United Nations

A/53/413


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

21 September 1998

ORIGINAL:
ENGLISH




                                                          A/53/413
       
                                                          Original: English
       
       
General Assembly
Fifty-third session
Agenda item 105
Report of the United Nations High 
  Commissioner for Refugees:
  questions relating to refugees and 
  displaced persons and
  humanitarian questions


         Follow-up to the Regional Conference to Address the
       Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of
     Involuntary Displacement and Returnees in the Countries of
        the Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant
                       Neighbouring States


                  Report of the Secretary-General


Contents         

                                                    Paragraphs   Page

  I.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1-2        2

 II.  Implementation of the Programme of Action. . . .  3-11       2

III.  Review of progress made and future plans . . . . 12-21       4


        I.     Introduction


1.   The present report is submitted pursuant to General
Assembly resolution 52/102 of 12 December 1997, in which
the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) and the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were invited to continue to
steer the ongoing and future activities relating to the follow-up 
to the Regional Conference to Address the Problems of
Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary
Displacement and Returnees in the Countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant
Neighbouring States, held at Geneva on 30 and 31 May
1996. The Secretary-General was requested to report to the
General Assembly at its fifty-third session on progress
achieved in the implementation of the Programme of Action
adopted by the Conference.

2.   In the same resolution, the General Assembly called
upon the Governments of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) to continue to strengthen their
commitment to the principles underpinning the Programme
of Action, in particular human rights and refugee protection
principles, and to lend high-level political support to ensure
progress in its implementation, and also called upon States
and interested international organizations, in a spirit of
solidarity and burden-sharing, to provide appropriate forms
and levels of support for the practical implementation of the
Programme of Action. The Assembly further called upon
the Governments of the Commonwealth of Independent
States, as well as international organizations, to strengthen
further their cooperation with non-governmental
organizations while encouraging the involvement of
intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations in
the follow-up process; invited all countries that had not yet
done so to accede and implement fully the 1951 Convention
and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees;
and requested UNHCR to enhance its relationship with other
key actors, including the Council of Europe, human rights,
developmental and financial institutions, in order to better
address the wide-ranging and complex issues in the
Programme of Action.


     II.  Implementation of the Programme of Action


3.   Follow-up mechanisms established within UNHCR
and IOM continued to ensure the implementation of the
Programme of Action, in cooperation with concerned States
and intergovernmental organizations. A number of
initiatives and activities to further implement the
Programme of Action were undertaken, as outlined below.

4.   The emphasis of the Conference is increasingly on
avoiding duplication and better coordination. Integrated
approaches are more than ever being successfully
developed. Close UNHCR-IOM cooperation has been
further strengthened both at headquarters and field levels,
on the basis of the Joint Operational Strategy. The two
organizations launched and jointly presented to the donor
community their appeals for funds for the countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States for 1998 in order to
support the implementation of their programmes in this
region. The institutionalized working relationships between
the two organizations have proven to be the main vehicle
for the implementation of the Programme of Action.
Partnerships between UNHCR, OSCE and its institutions,
such as its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human
Rights (ODIHR) and of the High Commissioner on National
Minorities (HCNM) have been further developed and
institutionalized. The increasingly close interaction is also
based on a recognition of the critical linkage between
migration, displacement and security issues, and includes
such areas as freedom of movement, the restitution of
property and citizenship issues of formerly deported peoples
in Crimea. UNHCR has also become involved in broader
United Nations or OSCE-led conflict resolution efforts,
such as those of the OSCE Minsk Group mediating in the
conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and OSCE peacemaking
efforts in the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia.
Areas of cooperation with the Council of Europe now cover,
inter alia, citizenship, registration of citizens and freedom
of movement, legislation on non-governmental
organizations, refugee legislation and the implementation
of the European Convention on Human Rights on questions
related to refugees and asylum.

5.   Most Governments of the Commonwealth of
Independent States have maintained their commitment to
the Conference process, and several have paid increased
attention to strengthening the institutional frameworks
appropriate for effective management of migration and
displacement. They have elaborated, revised and amended
relevant legislation. In some cases, migration policies have
been updated and appropriate administrative structures have
been strengthened or their status has been upgraded. Some
Governments have paid special attention to the protection
of minority rights and the rights of formerly deported
peoples. Several States have acceded or are preparing to
accede to various international instruments. Turkmenistan
has acceded to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol
relating to the Status of Refugees. Other Governments have
focused their efforts on solving problems related to
integration of newly arrived populations. In some areas,
bilateral and subregional mechanisms are being developed
to ensure a coordinated response to shared problems. This
is particularly the case in Central Asia, where the Bishkek
Migration Management Centre, established in 1997 with the
assistance of UNHCR and IOM, is increasingly becoming
operational and developing its potential, and the increasing
involvement of the Central Asian Inter-State Council is also
significant.

6.   Other interested States and organizations have
provided support to the implementation process through
funding UNHCR and IOM appeals, lending assistance on
a bilateral basis. UNHCR has shaped its priorities to more
effectively focus its regional policies and programmes in
the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States,
as well as to involve other actors in Conference follow-up.
UNHCR has sometimes acted as a catalyst for action,
drawing attention to issues that can best be addressed by
other actors, or drawing the expertise of others into joint
activities. Thus, closer partnerships, as mentioned above,
have been further developed with OSCE and its institutions,
the Council of Europe, the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United
Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and some other
agencies. On the other hand, cooperation with international
financial institutions has not expanded at the same pace. The
reasons are probably due to differences in objectives and
priorities, insufficient awareness on the part of financial
institutions, lack of a soft loan capacity and perhaps the
reluctance of the countries of the Commonwealth of
Independent States to seek loans for humanitarian or
reconstruction projects. However, the most notable
exception is the pioneering cooperation between the World
Bank, UNHCR and UNDP in Azerbaijan in establishing a
strategic framework for post-conflict resettlement and
reconstruction, and mobilizing international funding.

7.   IOM has shaped its strategy in the region on the basis
of the experience gained in past years in a number of
countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and
concentrating on its core expertise, which lies in three main
areas: technical cooperation on migration programmes,
which assist Governments and non-governmental
organizations in establishing the institutional structures and
operational capacity to manage migratory movements and
address migration issues; humanitarian migration and
integration programmes, which provide integration
assistance to migrants resettling within the Commonwealth
of Independent States, and return and reintegration
assistance to stranded migrants from countries other than
those of the Commonwealth of Independent States; and
research and information programmes, which monitor
changes in migration patterns and conduct original research
over a short time scale to inform policy makers and project
developers. The development of the capacity-building in
migration management programme has become IOM's top
priority and main accomplishment in the Commonwealth
of Independent States.

8.   In view of the limited resources available for the entire
region, UNFPA policy has focused on assisting
Governments in their efforts to develop a comprehensive
reproductive health care system. UNFPA supports training
of service providers, provision of supplies, the
dissemination of information and curriculum development
for sexual education. UNDP is playing an important role in
assisting the internally displaced and the reintegration of
returnees in Crimea, and is one of the actors involved in
reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-damaged areas in
Azerbaijan. UNICEF conducted a series of workshops
focused on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with
particular emphasis on the situation of women and children
from refugee populations and displaced persons; developed
contingency planning helping these groups as an integral
part of country programmes in the Transcaucasus and
Central Asia; and commissioned a study on projects dealing
with psychosocial rehabilitation in war-affected areas.
UNESCO plays a role in the development of cultural
activities of returnees in the Crimea (Ukraine). The Division
for Public Economies and Public Administration of the
United Nations Secretariat has undertaken several activities
and projects that indirectly tackle the problems of refugees
and displaced persons, particularly in such areas as
protection and promotion of human rights, election,
democratization, human rights and governance, support for
non-governmental organizations and building civil society,
technical cooperation to develop local institutional capacity
for good governance, conflict management in diverse
societies, and strengthening tolerance-building and
ombudsman institutions.

9.   Significant progress has by now also been achieved
in developing the capacities of local non-governmental
organizations within the broad framework of building civil
society. This activity is largely supported by donors,
particularly the United States of America, Finland, Sweden
and Denmark. In 1997, the Non-Governmental
Organizations Fund was established to provide start-up
grants to emerging local non-governmental organizations
to enhance their expertise, management skills and assistance
capacity. Non-governmental organization activities have
become better structured with the establishment of thematic
working groups aimed at coordination of their contributions
at all stages of Conference follow-up. Local non-governmental 
organizations in the countries of the Commonwealth of 
Independent States are enhancing both their skills and 
contacts with each other and Governments.

10.  An expert group meeting on freedom of movement and
choice of place of residence was organized by UNHCR,
OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe in December
1997 at Kyiv, as part of the follow-up activities to the
Conference. The objectives of the meeting were to identify
ways of mitigating the negative and restrictive consequences
associated with the system of residence permits, better
known as propiska, and to explore possible approaches in
changing the system. A review on the follow-up to the
expert group meeting took place at the annual Steering
Group meeting in June 1998.

11.  Although progress has been achieved in the follow-up
to the Conference, the process also faces a number of
constraints, including a decrease in the level of international
attention and political support that it warrants and that it
originally enjoyed; a tendency to view the follow-up process
as a technical exercise; lack of political solutions of
conflicts, which have produced large-scale displacement
and left large numbers of people uprooted in a state of
limbo; staff safety, which remains a grave concern (in North
Caucasus, this problem has significantly affected UNHCR
programmes after the abduction of the UNHCR Head of
Office at Vladikavkaz); and financial constraints affecting
the ability to pursue some of the objectives of the
Programme of Action, in particular a lack of involvement
of international financial institutions.


    III.  Review of progress made and future plans


12.  On 17 and 18 June 1998, the Steering Group met to
review progress after the second year of implementation.
Forty States, 21 international organizations, 73 non-governmental
organizations and five other entities
participated. The review was based on a report compiled by
UNHCR and IOM with OSCE/ODIHR, highlighting
progress that has been made mainly by UNHCR, IOM and
OSCE/ODIHR with the Governments concerned to
implement the provisions of the Programme of Action.

13.  The deliberations during the meeting confirmed that
Conference follow-up remains broadly on track, and
reaffirmed the importance and utility of the entire process.
It also demonstrated that the Steering Group meeting has
become and remains a very useful vehicle for pan-European
and international dialogue to discuss and review issues on
a broad humanitarian agenda. It is one of the few existing
forums for Governments, international organizations and
non-governmental organizations to work together in
developing mutual understanding and agreement on
achieving objectives reflecting international standards. The
Chair of the meeting made a number of suggestions to
reinvigorate the process, and asked for feedback from
participating States.

14.  Strong emphasis was placed on the development of
asylum systems, and the countries of the Commonwealth of
Independent States were encouraged to intensify the process
of accession to international instruments, including the 1951
Convention and its 1967 Protocol. These issues can be
effectively addressed when already existing achievements
in the sphere of institution-building are translated into
functioning procedures in accordance with international
standards. Considerable attention was devoted to such
issues as irregular migration. However, it was emphasized
that a balance between control measures and humane asylum
and migration management approaches should be
established. The predicament of the formerly deported
peoples, particularly the Meskhetians and Crimean Tatars,
was frequently mentioned. It was agreed that more attention
should be devoted to finding ways of addressing the acute
problems facing these peoples, who were expelled en masse
from their homelands and many of whom still remain in
refugee-like situations or are stateless. A number of
participants also underlined the critical importance of
burden and responsibility-sharing, and noted the fact that
the entire Conference process is based on this premise.
There was consensus that partnerships, particularly with
financial institutions and development actors, must be
strengthened and broadened. With the support of all States
participating in Conference follow-up, an appropriate
message could be usefully passed to the executive bodies
of these institutions.

15.  It was reiterated at the meeting that the political
settlement of conflicts is a precondition for effective
solutions to problems of refugees and other displaced
persons. Distress and frustration were expressed over the
lack of progress in arriving at a political settlement of the
conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the recent flare-up of
fighting in the Gali district of Georgia, which has resulted
in the renewed displacement of many thousands of people.

16.  At this Steering Group meeting, the countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States reaffirmed their
commitment to implementing the Programme of Action.
This was illustrated by a number of achievements
highlighted in the statements. Several Governments in the
region noted that much more could be done to implement
the Programme of Action if the required financial resources
were provided.

17.  Five interested States (the United States, Sweden,
Finland, Norway and Switzerland) confirmed and/or
announced new contributions to UNHCR and IOM appeals
for 1998 for the countries of the Commonwealth of
Independent States. One of the countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States, Armenia, set a novel
example by contributing to UNHCR's country programme.

18.  Impressive headway has been made in placing the
emphasis on the building of civil society, particularly
through the development of the non-governmental
organization sector. This sector has witnessed remarkable
progress during the last two years, as attested by the 
non-governmental organization consultations preceding the
Steering Group meeting and the reports from the five
working groups. The non-governmental organizations have
demonstrated visible progress in working together over the
past year at the national, subregional and regional levels,
and their working groups appear to have drawn up concrete
plans of action and arrived at a good division of labour. The
Non-Governmental Organizations Fund has contributed
significantly to the development of local non-governmental
organizations and their capacities. The meeting expressed
commitment to sustaining the momentum created by the
existing active involvement of the non-governmental
organizations in the process, particularly through building
their institutional capacity and developing dialogue and
cooperation with the Governments and other partners.

19.  Many delegations appreciated the introduction of a
thematic review for the first time at the 1998 session of the
Steering Group, which focused on irregular migration and
trafficking in migrants, as well as freedom of movement and
choice of place of origin. The objective was to achieve a
sharper focus on specific components of the Programme of
Action, and to inject into the process an element of
informality and further interaction. There was a general
consensus to continue this practice.

20.  Over the past two years, a great deal of progress has
been made in the implementation of the Programme of
Action, particularly in the areas of building institutional
frameworks, broadening partnerships between international
organizations active in the countries of the Commonwealth
of Independent States and their Governments, and
developing civil society, especially enhancing the capacities
and skills of emerging local non-governmental
organizations.

21.  In the year ahead, efforts will be made to build on
these achievements and further shape the main direction and
focus of the follow-up process in order to ensure that the
implementation of the Programme of Action is more
effective, dynamic, concrete and country specific, enjoying
full political support at national and international levels.
Also envisaged is more participatory involvement of the
Governments of countries of the Commonwealth of
Independent States and other interested States, as well as
international organizations, including international financial
institutions. Implementation will proceed in close contact
with the Governments concerned and partner organizations.
A special UNHCR/IOM coordination meeting will be
convened, and progress made on the Programme of Action
will be reviewed at the fourth Steering Group meeting, to
be held in mid-1999.

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