UN REFUGEE HIGH COMMISSIONER REPORTS DROP IN NUMBER OF PEOPLE NEEDING PROTECTION, SAYS NEW APPROACH NEEDED TO IMPROVE COOPERATION, IN STATEMENT TO THIRD COMMITTEE
UN REFUGEE HIGH COMMISSIONER REPORTS DROP IN NUMBER OF PEOPLE NEEDING PROTECTION, SAYS NEW APPROACH NEEDED TO IMPROVE COOPERATION, IN STATEMENT TO THIRD COMMITTEE
Fifty-seventh General Assembly
39th Meeting (AM)
UN REFUGEE HIGH COMMISSIONER REPORTS DROP IN NUMBER OF PEOPLE NEEDING PROTECTION,
SAYS NEW APPROACH NEEDED TO IMPROVE COOPERATION, IN STATEMENT TO THIRD COMMITTEE
Also Describes 'Development Through Local Integration' Concept;
Suggests New Agreements Needed to Address Nexus Between Migration, Asylum
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees opened an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this morning, reporting that between December 2000 and December 2001 the total number of people of concern to his office had fallen by over 2 million -- the major challenge now was to ensure the effective reintegration of those who had returned home.
Ruud Lubbers said, despite some new challenges, that positive trend had continued this year with successful returns in many countries, and he was heartened that the office of the High Commissioner (UNHCR) was making headway in the search for durable solutions for refugees and other displaced persons. In Afghanistan, the return of some 1.7 million refugees during the past year had been most encouraging. Now, a shift in emphasis was needed -- from repatriation to rehabilitation and reconstruction -- if those who had gone home were to stay, and if more were to follow.
Still, he said, UNHCR continued to face new emergencies in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, and the Caucasus region. While the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees remained the cornerstone of the global refugee protection regime, protection work today demanded new tools, as well as new multilateral commitments to ensure burden-sharing and durable solutions. That required new strategies, new thinking and new partnerships. Above all, new ways of improving international cooperation and burden-sharing were needed.
A new approach was needed, an approach he called “convention plus”. The “plus” concerned the development of multilateral agreements to better address the whole chain of displacement and the nexus between migration and asylum. He added that, to strengthen UNHCR’s capacity to find durable solutions, particularly for those in protracted refugee situations, it had developed a number of new approaches -- bottom-up and in partnership with others. In particular, he had proposed a development through local integration concept. The basic idea was that, rather than treating refugees simply as a burden, host governments and the international community must recognize that refugees could be agents of development.
In the dialogue that followed, several representatives expressed concern about practical limitations to the High Commissioner's development through local integration initiative. While supporting the general idea of local integration,
they were apprehensive, noting among other things, that integrating refugees into the local development process could only be implemented in countries where there were small numbers of refugees. It would be naïve, some felt, to expect a developing country to accommodate millions of people. More stress must be put on voluntary repatriation.
Participating in the dialogue with the High Commissioner for refugees were the representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania, Pakistan, Sudan, Norway, Japan, Burkina Faso, Canada, South Africa, Mali, Mexico, Libya, Indonesia, Algeria, Nepal and Morocco.
During the general debate on refugees, statements were made by the representatives of the United States, Denmark (on behalf of the European Union), China and Mexico, as well as a representive of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Observer for the Holy See.
The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. today, to take action on a number of draft resolutions. It will then continue its joint consideration of human rights questions, including the implementation of human rights instruments and human rights situations, and reports of special rapporteurs.
The Third Committee met this morning to hear a presentation from and hold a dialogue with Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Delegations will have the High Commissioner’s report before them (document A/57/12), 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, conclusions and decisions of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme. They are carried out within a framework comprising 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 Committee also has 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.
Statement by High Commissioner
RUUD LUBBERS, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that between December 2000 and December 2001, the total number of people of concern to UNHCR fell by two million, from 22 million to 20 million. Despite some new emergencies, that positive trend had continued this year, with successful returns in a number of countries. A major challenge now was to ensure the effective reintegration of those who returned to their homes. In Afghanistan, more than two million people had gone home since the UNHCR-assisted repatriation operation began in March of 2002. In Africa, there had also been some positive developments. Large numbers had returned to their homes in Eritrea and Sierra Leone, and in Angola there were hopefuls signs. In Asia there were also new prospects for durable solutions, particularly in East Timor and Sri Lanka.
However, despite that progress, UNHCR continued to face new emergencies in countries like Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, and the Caucasus region. In West Africa, UNHCR had taken remedial and preventive actions to strengthen the protection of refugee women and children against the threat of sexual exploitation and abuse. Indeed, there was now a heightened awareness of the issue, not only in Africa, but globally. In line with the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Steering Committee (IASC), a Code of Conduct for all staff had been issued. UNHCR would continue to strictly enforce its policy of zero tolerance.
Following the events of 11 September, and in response to the growing problem of human trafficking and smuggling, a number of States had strengthened measures to combat illegal migration and the misuse of asylum systems, he continued. While UNHCR supported measures to combat misuse of asylum systems, he was concerned that in some cases indiscriminate measures had led to non-admission, denial of access to asylum procedures, and even incidents of refoulement. The last thing any one wanted to see was a refugee sent back to persecution, imprisonment, torture or death under a dictatorial regime.
He said that to strengthen UNHCR’s capacity to find durable solutions, particularly for those in protracted refugee situations, UNHCR had developed a number of new approaches -- bottom-up and in partnership with others. In post conflict situations, he had proposed an integrated approach to the four “Rs” -- repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Likewise, for protracted refugee situations, where local integration of refugees in countries of asylum was a viable option, he had proposed development through local integration. The basic idea was that, rather than treating refugees simply as a burden, host governments and the international community must recognize that refugees could be agents of development.
It was well known that the majority of countries hosting large refugee populations were poor countries, he continued. In fact, out of the 48 least developed countries, 35 were currently hosting refugees. It made sense, therefore, for donor countries to channel more of their development funds to refugee populated areas, where they could be of benefit to both refugees and the local population. That would help diminish the burden on the local community, contribute to local development and broaden the prospects for refugee integration. Refugees could be an asset and not a burden, he said.
Protection work today demanded new tools, he said, as well as new multilateral commitments to ensure burden sharing and durable solutions. That required new strategies, new thinking and new partnerships. Above all, new ways of improving international cooperation and burden sharing were needed. A new approach was needed, an approach he called “convention plus”. The “plus” concerned the development of multilateral agreements to better address the whole chain of displacement and the nexus between migration and asylum.
He said he had initiated last year the “UNHCR 2004” process, which was specifically about strengthening UNHCR as a multilateral institution. It involved a review of the Office’s capacity to carry out its mandate. A key issue also related to UNHCR’s governance structure. Refugee movements had become a globalized phenomenon and, therefore, States from all regions must participate in addressing the issue. To be a truly multilateral institution, UNHCR also needed a broader financial basis, so that it could respond effectively to the demands being placed on it by the international community.
Persecution and conflict produced refugees, he said. At the same time, unresolved refugee problems could themselves be a cause of conflict and instability. It was, therefore, vital that the international community supported the UNHCR in its efforts to find durable solutions for refugees and other persons of concern. He concluded by stressing that, in a globalized world, one could not turn one’s back on people who had been severely affected by war, conflicts, injustices and persecution. Those people deserved the chance to contribute to peace and development, and to become a positive part of the future.
During the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that integrating refugees into the local development process could only be implemented in countries where there were small numbers of refugees. In the United Republic of Tanzania there were currently 600,000 refugees. She was, therefore, apprehensive about such an approach and found it difficult to embrace it. More effort must be put on voluntary repatriation.
The representative of Pakistan said there were ever-growing burdens from the number of refugees in Pakistan. He, therefore, appreciated setting priorities for the activities of UNHCR, particularly with regard to the global agenda for protection. Governments must be involved in the elaboration of strategies, since they had the primary responsibility for protecting refugees. As for development through local integration, he said it would not work if local integration was not a priority for the host country. It would be naïve to expect a developing country to accommodate millions of people. There were practical limitations to that approach. His Government would stress the importance of voluntary repatriation.
He supported the High Commissioner in times of financial difficulty and stressed that UNHCR would not be able to fulfil its mandate without financial support. Coming back to issue of repatriation of refugees, particularly Afghan refugees, he said that there were still about two million refugees sheltered by Pakistan. What approach would the UNHCR pursue to encourage the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees? he asked.
The representative of Sudan raised the issue of refugees living outside refugee camps in host countries and stressed that those people needed to be supported, or they would present a burden to the host country. Concerning the financial resources of UNHCR, she shared the concern about the lack of adequate resources. Were there any innovative initiatives to get more resources? she asked.
The representative of Norway asked about refugee women and gender issues. The already existing five commitments to refugee women were important. It still seemed, however, that UNHCR was lagging somewhat behind in implementing a gender perspective. She suggested a high-level management post to oversee gender issues. Did he think that would be a good idea? she asked.
In response, Mr. LUBBERS said that there were three durable solutions. The first was to promote voluntary repatriation. When speaking about the diminishing numbers of refugees, voluntary repatriation had played a significant part. It was true that the United Republic of Tanzania did host a large number of refugees, and that their first option would probably be voluntary repatriation. The second possibility was to find solutions for refugees in the host country. If in Monterrey the world had committed to do more on development assistance, then it made sense to orient that increased development assistance to refugee situations, not only for the refugees, but also the host country.
One could not focus only on voluntary repatriation, or only on self-reliance, he added, but rather must focus on both at the same time. Each dollar or each euro that was invested in development through local integration had a double worth. The third option was resettlement, since there were situations where one could not expect refugees to go back. It was important to continue the tradition of resettlement for the vulnerable in the world.
Concerning Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan, he said UNHCR was doing its utmost to make the situation in Afghanistan more secure, so they could return. Concerning the contribution of States to the elaboration of strategies in forums on refugee issues, he said that experts were important, but it was only when States committed that there would be a stronger basis for things like “convention plus”.
He said the main point was to convince the international community that, if talking about development with an eye on security and peace, one must see the strategic value of supporting refugees. In order to support refugees, however, the international community needed to be involved. Countries like Norway gave a lot of funding to refugees, yet rich countries like the United States offered relatively little. He stressed that the rich part of the world needed to broaden their financial contribution and urged rich Muslim countries that did not support UNHCR to reconsider their position.
Concerning the gender perspective and refugee women, he agreed that those issues needed to be protected further. It was not only about protecting women, but also about promoting them and strengthening their contributions. Building on “women power” and “women possibilities” was important. On creating a post, he had spoken with the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on how that could be achieved in collaboration, without duplication.
Opening the second round of questions and comments, the representative of Japan asked the High Commissioner how his Office intended to explore cooperative relationships with other agencies concerned with the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The representative of Burkina Faso expressed concern about UNHCR's financial situation, as well as the situation of African refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of conflicts, notably in Côte D'Ivoire.
The representative of Canada said it was critical to address unique issues concerning refugee women and children. She asked if Mr. Lubbers was satisfied with the cooperative efforts of the humanitarian, political and military arms of the United Nations system in recent complex humanitarian emergencies.
The representative of South Africa, describing the dire situation of African refugees, expressed concern about the funding of UNHCR. She said a lack of sufficient budgetary allocation would probably lead to the gradual weakening of UNHCR's emergency response capabilities. It was, therefore, of crucial importance for Mr. Lubbers to continue to explore the gap between humanitarian efforts and development. Enhancing development capacities in many smaller countries would ensure that they would be able to find durable solutions to refugee challenges.
The representative of Mali wondered if the High Commissioner could expound on measures aimed primarily at prevention. He also asked what assistance could be given to internally displaced persons fleeing the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire.
The representative of Mexico asked if the High Commissioner could comment on allegations that humanitarian workers were practicing sexual exploitation in exchange for humanitarian assistance. How could other organizations be monitored?
Responding to those comments, Mr. LUBBER said there was no question that his Agency wanted to go further with partnership. If other agencies, particularly on the regional level, were better able to directly address specific challenges, UNHCR would prefer that those other actors take the lead role. He said that UNHCR wanted to be part of an integrated approach to international protection. He added that the relationship between development agencies and humanitarian actors could also be further developed. The Agency also sought to promote the leadership role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society actors, who were often better funded.
On the situation in and around Côte d'Ivoire, he said he would not give the illusion that UNHCR or other humanitarian actors were in a position to handle all the emerging challenges and difficulties. It was, first of all, a political situation, and it was the role of UNHCR to sit down with all sides to address the problems and challenges in a comprehensive manner.
On cooperation between all the branches of the United Nations, he said, "Frankly, we’ll have to do better". While UNHCR had a very good relationship with the various branches, organizational and structural specificity often meant their work was separated. There was a tendency to think that UNHCR was only a humanitarian agency. That was a risky misconception, because working for durable solutions was very much about preventing conflict and maintaining peace. He added that it was also often believed that refugees were automatically included in international development strategies, when usually that was not the case. That situation must change.
He went on to say that all was not going well in Africa, and in that regard he was particularly grateful that such support had been generated around the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative. It was time to end conflicts in Africa, and finding durable solutions for refugees could play an important role in such efforts.
The main goal would not be to ask more of African countries, but to urge developed countries to live up to their commitments to provide development assistance to conflict regions. That was the way to ensure that productive and durable solutions could be found for refugees, internally displaced persons and the general populations. He added that Africa faced overwhelming challenges posed by the HIV/AIDS virus, so it was perhaps doubly important to give refugees a chance to become productive members of society.
On reports of sexual exploitation by UNHCR or other humanitarian staff, he said the results of investigators had shown that, contrary to media reports, the team could not find any UNHCR or United Nations staff involved in such activities. That discovery had been rewarding. Still, abuses were found; there was a very real problem. Therefore, a Code of Conduct had been developed and the Agency's partners had been asked to adhere to that Code. The UNHCR supported a principle of "zero tolerance" and urged other humanitarian agencies and NGOs in particular to adopt the same strict stance on the matter.
The representative of Libya asked if there was a clear distinction between refugees and migrants.
The representative of Ethiopia supported the statement of the United Republic of Tanzania on local integration. Integration could have far reaching implications and must be carried out with the consensus of the host countries. Refugees living outside their countries, with the hope to return home one day, were often complacent in protecting the environment, which sometimes led to its deterioration. Was the international community addressing refugees themselves or the root causes of refugees?
The representative of Indonesia referred to the joint global appeal of the United Nations and Indonesia launched in 2001 in an effort to address the situation in East Timor, and repeated the need for international support in dealing with refugee issues.
The representative of Algeria said that there had been some misleading information in the report of the High Commissioner concerning the refugee problem in northern Africa. He was concerned about the numbers of refugees quoted, as well as the definition of certain places in the area.
Mr. LUBBERS said, in response to Libya’s question, that it was not easy to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. Refugees fled from violence, persecution or reasonable fear of persecution. Refugees were often accepted into host countries on humanitarian grounds, such as discrimination. Economic migrants, however, often used the asylum-seeking system for refugees, but were, in fact, economic migrants. Some countries had immigration policies that allowed the acceptance of economic migrants. Those countries, however, had their sovereign right to set limits and place conditions. When it came to refugees, those conditions and limitations could not be applied for humanitarian reasons.
Concerning the point of local integration, raised again by Ethiopia, he said it was the sovereign right of any country to set their limits. However, giving people opportunities could have a very positive effect. He certainly hoped that there was no competition in development assistance between local integration and voluntary repatriation. But, as he had said earlier, development assistance that helped refugees integrate was worth twice the money. In 1950, the United Nations had set up the UNHCR to protect refugees and find solutions for them. Unfortunately, 50 years later, it seemed countries only wanted to keep refugees out.
He thanked the representative of Indonesia for the comments made on East Timor, and agreed with the appeal to the international community to support the schemes that were already in place.
To the representative of Algeria, he said he would try to be more precise with the numbers. The time had come for a solution in that region, through confidence-building measures leading to a political solution. He hoped that all involved, including the Government of Algeria, but certainly not only the Government of Algeria, would find a solution.
The representative of Nepal said his delegation had listened closely to the High Commissioner's explanation of the emerging development through local integration programme. He said the approach needed careful consideration, since the issues needed to be analyzed based on the merits of the case concerned. He added that Nepal had made its best effort to resolve the problem of Bhutanese refugees through bilateral negotiations.
The representative of Morocco said his delegation had always expressed misgivings about UNHCR's assessment of the refugee situation in and around the Western Sahara, for the primary reason that the Agency had never been able to come up with an exact figure on the number of people in refugee camps in Tindouf and the region. Morocco's wish had always been to see that refugees returned to their families.
In response to those comments, Mr. LUBBERS asked, what did the two countries have in common? "They both faced extended and prolonged challenges of populations of people who deserved durable solutions", he said. He welcomed Nepal's commitment to bilateral negotiations to solve the problem. He could only say it was about time, because the situation for the Bhutanese refugees living in the camps could not continue. He added that UNHCR was available to help, but it was not available to sit and wait while negotiations stagnated. The same went for the situation in the Western Sahara. He would not debate numbers, but would say that UNHCR would not sit through endless negotiations.
Mr. DEWEY (United States) commended the important work of UNHCR. Nowhere had its important work been more important when two million Afghan refugees had voted with their feet for the future of their country. That marked the largest refugee return in the last 30 years. He had just returned from several weeks in Afghanistan and had met with scores of those returnees. Refugee repatriation was reconstruction. It was certainly the essential base for reconstruction to begin and to succeed. There had been remarkable progress, but he had been constantly reminded of the fragility of the progress, since security continued to impede the advancement of civil society and humanitarian activities.
There were also millions of refugees around the world with little hope, because the root causes of refugee flows were all too persistent, he said. He was concerned that, while the UNHCR was doing its part, some of UNHCR’s donor States and regional organisations were not doing theirs. Once again, UNHCR was facing severe shortfalls and was being forced to cut back even its inadequate resource-based budget projections. Some donors still did not seem to get it -- refugee protection and assistance activities were indivisible. Donor funding for refugee protection and assistance must also be indivisible. He called on donors to join the United States in that multilateral commitment.
The UNHCR also had to face the allegations of sexual exploitation in West Africa that surfaced earlier this year, he said. Even though UNHCR staff might not have been directly involved, UNHCR was held responsible and accountable for the full range of its operations. He commended UNHCR for the steps taken in response to those allegations. The allegations highlighted the importance of UNHCR’s protection mandate. Increasingly, it was not just a legal mandate, but also one of preventing and making provisions to prevent physical and psychological harm to those under its care. The UNHCR, however, could not provide adequate protection without the support of the international community. In closing, he highlighted the importance of coordination. Working in tandem, lasting stability and progress could be achieved.
OLE E. MOESBY (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the agenda for protection had been the outcome of the global consultation process that had been launched by UNHCR in 2000. It was a statement of goals and objectives, as well as an important inventory of recommended actions to reinforce the international protection of refugees. The European Union was fully committed to participating actively in follow-up activities. He added that, in order to make the Agenda as effective as possible, it would be necessary to set priorities and identify responsibilities.
He also stressed that today's humanitarian crises did not only lead to flows of refugees; every year, millions of people were forced to flee their homes in search of some safety within their own countries. The primary responsibility for internally displaced persons rested with respective governments. But, where governments did not have the resources or capacities to ensure basic assistance, it was incumbent upon them to call on the support of the international system and to ensure that humanitarian organizations had full access to displaced populations.
He said that, at a recent meeting, the High Commissioner had stressed the need to create new arrangements that would supplement the 1951 Convention and its Protocol, providing durable solutions through a multilateral framework for refugee protection, primarily concerning the issues of regions of origin and burden sharing. Mr. Lubbers had named that initiative "Convention Plus". The development of effective systems of refugee registration and documentation were the core process to improve the quality and impact of protection and assistance. He added that refugee protection was not limited to the enforcement of rights and obligations. It also extended to the ability of refugees to lead meaningful and dignified lives while in exile and to enable them to make a positive contribution to their host countries, as well as their countries of origin if they were eventually able to return home.
In that context, "self-reliance" was a key word, he said. More should be done to secure the sustainability of return and reintegration of refugees in their home areas. The large-scale refugee returns to Afghanistan had been an important success story, but a challenge as well. To ensure sustainable reintegration and facilitate further return, it was now necessary to step up activities in the area of rehabilitation and reconstruction. It was also necessary to strengthen support for integration of refugees in their host communities. It was also crucial to address root causes. Without conflict prevention and resolution, as well as peace- and confidence-building, the international community would continually face protracted refugee situations. Solutions to refugee situations could often be found in solutions to conflict situations.
XIE BOHUA (China) said this year had been one of encouraging developments and grave challenges, as the international community sought to comprehensively address the refugee problem. In some regions and countries, including Asia, Africa and South-Eastern Europe, peace and stability were being gradually restored and the problem of refugees and displaced persons in those regions was, likewise, gradually approaching a final solution. Among the remarkable developments had been the return of some two million Afghan refugees. But, despite the welcome drop in overall persons of concern to UNHCR, there were still as many as 19.8 million needing attention. Protracted refugee situations in some parts of the world were also exacerbated by ongoing conflicts, particularly in Africa, and generated more refugees and displaced more people.
He urged the international community to help countries with the practical difficulties related to receiving refugees by supporting and promoting the principles of international cooperation and burden-sharing. Everyone should strive for lasting solutions through consultation and common effort. At the same time, global actors should tackle the root causes of refugee problems by ensuring peace and stability in different regions and preventing new flows of refugees. China welcomed the agenda for protection -- the result global consultations on international protection.
With its specific objectives and implementation measures, the Agenda provided guidance for the international community as it addressed new challenges, he added. He also said that China would actively support NEPAD, which called upon developed countries to honor their commitments to ensure the maintenance of peace and development in Africa. That would, no doubt, create the necessary conditions for solving its refugee problem.
DIEGO SIMANCAS GUTIERREZ (Mexico) said that when dealing with refugee issues it was vital to focus on lasting solutions. Only lasting, or durable, solutions would guarantee the special needs of refugees. The three cornerstones for a durable solution were voluntary repatriation; local integration; and re-settlement. The fact that there were two million fewer refugees this year surely proved that durable solutions could be found. Mexico believed that the asylum seeking system must not be violated or abused by criminals, including terrorists. He, therefore, reiterated the importance of fully protecting the rights of refugees in the fight against terrorism.
He stressed that governments must not weaken their principles under the pretext of fighting trafficking or terrorism. Instead, international cooperation must be improved. In the treatment of refugees, however, it was also important to avoid confusion between economic migrants and refugees. In seeing to its refugees, Mexico had acted in accordance with international obligations, and had granted naturalization to several thousands Guatemalan refugees. In its future efforts, Mexico would coordinate action with humanitarian organizations involved in refugee work, strengthen administrative structures to see to the needs of refugees, and revise and modernize refugee policies.
RENATO R. MARTINO, Observer of the Holy See, said that his delegation welcomed the encouraging news that the number of people of concern to UNHCR had dropped by some 2 million people. At the same time, he was distressed to discover that many of the remaining refugees or displaced persons faced violence, found that borders were to them or faced xenophobia and the basic denial of rights. While recognizing that the world had gone through many changes during the past year, he stressed that it was those very changes that should cement confidence in the work of, and indeed the very existence of, UNHCR.
He said that during 2001, church agencies in the United States alone had aided some 319,000 refugees and immigrants. Those persons received help with settlement, family reunification, education, legal and employment services and language classes. All those agencies had continued to work to put a "human face" on refugee and migrant issues. They did not deal with numbers or quotas, but reached to help people in need. He went on to say that, according to recent statistics, there were some 50 million internally displaced persons throughout the world. Just as it continued to support the efforts of countries receiving refugees and migrants, the Holy See would call on governments to recognize their responsibilities towards providing security and access to basic social services to all those displaced persons within their borders.
MOTHKIR NASER MOTHKIR AL-HAJERI, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the task of the Federation was to meet the needs and reduce the vulnerability of all people, regardless of legal or other status. Relatively few of those people were considered refugees under the 1951 Convention. However, that did not preclude them from being people in need of protection and assistance. He called upon States to provide the sorely needed protection that all vulnerable moving and displaced people deserved.
It was unfortunate that the current debate on the vulnerability of populations on the move had been obscured by the shift in focus by the international community to other issues associated with only a small proportion of population movements, such as people smuggling and illegal migration. While those issues were also of grave concern to the Federation, it could not accept attributing responsibility and blame to the victims of those activities -- people who were often driven by their own desperate circumstance and were most in need of protection.
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