ZAMBIA CALLS ON DONOR COUNTRIES TO INCREASE FUNDING FOR UNHCR, AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE ON REFUGEES

20 November 2001
GA/SHC/3670

ZAMBIA CALLS ON DONOR COUNTRIES TO INCREASE FUNDING FOR UNHCR, AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE ON REFUGEES

20/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SHC/3670

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

46th Meeting (PM)

ZAMBIA CALLS ON DONOR COUNTRIES TO INCREASE FUNDING FOR UNHCR,

AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE ON REFUGEES

It was imperative for the international donor community to help the cash-strapped Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) so the agency could implement critical programmes in affected areas, a delegate from a refugee-rich country told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this afternoon.

The representative from Zambia, which was home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn areas of Africa, said the refugees had undoubtedly benefited from the local infrastructure in the country.  But, he added, they had also put great strains on the developing economy there, which made it necessary for the Government to rely on programme funding from the UNHCR.  That agency, he stressed, was suffering serious financial shortfalls, and needed donor countries to come through with the necessary financial and logistical assistance to enable the UNHCR to effectively play its catalytic role for the implementation of new development initiatives.  Such initiatives were targeted for the western and north-western provinces of Zambia.

The programmes, he continued, should be in the areas of health, education, water and sanitation, road infrastructure and others to mitigate the negative impact on the limited infrastructure in those areas as a result of hosting refugees for a long time.  It was important that locals also benefited from services provided to refugees in order to ensure that the local population continued accepting their presence.

The Observer for the Holy See said the world had been slow to acknowledge the plight of displaced persons -- the fastest growing group of “people on the move”.  Those were persons did not cross borders, but were adrift in their own countries.  They were trapped by war or persecution within State boundaries, and perhaps needed more attention than refugees.

It was the good fortune of refugees -- if such a thing could be said -- to be classified as a refugee, he continued, since that label carried with it the notion of some legal protection.  Refugees had a legal claim to assistance merely because they had crossed a border.

A delegate of Indonesia also participated in the debate, as did representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday to continue consideration of issues relating to refugees, and to take action on several draft resolutions.

Background

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

Statements

MWELWA MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia) said over the years, Zambia had been a traditional home for refugees and asylum seekers.  Zambia faced what had become a virtually unbroken exodus of refugees from colonialism, racist oppression, occupation, repression and internal strife.  With the struggle for independence, and the fight against apartheid, Zambia was a second home to thousands of refugees from Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.  Even as those countries gained independence and freedom and thousands of refugees came home, the caseload of refugees in Zambia, through the years, had grown.  Zambia was most adversely affected by the influx of refugees from both Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as a result of the civil wars in those countries.  Because of its adherence to the United Nations Convention on Refugees, this country had shouldered the heavy burden of looking after them.

Currently Zambia hosted more than 270,000 refugees, who were in two settlements and four camps under the supervision of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he said.  In addition, over 130,000 other refugees had settled quietly among the local populations in the border areas.  They did not receive any humanitarian assistance.  As a result, there was added pressure on the already scarce and limited facilities, such as food, education, medical supplies and other amenities available to the local population.  The arrival of civilian refugees had often been accompanied by entry into the country of armed elements and ex-combatants that posed a serious security threat to the local population and the civilian refugees themselves.  In addition, the Government noted an infiltration of small arms and light weapons in the local communities living in the border areas, and that had compounded the already serious security situation in the areas concerned.

He said the large number of refugees had impacted negatively on the local populations.  Without a doubt, refugees in Zambia had greatly benefited from the local infrastructure.  His Government appealed to the donor community to provide the UNHCR with the necessary financial and logistical assistance to enable it to effectively play its catalytic role for the implementation of development programmes, particularly in the western and north-western provinces of Zambia.  Those programmes should be in the areas of health, education, water and sanitation, road infrastructure and others to mitigate the negative impact on the limited infrastructure in those areas as a result of hosting refugees for a long time.  It was important that locals also benefited from services provided to refugees in order to ensure that the local population continued accepting their presence.

BALI MONIAGA (Indonesia) said his delegation recognized the important work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Millions of lives had been saved as a result of its work, and many more had been able to resume their lives in peace and security.  Even today, that agency was poised to enter into Afghanistan and, with other humanitarian aid agencies, provide food, medicines, shelter and other life sustaining supplies to millions of Afghan refugees.

Indonesia also recognized the demands on the UNHCR to attend to serious refugee situations in other world regions, he said.  It was inconceivable that the developing countries should continue to shoulder the responsibility of hosting the majority of the world’s refugees without substantial international assistance.  Burden sharing must translate into concrete action.  Indonesia was one country that had benefited from the work of the UNHCR.  As a country of transit for South-East Asian refugees, Indonesia had also served as a host country for refugees until durable solutions could be found.  Indonesia had enjoyed the full support of the international community during that time.

Today, his region was witnessing a new chapter in the transition of East Timor.  As the East Timorese continued their march toward independence, the UNHCR had continued to pursue ad hoc repatriation of demilitarized soldiers, ex-civil servants and other refugees to East Timor.  Indonesia was grateful for whatever assistance that was rendered to aid those returnees, he said.  Indonesia had disbanded and disarmed its militia and was proceeding with the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of UNHCR staff, and the prosecution of others that had committed serious violations of human rights.  Moreover, Indonesia was now offering those remaining refugees in West Timor capital loans to facilitate their move from relief to development.  That effort should be assisted by the international community.

He said Indonesia was aware that establishing conditions for repatriation was closely linked to the promotion of sustainable development.  To that end, the international community should become truly engaged in such a process to ensure that the people of East Timor could reap real benefits of development.  That could only be achieved through sustained international assistance and various forms of cooperation.  Indonesia would continue to work with countries at the regional level to address the situation of refugees and returnees.  Next month, the country would host a regional meeting on the issue of illegal migrants and try to resolve that serious issue, which involved human smuggling and often resulted in deaths.

RENATO MARTINO, Observer of the Holy See, said in recent weeks attention had been drawn to Afghanistan, although the refugee situation there had been ongoing for more than 20 years.  The latest reports showed that over 3.5 million Afghan refugees had sought refuge in Pakistan and Iran.  Those same reports also highlighted the difficulty in obtaining a firm count, as the tragedy there continued to unfold.

He said that in a recent statement, Pope John Paul II had called attention to their plight, noting that the situation in Afghanistan was “a world emergency” and that the long-suffering people of that country “must urgently receive the necessary aid”.  To alleviate that situation and to assist all the world’s refugees, it was necessary, in the short term, to provide security and humanitarian assistance.  Such protection must deliver practical relief to those in need of food, water, clothing, shelter and basic health care.  Without such provisions, any plan for long-term care was meaningless.

His delegation welcomed the wider introduction of the basic concept of international protection, which emphasized that protection was a dynamic and action-oriented function rather than an abstract concept.  The protection of the rights of all people was the key to changing the situation of refugees and displaced persons.  He added that the fastest growing group of “people on the move” today were displaced persons who did not cross borders but were adrift in their own countries. 

Internally displaced populations were trapped by war or persecution within State boundaries and perhaps needed more attention than refugees, he continued.  Sadly, the world had been slow to acknowledge their plight.  It was the good fortune of refugees -- if such a thing could be said -- to be precisely classified as such, since that label carried with it the notion of some legal protection. Refugees had a legal claim to assistance merely because they had crossed a border.  The UNHCR, while having no explicit mandate to care for internally displaced persons had provided assistance to them when and where possible.  He encouraged that agency and other concerned parties to extend consideration to the plight of internally displaced persons who had the right to humanitarian assistance, even though their homeland was a sovereign territory or such assistance might be against the wishes of their government.

OLIVIER COUTAU (International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)) said throughout the ages, armed conflict had been accompanied by the displacement of civilian populations, all too often on a massive scale.  The potential of today's conflicts was no different in that respect.  Despite considerable efforts made by humanitarian organizations, the recent exodus of entire populations had reminded the international community of the limits of humanitarian action.  The ICRC's mandate was to provide protection and assistance to persons affected by armed conflict.  Persons who had been displaced within their country in such situations thus lay at the heart of ICRC's activities. 

Currently the ICRC was bringing protection and assistance to over 5 million internally displaced persons in nearly 50 contexts, such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka and Colombia, among others.  He added that in Afghanistan, during the most recent hostilities, the ICRC's 1,000 local workers continued to carry out essential medical and emergency assistance activities for the civilian population -- which included numerous internally displaced persons.

A coordinated response by all actors was necessary to address the plight of displaced persons, he said.  Not only must those engaged in emergency operations agree among themselves on the best way to respond to needs, they must also strengthen links with rehabilitation and development agencies.  Being convinced that a clear division of tasks was in the best interest of the people in need, the ICRC sought to maintain close cooperation with other humanitarian actors.  It did so within the limits imposed by its mandate, in particular those of preserving ICRC's independence, neutrality and impartiality.  Regarding cooperation at the bilateral level, the ICRC expressed appreciation for the good cooperation it enjoyed with the UNHCR, both at Headquarters and in the field.  At the multilateral levels, the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had taken an active part in the coordination process initiated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Senior Inter-Agency Network on Internal Displacement, which aimed at improving the humanitarian response to the needs of internally displaced persons.

Within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the Council of Delegates, which met in Geneva just last week, focused on the Movement's response to the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons.  On that occasion, the

ICRC, the International Federation, and 178 national societies had vigorously reaffirmed their commitment to responding to the needs of forcibly displaced populations.  He said it was important that the various actors responded in conformity with their respective mandates, areas of expertise and capacity.  The ICRC concentrated on meeting the immediate needs of those who had recently been displaced or who were in most urgent need of assistance, just as it did for other groups of civilians affected by war.  Conversely, the ICRC felt other organizations -- in particular the United Nations agencies and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies -- were often better equipped to meet the needs of other categories of vulnerable people, such as the long-term displaced and migrants living around large cities.

ROBERT THOMSON of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and the International Federation based their interventions on the vulnerability of individual men and women, not on the legally defined category to which they could be assigned.  That was in line with the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of "Impartiality", which obliged the Federation to make no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions, and also to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

It was necessary to ensure there was a response to the needs of all those affected by displacement disasters and that that response took a global, holistic approach by addressing all stages from prevention to return and reintegration, including the needs and requirements of local and host population.  He added that the response must go beyond refugees and internally displaced, and include the needs of other populations, such as migrants, in particular migrants in irregular situations.

He said displacement disasters were long-term phenomena which could not be dealt with by employing only short term means.  Clearly, the initial phases of new situations often required emergency interventions, but frequently those needs were then replaced by the need for longer term assistance, with significant consequences for the host countries and communities.  As emergency funding dried up, it was not replaced by other sources of support.  There was an urgent need for the international community to review the manner in which resources were made available to meet needs in such long-term situations, not as a classic relief-to-development issue, but by acknowledging the roots of the emergencies in failed development processes.  Perhaps the International Conference on Financing for Development, scheduled to take place in Monterrey in March, could be an opportunity to consider these issues.

He said speaking on behalf of vulnerable people was closely linked to action on the local community level, where the many Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers provided practical assistance on a daily basis all over the world.  One of the ways in which the Federation planned to increase its ability to advocate effectively on behalf of those affected by displacement was to integrate advocacy into their training, not least in the context of the need to combat xenophobia and discrimination, a battle which must be won at the community level.  That was also another reason why the international community must become better at including the actual or potential beneficiaries in programming and planning at all levels.

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For information media. Not an official record.