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to discuss questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions.
It had before it the Report of the High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/66/12 Supplement No. 12), which provides an account of his Office’s work between January 2010 and mid-2011. It says that new forms of displacement have emerged as population growth and enhanced mobility have combined with myriad factors, including more frequent natural disasters and the slow onset effects of climate change. The international community’s response to those phenomena has been disjointed, yet those trends reinforce and aggravate each other, and will require innovative and more comprehensive approaches to human displacement in the future, the report says.
It also says the changing nature and intractability of conflict has made achieving and sustaining peace more difficult, noting the number of refugees returning home voluntarily in 2010 was the lowest in more than two decades, and unresolved conflicts have given rise to semi-permanent global refugee populations. Among the new challenges were: escalating violence in south and central Somalia that displaced hundreds of thousands of people internally, forcing more than 119,000 Somalis across borders in 2010, and more than 145,000 during the first half of 2011; the displacing of tens of thousands of people within Côte d’Ivoire and some 150,000 into neighbouring countries from post-electoral violence; the displacement of an estimated 300,000 people in southern Kyrgyzstan, in addition to some 75,000 persons who took refuge in neighbouring Uzbekistan from June 2010 in and around Osh and other cities.
At the beginning of 2010, developing countries hosted some 8.3 million refugees, equivalent to 80 per cent of the global refugee population. Just under a quarter of that number were found in the 50 least developed States. Pakistan remained the number one refugee-hosting country, followed by Iran. But the report says the number of resettlement places offered last year — approximately 80,000 — still left a large gap in meeting the resettlement needs. In 2010, an estimated 200,000 places were needed, and for 2011, it was anticipated that some 172,300 people would need resettlement. UNHCR’s global needs-based budget for 2010 amounted to $3.3 billion, the report said. Although it received strong backing in $1.86 billion in voluntary contributions — an increase of almost $150 million from 2009 — those contributions covered only 57 per cent of the budgetary requirements, leaving many needs unmet during the year.
The report concludes that this year UNHCR is commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee and the fiftieth anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, culminating in December with a ministerial-level event of United Nations Member States in Geneva. The Office hopes to secure a renewed commitment to the principles enshrined in the Conventions, along with concrete pledges of action from Governments to resolve refugee and statelessness problems, including through increased accessions to the Conventions.
Also before the Committee was the report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/66/12/Add.1), which summarizes the work of its sixty-second session held from 3 to 7 October 2011. The report outlines decisions of the Executive Committee and lists decisions adopted by the Standing Committee in 2011. A Chairman’s summary of the general debate is also included.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/66/321), which covers the period 1 January 2010 to 30 June 2011. The report has been coordinated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and includes input from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the human rights of internally displaced persons. It is also based on reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organization.
The report notes that from 2000 to 2009, the number of refugees declined in sub-Saharan Africa, but in 2010 that trend was reversed. By the end of 2010, there were close to 2.2 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily from Somalia (477,100), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (441,000) and Sudan (351,600), making the region host to one fifth of the world’s refugees. Additionally, there are currently an estimated 11.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 40 per cent of the world’s internally displaced population, the report says.
The report provides a region-by-region overview of humanitarian crises and the inter-agency cooperation in response. It concludes that humanitarian assistance can, especially if it is effectively linked to early recovery and development activities, provide exiled and displaced populations with opportunities to find a durable solution to their plight, whether that is in their own or another country. It says State and non-State actors must ensure respect for international refugee, humanitarian and human rights law principles by ensuring that humanitarian organizations have safe access to civilians. The report also recommends that States outside Africa support the continent’s efforts to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of uprooted populations through ensuring that relief organizations have adequate resources.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
The representative of Poland introduced the draft text on the rights of the child (document A/C.3/66/L.25) and said next year would mark the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This year’s priority theme was children with disabilities, and such children were more likely to suffer discrimination. Thus, they were in greater need of protection. It addressed, among other things, children in armed conflict and child labour. The format aimed to take a more forward-looking approach to address emerging issues. In that context, it drew attention to the pending adoption of the third Optional Protocol on a communication procedure.
Pakistan’s delegate then introduced the draft resolution on the universal realization of the right of peoples to self-determination (document A/C.3/66/L.30). Noting that over 50 countries were co-sponsoring the text, he said the right to self-determination was the indispensable foundation to all other human rights. It was, therefore, included in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A number of other foundational international instruments recognized the right to self-determination of people living under foreign occupation. Similar to last year’s draft resolution, this year’s text had two technical updates. The wide application of the right to self-determination usually ensured the draft’s consensus adoption, and he hoped it would again enjoy consensus this year.
Timor-Leste’s delegate clarified that her country was not co-sponsoring the draft text. The listing was an error.
Statement of High Commissioner for Refugees
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said it was an important year: the sixtieth anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the fiftieth anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. “In this moment of celebration, yesterday’s deadly attack on UNHCR’s office in Kandahar, Afghanistan, came as even more of a cruel blow to us. Three of our staff were killed and two others wounded, in the first attack of this kind on one of our offices in Afghanistan, where we have been working for nearly three decades. Too many humanitarian workers continue to pay for their commitment with their lives,” he said. More than 50 United Nations staff had been killed so far in 2011, as well as 30 from implementing partners.
“The twenty-first century is proving to be a century of people on the move,” he said. But, present displacement patterns were very different from what they were when the 1951 Convention was created, and further dramatic changes were likely. Population growth, urbanization, climate change and food, water and energy insecurity were all compounding instability, triggering conflicts and creating new patterns of forced displacement, he said. The international community had to recognize the growing complexity of the link between people forced to flee because of conflict and persecution — refugees according to instruments of protection — and those forced to move for other reasons, or even moved just because they wanted a better life. The world was changing with new trends of displacement — we needed to recognize protection gaps existed, and open the way for innovative approaches to address those gaps.
This year had been extremely challenging, marked by a quick succession of three major displacement emergencies — in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and the Horn of Africa — that had tested UNHCR’s capacities and that of its partners. “Displacement continues to grow worldwide as new conflicts multiply and old ones fail to be resolved. Some 43.7 million people are now uprooted due to conflict and persecution, the highest number in over 15 years. In 2011 alone, another 750,000 people became refugees in other countries,” he said. Voluntary repatriation figures were now at their lowest in 20 years — fewer than 200,000 refugees chose to return home in 2010, against an annual average of over a million in the last two decades. That had made resettlement even more vital, but the number of places available annually had remained 80,000 for the past three years.
“Seventy per cent of the refugees of concern to UNHCR — more than 7 million people — now live in prolonged situations of exile. That is why I have made it a priority to UNHCR to intensify the implementation of its Global Plan of Action on protracted refugee situations,” he said. Solutions had to combine humanitarian action with political initiative and economic and social development. Though UNHCR’s mandate was non-political, it could sometimes mobilize other actors, as when it was instrumental in encouraging countries to take on leadership for the joint strategy to close the chapter of displacement of the Western Balkans.
There also needed to be more focus on development programmes to areas of origin, for the successful return of refugees. In the world’s largest protracted situation, that of Afghans, innovative responses by concerned Governments were creating new opportunities. But, developing countries now accommodated 8 out of every 10 refugees, and could not be expected to carry that burden themselves. That solidarity could not only be measured in financial terms — resettlement, as well as mobility and managed migration policies were also vital. Meanwhile, UNHCR in 2010 provided protection and assistance to some 14.7 million internally displaced persons in 29 countries; some 2.9 million were able to return to their communities last year, the highest figure in over 15 years.
On its internal reform process, the UNHCR had reduced Headquarters costs from 14 per cent to 9 per cent of overall expenditures and staff costs from 41 per cent to 27 per cent. It had also deployed two and a half times as many emergency staff as in previous years, and made savings with its global stock management system. But, there also needed to be quicker staff deployments at the outset of a crisis, more predictable and accountable inter-agency engagement, improved accountability, and better financial control and risk management. In that respect, an Independent Audit and Oversight Committee was expected to take up functions by early 2012. While UNHCR’s volume of activity had nearly doubled in the past five years, it had received unprecedented levels of contributions in recent years — almost $1.9 billion in 2010 — and was intensifying efforts to reach out to a wider range of donors. Contributions from the private sector were now nearly four times as high as in 2005, while non-governmental agencies and the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement were increasingly becoming strategic partners.
He was encouraged that so many States upheld the principles of the Refugee Convention through some very tough tests this year, but there was a worrying trend of racism and xenophobia that continued to threaten the protection space available to refugees. Sentiments expressed by populist politicians and some irresponsible elements of the media were not always opposed with sufficient energy and courage by mainstream political and social movements. “In anxious times such as these, messages of ‘otherness’ and exclusion play on common fears of the new and unfamiliar. High levels of anti-foreigner feelings in many States where they arrive pose a real threat to the lives and well-being of refugees, and undermine the universal values of tolerance and respect for human dignity,” he said.
In conclusion, he turned to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. “It is the worst I have seen in my time as High Commissioner — the result of decades of conflict, drought and food insecurity in a region increasingly impacted by the effects of climate change. All of us could see this escalation coming from a long way away. Nonetheless, we, the international community, were slow to react to signs that things were starting to deteriorate. What is worse, we also didn’t have the capacity to prevent them from getting this bad in the first place,” he said. The failure to prevent conflict, adapt to climate change and manage risk of natural disasters would only cause further dramatic suffering, inevitably forcing increasing numbers of people to flee. “In such challenging circumstances, we must recognize our shared responsibility. And we must exercise our shared commitment,” he said.
Afghanistan’s representative joined the High Commissioner in expressing condolences to the victims and families of yesterday’s deadly attack in Kandahar. He stressed that such attacks on civilians would not stop the international community in its goals and objectives of eliminating terrorism in his region. He also noted the work of UNCHR in addressing the crisis of Afghanistan’s refugees for more than 30 years.
The representative of the European Union underlined the difficulty of devising sustainable solutions to refugee issues. There were low numbers of local returns and slow integration. He asked what concrete measures could improve that situation. Highlighting the problem of drawn-out refugee situations, he asked how an environment could be created that would favour the potential for development of the Transitional Solutions Initiative. He also asked how UNHCR could help develop leadership capacity.
Serbia’s delegate, noting his Government’s long-lasting cooperation with large-scale situation of refugees and internally displaced persons with UNHCR, asked how the agency’s budget cuts in the field presence in countries with long-standing refugee and displaced populations would affect the realization of durable and sustainable solutions. Was it possible for an internally displaced person to freely choose between voluntary return and local integration when his/her rights to property would impede that free choice?
Kenya’s representative, noting that his country was bearing an unusually high burden from refugees, stressed that burden-sharing should be prioritized. The current system was not working at all. It was failing Kenyans and a paradigm shift was needed. The international community could not continue to ask and ask and ask for more. There must be a way of constructively engaging with the host country regarding environmental degradation and security issues. Further, Somalia must be stabilized and rid of armed groups that engaged in armed attacks on Kenya. Peace should prevail. However, if war continued, other countries must bear the costs. In that regard, he called for third-party settlement and the settlement of Somalis in safe havens inside their country. He also asked if there was a strategy to galvanize world support for the problems in the Horn of Africa.
Algeria’s representative said his country had opened its borders to the Libyan refugees and was cooperating with UNHCR in that respect. He asked if the budget cuts would affect the financing of annual programmes and if there were other extraordinary funding sources. Also, in protracted situations such as those in Tindouf, people needed legal assistance, as well as medical and education support. Did UNHCR have specific responses to that type of situation?
The representative of the United States said her delegation’s question was similar to the third question from her colleague from the European Union. She said that humanitarian situations were becoming increasingly complex and protection was critical. Partnership was really the watchword of the day. New partnerships must be the foundation of UNHCR’s work. Critical capacity needed to be addressed, including through the adoption of human resource mechanisms. Could the High Commissioner provide details regarding that effort? She said UNHCR must continue to improve its global strategies and performance indicators and urged an organization-wide approach to risk management.
Morocco’s representative, welcoming the High Commissioner for Refugees, asked about the strategy employed to allow the free return of refugees with their consent following protracted refugee situations. Could the High Commissioner provide details on that forthcoming strategy?
Responding, Mr. GUTERRES thanked delegations for their condolences regarding yesterday’s deaths of three UNHCR staff members. Those three esteemed African colleagues had sacrificed their lives for the peace of their countries and the support of refugees. UNHCR remained committed to developing a strategy to support the return of refugees in Afghanistan. He hoped a stakeholders’ conference would be held next year and pledged that UNHCR would be completely engaged in that conference.
He thanked the European Union for its comments. It was difficult to find sustainable solutions because conflicts were often intractable. For the first decade of this century, there were a number of cases of voluntary repatriation, particularly in Afghanistan. Dramatically, over the past two years, such returns had become extremely difficult, owing to difficult security conditions in origin countries. A combination of political initiatives, humanitarian support and development was needed. It was not easy, however, to pull together the various agents at play. There was no humanitarian solution for humanitarian problems, which must always start with political agreements.
It was also hard to weave in humanitarian cooperation with cooperation for development, he stressed. Even if cooperation had improved, there was a cultural gulf between United Nations institutions and international financial institutions. It was not enough to have integrated solutions in the transitional area. Cooperation with the peacekeeping fund was needed. Much more efficient cooperation was needed, including bilateral cooperation, as well as coordination between the financial agencies from the beginning of a humanitarian crisis.
He said that UNHCR was developing coordination capacity for humanitarian emergencies and improving links with United Nations agencies, as well as outside non-governmental organizations, such as the Red Cross. Dialogue was ongoing with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other agencies. But, his Office was the provider of last resort. Thus, it was his responsibility to find ways of coordinating and exchanging information. He noted that medium-scale emergencies were generally well addressed by the existing system. But, greater leadership was needed in major ones.
He said he would visit Belgrade next week to provide meaningful international support to the programme in that region. Noting that budgets had not been cut, he explained that initial spending authorities had been issued. Those were lower than was hoped, but could be higher if further funding appeared. He agreed, however, that European programmes had suffered due to the extremely large issues that unfolded in the last year, such as those in the Horn of Africa. He stressed that voluntary repatriation remained the preferred solution. More could be done to ensure that such repatriation took place with dignity and security.
He agreed that Kenya was a critical partner and was under enormous pressure not only in the recent past, but for decades, as it addressed the large number of sovereign refugees from a number of countries, including Somalia. The international community needed to take the situation in the Horn of Africa more seriously. More effort was also needed to support the people inside Somalia. International solidarity with Kenya should be strongly enhanced. It was important to create areas where Somalis could reside in security inside Somalia. He also pointed to efforts to put a ceiling in place in Dadaab. He further noted that the total number of Somalis inside Kenya was higher than those in refugee camps.
Among other things, he noted that Algeria had been helpful in addressing the Libyan refugee crisis and that UNHCR’s structural costs had been lowered. He said his office intended to give attention to protracted situations, including in Tindouf, to improve conditions. UNHCR had improved capacity through staffing, a total review of training programmes and by adopting an enhanced emphasis on partnerships. A new 2012 programme would address age and gender mainstreaming. Now that the capacity was established in its emergency response, the mechanisms were being bolstered. Creating a stronger core of managers was one focus. He was taking very seriously the recommendations of the Board of Auditors, including the need to address gaps in risk-management approaches. He underlined that UNHCR would not create a bureaucratic monster and intended to maintain a slim profile.
He agreed that voluntary return was the preferred solution in all situations. In his view, all solutions were necessary ones, but that one was always preferable and obviously required a political solution.
OMBENI SEFUE (United Republic of Tanzania), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group was concerned that globally the number of displaced persons continued to grow, with 2010 registering the highest number in the past 15 years and the numbers increasing further in 2011. Noting that that growth represented a reversal of trends from 2000 to 2009, he said Africa, which had an estimated 40 per cent of internally displaced persons and was economically ill-equipped to handle those numbers, bore a huge economic, social and cultural burden. Nevertheless, Africa’s political will and leadership to provide succour to refugees and displaced persons had never been in doubt. The vast majority of African States had signed and had ratified the main legal instrument governing refugees on the continent.
In that context, he noted the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of the Refugee Problem was prepared, in part, to account for the unique aspects of the refugee situation on the African continent and to reflect the traditional African hospitality, and was why the African refugee regime provided more protections to refugees than the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. In 2009, the issue of internally displaced persons was addressed by an additional convention on the protection and assistance to such persons, filling what was seen as a gap in the existing regime. Among other things, that legal instrument emphasized the responsibilities that States, and even armed groups, had to protect and assist their own uprooted citizens. The ongoing process of signing and ratifying the Kampala Convention reaffirmed that African Member States had ownership of that process at the regional and national levels.
Underscoring ongoing challenges, however, he said the lack of a guarantee of physical security for humanitarian agencies continued to be a major threat in conflict situations such as Somalia. A more robust international response under the Security Council’s leadership was needed to augment African efforts towards stabilizing the situation there. The African Group also endorsed the idea of burden-sharing with host countries and welcomed the study commissioned by the High Commissioner through the African Centre for Migration and Society on qualifying the costs being borne by host countries. Praising the decisions by Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti to open their doors to refugees fleeing persecution and famine in Somalia, and by Egypt and Tunisia for hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Libya, he said they all needed help in addressing that huge burden, including through direct support and the support of relief agencies. At the same time, comprehensive solutions to address all relevant aspects of the problem, including voluntary repatriation, integration and resettlement were needed.
ISMAEL A. GASPAR MARTINS ( Angola), on behalf of Southern African Development Community (SADC), said despite challenges in the past years, a stable political environment in most of its countries and increased solidarity had brought a steady decline in the number of refugees in the region. Important initiatives by some SADC members had enabled refugees to become self-reliant, through access to education, employment, freedom of movement, birth registration, addressing the needs of women and children and disabled persons. It was, however, important to secure funding for such programmes, he said, urging the international community to keep providing the necessary financial resources for Africa’s substantial needs as it dealt with the effects of refugee camps and settlements.
Turning to his own country, he said Angola had resettled 4 million internally displaced persons from 2002 to 2006 in partnership with humanitarian agencies. For various reasons, 146,914 Angolan citizens had expressed their intention to remain in countries of asylum as refugees, but in May this year, a voluntary and organized repatriation operation of Angolan refugees still living in neighbouring countries was started. Angola had also provided protection to some 14,298 foreign nationals who were refugees and in the country, he said.
LOIC LALLEMAND ZELLER, representative for the delegation of the European Union, noted with concern the sober content of the High Commissioner’s report. In the last year and half, UNHCR had responded to new displacement due to conflict and violence in Côte d’Ivoire, North Africa and the Horn of Africa. An effective emergency response mechanism was essential for a timely and effective response to those crises and the Union welcomed recent progress to strengthen UNHCR’s emergency preparedness. Despite the Office’s continued management of complex, protracted refugee situations, the number of refugees had increased and the availability of durable solutions remained limited. The European Union encouraged it to seek strategic solutions and international support to unlock those protracted situations. “Ending displacement is difficult due to political and other obstacles, and UNHCR had to work closely with Governments and other interested actors in order to find sustainable solutions”, he said, adding that it was the responsibility of Governments and other conflict parties to minimize the suffering of uprooted populations, as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia had done.
Voicing strong support for UNCHR’s efforts to ensure better access to services for its beneficiaries and to address individual vulnerabilities of persons of concern, he also welcomed strategies to prioritize gender, age and diversity mainstreaming, access to health services and the strategic plan on HIV. He particularly praised targeted interventions to offer protection to women and girls. Education should continue to be a constant priority. The Office had also addressed persons with disabilities, who should be included in the High Commissioner’s next report. Noting its focus on protection needs in mixed migration situations and human trafficking, he called on UNCHR to continue to work closely with the International Organization for Migration and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to respond to the needs of children in such situations. The bloc would also welcome more details on the development of a common framework for international cooperation and burden-sharing in terms of migration. In addition, it considered partnerships to be critical for enhancing humanitarian responses.
He commended UNHCR for its proactive efforts to tackle evolving budgetary and policy channels. The Union supported further review and refinement of the Global Needs Assessment and the rules-based management framework, as well as an effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism. It also encouraged the Office to step up efforts to broaden its donor base. He further welcomed efforts to strengthen implementation of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and to ensure more accession to those relevant legal instruments. The Union was committed to developing instruments to express solidarity with third countries in order to promote and help build capacity.
MANUEL FRICK ( Liechtenstein) said his country was particularly concerned about the number of stateless persons that was estimated to come close to 12 million, only 3.5 million of which were identified as such by UNHCR. “The large shadow reflects the notorious difficulties of stateless persons to claim their fundamental rights and freedoms. Additionally, there is a serious risk for statelessness to increase due to new challenges, such as climate change,” he said. Liechtenstein was also deeply concerned about the 27.5 million persons displaced within their countries by armed conflict. It was a major humanitarian challenge to bring assistance to that affected population, and he urged all parties to conflicts to live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law and facilitate the work of organizations in that field.
As the report of the High Commissioner underlined, sexual and gender-based violence continued to be one of the most serious threats to the protection of displaced persons. “Women and girls are frequently exposed to widespread rape and sexual violence, other human rights abuses and early marriages. We are deeply concerned by the numbers of cases documented by UNHCR, for example, over 1,000 cases of such violence in 2010 alone in Chad,” he said. Ending violence against women in all its forms was a priority for Liechtenstein — it not only violated their rights, but also caused significant harm to the physical and mental health of women and constituted a major challenge for development. Targeted projects must be implemented to end those violations and ensure women could obtain legal advice and representation.
JAKKRIT SRIVALI ( Thailand) stressed that protecting and assisting those in need was a humanitarian and international responsibility and protection systems must be strengthened in a sustainable manner. In Thailand’s experience, an illicit network of human traffickers often passed off as migrants, or “migrants and asylum seekers” to avoid being detained themselves. That alarming tactic underscored the need to prevent others from taking advantage of the protection system. He noted the efforts of UNCHR in implementing the 10-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration, which emphasized the promotion of labour migration schemes and regional and global consultative processes. For its part, Thailand had always sought to foster cooperation at bilateral, regional and international levels to efficiently manage migration and appreciated UNHCR’s cooperation in operationalizing the regional framework within the Bali Process.
He further noted that his Government faced important challenges in terms of protection gaps and finding durable solutions for the 140,000 displaced persons and other persons of concern residing in Thailand. He noted that access to protection would be further enhanced as admission criteria to temporary shelters continued to be refined. Thailand was also making important strides in implementing its domestic civil registration act. He noted the importance of education and vocational training programmes. He noted efforts by UNHCR to engage in organizational reform. He also thanked resettlement countries for helping alleviate the situation in Thailand’s temporary shelters, while also noting the large gaps in meeting overall global resettlement needs.
ZHANG GUIXUAN ( China) said the international situation regarding refugee protection had become more grave and complex than ever before. “In addition to traditional factors such as armed conflicts and natural disasters, new factors including social unrest, economic recession and poverty have kept cropping up, resulting in an ever-mounting displacement of people,” he said. Meanwhile, the difficulty of refugee settlement had continued to grow, as most of the countries of origin had yet to attain stability and development, and some countries witnessed increasing xenophobic sentiments towards refugees.
To respond to those challenges, the international community needed to promote the democratization of international relations to reduce the number of refugees and internally displaced persons from armed conflicts. Improved economic development and social stability were also needed to minimize the social and economic root causes of refugees, while developed countries should help developing countries enhance the capacity for refugee protection and settlement. There also needed to be improved cooperation to enhance emergency response, and greater protection for refugees’ rights to fight racial discrimination and xenophobia.
PATRICIA CHISANGA-KONDOLO ( Zambia), welcoming UNHCR’s strategic direction for the year ahead, noted that insecurity and continued human rights violations by State and non-State actors had obstructed protection efforts and solutions to displacements. Moreover, protracted refugee situations in some parts of Africa had been exacerbated by the adverse and severe impact of drought. The precarious situation of conflict compounded by frequent national disasters and climate change reinforced the need for innovative and comprehensive efforts by the world community to address those challenges. She underlined the importance of the recently adopted 2009 African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, noting that it would be instrumental in providing the necessary legal framework that would assist African States in finding durable solutions for victims of forced displacement. Zambia hoped the Convention would be ratified expeditiously, to allow its entry into force.
She said Zambia continued to prioritize voluntary repatriation as the preferred durable solution. It was working to facilitate third-country resettlement, even as it considered the prospects of local integration where possible. However, the highly anticipated return of 7,000 refugees to Angola facilitated by UNHCR had not been realized because of a lack of adequate resources. At the same time, the outlook in the larger part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was encouraging. In the case of voluntary repatriation to Rwanda, exemption procedures had been established to ensure that those in need of protection were granted it. The Zambian Government was working to engage with origin countries regarding proposed measures to resolve the problem of those refugees who had opted to remain in the country. However, it would look to other durable solutions, such as resettlement countries, in the sprit of burden-sharing.
KATRINA BURGESS ( Canada) said extensive investments and reforms to her country’s refugee protection system would come into effect next year, substantially increasing the number of refugees it resettled from abroad. Canada also underscored the importance for Governments to combat human smuggling, a criminal enterprise that endangered the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, while undermining public support for refugee protection. Canada would continue its efforts to combat human smuggling, including through legislation to prevent human smugglers from abusing its immigration system.
The right of persecuted individuals to access protection was at the core of the 1951 Convention, and Canada encouraged Member States not party to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol to accede to those instruments, and underscored the responsibility of all States to abide by the core principles they enshrined. In the last months, the world had witnessed a number of forced movements; effective protection measures should identify and address the specific vulnerabilities of refugees, addressing, for example, endemic sexual violence or taking into account the persecution of religious minorities.
ALEXEY O. GOLTYAEV ( Russian Federation) said the activities of UNHCR were part of interlinked efforts towards peace support and stability. His Government believed the 1951 Refugee Status Convention must remain the foundation for the international refugee regime. He advocated maintaining the key role of the Executive Committee in implementing key decisions. The Russian Federation supported UNHCR’s commitment to standards in reacting to massive forced displacements. It also believed national mechanisms to protect refugees needed further development.
On that basis, his Government believed better coordination with UNHCR and the authorities of concerned States was called for. Principles needed to be clearly defined. He shared concerns about trends in the abuse of refugee status. It was also important to focus on the High Commissioner’s role in reducing statelessness. He drew attention to the unresolved issue of stateless persons in Latvia and Estonia, which was absolutely unacceptable. The High Commissioner should play a greater role in resolving that issue. A long-term solution must be found for voluntary repatriation and resettlement. A more balanced approach was also needed for instances of major displacement.
AMIRA DALI ( Tunisia) said that today, after their victorious revolution, the people of her country were ready to turn a new page in development. Tunisia paid homage to the people of Libya for their victory in their own revolution. But, both their peoples had gone through very hard times, due to the steady flow of refugees from the conflict in Libya. Tunisia’s policy of open doors and hospitality to refugees showed the most humane dimension of their solidarity. As of today, many African refugees and those from South-East Asia were still housed and fed in camps on its border.
The people of Tunisia all provided hospitality and support to those migrants through caravans, also installing mobile hospitals and camps. She heartfully thanked humanitarian and United Nations agencies that had mobilized in the face of that crisis, but noted many countries were quite reticent to take migrants — even though 80 per cent of refugees were currently in developing nations. International solidarity policies needed to make up for those problems, in order to share the refugee burden evenly, she said.
G. SEDDIQ RASULI ( Afghanistan) expressed gratitude to the High Commissioner and his staff for their special attention to the plight of Afghan refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons. While Afghan refugees were once again returning to their homeland, the pace of repatriation had been reduced relative to previous years owing to the threats of terrorism, insecurity, widespread poverty and a challenging humanitarian situation. The number of internally displaced persons had also increased in provinces with the highest insecurity levels. The Government remained committed to voluntary, dignified and gradual repatriation and re-integration. Already 4.6 million refugees received aid and since 2005, the Government had constructed 60 townships in 20 provinces for refugees. As the security situation improved and people returned, the Government was facing growing problems in providing basic services.
He further stressed that security challenges and threats could not be forgotten, since they posed great challenges to sustainable repatriation efforts. Between June 2009 and September 2010, 12,000 people were displaced as a result of insecurity, bringing the total number of displaced persons to over 319,000. Efforts with international partners to secure Afghanistan both within and outside its borders must be continued. The Government must work with UNHCR and the international community to seek new ways to review returnee policies and to provide access to health care, education, drinking water and work opportunities. He expressed appreciation to Pakistan and Iran for being the primary hosts of Afghan refugees for more than 30 years now. Constructive trilateral meetings were held in May to find durable solutions to repatriation. A multi-year strategy was being developed in that regard and would be presented at the stakeholders’ conference in early 2012.
SHIGEHIRO NISHIUMI ( Japan) said his country was shocked and expressed its strong indignation at the attack in Kandahar on 31 October, which resulted in the deaths of UNHCR employees and the wounding of other staff members, and expressed deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathy. Japan also praised the generosity of host countries for refugees, but a broad range of assistance was necessary in some areas to successfully enable the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. In addition to protection, “empowerment” was essential to ensure their future socio-economic self-reliance. Coordination among United Nations agencies was also indispensable, he said, praising the work of UNHCR and International Organization for Migration in providing assistance to displaced people of Libya in a cooperative manner.
This year, Japan had already contributed $226 million to the work of UNHCR — its highest level ever. Japan’s Government had been carrying out more than 50 projects in about 30 countries in collaboration with UNHCR and last year started a pilot project on the resettlement of refugees — the first ever of its kind to be conducted in Asia. But, as its funding gap continued to grow, Japan invited UNHCR to redouble its efforts to broaden the donor base, and especially enhance cooperation with the private sector.
NURBEK KASYMOV ( Kyrgyzstan) said his country set great store by its cooperation with UNHCR. In 1996, Kyrgyzstan acceded to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Having become a full-fledged participant in taking in refugees, the Government passed a law on refugees, which fully corresponded to international standards. The State also provided educational opportunities, provided legal assistance and offered employment support to refugees, who were not returned to countries where they might be persecuted. Pointing to the number of programmes aimed at facilitating voluntary repatriation, he said Kyrgyzstan provided protection to over 20,000 refugees.
While thanking the High Commissioner for his report, he pointed out that the 75,000 people it mentioned who had crossed the border to Uzbekistan had now returned home. Also, 300,000 internally displaced persons had come back to their homes and villages and were supported through a special bureau in south Kyrgyzstan. The Government continued to abide by its international obligations and would do so in the future, he said.
REDOUANE YAHIAOUI ( Algeria), noting the number of pressing humanitarian crises facing UNHCR, fully endorsed the High Commissioner’s conclusions. The precarious state of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world remained worrying. The number of refugees had risen significantly from 2009 to 2010, while the number of internally displaced persons was also increasing. The majority of the latter group were located in developing countries, particularly in Africa, which accounted for nearly half of the world’s internally displaced persons. That acute, unstable situation was worrying, particularly in the context of certain humanitarian situations. He welcomed the adoption of the 2009 Kampala Convention, which would help people displaced by conflict.
He noted that Algeria had provided $10 million for people affected by the crisis in the Horn of Africa, including through food assistance, as well as material support. Algeria had also rapidly dealt with refugees from the Libyan crisis, providing them with food, shelter and medical care. Their administrative situation had also been regularized. Stressing that Algeria would follow its noble tradition of humanitarian assistance, he said it continued to deal with the Saharan refugees in Tindouf, as they awaited the exercise of their right to self-determination. In that context, he noted that family visits had been resumed, saying Algeria appreciated UNHCR’s cooperation in that initiative. He expressed further appreciation for the work carried out by the donor mission in Tindouf in 2011, and noted the commitments entered into by some donors, some of them for the first time. He also noted that regular evaluation missions confirmed the transparency of international humanitarian aid for the Saharan refugees.
OSAMA ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD ( Egypt) expressed appreciation for the efforts by UNHCR to deal with the recent crisis in Libya. He noted that the number of refugees and internally displaced persons had increased recently as a result of natural disasters, humanitarian crises, such as the drought in the Horn of Africa and the food crisis in Somalia. He underlined the need to provide UNHCR with adequate resources, while also highlighting the High Commissioner’s clear mandate to focus attention on the protracted refugee situations in developing countries. International efforts to eliminate the root causes of conflict should also be intensified, while support should also be given to developing the capacities of post-conflict States and securing respect for human rights, which was a prerequisite for providing an enabling environment for returning refugees. Obligations under international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law must not be affected by security obsessions or controls to curb irregular migration under the guise of protecting national identity.
He further underlined the need for international solidarity and effective partnerships in sharing the burdens and responsibilities of protecting and assisting refugees. In that context, he noted the role of the Peacebuilding Commission. He also stressed that his Government’s efforts were not enough to meet the basic needs of the refugees from Libya at its western borders. He reaffirmed the need to intensify efforts to invigorate the “Convention Plus” initiative to complement the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Among other things, that would help realize a more equitable partnership in sharing burdens and responsibilities, and in offering sustainable solutions for refugee issues all over the world. In particular, efforts must coalesce in the development of frameworks for international action.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply to the Russian Federation, Estonia’s representative said his Government was committed to finding solutions for the large group of people with undetermined citizenship following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Their number had decreased five-fold since Estonia’s independence, and those granted citizenship now accounted for 15 per cent of the country’s population. His Government’s position was that everyone had the right to choose his or her citizenship. Further, the Constitution prohibited discrimination on any grounds. In addition, persons with undetermined citizenship enjoyed more rights than was foreseen in the 1951 Convention. Estonia was one of the few countries where all legal residents had the right to vote in all local elections.
Exercising the right of reply to comments by the Algerian delegation regarding the vulnerable and dramatic situation of the people in the Tindouf camp, Morocco’s delegate recalled the recent Security Council resolution urging UNHCR to continue to try to register the people in the Tindouf camp. It was an unambiguous appeal to allow UNCHR to record the situation there, which was an affront to the international community. Further, the issue was raised by the Secretary-General’s report on Western Sahara in 2011. However, despite efforts by UNHCR, there had been no progress in overcoming the Algerian refusal to allow such an evaluation.
* *** *For information media • not an official record