Fifty-sixth General Assembly
48th Meeting (PM)
THIRD COMMITTEE CONCLUDES THREE-DAY DEBATE ON REFUGEE-RELATED ISSUES
New York UNHCR Director Says International Community
Must Now Promote Policies of Prevention, Address Root Causes of Displacement
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this afternoon wrapped up its consideration of matters relating to refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, as emerging democracies -- including several former Soviet republics -- said various problems within their territories had prompted refugee crises which needed the international community's attention.
The representative of Belarus said refugees were a serious problem in her country, causing a negative impact on the social and economic well-being of society there. Further, Belarus suffered a unique problem -- "ecological migrants" -- who were people forced to leave their homes because of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. One-fourth of the country was contaminated from the disaster, she said, and one-fifth of the population was affected by it.
In Georgia, that country’s delegate said there were more than 300,000 displaced persons because of the continued conflicts in various regions of the country. Abkhaz separatists, he said, were attempting to prevent the return of displaced persons to the area. The alarming humanitarian situation posed several challenges to the Government, as well as to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other relevant United Nations programmes. The UNHCR had an important role to play as it continued to monitor the process of return to the region, and to provide humanitarian assistance to the people.
An eight-year battle with Armenia over land had resulted in nearly one million refugees and internally displaced persons, the representative of Azerbaijan said. The occupation of 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan by neighbouring Armenia was of primary concern for his Government. It was clear, he said, that a peaceful solution would eventually translate into the return of the refugees and displaced to their homes.
The delegate of Armenia, however, twice exercising his right of reply, disputed his country's role in the conflict with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, he said, was an oil-rich country, and if it had been truly interested in finding a solution to the problem, it would have done so. But Azerbaijan used the discussion of internally displaced persons and refugees for propaganda.
Summing up the three-day debate, Nicolas Bwakira, Director of the New York Office of the UNHCR, said a major theme, which had earlier been raised by High
Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, was that protection minus solutions was not protection. It was important now for the international community to turn that thought into action -- to promote policies of prevention, to address root causes, to prepare for voluntary repatriation or, when necessary, local integration or resettlement.
He said the tragic events of 11 September and the events that had followed had elicited many comments about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The international community should be thanked for its support in preparing to meet the crisis, and for providing material and financial assistance, especially the neighbouring countries most immediately affected by the population displacements. At the same time, as many speakers noted, it was important not to be oblivious to the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in other parts of the world.
Mr. Bwakira said it was no secret that for the UNHCR to be successful, there had to be adequate funding. It was hoped that all delegations would be active participants in the UNHCR's pledging conference on 3 December in Geneva.
Also speaking during the debate were the representatives of Poland, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Togo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Nepal, India, Algeria, Eritrea, Bhutan and Cameroon.
Exercising rights of reply were the representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Monday, 26 November, it is expected to take up the report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of matters related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions.
MAREK MADEJ (Poland) said his country was greatly concerned with the increasing number of refugees and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. It was Poland’s view that as soon as military operations ended and the goals of the anti-terrorism coalition had been achieved, the wider international community, in cooperation with the United Nations, should take immediate action to rebuild the Afghan economy and ensure a return to normal living conditions there. He hoped that by stabilizing the security situation, it would be possible for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be able to operate effectively for the benefit of the people who so desperately needed help.
Poland was also deeply concerned by the substantial number of conflicts in various regions of the world. Those conflicts, he said, generated new tides of refugees. That phenomenon was exacerbated by the number of UNHCR staffers that had been attacked and killed during recent years. He strongly condemned such actions as barbaric. It was tragic that violence was directed against impartial and devoted personnel.
He said that the growth of so-called migration pressure in Central Europe as well as the efforts of the governments in the region aimed at strengthening national immigration and asylum institutions had been noted in the High Commissioner’s report. In that regard, he pointed out that the Repatriation and Foreign Nationals Amendment Act had come into force in Poland during the current year. That Act comprehensively regulated the issue of refugee residence in Poland.
HOSSEIN GHASSEMI (Iran) said Iran was entering its third decade of hosting million of refugees. In the course of such a protracted hosting period, the Government and the people of Iran had endured a lot of social, economic, cultural, political and security problems. The lack of political stability in Afghanistan and the continuation of conflicts there had turned that country into a source of drug trafficking, which affected the refugee problem in the region. The current political situation added to rampant poverty and a lack of job opportunities, as well as providing drug traffickers and smugglers with a chance to abuse the protection accorded to genuine refugees and asylum-seekers. A mechanism aimed at preventing drug traffickers from taking advantage of refugee status was one of the most important points that should be addressed by the UNHCR, especially within the framework of international cooperation. International support should be in conformity with the host country's potential and international contributions.
Mr. Ghassemi said although contributions made by the international community, alongside those of the Iranian Government, helped address the problems of countless refugees, and were appreciated, they were, nonetheless, very limited in view of the huge number of refugees, and the depth of their needs. The assistance provided by the international community did not even suffice to meet the basic needs of these people inside Iran for a one-week period. What the Government spent on refugees in one year exceeded the total annual budget of the UNHCR.
He said voluntary repatriation as the best durable solution had a basic interaction with development. The international community would do well to adopt such an approach, with its emphasis on development in the countries of origin, in order to encourage and enhance voluntary repatriation. The development of infrastructure such as health care, job opportunities, educational networks and shelter, particularly in the rural and urban areas lying alongside the borders of Afghanistan, combined with serious demining efforts, could considerably boost hopes of a minimum living standard for asylum-seekers.
ISHTIAQ HUSSAIN ANDRABI (Pakistan) said his country had been host to millions of Afghan refugees for over two decades. The impact of the presence of over 3 million refugees in Pakistan for so long had been multi-dimensional. While it was not possible to quantify the financial costs of providing shelter for Afghan refugees, the adverse effects on Pakistan’s demography, social structure, economy, ecology and natural resources had been devastating.
Afghans, he continued, comprised the world’s largest refugee population. In the wake of the ongoing developments in Afghanistan, the situation there was in flux, and more and more refugees appeared headed Pakistan’s way. According to the UNHCR, an additional 135,000 Afghans had fled to Pakistan since 11 September. Pakistan believed that the only lasting solution to that human tragedy was to help the displaced Afghans within Afghanistan. Registration and providing relief only in camps within Afghanistan without simultaneously establishing relief camps inside Afghanistan for internally displaced persons -- estimated by the UNHCR to be around 7.5 million -- would only lead to a greater exodus to Pakistan. At the same time, for its part, Pakistan was willing to accommodate extremely vulnerable Afghans, including children, the disabled, wounded and extremely ill.
He went on to say that systematic burden-sharing depended on the adequate and timely funding of the UNHCR’s humanitarian activities. The High Commissioner’s report mentioned unpredictable and irregular contributions, and in that regard, donor countries should provide support in a more predictable and flexible manner. The UNHCR should act as a catalyst to develop programme assistance for other international agencies to deal with the adverse economic, social and political impact of large-scale refugee influxes on developing countries. In that context, capacity-building of the host countries to enable them to provide effective protection was also essential.
ANZHELA K. KORNELIOUK (Belarus) said his Government had become aware that the concept of Belarus was not only a national concern, but a regional and international concern. Migrants and refugees were a problem faced everyday in Belarus. Since 1996, 4,820 illegal migrants had been detained in Belarus, and hundreds of channels of illegal migration had been identified.
The refugee problem was having a negative impact on the social and economic well-being of Belarus, with an increase in crime and drug use. Refugees last year committed about 2 per cent of all crimes in Belarus. There was also concern that there could be participants in hostilities, including those who worked in terrorist groups. It was imperative that there was solidarity between States who shared borders. Last month, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine worked with the UNHCR in discussing strategies to halt illegal migration. Belarus spent about $2 million annually on illegal migration.
Further, she said, one-fourth of the country was contaminated because of the Chernobyl disaster, which affected one in five people in the country. That forced millions of people to become ecological migrants within the Republic. Belarus guaranteed freedom of movement and other rights to all refugees in the country, and it was proud to have become a State party to the Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.
DIMITRY KNYAZHINSKIY (Russian Federation) said unfortunately, the issue of refugees was one of the defining issues of the day. Addressing the situation comprehensively would required coordinated humanitarian, human rights, social and economic initiatives on the part of the entire international community. He called on all States to join the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
He felt there was a great deal of multilateral potential that had not yet been tapped. During ongoing negotiations in the region on the issue of refugees, his delegation would continue to advocate political support for the Commonwealth of Independent States in that regard. Multilateral cooperation and support was also needed to identify ways to address new challenges to initiatives to address the situation of refugees. One of those challenges, terrorism, should not undermine the international protection regime. He hailed the work of the UNHCR in coordinating the work of regional and international organizations. He reaffirmed his delegation’s support to the work of the agency and noted its openness to openly discuss new challenges in humanitarian affairs.
GOCHA LORDKIPANIDZE (Georgia) said there was an unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Georgia. The plight of more than 300,000 displaced persons continued as the conflicts in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions/South Ossetia remained unresolved. Renewed violence against the Georgian population, organized crime and a policy of discrimination pursued by Abkhaz separatists in schools in the predominantly Georgian-speaking Gali district were targeted at preventing the return of displaced persons. Recent bombings in the region had considerably added to the outflow of the Georgian population from the area. The alarming humanitarian situation did pose several challenges to the Government, as well as to the UNHCR and other relevant United Nations programmes. A particular problem was how to ensure protection and assistance to the refugees and displaced persons in the country.
He said as shown by the developments in the process of conflict resolution, international guarantees were indispensable for providing protection and security for the returning internally displaced persons and refugees in Abkhazia. The UNHCR had an important role to play as it continued to monitor the process of return to the Gali District, and provide humanitarian assistance to them. Together with the UNHCR, the Georgian Human Rights Office in Abkhazia could contribute to a safe and dignified return of displaced persons by vigorously carrying out its mandate so they were able to monitor the human rights situation and adequately react to violations.
He said Georgia honoured its obligations under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol. It was also a State Party to a number of international human rights instruments relevant to the rights of refugees, including the main international human rights conventions. These instruments provided legal framework within which the interests and needs of refugees were being addressed. It had to be noted that in the aftermath of the 11 September attack on the United States, special security safeguards were being sought by the Government of Georgia to meet its obligations under Resolution 1373, and to prevent terrorists from gaining admission to its territory through asylum channels.
ROLAND Y. KPOTSRA (Togo) said the sight of refugees and displaced persons fleeing in terror from conflict or other deplorable situations was particularly pathetic. If one region reflected that sight more than any other, it was the continent of Africa. The tragic displacement of persons within their countries or across borders was a complex issue that concerned a number of social, economic and political issues. Granting asylum also placed a severe burden on a host country. That was why the African countries that continued to accept displaced persons and refugees should not only be praised but provided with adequate resources to allow them to continue that noble task, while pursuing sustainable development.
He said it was also disheartening to consider that children made up large numbers of refugees turned out of their homelands and seeking basic needs such as food and shelter. The inadequacy of human and financial resources only exacerbated that problem, and indeed the road ahead would be tough. It was important therefore to revitalize the international protection and assistance regimes for all refugees, and particularly the most vulnerable segments of those populations. It would also be important for the international community to support the ongoing efforts of African countries to settle disputes and end conflicts throughout the country. To identify long-term solutions for refugees, it was imperative that adequate resources be provided to the Office of the UNHCR.
MIRJANA TRAJKOVSKA (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said several months ago, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had faced the ugly situation of terrorism and violence. Regrettably, thousands of people from were refugees. On 13 August, the leaders of the four largest Parliamentarian groups had signed an agreement which, it was hoped, would end the violence. But unfortunately, terrorist activities continued sporadically and, along with other violence, had led to a situation where there were now 60,000 internally displaced persons and 20,000 refugees in her country. It was in a grave economic situation.
She said in 1999, 360,000 people from Kosovo had sought refugee status and protection in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This was not easy to deal with and most of the people managed to return home. Currently, there were 3,000 registered people from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in Macedonia, most of whom were Roma.
It was important to have closer cooperation with the Multinational Force in Kosovo (KFOR) and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, she said. Democratic and free elections in Kosovo would go a long way in bringing stability to the region. Today, the Office of the UNHCR was providing assistance to millions of refugees and asylum seekers. It should be the stated goal of the international community to provide support and financing for them.
KRISHNA KISHOR GHIMIRE (Nepal) said that as political strife, ethnic conflicts and denial of human rights in many parts of the world continued unabated, the influx of large numbers of refugees and displaced persons was a matter of serious concern to the entire international community. Recent reports put the number of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons at over 21 million, and every region of the world was affected by the problems that those rapidly growing populations caused. Those persons were victims of events beyond their control, including persecution, armed conflict, natural disasters or human rights violations.
He went on to say that his delegation was deeply concerned with the discouraging financial situation of the UNHCR. Without adequate and sustained funding, the agency would not be able to continue its noble work. He said that at present, Nepal was faced with the burden of more than 100,000 refugees, most of whom came from Bhutan. The presence of such a huge population of refugees had created huge economic, social, environmental and political problems for Nepal. He had been grateful for the work of the UNHCR and donor countries and organizations for their continued assistance to refugee camps in eastern Nepal in providing food, shelter, sanitation and health care as well as training services. Poor countries hosting large refugee populations for long periods of time should be provided with adequate support, so they did not sink deeper into poverty.
R.N. PRASAD (India) said the tragic and barbaric events of 11 September had brought into a sharper focus the need for a concerted international fight against terrorism. That fight was not against a particular people or religion. Nor should it dilute the institution of asylum. Refugees and asylum seekers had become particularly vulnerable in today's environment, and it was laudable to see the High Commissioner's view that they should not be unfairly victimized. At the same time, there was equally a need to guard against the misuse of the institution of asylum by certain States who, unwittingly or deliberately, provided shelter and safe haven to terrorists.
Developing countries that hosted large numbers of refugees were crippled by the burden imposed; and their environments had been devastated. Their resources were exhausted, their economies were disrupted; law and order were threatened and social, economic and ethnic tensions were unleashed. For those countries, it was a little hard to appreciate the productive capacity of refugees, or their potential to contribute to development. Today, neither the duty to receive refugees, nor the real costs associated with their arrival were fairly apportioned across the world. Those burdens were based on accidents of geography and the relative ability of States to control their borders, he said. Assistance doled out was considered an act of charity, and the entire system survived tenuously on vague promises of cooperation and undependable funding.
He said the report of the High Commissioner spoke of a deterioration in the quality of asylum in a number of countries. The treatment accorded to asylum seekers also left a lot to be desired. There had been in the recent past shocking instances of asylum seekers being literally hounded out and chased. There was indeed abuse of the asylum system. There were also legitimate rights of States to control illegal immigration and to take measures to prevent abuse of the institution of asylum. But the moot point was how far may States go in preventing such abuses? If it was accepted that there was a minimum core content of human rights which applied to everybody in all situations, then obviously there were limits to what States could do.
DALILA SAMAH (Algeria) said the beginning of the Third Millennium coincided with several events that would prove helpful to the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons. The celebration of the creation of the UNHCR was an opportunity to reflect on the situation of the millions that had been forced to flee their homes in search of safe havens and assistance. She hoped that the celebration of the anniversary of the 1951 Convention on Refugees would lead to broader international commitment to its principles and ensure a greater number of ratifications.
She went on to say that although the report of the UNHCR had shown a decline in the number of persons of concern to the agency, the overall situation was still worrisome. Whatever the decline, none could consider the noble goals of the UNHCR accomplished until all 21 million of those persons were able to return home. The international community must show greater unity and solidarity with the UNHCR so that its programmes could continue apace. It was indeed disturbing to note that contributions to the agency continued to drop. That decline had severely affected the UNHCR’s work. More active participation of the international community in the quest for lasting solutions to allow voluntary repatriation in keeping with international law was necessary. In that regard, it was also critical for the wider global community to support the efforts of the South to rebuild, in order to help create situations that would allow for an increase in returns.
Algeria, she continued, from the outset of Africa’s decolonization movement, had hosted some 42 nationalities. Her country continued to host tens of thousands of refugees to whom it was providing assistance. Algeria would continue its humanitarian activity until there was a final and fair settlement of the Western Sahara situation. She also hoped that the first ministerial meeting in Geneva on the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees would work to achieve positive and specific results.
AHMED TAHIR BADURI (Eritrea) said the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Eritrean refugees from the Sudan and the return of internally displaced persons to their homes had, since 1992, remained the priorities of the Government of Eritrea. The impact of the recent war between Eritrea and Ethiopia on the civilian population had been serious throughout the two-year war, reaching its peak during May and June 2000. The complete uprooting of over one million people, the human suffering and loss of life, the economic damage and the destruction of basic infrastructures had all stressed Eritrea. In spite of the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis, Eritrea had, in cooperation with United Nations agencies and several local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), employed its traditional coping mechanism systems to respond to the challenges in a relatively short time and had succeeded in stabilizing the effects of mass displacements on the civilian population.
The need for the timely and safe return of the internally displaced persons to their villages could not be overemphasized, he said. The opportunity for the several thousand civilians to go home and take advantage of the relatively good rain of the last planting season had been regrettably missed. The international community needed to take appropriate measures that fully addressed the safety, dignity and well-being of the internally displaced.
He said there was close cooperation and coordination between the three parties in the venture focusing on the repatriation of internally displaced persons from the Sudan -- Eritrea, Sudan and the Office of the UNHCR. To date, the programme was proceeding on schedule, and Eritrea was determined to ensure the realization of the dreams and aspirations of the thousands of the long-waiting refugees. Also, repatriation was taking place at a time when Eritrea was engaged in another big programme of demobilization of about 200,000 combatants. Eritrea's challenges were now the repatriation of refugees, the return of internally displaced persons to their homes, and the demobilization of combatants, as well the accommodation of the deportees from Ethiopia.
TEYMUR MALIK-ASLANOV (Azerbaijan) said the plight of nearly one million refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan and the occupation of 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan by neighbouring Armenia were the issues of utmost concern for his Government. In that context, there had been recent decrees signed by the President aimed at the settlement of Azerbaijanis involuntarily displaced from their historic places in the territory of Armenia as a result of the ethnic cleansing by Armenian nationalists.
Azerbaijan stood ready for the resolution of the conflict based on the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the granting of self-governance to all people of the occupied region, he said. It was clearly understood that the problem of refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan could be resolved completely by creating necessary conditions for their return to their homes as a result of the unconditional withdrawal of Armenian military forces from the territories of Azerbaijan as soon as possible.
He said Azerbaijan, for eight years, had one million refugees and internally displaced persons. The country continued to face an acute humanitarian problem. Crises in the neighbouring regions had created another problem for Azerbaijan, which now had to deal with a significant number of refugees from other countries. Taking that into consideration, it was necessary for the UNHCR in Baku to continue functioning.
Azerbaijan was grateful to the UNHCR, donor countries and other humanitarian organizations for their assistance provided for refugees and internally displaced persons he said. But now Azerbaijan needed more. His Government urgently needed the support of international humanitarian organizations to implement projects in the agricultural sector, the development of small businesses, and provisions for medical centres with equipment and medicines to alleviate the hardships of refugees and internally displaced persons. There was hope that the UNHCR and all other partners would not decrease their financial assistance, and that they would do their best to implement the agreed projects and programmes that would help resolve the issue of the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
YESHEY DORJI (Bhutan) agreed with the report of the High Commissioner that long-term durable solutions must be found to genuine refugee problems, and that protection alone was of limited value without durable solutions. However, as the situations that caused displacement differed from one another, a general prescription would not cover every situation. Genuine refugee situations needed to be differentiated between non-refugees, economic migrants, and people with vested political motives. Concerns arising out of a massive influx of illegal immigrants had to be viewed from a non-refugee perspective.
He said that among the most pressing challenges was the vast movement of populations compelled to migrate for different reasons and motivations. Among the root causes were extreme poverty, environmental degradation and population pressures, which prompted destitute people to seek better opportunities elsewhere. However, all nations could not afford to put in place restrictive measures to keep out unwanted migrants. And illegal immigration did not always attract international attention, especially when it occurred over porous borders, and with people of the same ethnic group. When it took place insidiously over a long period of time, across unguarded borders, the relentless tide of population movements posed grave threats to other societies, particularly small nations.
JOSEPHINE FOTSO (Cameroon) said the international community had to cope with a continuing increase in the number of refugees throughout the world. Women and children were most harshly affected. While every region of the world was affected, Africa suffered more than any other region because of all the internal conflicts.
Cameroon had always supported the activities of the Office of the UNHCR, she said. Cameroon had a well-known policy of openness, and it hosted thousands of refugees from the Central African region, and all over Africa. There was fear that the UNHCR office in the country would soon be closed, and it was hoped that this was just being discussed, and not decided. Cameroon housed more than 150,000 refugees, and the closing of the office would likely leave them without any support. Her country provided a safe environment for the Office, and there were already other United Nations offices in the area where coordination between humanitarian workers was made easier. While the motives of the United Nations might be budgetary, the savings would be minimal. Cameroon had done its part in shouldering the responsibility for refugees.
Rights of Reply
Exercising his right of reply, the representative of Armenia said that last year he had responded to a statement made by Azerbaijan by asking how was it that a country so rich in oil and other natural resources could not solve the problem of or at least ease the suffering of internally displaced persons? This year, there was no need to ask such a question since it had become obvious that the oil revenues in Azerbaijan were being used to prop up the current Government regime. If that regime had been truly interested in finding a solution to the problem it would have done so. Azerbaijan used the discussion of internally displaced persons and refugees for propaganda. Further, that country used the issue to blame Armenia for all its existing problems. With the truth now coming to light, Azerbaijan could not mislead the international community with propagandistic statements forever.
Armenia had been the first country in Eastern Europe to face the situation of refugees. It had no oil fields and its natural resources were meager, but at least it had a governmental programme of rehabilitation and reintegration. He hoped that in the future, Azerbaijan would put and end to unnecessary propagandistic attacks and devote its efforts to easing the situation of refugees.
The representative of Azerbaijan, exercising his right of reply, said it was not true that Azerbaijan was not trying to solve the problem of refugees, as stated by the delegate from Armenia. In his statement, he said, the Government was doing many things to accommodate refugees and internally displaced persons in the country. The Armenian delegate said the figure of one million internally displaced persons and refugees was not correct. But United Nations documents and resolutions stated that the number had exceeded more than one million people. Azerbaijan said it did not resettle Armenian families in the disputed territories because it would be illegal until there was a peaceful settlement.
Exercising his right of reply the representative of Armenia said the report of the UNHCR was before the Committee, and it stated that the number of persons of concern to the agency was listed at 600,000. That was the number that the Committee should consider as accurate. He reiterated that the Government of Azerbaijan used the real pain and suffering faced by refugees and internally displaced persons for propaganda against Armenia. Such pain and suffering should not be used for that purpose.
The representative of Azerbaijan, exercising the right of reply, said the Armenian delegate tried to distract the other members of the Committee. Security Council resolutions clearly stated that Armenia should unconditionally withdraw from the territory.
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