Fifty-sixth General Assembly
43rd Meeting (AM)
REFUGEES VICTIMS OF TERRORISM, NOT ITS PERPETRATORS, HIGH COMMISSIONER TELLS
THIRD COMMITTEE, AS REFUGEE DEBATE OPENS
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees this morning urged world governments and politicians to avoid falling into the trap of making unwarranted linkages between refugees and terrorism. In the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, it was understandable that governments were looking to enhance security safeguards against abuse of international asylum regimes, but it would be a terrible irony if those who had fled from terror were to become unwitting victims of the war against terrorism.
As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) began its debate on questions related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, the High Commissioner, said his concern was that in the current climate of understandable anxiety, innocent people -- refugees and asylum seekers -- might be unfairly victimized or become convenient scapegoats. The basic principles of refugee protection continued to be respected, and the global fight against terrorism should not weaken the international protection regime.
He stressed that refugees were the victims of terrorism, not its perpetrators. Governments must not resort to mandatory or arbitrary detention of asylum seekers or to other procedures that did not comply with the standards of due process. Resettlement programmes should be maintained and should not discriminate against particular ethnic and religious groups or nationalities.
Mr. Lubbers added that States must continue to respect their obligations under the 1951 Convention on the status of Refugees. When properly applied, that instrument did not provide a safe haven nor did it extend any immunity from prosecution to those engaged in terrorist activity.
Turning to the current situation in Afghanistan, home to the world’s largest refugee population, he said, there were now new opportunities for restoring peace and stability. Following 22 years of conflict, the opportunity was there to rebuild Afghanistan by facilitating reconciliation efforts and ensuring the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country. In doing so, it would be essential to consider not only the needs of refugees and displaced persons and the positive contributions they could make to the country’s overall development.
In an interactive dialogue with Committee Members, the High Commissioner answered questions about, among other things, weeding out terrorists who crossed borders with refugees, and the budget problems faced by UNHCR. Responding to a
query by the representative of Pakistan, Mr. Lubbers said the first influx of refugees generally brought a mix of refugees and armed fighters. The preferred policy, he said, was having stringent border checks, instead of closing borders and then having irregular entries.
The representative of Pakistan was joined by the representative of Sudan in pressing Mr. Lubbers about his agency's financial difficulties. In Pakistan, UNHCR's budget was only $18 million, which totaled $8 per refugee per year, the delegate said. The Sudanese delegate, meanwhile, asked if there were provisions available for emergency situations which brought an influx of refugees to a particular region.
The High Commissioner responded that the UNHCR was looking to increase its allocations by $50 million, although all that money would not go to Pakistan and Sudan. But voluntary contributions had fallen off as donor fatigue set in. Resources did exist, however, which allowed for emergency provisions to be deployed when needed. Such was the case in Afghanistan, he said.
Also participating in the dialogue were the representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Libya, South Africa, and Mexico.
Opening the Committee’s general debate, representatives of Belgium (speaking on behalf of the European Union), Mozambique (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), China, Japan, Norway, Sudan, United States and Venezuela made statements.
The Committee will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m., to continue its general debate of matters related to refugees and internally displaced persons.
Nearing the end of its work for the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this morning to take up matters related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions.
Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is expected to present the report of his Office and then engage in an interactive dialogue with Committee Members.
The Committee was set to consider a number of other reports on refugees and displaced persons prepared by the High Commissioner's Office as well as notes by the Secretary-General.
To guide their overall discussions, delegations had before them the report on the work of the UNHCR for the year (document A/56/12 and Add.1). In the report's introduction, the High Commissioner noted that though 2000 marked the beginning of the new millennium and the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, it was not a time for celebration, as hopes for peace were tempered by continued conflict in many world regions. Frequently, those conflicts were the result of unresolved tensions among ethnic communities. While there were no new refugee situations on the scale experienced in recent years, UNHCR continued to face a great number of refugee and forced displacement situations, often exacerbated by natural disasters.
Chronic instability in many parts of Africa, the report continues, forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their own countries and to cross national borders. Conflict and civil strife also continued unabated in south-west and south-east Asia, the Balkans and Caucasus regions, and South America. Such situations were characterized by a lack of security for vulnerable civilian populations and humanitarian staff. Restricted access limited UNHCR's ability to protect and provide relief to many populations and impacted its security. The latter became brutally apparent when three UNHCR staffers in West Timor, Indonesia and one in Guinea were cruelly murdered while carrying out their duties.
Despite the turmoil caused by continued instability in many regions the global population of concern to UNHCR decreased from 22.3 million in 1999 to
21.1 million in 2000. They included asylum-seekers, refugees, returning refugees in the early stages in their reintegration, internally displaced persons and other people of concern, mainly victims of conflict. Some 800,000 refugees returned home during the year. Often however, they returned to situations of uncertainty and fragile peace. The Office also facilitated the resettlement of some
40,000 refugees from countries of first asylum.
The Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme and its Standing Committee examined a number of topical and thematic issues in relation to the work of the Office in 2000 and the first quarter of 2001. Those included regular reviews of regional operation and funding, coordination within the United Nations system, refugee children and adolescents older refugees, refugees and HIV/AIDS, and security and safety of staff. In July 2000, the Office launched a process of global consultations on international protection, which aimed at defining problems and identifying new approaches, tools and guidelines for international protection of refugees.
In 2000, the report states, the UNHCR received a total of some $705 million in voluntary contributions towards its Annual Programme Budget. By 31 March 2001, a total of nearly $310 million had been received against a budget amounting to some $953.7 million.
The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the audit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Operations in Albania (document A/56/128). According to the report, in March 1999, an estimated 450,000 Kosovars fled to Albania. In June of that year, after the cessation of hostilities, the overwhelming majority of these refugees repatriated spontaneously to Kosovo. During the emergency period and thereafter, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spent approximately $56 million for emergency assistance to Kosovo refugees in Albania.
In November 1999, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) conducted an audit of the UNHCR's operations in Albania covering the 1999 emergency phase and the post-emergency phase through October 1999. The initial audit disclosed serious shortcomings in the management of the emergency operation by the Office and its implementing partners. Staffing during that phase had been inadequate and suffered from frequent turnover; programme monitoring and budgetary control was inadequate; and taxes levied on purchases made were not refunded. The follow-up audit had shown that significant progress had been made in solving some of those problems, including improved procurement procedures.
The Committee also had before it a Report of the Secretary-General on the Assistance to Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons in Africa (document A/56/335), which describes action taken to implement General Assembly resolution 55/77, passed in December 2000 about the efforts expended by countries of asylum.
The report says since the last report in the issue, the main refugee groups continue to originate from Burundi, Sudan, Somalia, Angola, Sierra Leone and Eritrea, followed by the Democratic Republic on the Congo, Liberia and Rwanda. Although some reparation movements have taken place, such as the 21,000 Eritrean refugees and the 22,000 Somali refugees who returned home by mid-year, there are still 3.6 million refugees in Africa, or 30 per cent of the global 12.1 million-refugee population.
The document concludes that it is crucial for all those participating to engage in an open dialogue on the challenges that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and refugees face in this rapidly changing world. As UNHCR faces increasing demands despite its limited resources, the Office of the High Commissioner will continue to take the lead in the protection and provision of assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Africa.
The Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the Protection and Assistance to Unaccompanied and Separated Refugee Children (document A/56/333), which includes information on actions taken by the United Nations and other organizations in compliance with resolution 54/145, passed in December 1999, recognizing that these refugees are among the most vulnerable and are the most at risk of neglect, violence, forced military recruitment, sexual assault and other abuses.
Unaccompanied children are children under 18 years of age who have been separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so, the report begins. However, experience, notably in the Great Lakes region of Africa, has highlighted that even in emergency situations, not all children are found to be unaccompanied as defined above, even though many have been separated from their previous legal or customary caregiver. Such children, although living with extended family members, may face risks similar to those encountered by unaccompanied refugee children.
The report concludes that notwithstanding the progress recorded in meeting the basic protection and assistance needs of unaccompanied and separated refugee children by several international and non-governmental organizations, many of these children's basic needs remain unmet. One key challenge is the lack of adequate human and financial resources to address identified needs. Community-based strategies in addressing this issue require further emphasis and support in humanitarian interventions.
Statement by High Commissioner
RUUD LUBBERS, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that since the appalling terrorist attacks on New York City on 11 September, his concern was that during the current climate of understandable anxiety about national and individual security, innocent people -- refugees and asylum seekers
-- might be unfairly victimized or become convenient scapegoats. There were some 22 million people of concern to him, including those who had suffered and continued to suffer as a result of persecution, conflict and human rights abuses. The majority of those people remained uprooted, with no immediate prospects of returning to their homes. They were the world’s dispossessed, and they needed to be protected and assisted.
People felt unsafe, he went on, not only in the United States but in many countries. It was not surprising, therefore, that they might be more concerned than ever about the presence of so-called “foreigners” in their midsts. Refugees and asylum seekers, already the object of mistrust and hostility in many countries, were now particularly vulnerable. The recent terrorist attacks had unleashed discriminatory assaults on people of Muslim origin. The international community must continue to fight against xenophobia and intolerance and not allow a clash of cultures to destroy the fabric of the globe’s increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies.
A war on terrorism must not become a war on Afghans, he stressed. Neither must it become a war on Muslims or deteriorate into a war against “foreigners”, minority groups, refugees or asylum seekers. While he was aware that governments were looking at security measures to prevent terrorists from entering their territories through asylum channels, he urged politicians to avoid falling into the trap of making unwarranted linkages between refugees and terrorism. It would be a terrible irony if those that had fled from terror would themselves become unwitting victims of the war on terrorism. Genuine refugees were victims, not perpetrators of terrorism.
He was responsible for ensuring that the basic principles of refugee protection continued to be respected, Mr. Lubbers continued. The global fight against terrorism should not weaken the international protection regime. Governments must not resort to mandatory or arbitrary detention of asylum seekers or to other procedures that did not comply with the standards of due process. Detention of asylum seekers should be the exception, not the rule. Resettlement programmes should be maintained and should not discriminate against particular ethnic and religious groups or nationalities. States must continue to respect their obligations under the 1951 convention on the status of refugees. That convention must not be misinterpreted as an instrument that provided a safe haven for terrorists. When properly applied, it did not provide such a safe haven, nor did it extend any immunity from prosecution to those engaged in terrorist activity.
Turning to Afghanistan, he said that with the rapid demise of the Taliban regime and the active engagement of the international community, there were now new opportunities for restoring peace and stability. Following 22 years of conflict, global partners must seize the opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan by facilitating reconciliation efforts and ensuring the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country. In doing so, it would be essential to take into consideration not only the needs of refugees and displaced persons, but also the positive contributions that such persons could make to the overall development of the country. Indeed the links between poverty, conflict and forced displacement were evident, yet most development assistance excluded refugees. Such persons could not be dismissed as simply beneficiaries of humanitarian aid -- they were potential contributors to development. Therefore it was necessary to rethink the relationship of refugees to development.
Even before 11 September, he said Afghans constituted the largest refugee population in the world -- with over 3.5 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran alone, and many more spread throughout some 70 countries, including Europe, Australia and the United States. While wide-scale returns to Afghanistan had been witnessed before, the obstacles must not be overestimated. After so many years of conflict, homes had been destroyed, and the land was littered with landmines. Rebuilding the country would therefore be a daunting task, but the international community must not turn its back on the Afghan people. Durable solutions must be identified for the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons to invest in themselves and the future peace and stability in the region. Refugees must not be seen as a burden. Their potential to develop the regions in which they lived must be tapped, particularly that of women.
He said Pakistan and Iran had maintained their positions that for security reasons and due to the large number of refugees already in their countries, their borders remained closed. While he understood those concerns, he believed it was possible to devise an approach which minimized security risks, while enabling both Pakistan and Iran to remain true to their praiseworthy traditions of offering refuge to the endangered and oppressed. He would continue to call on neighbouring countries to provide temporary protection for Afghans who had no choice but to flee across borders to find safety. Things were moving fast in Afghanistan, and UNHCR’s offices had never closed. It would maintain a two-pronged approach, to focus on assistance inside the country and on the needs of refugees in neighbouring countries.
He said while UNHCR would reinforce its participation in the inter-agency effort to assist up to 500,000 existing internally displaced persons in Afghanistan, the African continent continued to require a great share of resources and attention. The situation in the Great Lakes region was of particular concern. The failure thus far of the inter-Congolese dialogue and the lack of implementation of the Lusaka cease-fire Agreement had dampened hopes for the return of refugees to their homes. Another region of concern was the Balkans, where UNHCR continued to work alongside European monitors and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in conflict-affected areas to help build confidence between communities. In all those situations, identifying long-term, durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons was the best investment in peace and stability.
Dialogue with Committee
The representative of Pakistan urged the international community to avoid linking refugees and terrorism. But Pakistan's experience, as one of the world's largest hosts of refugees, showed there could be a link. There had to be a screening of incoming refugees so only legitimate refugees could come in. Could the High Commissioner comment on this? He also asked about the UNHCR budget in Pakistan -- the $18 million equaled about $8 per refugee per year. In the meantime, in Eastern Europe, UNHCR's budget was $181 million. There was a need for a new budget format where the host governments could participate in the budgetary decisions.
The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about refugee children. What was the relationship between the UNHCR and the Secretary-General's Special Representative on the effects of armed conflict on children? When would the conditions be right for all humanitarian staff to return to Afghanistan? What were the main expectations of the meeting next month in Geneva on the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees?
The High Commissioner said the first influx of refugees brought a risk of a mix of refugees and armed forces. The UNHCR was aware of bitter experiences, and the international organizations and the host States were partners in the same problem. Perhaps the real problem could be better addressed by checking on people instead of having irregular entries. A selective process was needed. The UNHCR helped about 300,000 refugees in Pakistan, which was a totally different number from that which could have arisen if there had simply been wide open borders. The UNHCR had to do better in Pakistan, and it would. On funding, UNHCR had a budget request of $50 million. It would not all go to Pakistan, but the Government of Pakistan was involved in that request.
Mr. Lubbers said the staff in Afghanistan deserved the support of the international staff. Difficult judgments should be made by people on the ground, not people in New York. It was anticipated that the Belgium Presidency would help run an effective conference next month in Geneva.
On the budget, he said the UNHCR was able to survive, but that was all. Donor countries divest funds. Donors were very generous on Afghanistan, but not elsewhere. There were still specific challenges that had to be met in Africa. The UNHCR worked well with the European Union, but that did not translate into sufficient funding for UNHCR. Taking care of refugees and finding durable solutions required international burden sharing. That, of course, was not a problem only of the European Union and the European Commission, but also for the international community. The UNHCR was a key instrument to push back violence and to enforce the law.
The delegate from Libya said the Committee recognized the difficulties under which the UNHCR was working. The conditions often featured children kidnapped and forced to fight in armed conflicts, and women who were kidnapped and sexually exploited. Refugees should be able to participate in the daily life of their host country. It was stated this morning by the High Commissioner that resources were lacking in the agency, but the UNHCR was able to pursue investigations with minimal resources. Earlier, it had been stated that in certain regional offices of UNHCR, two thirds of the budgets were devoted to administrative matters -- money which never helped refugees. What could be done to change this?
The representative of South Africa said he appreciated the comments of the High Commissioner about the need to create an atmosphere conducive to the return of refugees. Also, the link between refugees and development were welcome comments -- this had for too long been overlooked.
Mr. Lubbers said the core victims within the refugee populations were women, who were often forced into prostitution. In Afghanistan today, women had to play a key role in the reconstruction of that society. He had decided to strengthen the Office of the Inspector General, who was a woman, to look into better cooperation partnerships. The inspection process was more intense, with more inspectors. That was vital to the credibility of the UNHCR.
He said it was hoped States would echo a respect for refugees. Respect meant not only respect in terms of tolerating them, but also understanding them; understanding that they had a tremendous capacity, and could play a key role in society-building and society-enhancing. Those people had the courage and the strength to flee and build a new life. Refugees wanted peace and reconstruction. It was absolutely wrong to refer to burden sharing and to only refer to money. Burden sharing also included accepting people, and giving them a chance, a possibility to fulfil a role in society. Development assistance was self-defeating, if durable solutions for refugees were not included. But assistance with ideas and solutions led to sustainable economic development.
The delegate from Mexico said Mexico was satisfied and proud to be working on the Executive Committee of the UNHCR. Mexico for a number of years had experienced an influx of Guatemalan refugees. The delegation attributed great importance to making progress on new norms and standards for the reception and treatment of refugees.
The delegate from Sudan said Sudan sheltered many refugees. Society there had always dealt with the problems of refugees outside of refugee camps. Were there specific plans from the UNHCR to evaluate the needs of refugees outside of refugee camps? She asked if the High Commissioner had plans for emergency situations, where an unexpected and massive influx came into a country very quickly.
Mr. Lubbers said there was already a draft declaration in advance of the meeting next month, which reaffirmed the 1951 Convention. It was also a roadmap for the future. There were important differences between all countries, and the conference would allow the countries to see how other States protected and integrated refugees into their societies.
He said refugees outside of refugee camps needed to have a distinction made. The situation had to be examined on a country-by-country basis. Regarding new massive refugee flows, it was UNHCR's mission to prepare for these emergency situations. There was an international mechanism that allowed UNHCR to respond to this. Afghanistan could be an example of this, but there could be other situations around the world as well.
CHRISTOPHE PAYOT (Belgium, on behalf of the European Union) said the number of internally displaced persons was increasing dramatically, and they now outnumbered refugees by almost two to one. The figure was estimated at
25 million, in 40 or so countries, half of them in Africa. But while refugees enjoyed a special status and international assistance, protecting and guaranteeing the rights of internally displaced persons was primarily the responsibility of the State concerned. The scale and variety of the humanitarian needs of those people required coordinated action. The European Union welcomed the efforts being made by the United Nations, particularly the setting up of a unit within the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and endorsed the criteria set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on internally displaced persons. The European Union supported the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the benchmark in these matters, and appealed for them to be generally applied.
Mr. Payot said the main difficulty facing humanitarian action today was safety. Too often, humanitarian personnel, and in particular UNHCR staff, became targets. The events of the past few months were yet another sad reminder of that fact. The sickening murder of four UNHCR staff members in West Timor and Guinea last year and of another in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March of this year were unacceptable acts of the utmost gravity and should be condemned as such. In this context, the European Union welcomed the fact that the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court made it a war crime to intentionally direct attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, as long as they were entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict. The European Union called on all States which had not yet done so to ratify the instruments, and also the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. The European Union emphasized the importance of giving UNHCR personnel adequate protection.
He said the European Union was working on a common policy on asylum and immigration. The European Union's objective was to establish a common European asylum system, based on full and comprehensive application of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees. This common policy would see the European Union harmonizing the procedures for granting refugee status and the arrangements for refugee reception, as well as sharing the burden equitably between Member States. The aim was to provide a better response to the challenges of today's world, such as temporary protection, mass influxes and mixed flows. Last month, the Presidency of the European Union had held an international conference on migration in Brussels, where particular attention was paid to the link between asylum and migration. Organized in collaboration with the European Commission, the conference was an opportunity to tackle the question of a policy capable of taking account of the many facets of the problem, like prevention and setting up partnerships with countries of origin; management of migratory flows; economic migration; integration and employment. The constructive debate that took place over those two days of discussion would be of further help in preparing for the proceedings of the European Council in Laeken next month, which, it was hoped, would result in a fundamental political pact on a Community approach to immigration.
CARLOS DOS SANTOS (Mozambique, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)) said SADC noted with concern that conflicts continued to displace hundreds of thousands of people and forced them to join the ranks of refugees. The flight of refugees not only deprived the countries of origin of their human resources, but also placed a burden on the host countries, many of which had limited resources. The SADC called upon all States Parties to conflicts to make every effort to peacefully settle their differences to avoid the unnecessary suffering of people. The situation of refugees, returnees and displaced persons required the urgent attention of the international community. In this regard, SADC reiterated the appeal made by the Organization of African Unity Council of Ministers urging the international community to provide adequate support and assistance to refugees in Africa.
Mr. Dos Santos said the international community should accord special attention to women and children. The SADC considered that the recent decision of the Security Council to put the issue of protection of children in armed conflict on its agenda would be instrumental in alleviating the adverse affects that armed conflict had on children. The SADC looked forward to the outcome of the General Assembly special session on children as another important landmark in this regard, and SADC welcomed the entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of Children and Armed Conflict. It also applauded the adoption by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other United Nations agencies of policies and guidelines on gender, especially for refugee women. It also saluted the Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security that called for the empowerment of women, including refugee women, to participate actively in the peace process.
He said the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in refugee camps was a source of concern to SADC. That deadly disease had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable segments of the refugees -- women, children and youth. The SADC welcomed the Declaration of Commitment that was adopted at the General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS last June and hoped the Health Fund that was agreed upon at the session would also benefit refugees, particularly refugee women and children. The SADC was deeply concerned at the critical financial situation faced by the UNHCR. There was also concern about the Programme Budget for 2002-2003, in which funding allocated to UNHCR had been further reduced. That decision would negatively affect the operations of UNHCR in carrying out its mandate, and thus increase the burden on host countries. The SADC called upon the international community to ensure that financial resources needed to assist refugees were made available in a timely manner.
TIAN LIXIAO (China) said the past five decades had witnessed profound changes in the world, and the protection of refugees had become more and more challenging. Responding to that situation, the UNHCR had launched the Global Consultations on international protection and the High Commissioner had identified measures to improve the work of his office, such as focusing on core activities, strengthening management and enhancing fund-raising mechanisms. China was of the view that the Global Consultations, based on the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, aimed to establish a more effective international protection regime.
He said the Consultations should also focus on exploring how the principle of responsibility and burden sharing could be genuinely practiced, and how UNHCR and the countries of asylum could obtain sufficient resources for refugee protection. They should also focus on alleviating the social and economic burdens on host countries as well as on strengthening their capacity-building. When formulating its “Agenda for Protection” based on those Consultations, the UNHCR should pay special attention to incorporating and reflecting the demands and concerns of all parties.
He said China had always believed it was critical to address the root causes of the refugee issue. To eliminate the scourges of war, poverty and injustice, countries should adhere strictly to the principles of the Charter and related international law, as well as mutual respect for State sovereignty. The international community should adopt effective measures to help developing countries eliminate poverty. Developed countries should help smaller States achieve development, in line with the principles of responsibility and burden sharing. He added that following the 11 September terrorist attacks, it was important that measures to combat terrorism should not harm innocent people. He called on the international community to provide, in the spirit of international solidarity and responsibility and burden sharing, more assistance to Afghan refugees and their major host countries Pakistan and Iran.
YOSHIYUKI MOTOMURA (Japan) said that in response to the fluid and complex humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the entire region, creative thinking was now desperately called for. Recognizing the plight of displaced persons eager to cross borders in order to escape conflict, Japan supported the Office of the UNHCR in its efforts to persuade Afghanistan's neighbours to open their borders based on the principle of non-refoulement. In the meantime, sympathy was felt for those neighbouring countries which necessarily had grave concerns about their security and the burden of hosting even more refugees. To provide effective assistance to those in need, the international community should not insist on adherence to particular principles, but make an extra effort to be flexible. Japan therefore welcomed UNHCR's recent decision to put more emphasis on operations inside Afghanistan, where people were in need of immediate aid. Also, Japan welcomed the efforts of neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan and Iran, to accommodate vulnerable displaced and desperate persons, by providing for their safety and basic needs, and hoped they would continue.
No matter how grave it might be, he said, the emergency in Afghanistan should not unduly overshadow other items on the agenda, thereby creating more "forgotten crises" where the voices of refugees went unheard and their needs unmet. Until quite recently, that was precisely the situation with Afghan refugees. According to the latest statistics, there were still more than
21 million people of concern to UNHCR, of whom 12 million were refugees and the rest asylum-seekers, returned refugees, internally displaced persons and others. That clearly indicated that UNHCR had been expanding the scope of its responsibilities, from seeking solutions to the problem of individual refugees to exploring solutions to broader refugee issues. The past successes of UNHCR proved that complex refugee problems could be solved when governments were committed and resources were made available. A key element in refugee protection was providing durable solutions, thus cutting off the vicious circle of conflict and refugee outflows. Japan accordingly supported the solution-oriented approach taken by UNHCR in dealing with individual refugee and other displacement cases.
He said Japan was helping UNHCR fulfil its mandate in several ways. First, given the important mission of UNHCR to provide protection to refugees and seek permanent solutions to refugee problems, its core contribution had accounted for 10 to 15 per cent of UNHCR's annual budget for the last 10 years. Another pillar was cooperation through the Trust Fund for Human Security, through which Japan provided financing for such projects as the establishment of the UNHCR Regional Centre for Emergency Training, where non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government officials in Asia and the Pacific enhanced their ability to deal with emergencies. The Government of Japan had also been exploring a form of cooperation with UNHCR that aimed at a strong linkage between development assistance and its humanitarian effects. As UNHCR's strength lay in its field presence, Japanese embassies at the operational frontier were now instructed to work more closely with UNHCR. A precursor to that was the collaboration between the Japan International Cooperation Agency and UNHCR in Tanzania, where the burden borne by the host country was eased, leaving UNHCR to concentrate on refugee protection and assistance.
OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said many wondered if the world would ever get back to “business as usual” after 11 September, and as the Committee took up the issue of refugees, he realized that “business as usual” was indeed a relative term. For those dealing with the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons, crises and catastrophes were the order of the day. The Afghan tragedy might have heightened people’s awareness of the fact that the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons affected the entire international community.
He said the issue of protection was particularly important when it came to safeguarding the interests of the most vulnerable. In many cases, that meant women and girls. Norway had been an ardent advocate of mainstreaming their special needs in the general operations of UNHCR and other agencies and organizations. They must not be merely an afterthought. Norway, in its efforts to raise awareness in this respect, would host a seminar in Oslo next January on the physical protection of women and girls in refugee camps. That was part of the humanitarian agenda that the Government was seeking to promote through its membership on the Security Council.
On the subject of the most vulnerable, Norway also drew attention to the Secretary-General's report on Protection and Assistance to Unaccompanied and Separated Refugee Children. For more than two years now, Norway had been one of the main sponsors of the Separated Children in Europe Programme, a joint initiative by UNHCR and the International Save the Children Alliance. That programme not only succeeded in compiling relevant statistics for the first time, it had also shown that the rights and needs of separated children were insufficiently understood and acknowledged. Clearly, the programme had an important advocacy function which those children would continue to need.
He said that when talking about vulnerable groups like refugees and the displaced, it was important not to lose sight of the fact that those groups also represented immense human resources. They could be victims of conflicts and crises, but if they were only regarded as part of a problem, they might not be considered as part of the solution. It was time to train the international community's collective focus in that direction. Just imagine the unused resource potential of Afghan refugee women, he said.
ILHAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED AHMED (Sudan) said in the last three years, her Government had hosted flows of refugees with all goodwill and without hesitation, in spite of the social and environmental consequences. Sudan wished to continue having the support of the international community in hosting the refugees until they could return home in peace and dignity. It was hoped Sudan could share this burden. It appeared international refugee assistance was dropping in Sudan. Her Government needed to be helped in areas that were most hard hit by the influx of refugees, in particular concerning their effect on Sudan's natural resources.
She said Sudan followed its international agreements in hosting refugees, and hoped for their safe return to their countries of origin soon. Sudan was concerned that Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries were being exploited and forced to partake in armed conflicts. Many of those refugees were children, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should help protect them. There was also a need to ensure the safety of United Nations and other humanitarian personnel. Sudan deplored and condemned all attacks on field personnel.
She said her Government renewed its commitment to the international and regional documents regarding refugees. Sudan would continue to make resources available to all refugees in Sudan -- they would receive everything they needed to live in an atmosphere of peace and dignity.
SICHAN SIV (United States) said protection -- particularly physical protection of refugees -- remained a key priority for the United States. Refugee women and children faced distinct protection challenges. Although they were a stated policy priority of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more had to be done. The United States urged UNHCR and its partners to strengthen all their programmes in the field to meet the special needs of those refugees. Governments largely determined the degree to which refugees were afforded durable solutions. They were called on to do more to promote voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. The United States would continue to work with the UNHCR to provide resettlement opportunities for refugees.
Mr. Siv said the challenges for the international community and for UNHCR had been great during the past weeks. The High Commissioner and his staff had once again helped mobilize the international community's support for Afghan refugees. In the war against terrorism, the United States was fully dedicated to working with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations. Special gratitude should be expressed to Afghanistan's neighbours. Some of them had hosted millions of Afghan refugees for many years, and had been asked once again to accept new arrivals. Others had facilitated the flow of humanitarian assistance into Afghanistan and obviated the need of many to flee.
He said the High Commissioner and his staff had had an exceptionally challenging year due to lower resources. Funding shortfalls had forced the UNHCR to reduce its budget this year by almost $100 million and to present a minimum budget for 2002. The budget could not go any lower. All who could should contribute to UNHCR's efforts to assist refugees. As the largest donor, the United States would continue its strong support. Other donors were expected to do more, so that the UNHCR could develop a more needs-based budget for 2003. Those who had decreased their contributions to the UNHCR in recent years had to reverse that trend. The United States asked those who had not been traditional donors to
UNHCR to step forward now and provide assistance. There were, sadly, refugees all over the world. No country was untouched by that human tragedy.
MARIA PEREZ DE PLANCHART (Venezuela) said her Government had established various mechanisms to guarantee the human rights and protection of refugees and displaced persons. Her country had adopted on 3 October a law on the protection of refugees and asylum seekers which was in line with international norms. Situations of crisis continued to proliferate throughout the world, and the number of refugees continue to grow. Such persons required international protection and care. The UNHCR played a pivotal role in harmonizing international efforts in that regard.
Problems for refugees and internally displaced persons could not only be solved through providing protection and humanitarian assistance, she said. Ensuring peace and stability was critical in that regard. Also the reconstruction of societies and creation of situations that would allow safe returns to secure environments, were important. It was also essential to promote and protect the safety of humanitarian workers who often performed dangerous duties in the field. Her delegation welcomed recent efforts to ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers as well as refugees living in encampments.
She called on all States to fulfil their international obligations to assist refugees and asylum seekers, particularly in Afghanistan and its neighboring countries. In light of the present needs of the UNHCR, she announced that her Government had provided $1 million to assist Afghanistan. While that was significant for a country the size of Venezuela, she realized that it was small compared with the real needs of the people in that country.
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