BURDEN OF HOSTING REFUGEES, CHRONIC UNHCR BUDGET SHORTAGES HIGHLIGHTED, AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON REFUGEES

13 November 2002
GA/SHC/3723

BURDEN OF HOSTING REFUGEES, CHRONIC UNHCR BUDGET SHORTAGES HIGHLIGHTED, AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON REFUGEES

13/11/2002
Press ReleaseGA/SHC/3723

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

47th and 48th Meetings (AM & PM)

BURDEN OF HOSTING REFUGEES, CHRONIC UNHCR BUDGET SHORTAGES HIGHLIGHTED,

AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON REFUGEES

As the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) continued its consideration of questions related to refugees and displaced persons in two meetings today, several delegations stressed the burden of hosting refugees and the associated “host-fatigue”, as well as the chronic budget shortages of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), aggravating the suffering of uprooted people and host countries. 

Zambia’s open-door policy to asylum seekers -- which had been in place since the UNHCR opened its first refugee camp on the African continent there in 1966 -- had been sustained at great cost, both in financial and material terms, said the representative of Zambia.  There were severe pressures on the economic and social infrastructure of the host areas as a result of the large number of refugees.   

She said such situations were further exacerbated by the fact that refugees -- receiving no humanitarian assistance from the international community -- had settled quietly among the local population and competed with the host communities for social services, such as food and economic opportunities.  Consequently, there was an added strain on local authorities, already struggling to provide its scarce and limited resources for education, health care, water and sanitation as well as communication and transport.

For the international community to get a full picture of “host fatigue”, effects of a massive influx of refugees such as environmental degradation in areas of settlement and resulting crime waves, must be recognized, said the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania.  It was a matter of great concern to his Government that his country was required to keep its borders open

-- while others were closing theirs -- without the commensurate support from the international community. 

The effect of cushioning the long-term impact of hosting large numbers of refugees in the United Republic of Tanzania was beginning to rub off on the local population whose lives were affected by the presence of refugees among them, he continued.  His country had been hosting refugees on a cyclical basis since the late fifties.  It was no wonder that over the years, the spirit of generosity and hospitality had been severely eroded.

While there had been a reduction in the number of persons of concern to UNHCR and increased repatriation flows due to resolution of conflicts in some regions, this was no time for global actors to pat themselves on the back, said

the representative of Ghana.  There were still some 50 million uprooted persons struggling for survival throughout the world, less than half of whom were cared for by UNHCR.  New challenges were emerging, particularly in Africa, and political instability, protracted conflicts and perennial natural disasters emphasized the fragility of the African continent.

With this in mind, she turned to the importance of the capability of UNHCR to handle the world’s refugee problems.  The High Commissioner had remarked that unresolved refugee situations had a propensity to generate conflict and aggravated instability.  This was troubling, since everyone was aware that the challenges and emerging complexities of the refugee problem far outweighed UNHCR's financial capacity.

The representative of Norway said that even as she spoke, UNHCR was in the midst of one of its gravest funding crises ever.  The organization was practically paralyzed -- scrambling to find extra funds seemed to be the overriding activity.  The hand-to-mouth existence that the international community offered UNHCR was unacceptable.

There could be no significant improvement until a better system for responsibility sharing was identified, she continued.  UNHCR must have a real budget that allowed it to plan its activities in the confidence and certainty that the budgeted resources would be available.  Those who adopted the budget could not continue doing so without some sort of agreed funding responsibilities.  The international community had been accepting of the sorry state of affairs of UNHCR for too long.  

Also speaking today were representatives of Slovenia, Ukraine, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Angola (on behalf of the South African Development Community), Algeria, Croatia, Sudan, Japan, Canada, Jordan, Brazil, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russian Federation, Ethiopia, and Pakistan.  

The representative of Togo exercised his right of reply.

The representatives of the International Organization for Migration and the International Labour Organization also spoke today. 

The Committee will reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. to hear introductions of draft resolutions on human rights questions, including human rights situations and alternative approaches for improving effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met today to resume consideration of the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons. 

     Delegations will have before them the report of the High Commissioner (document A/57/12 and Add.1), which details his work for 2001.  It notes, among other things, that persistent instability and strife have continued to cause population movements, particularly in countries of Africa and parts of South America, but there were no major refugee emergencies comparable to the scale of those that occurred in the 1990s. 

     The emergency response capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was nevertheless primed on several occasions in the course of the year, notably in West Africa early in 2001, in South-East Europe in the summer with prospects of major movements from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and in countries bordering Afghanistan in the autumn.  In most of those cases, interventions at a political level caused events to take another course, and the threat of large-scale outflows was generally averted.

     The report goes on to state that providing international protection to refugees and other persons of concern, and seeking permanent solutions to their problems, are UNHCR's primary functions.  The activities of the Office, defined as non-political, humanitarian and social, have been further reinforced and guided by subsequent General Assembly resolutions, and by conclusions and decisions of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme.  They are carried out within a framework of international refugee, human rights and humanitarian laws, and internationally accepted standards for the treatment of refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR. 

     International protection begins with securing admission, asylum, and respect for basic human rights, including the principle of non-refoulement, without which the physical safety or even survival of the refugee is in jeopardy.  It ends only with the attainment of a sustainable solution to their situation, ideally through the restoration of protection by the refugee's own country.  The principle of non-refoulement, set out in the 1951 Convention relating to the States of Refugees, requires that a State not return a refugee to the frontier of territories where his/her life would be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group or political opinion.

     The work of protecting refugees includes:  promoting the conclusion of international conventions for the protection of refugees at the global and regional level and supervising their application; promoting legislation and other measures at national or regional levels to ensure that refugees are identified and accorded an appropriate status and standard of treatment in their countries of asylum; and ensuring, with and through the national authorities, the safety and well-being of specific refugee groups and individuals in asylum countries.  Protection also entails meeting the special needs of refugee women and of children, especially those separated from their families.

The Addendum to the report contains the Report of the fifty-third session of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which took place from 30 September-4 October 2002 in Geneva.  The report covers the general work of that session, including the election of officers and statements by high officials, and a summary of the general debate.  It also includes the Executive Committee's general decisions and conclusions on, among other things, the reception of asylum seekers in the context of individual asylum systems, funding mechanisms, contributions of host countries and on its programme of work for 2003.

The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on the assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/57/324), which contains an overview of recent developments and activities, more detailed updates by subregion, namely in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, West and Central Africa, the Great Lakes Region and southern Africa.  It also contains information about inter-agency cooperation with regional African organizations.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on a new international humanitarian order (document A/57/583), which addresses the question of promoting such a humanitarian order, an issue that has been on the Assembly's agenda since its thirty-sixth session, but which has assumed increasing importance in the wake of worldwide reaction to the events of 11 September 2001.  The report summarizes the evolution of the item and presents some specific ideas and concepts relevant to current humanitarian challenges and whose purpose is to ensure a holistic approach to those challenges.

The report also contains several recommendations, and suggests that the Assembly may wish to urge governments to assist the Secretary-General in his efforts to promote a new international humanitarian order that corresponds to new realities and challenges, including the development of an agenda for humanitarian action.  The Assembly may also wish to call upon governments to provide expertise and the necessary means to identify the building blocks for such an order, and ensure support for strengthening regional capacity and activities to prevent or contain humanitarian emergencies.  

Delegations will also have before them a letter dated 10 July 2002 for the Permanent Representative of Tajikistan addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/57/203), which informs the Secretary-General that an international conference to mark the fifth anniversary of the signing of the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan, was held in Dushanbe from 17 to 19 June 2002 with the assistance of the United Nations University for Peace.  Annexed to the letter, is the Statement of Emomali Rakhmonov, President of Tajikistan.

Statements

EVA TOMIC (Slovenia) said millions of refugees around the world continued to need care and protection, and the international community must respond to this call and find more effective ways to address it.  The protection of vulnerable groups, such as refugee women and children, their health care, education and the development of new learning skills, were of particular importance, and UNHCR had made considerable progress on this.  Slovenia wholeheartedly agreed with the High Commissioner on the need to seek durable solutions and with his call to look for more effective ways to close the gap between emergency relief and longer-term development, through the concept of the “4 Rs” of repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. 

Based on lessons learned during the 1990s, when thousands of refugees found temporary protection in Slovenia, the Government of Slovenia strongly supported the “4 Rs”.  At the same time, it was of utmost importance to recognize the value of local integration in the asylum country and the asset that refugees brought to a host community.  There were still many Bosnian refugees in Slovenia.  Just a few months ago, a law had been passed to offer them the possibility to obtain permanent residency.  To ease their integration into society, a number of accompanying measures were envisaged, including the provision of language, culture and history courses, and the provision of information on their human rights.   

DINA MARTINA (Ukraine) said the problem of refugees was a major challenge for everyone.  A number of regional conflicts arising from inter-ethnic tensions and confrontations aggravated flows of refugees and displaced persons in many regions.  Strategies to prevent forced displacement must remain a priority for all.  She said that last April, Ukraine had acceded to the 1951 Convention on Refugees as well as its 1967 Protocol.  Ukraine considered the steps to be significant along its path toward developing national legislation on migration and implementing its obligations in the broader field of human rights.  Despite current economic difficulties, Ukraine attracted thousands of refugees from politically unstable countries in the region.  Ukraine's liberal migration legislation, inter-ethnic harmony and internal stability, alongside the toughening immigration policies being enacted throughout Western Europe, made Ukraine a viable option for refugees.

Further, over fifty per cent of those who had acquired refugee status in Ukraine were willing to stay in the country and some even planned to reside there permanently.  She expressed gratitude to UNHCR for its broad cooperation with and assistance to the Ukrainian Government's efforts to implement existing refugee legislation and to promote improvements in other relevant laws.  Because of those cooperative activities, more than 2000 persons -- mostly from Afghanistan -- had been granted official refugee status in Ukraine since March 1994.  Assistance and integration programmes for refugees and asylum seekers had been launched.

One of Ukraine's migration policy priorities was the return of Crimean Tartars and representatives of other nationalities, who had been deported during times of totalitarian rule.  The Government was currently implementing the Second Resettlement and Accommodation Programme, whose main objective was to define measures for providing the social, engineering and transport infrastructure required by those formerly deported peoples (FDP).  She said that UNHCR could only carry out its mandate effectively if Member States fulfilled their responsibilities.

KJERSTI RODSMOEN (Norway) said there was an urgent need for reforms relating to the financing of UNHCR, which was in the midst of one of its gravest funding crises ever.  The organization was practically paralyzed.  Contracts with implementing agencies had had to be terminated, and scrambling to find extra funds seemed to be the overriding activity.  She asked how this affected the credibility of UNHCR in the eyes of its cooperating partners and, most importantly, the refugees and other persons of concern who depended on it.  The hand-to-mouth existence that the international community offered UNHCR was basically unworthy, because it meant real misery for so many fellow human beings.  The time had come to ask some really tough questions about the way UNHCR was financed, and what could be done about to improve it.

She said there was unlikely to be any significant improvement until a better system for responsibility sharing was accepted.  This meant an end to the practice of adopting a budget and hoping for it to be financed mainly by other States.  The UNHCR must have a real budget that allowed it to plan its activities in the confidence and certainty that the budgeted resources would actually be available.  Those who adopted the budget could not continue doing so without some sort of agreed funding responsibilities.  One remedy was fairly obvious, but only partial:  the transfers from the United Nations regular budget had to be increased to cover the administrative expenditures relating to the Office.  Coordination of donor commitments must also entail a broadening of UNHCR’s funding base, she said.  For too long the international community had been too accepting of the sorry state of affairs, and not active enough in attacking the world refugee problems.

PIO SCHURTI (Liechtenstein) said his delegation had been pleased to note that the number of people of concern to UNHCR had fallen by some 2 million.  While that was undoubtedly good news, the large numbers of remaining refugees -- nearly 20 million -- still posed grave humanitarian challenges for the international community.  Moreover, many protracted refugee situations now threatened to destabilize regional security and neighbourly relations in many regions.  With that in mind, Liechtenstein commended the High Commissioner's focus on identifying pragmatic and lasting solutions, gathered under his “convention plus” initiative.  Phenomena such as “asylum shopping” or the challenges posed by human smuggling needed to be tackled through creative approaches not envisioned in the 1951 Convention.

Liechtenstein also supported efforts to deal with challenges close to the source of refugee movements.  New multilateral agreements, supplementary to the Convention, held the potential not only to limit humanitarian crises, but to reduce the overall burdens.  An effective system of international cooperation should make it possible to provide adequate assistance and protection for refugees as close to their places of origin as possible.  Addressing the needs in regions of origin was practical because, mainly, it would reduce the need to flee and it facilitated repatriation or assimilation initiatives.  Above all, the international community must ensure security in refugee camps and not allow them to become “boom shantytowns” for human smugglers and other criminals to set up illicit businesses.  Liechtenstein believed that the new approaches proposed by the High Commissioner, which integrated humanitarian assistance to refugees and development activities, had the potential to yield beneficial preventive effects.

JILLIAN DEMPSTER (New Zealand) said the Geneva Ministerial Meeting last December had recognized that it was no longer enough to deal with refugee protection needs that had emerged over the last twenty years or so, and which were straining the international asylum system.  The need to address mass movements of people forced, or choosing, to leave their own country was no longer confined to bordering States.  The demand for resettlement vastly exceeded the capacity of countries to absorb refugees.  There was no simple fix to these increasingly complex problems. 

The UNHCR needed and deserved greater support to carry out its important work.  The international community as a whole must be prepared to seriously address UNHCR’s ongoing funding problems and to support its efforts with practical assistance.  She stressed that this must include adequate support to countries hosting large refugee populations. 

In New Zealand’s own part of the world, she said, the growing impact of the global refugee crisis and associated problem of illegal migration had been brought home by the flow-on effects from the Tampa incident in August 2001.  New Zealand had been able to respond to the immediate humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Tampa incident by taking 131 of those Afghan asylum seekers for processing and resettlement in New Zealand.  The incident had highlighted the impact on the region of the effects of the global refugee problem, and of the growing industry of people smuggling.  This repugnant trade, which exploited desperation for profit, had taken a heavy toll in human lives in recent years, and threatened to undermine the international asylum system.

ISMAEL GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), speaking on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC), said his delegation noted with optimism the progress Africa had made in its efforts to address the situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Continent.  Africa hosted the world's second largest refugee population.  He was particularly encouraged by recent developments in the SADC region.  Indeed, the realization of peace in his country opened new prospects for a brilliant future not only for the Angolan people but for the people of the entire region.  He said the protection of refugees, returnees and displaced persons deserved the attention of all stakeholders. 

He urged the international community, world governments, non-governmental organizations and other civil society actors to cooperate with UNHCR to ensure and guarantee the successful repatriation of refugees and their subsequent reintegration into the countries of origin.  The SADC membership continued to believe that humanitarian issues should be addressed on the basis of international solidarity and burden sharing.  It was also of the view that, in order to identify and implement durable solutions under common regional frameworks such as the new Partnership for Africa's Development, global partnership at the United Nations level should be complemented by regional and subregional partnerships with organizations such as the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the Inter-governmental Agency for Development.

He went on to say that SADC States hosting refugees were making efforts, in collaboration with UNHCR, to provide basic education for children.  Women were being trained in income-generating activities, thus making them a part of the development processes in their host countries, and not just recipients of aid.  Education and awareness-raising efforts were also under way to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  He added that the persistent drought affecting the SADC region threatened to deepen the vulnerability of refugees and displaced persons, and called on the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to avert famine and worsening poverty.

Finally, he said, SADC noted with concern UNHCR's current financial situation.  Although it recognized that the innovative approaches suggested to generate more funding might provide some relief, SADC would urge Member States to respond promptly and consistently to funding appeals by the Agency.

ABDELOUAHAB OSMANE (Algeria) said that even though there had been a decrease in the number of refugees, mainly because of the reduction in internally displaced people, instability as a result of mass populations movements persisted, particularly in African countries.  Poverty and the lack of resources had made refugees more vulnerable than ever, and turned them into easy prey for many exploiters.  There was therefore a need to look for durable solutions that were practical as well as preventive, and which associated protection to rehabilitation.  Political solutions also needed to be found to avoid new displacements and instability in several regions of the world.   

It was a good sign that people were more aware of the refugee problem.  However, the expectations and demands of UNHCR were continuing to grow despite its financial problems.  The international community was therefore called upon to show its generosity in order to alleviate human suffering everywhere, particularly in developing countries which hosted the largest numbers of refugees.  Algeria had always lent its assistance to and cooperated with UNHCR.  Because of the lessons learned during its national liberation, the Government of Algeria always offered its support to those who needed asylum and protection.  In this context, he said that in solidarity with refugees from Western Sahara, Algeria was continuing to provide assistance to them in the hope that a political settlement of the situation could be found.

MAVIS ESI KUSORGBOR (Ghana) said the plight of the world's refugees remained an important issue on the agenda of the international community.  While progress in that regard had led to some positive developments, notably a reduction in the number of persons of concern to UNHCR and increased repatriation flows due to resolution of conflicts in some regions, it was no time for global actors to pat themselves on the back.  There were still some 50 million uprooted persons struggling for survival throughout the world, less than half of whom were cared for by UNHCR.  New challenges were emerging, particularly in Africa, and political instability, protracted conflicts and perennial natural disasters emphasized the fragility of the African continent.

Over 70 per cent of the world's 50 million refugees were women and children. she said.  Ghana was most concerned by the plight of those most vulnerable of uprooted populations.  The need to effect strategies to protect their unique situation had, sadly, been highlighted by recent allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers in West Africa.  Ghana condemned such acts and commended the efforts of UNHCR to implement a comprehensive programme to combat sexual exploitation in Africa and its operations worldwide.

She said the High Commissioner had remarked that unresolved refugee situations had a propensity to generate conflict and aggravated instability.  That was troubling, since everyone was aware that the challenges and emerging complexities of the refugee problem far outweighed UNHCR's capacity.  The role of UNHCR in resolving refugee problems was critical to the whole process of conflict management and the maintenance of peace and security that could ensure or enhance socio-economic development.  Ghana commended the High Commissioner's efforts to raise supplementary funds, but also would call for continued and increased voluntary support of his Office’s work.

DAUDI N. MWAKAWAGO (United Republic of Tanzania) said the report of the Secretary-General had stated that there were signs of declining public and political tolerance for refugees in his country.  The report, however, did not go on to give the reasons why that seemingly paradoxical situation had come about in a country with a long tradition of hospitality to refugees.  The report failed to mention that Tanzania had been hosting refugees on a cyclical basis since the late 1950s.  There was, of course, no mention of the fact that in the 1970s, Tanzania had offered naturalization to the more than 30,000 Rwandan refugees resident in the country, and that 7,000 of them had opted to take up the offer.  The report had not mentioned that following the assassination of the democratically-elected President of Burundi in 1993, fighting had broken out and a large wave of refugees had been given asylum in Tanzania.  In 1994, Tanzania had received more than 600,000 refugees from Rwanda. 

Another aspect not mentioned in the report was the fact that the massive influx of refugees had brought about environmental degradation in the area of settlement and resulted in rising crime waves, he continued.  For the Assembly to get a full picture of “host fatigue”, those factors should have been elaborated upon in the report.  It was a matter of great concern to his Government that it was required to keep its borders open, while others were closing theirs, without commensurate support from the international community.  The protracted impact of hosting large numbers of refugees was finally rubbing off on the local population, whose lives were affected by the presence of refugees among them.  It was no wonder that over the years the spirit of generosity and hospitality had been severely eroded. 

CHRISTINA N. MSADABWE LAMBART (Zambia) said Zambia’s open-door policy to asylum seekers, which had been in force since UNHCR opened the first refugee camp on the African continent in Zambia in 1966, had been sustained at great cost in both financial and material terms.  The year 2001 witnessed an increased inflow in the refugee population in Zambia, including the arrival of an additional

21,500 refugees from Angola.  Refugees from Angola still constituted the largest proportion of the refugee population in her country.  Out of the estimated total number of refugees in Zambia of 270,000, some 134,809 lived in urban areas and the country, integrated into Zambian socio-economic life.  The rest lived in six refugee camps and transit centres. 

Given their large numbers, the refugee population exerted a lot of pressure on the economic and social infrastructure in the host areas, she continued.  The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the 134,809 refugees that had settled quietly among the local population did not receive any humanitarian assistance from the international community.  Those self-settled refugees, by and large, competed with the host communities for social services, such as food and economic opportunities.  Consequently, there was an added pressure on the local authorities -- already struggling to provide scarce and limited resources -- to provide education, health care, water and sanitation, as well as communication and transport to the refugees.

ANDREJ DOGAN (Croatia) said his Government was working intensively to facilitate the return of all refugees, including internally displaced persons, back to their places of origin.  These efforts concentrated on accelerated reconstruction of homes and infrastructure destroyed during the war, along with providing temporary accommodation, clearing landmines and economically reviving the areas of return.  The latter was of particular importance, since reconstruction of homes and infrastructure alone was not enough to ensure the sustainability of the return and the effective reintegration of returnees.

He informed the Committee about the “Project on Sustainable Return of Displaced Persons and Refugees:  The Return of Property and Housing”, adopted by the Government in 2002.  The project envisaged a comprehensive set of measures which would include the return of property to its owners and the establishment of an additional housing fund for the temporary users of the private property.  The return of displaced persons and refugees had ceased to be a political issue in Croatia.  It was now an economic issue, and depended on the economic conditions prevailing in the affected parts of the country.  He stressed that the rhythm of return was predominantly determined by the financial means the Croatian Government could allocate.

EL TAYEB ABULGASIM (Sudan) said his country's geographic location made it ideal for refugees and displaced persons seeking shelter and security.  The Sudan had offered such security to uprooted persons for decades, without restraint or condition.  Still, hosting large numbers of refugees posed economic and development difficulties for the country, and his country hoped the international community would continue to provide support and assist in the rehabilitation and reintegration of those refugees when they were ready to return home.  He also appealed to UNHCR to provide assistance to Sudanese refugees, particularly children.

He went on to echo the sentiments of other delegations at the dire financial situation of the UNHCR, which had severely affected many of its programme activities, particularly those in the African region.  While he urged States to live up to their obligations in that regard, he also encouraged the Office of the High Commissioner to seek new and innovative ways to generate funding.

FUMIKO SAIGA (Japan) said her country had supported and would continue to support the search for durable solutions to refugee issues.  Durable solutions, such as breaking the vicious cycle of conflict and refugee outflows, were a key element in refugee protection.  Japan, therefore, attached the utmost importance to the solutions that UNHCR explored, together with other international agencies, donors, host countries and non-governmental organizations.  This search was essential not only to prevent the international community from falling into donor fatigue or asylum fatigue, but also to give hope to refugees.  Indeed, the guiding principle of durable solutions must be the empowerment, as well as the protection, of refugees. 

She reiterated Japan’s wholehearted support for the “Four Rs” approach of the High Commissioner, that is, the repatriation and reintegration of refugees, followed by the rehabilitation and reconstruction of shattered social and economic structures.  Through this approach, the international community could give repatriated refugees a fair chance to participate in building a strong nation that would be a cornerstone of stability.  Furthermore, even before repatriation, refugees needed to be empowered in asylum countries so they could become agents of development.  Refugees must be able to contribute to the development of the country in which they found asylum and alleviate its burden by becoming involved in the development process, thus creating a “win-win situation”.

GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said the concept of protection must be at the heart of the international community's efforts to provide assistance to the world's refugees.  Without effective protection, there could be no durable solutions.  So a mutual commitment to protection principles was the basis for true responsibility -- and burden-sharing.  In that regard, Canada would reaffirm the fundamental importance of the principle of non-refoulement, not only as outlined in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, but also as a principle of customary international law.  Canada welcomed the innovative proposals recently introduced by the High Commissioner not only to ensure the implementation of the Agenda for Protection, but also to meet new challenges facing wider international protection strategies.

Canada endorsed UNHCR's increased emphasis on durable solutions and the notion that the displaced needed more than to be merely “sustained”.  The promotion of self-reliance and the recognition of meaningful contribution refugees could make to their host countries were timely, and Canada would call on host countries to ensure that local integration was addressed with the sense of urgency it required.  Canada also shared the High Commissioner's concern regarding the mixed flow of refugees and economic migrants.  Even countries with generous immigration programmes continued to grapple with significant numbers of people seeking to access their refugee determination systems motivated by considerations other than a need for protection.  Given the nexus of asylum and migration movements, the challenges associated with distinguishing between those persons was crucial to maintaining the integrity of the asylum system and public support for international protection.

RAMEZ GOUSSOUS (Jordan) said at the end of the cold war there had been high hopes that a more stable and prosperous era would begin for humankind.  The President of the United States at the time called it a “New World Order”.  Unfortunately a “New World Disorder” had emerged.  There were more victims of armed conflicts and more violations of human rights in the decade that followed than at any other time in the last century with the exception of the two world wars.  Every effort must be made to ensure that humanitarianism -- which transcended borders, rivalries and conflicts -- prevailed upon all other considerations, if the objective was the well-being of all humans without distinction or discrimination. 

Providing relief to victims of humanitarian emergencies was not enough, even though it was essential.  There was a need to pay greater attention to root causes and to try to eliminate them while trying to ensure the survival of victims, he said.  There was also a need, particularly in developing countries, to further strengthen the local and national mechanisms for preventing or containing humanitarian emergencies.  The donor community must support local capacity-building and promote self-sufficiency in the developing world, instead of increasing the debt burden.  While the decrease in the total number of refugees was welcomed, there was a need to pay greater attention to the phenomenon of internally displaced persons, who now outnumbered the refugees in the world. 

ROBERT G. PAIVA, of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the reality today was that international population movements were increasing and included mixed flows of persons with mixed motives.  This made it all the more important that the international community understood and managed more effectively the nexus between asylum and migration.  To that end, UNHCR and IOM had created a joint Action Group on Asylum and Migration, which met regularly to review the substantive policy questions at stake, to explore ways for the two organizations to enhance collaboration, and to serve as a resource for States in developing appropriate policies and programmes on migration and asylum. 

There was a pressing need for the international community as a whole to explore ways and means of identifying management principles and practices that helped promote orderly movement and deterred irregular migration, in order to maximize the benefits, minimize the negative impacts and preserve asylum systems.  These remained significant challenges that the two organizations, governments and other relevant partners would inevitably have to face together to secure protection and assistance for those in need of it. 

CAROLINE LEWIS, of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that recent research indicated that certain features of globalization were accelerating migration pressures.  These pressures were diminishing the existence of real choice in people’s decisions to leave situations where economic and social conditions made a safe or dignified life difficult or impossible.  The ILO’s experience was that the distinctions traditionally thought to exist between refugees and persons displaced due to other compelling circumstances, were increasingly difficult to discern. 

In recent decades large numbers of persons in neighbouring or third countries had departed or originated from situations and countries experiencing civil war conditions, widespread violations of human rights and generalized violence.  It appeared that a considerable number of such persons might in fact be in refugee or refugee-like situations, but for a variety of reasons chose not to identify themselves as such.  In some situations, a few persons sought refugee or asylum status; however, far more were appearing as migrant workers, often in irregular situations. 

The first speaker of the afternoon, ELIO CARDOSO (Brazil), said the Global Consultations on International Protection had been launched with the aim of being thought-provoking and action-oriented.  The Agenda for Protection, the outcome of the process, provided a basis for future cooperation among States, UNHCR, United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations.  It also helped dealing with the changing refugee situation in the light of the new challenges in the international scene.  Unfortunately, public perception of the refugee problem had been affected worldwide by incidents of trafficking and smuggling of people as well as by the recurring waves of economic migrants.  It was important that developed countries, especially those adopting more restrictive immigration and anti-terrorism measures, continued to keep their borders open to refugees.   

He stressed that for a small percentage of refugees around the world who could not return home, nor safely remain in the first country to host them, resettlement to a third country was sometimes the only available solution.  Within its possibilities, Brazil had welcomed a small group of Afghan refugees in April 2002.  He added that partnerships between the Government and civil society in Brazil had proved decisive in meeting the basic needs of refugees.  Measures had also been taken to facilitate refugees' access to the job market, as well as to social security and public services.  

MAREK MADEJ (Poland) said Poland had recently seen a substantial increase in the number of applications for refugee status over the 11 years since it had acceded to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.  That increase had led to the adoption of a new law, the 1997 Aliens Act, which had introduced a number of important changes to the Polish legal system in the field of refugee and asylum procedures.  The Act, which was in full conformity with the prescripts of the European Union, had been elaborated with participation of non-governmental organizations and civil society.  It was amended in 2001, and an Office for Repatriation of Aliens had been created.  Other changes included abolishing the deadline for applications, setting up procedures for dealing with “manifestly unfounded” applications, and introducing principles of temporary protection.

He said more changes to the Act had been planned in order to regulate temporary or subsidiary protection measures for both refugees and asylum seekers.  The Government was also preparing an agreement with the IOM aiming to provide voluntary returnees with proper assistance.

MARIJA ANTONIJEVIC (Yugoslavia) said the international protection of refugees was taking place under difficult circumstances.  The changing nature of conflicts, various patterns of displacement, more restrictive asylum policies and intolerance towards refugees and asylum-seekers were only some of the challenges faced by the international community.  It was therefore necessary to find ways to adapt the system of the protection of refugees to the new realities.  The international protection of refugees required that a number of issues which differed in their nature, but which were at the same time largely interdependent, be addressed. 

For more than a decade, Yugoslavia had been accommodating the largest refugee population in Europe.  At present, there were approximately

400,000 refugees, mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia.  In addition, there were around 250,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija.  In the past, her country would not have been able to meet even the basic needs of refugees without generous international humanitarian assistance.  Although the economic conditions were now better, Yugoslavia still needed adequate international assistance.  Therefore, she called upon UNHCR, other international humanitarian organizations and donor countries to continue to provide assistance to the refugee and internally displaced population. 

MILOS PRICA (Bosnia and Herzegovina), said this month would mark the seventh anniversary of the Dayton/Paris Agreement that ended the tragic conflict in the region and opened his country's slow march toward normalization.  One of the most important annexes to the Agreement had focused on confronting the situation of refugees and displaced persons -- considered a prerequisite for a stable and durable peace in the region.  He said that from November 1995 through 2002, nearly 870,000 persons -- some 400,000 refugees and 467,000 displaced persons -- had returned to their pre-war properties.  The return process had accelerated somewhat thanks to enhanced institutional performance and regional cooperation.  Assistance provided by the international community and UNHCR had also been immensely important.

According to available data, some 500,000 persons still resided abroad, he continued.  Around 80 per cent of them had been integrated into new societies by adopting citizenship or through “stay permission”.  Still, perhaps

114,000 refugees were trying to find their way back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  If the current trend continued, it had been estimated that the number of returnees would reach one million by the end of the year.  With that in mind, he stressed that Bosnia and Herzegovina's economy was perhaps still too weak to meet the challenges and necessities of such large numbers of returns.  Moreover, donations for relevant activities were on the decline.  High unemployment rates, lack of foreign investment, and the burden of an economy in transition would no doubt negatively impact returnees.  Efforts by the Government and UNHCR had been made to ensure the appropriate assistance, but much more needed to be done in the field of reconstruction and development.

DMITRY V. KNYAZHINSKIY (Russian Federation) said despite promising trends in the reduction of refugees needing UNHCR assistance, the desperate situation of millions of refugees remained serious and a major concern to the Russian Federation.  In addressing this situation, his country believed that one solution would be the full and effective implementation of 1951 Convention on Refugees in conjunction with the development of new and practical approaches.  In this connection, the Russian Federation supported the new initiatives of the High Commissioner for Refugees elaborated in concepts such as “Convention Plus”. 

He told the Committee that improving and stabilizing migration trends in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States region, remained one of the priorities of the Government.  In this connection, he expressed his gratitude to the Office of the High Commissioner for its assistance in dealing with the situation of refugees and displaced people in the Russian Federation.  UNHCR had the operational capabilities to undertake such work and a professional staff who approached situations of concern without double standards, in a transparent manner.   

GEBREHIWOT REDI (Ethiopia) said his delegation was concerned by the continued financial difficulties facing the UNHCR.  What was particularly troubling, was that the anticipated challenges and situations the Agency was expected to address were increasing, while resources to fund those new and emerging contingencies was decreasing.  He commended the efforts of the High Commissioner to come up with innovative ways to generate resources, while still aiming to identify workable protection policies not sufficiently covered by the 1951 Convention.

He said increased awareness about the need to protect refugees, taking into account human rights and international humanitarian law, was a welcome trend.  Ethiopia subscribed to the principle of reintegration, repatriation and rehabilitation when assisting refugees.  At the same time, reintegration initiatives would be viable only so long as they were undertaken with the full consent of host countries.

Poverty, competition for scarce resources and lack of good governance were often the root causes for conflict and strife, which in turn fueled unrest and feelings of insecurity that forced people to flee their homes, he said.  In the quest for durable solutions to the glaring refugee problems -- globally, and in Africa in particular -- the political, economic and social root causes needed to be addressed adequately.  For its part, Africa had taken part in many peace initiatives, but unfortunately none had led to a reduction in the overall numbers of refugees and displaced persons.  It was time for a comprehensive review of refugee strategy in Africa which would be guided by the principle of peaceful resolution of conflicts.  To realize that, the Continent should forge cooperation and synergies with UNHCR and all other stakeholders.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said the High Commissioner’s new initiatives, for development through local integration and “Convention Plus” to address protection challenges, needed closer examination by UNHCR’s Standing and Executive Committees.  Issues of concern to host countries -- durable solutions, voluntary repatriation of refugees, expansion of resettlement quotas, burden sharing through the provision of humanitarian aid, capacity-building and the alleviation of the negative consequences on host societies of long term refugee presence -- must all be addressed as priorities in the follow-up to the agenda for protection.  For countries which had hosted large caseloads of refugees for extended periods, voluntary repatriation was often the only viable and durable solution.  Given their own underdevelopment and narrow employment opportunities, host developing countries must not be expected to accept local integration of large numbers of refugees. 

Presently, developing host countries, like Pakistan, were coping with the care and sustenance of millions of refugees from their own limited resources, eroding their ability to look after their own poor people.  Refugee concentrations often created serious law and order problems for the host countries and caused significant economic and social damage.  If international solidarity for refugees was to be kept active, the considerable contributions of developing host countries

needed to be more widely acknowledged, appreciated and supplemented by international action to help them meet the costs and the challenges faced by the influx and presence of large refugee populations. 

Right of Reply         

In exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Togo addressed comments made yesterday about his country's humanitarian situation and governance by the representative of Canada.  While expressing surprise at such a contentious statement -- made only to lead the Committee to think that the Government of Togo was doing nothing to ensure the fundamental freedoms of its citizens -- she would also assure the Committee that her Government had worked ceaselessly to promote and protect the human rights of the people of Togo.  That commitment had been most evident in the establishment of a national Human Rights Commission, which served as the chief coordinating and policy-making body on relevant issues.

The Government of Togo was deeply devoted to the principle that the promotion of human rights was a long-term task, and policies to that end required constant monitoring and updating.  Taking that view into account, Togo believed then that rather than engage in corrosive criticism, Canada would be well advised to provide its assistance to countries that consistently aimed to the lay the foundation for the promotion and protection of human rights.  On freedom of the press, she said there were numerous private news agencies that continued to operate alongside Government organs.  Canada should not attempt to give human rights lessons to others, particularly in light of its treatment of its Inuit populations in Labrador or other indigenous populations that had been placed on reservations.

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For information media. Not an official record.