Draft: 18 March 2005: Working Document #1


OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World


28 – 30 November 2005



1. The present working document has been prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in close collaboration with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretariat, for the OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World. Its aim is to highlight ways and means to enhance refugee protection in Member States of the OIC. The paper describes the institution of asylum in the Islamic tradition and compares it to the development of the institution of asylum in international law. It also gives an overview of asylum in the Muslim world, including major developments and challenges. Finally, it introduces the Agenda for Protection as a programme of action containing many suggestions and actions which can be drawn upon to inform improvements in asylum practices and policies.




2. From its emergence in the Arabian Peninsula during the 7th century, Islam laid the foundations for the institution of asylum in its public law through the holy Koran and the Tradition (Sunna). Islam was born in a climate of hostility and persecution. When Prophet Mohamed began to preach the new faith in the city of Mecca, he was met with the hostility of Meccan idolaters, whose chiefs, in particular, felt that the new religion represented a danger to the old beliefs and a threat to the existing social and political order. Consequently, in 615 A.D. the Prophet Mohammed initially sent a group of his followers across the Red Sea to the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in order to escape persecution and practice their religion without fear. Similarly, when he and his companions felt their lives and their faith under threat in Mecca, they decided to migrate “en masse” to Yathrib (Medina). This movement marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar (September 622 A.D.).


3. Respect for migrants and those seeking refuge has been a permanent feature of the Islamic faith. Based on the Holy Koran and Islamic Sharia, the institution of “Aman” (safety) guaranteed protection to those seeking refuge in “Dar-al-Islam” (the House of Islam). Once protection was granted, the foreigner became a “Musta’min” (a protected person) and it was the duty of the community to treat the “Musta’min” with dignity and respect throughout the period of his stay. The extradition of the “Musta’min” was prohibited even if it had been requested in exchange for the release of a Muslim. The Islamic tradition therefore recognizes in its own precepts the principle of non-refoulement which represents the cornerstone of modern-day international refugee law.


4. Throughout its history, the Islamic world remained faithful to this heritage and preserved the legacy of Islam in relation to human rights and asylum. It is in keeping with the deeply rooted traditions of “Aman” that the tenth session of the Islamic Summit held in Kuala Lumpur in October 2003 called for the convening of an OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World, in cooperation with UNHCR.




5. Throughout the world and over the centuries, societies have welcomed frightened, weary strangers, victims of persecution, violence and/or armed conflicts. International protection can be defined as all actions aimed at ensuring equal access to and enjoyment of the rights of refugees and asylum–seekers, whether  women, men, girls and boys, in accordance with the relevant bodies of law, including international refugee law, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law.  International protection to people fleeing persecution begins with their admission to safety in a country of asylum, the grant of asylum and respect for their fundamental human rights, including the right not to be forcibly returned to a country where their safety or survival are threatened (the principle of non-refoulement). The need for asylum ceases only with the attainment of a durable solution.


6. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol can be said to be the modern embodiment of the ancient and universal tradition of providing protection to those fleeing persecution. They have a legal, political and ethical significance that goes well beyond their specific terms. They are the first and the only instruments at the global level which specifically regulate the treatment of those who are compelled to leave their homes, enumerate the rights and responsibilities of refugees as well as the obligations of States that are parties to it. For over half a century, the Convention and its Protocol have clearly demonstrated their value and flexibility, and have afforded an effective framework for the protection of refugees. Today, a total of 145 States are party to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol and the number continues to grow.


7. The 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa is an effort to adapt the 1951 Convention to realities on the continent. It added to the 1951 Convention refugee definition by including a more objectively based consideration, namely “owing to external aggression, occupation, former domination or events seriously disturbing public order.” The OAU Convention also built upon the 1951 Convention by recognizing the security implications of refugee flows and more specifically focusing on durable solutions — particularly voluntary repatriation — while also promoting more vigorous burden sharing when it comes to refugee assistance and protection.


8. International human rights law is also relevant to defining and providing adequate protection to refugees and asylum-seekers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights both recognize the rights of all individuals to adequate standards of treatment and living.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides standards for the exercise of civil rights, including protection against arbitrary detention and torture, and the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women promotes gender equity in the context of asylum. As regards children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular the “best interest” principle, provides important guidance for the design and implementation of protection policies for refugee children.


9. Primary responsibility for providing protection to refugees lies with States, notably the country in which the individual has sought asylum. All States have a general duty to provide international protection as a result of obligations based on international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law. States that are parties to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol have obligations in accordance with the provisions of these instruments.


10. Throughout it’s over five decades of existence, UNHCR has also worked closely with governments as partners in refugee protection. UNHCR remains the only organization with a specific mandate to protect refugees and find durable solutions to their plight at the global level. The High Commissioner’s responsibilities relate to several groups of people known collectively as “persons of concern to UNHCR”. These generally include refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, stateless persons and, under certain conditions, internally displaced persons. UNHCR also ensures that States uphold their commitments to protect refugees by monitoring national practices, intervening on behalf of individual refugees where necessary and helping governments to improve their capacity to provide asylum and to enable refugees to become self-reliant, pending the identification of durable solutions. UNHCR cooperates with States, regional intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a range of United Nations bodies to improve the provision of international protection. 




11. Member States of the OIC are a highly diverse group of States from almost all corners of the world. Many are undergoing fundamental political, social and economic changes.  Despite their national constraints, OIC Member States have demonstrated a long tradition of hospitality towards refugees and feel, to a large extent, bound by fundamental principles of refugee protection. Thirty-four of the 57 OIC Member States are signatories of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol. In addition, virtually all OIC Member States in Africa have signed the 1969 OAU Convention.


12. Many States in the Muslim World have allowed large numbers of people in need of protection to enjoy de facto asylum, have access to basic social services and informal employment, and benefit from a high degree of tolerance. The 57 member States of the OIC are host to an estimated 6.5 million refugees and persons of concern to UNHCR: 38 per cent of the world’s total of some 16.9 million. This figure does not include the Palestinian refugees who fall within the specific mandate given by the United Nations General Assembly to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and whose plight remains a source of deep concern to OIC Member States, the broader international community, and certainly to UNHCR.


13. The Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan alone were host to over 30 per cent of the world’s refugee population, before large-scale repatriation movements to Afghanistan commenced. Many other States are hosting immigrants originating from countries where, in view of the prevailing insecurity, return is not feasible, thus offering them a sort of de facto asylum. In the majority of cases, refugees in Muslim countries are staying in refugee villages and urban areas and enjoy a large degree of self-reliance and participation rather than being confined to closed refugee camps. Equally significant is the fact that most refugees in the OIC Member States remain close to their geographic area of origin, which means that there are countries close to home that are willing to accept them and to offer them shelter and safety.


14. The Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the insufficient international assistance as well as very heavy economic, social, cultural, political and security costs, has hosted a large number of refugees during last 25 years. The population of refugees in Iran, in some cases exceeded 3 millions. In recent years, and based on the Joint Programmes for Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees with the countries of origin to them and under the supervision of UNHCR, large number of refugees have returned to their homeland on a voluntary basis. However, Iran still is hosting more than 1 million and 200,000 refugees. Likewise, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a party to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and in line with its humanitarian and international responsibilities, has also extensively contributed to the successful reintegration of refugees in their respective societies.


15. Some countries have achieved progress in adopting refugee legislation at the national level and in establishing national structures and procedures to deal with refugee issues. Others have gone one step further by becoming directly involved in or preparing the grounds for direct involvement in the management of the process of refugee registration and refugee status determination.


16. Equally important is the wide recognition among the concerned States of UNHCR’s role, their high degree of cooperation with the Office and their facilitation of its interventions on behalf of refugees. UNHCR has been able, to a certain extent, to dispel the feeling of apprehension and the climate of mistrust which has characterized the attitude of many States of the region towards asylum and UNHCR, as well as to secure a degree of understanding and support for its mandate. In this vein, a score of countries in the region have signed cooperation agreements with UNHCR and contribute to UNHCR’s work through their active presence in the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme. Cooperation agreements have been signed between UNHCR and the OIC (1981) and the League of Arab States (2000), offering additional opportunities for enhanced partnership. A joint Plan of Action was also adopted in 2004 by UNHCR and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) aimed at improving the provision of education in refugee camps in some OIC Member States. A Memorandum of Understanding with the Gulf Cooperation Council is also under review and is expected to pave the way for wider discussions on the complex linkages between labor migration and asylum in the Gulf area.


17. Turning to civil society, UNHCR has intensified its contacts with NGOs in the Islamic world and noted their increased contributions to humanitarian programmes. UNHCR has had an enriching experience with Islamic charities in the Middle East, the Gulf region, south-eastern Europe and south-western Asia. In the last ten years, UNHCR has channeled USD 4.3 billion through its implementing partners, of which USD 1.6 billion (or 37 per cent) was channeled through partners in the OIC countries. In 2003, UNHCR worked with 572 NGO partners. A total of 153 of those partners were NGOs from OIC countries, working principally in the fields of health and nutrition, shelter, education, legal assistance and protection, water and sanitation, as well as transport and logistics.  In all OIC Member States, UNHCR is witnessing an increasing interest among members of civil society in learning about the basic principles of international refugee law. Moreover, the Office has reached out to many academic institutions, and organized seminars and roundtables targeting selected audiences and focusing on asylum and other human rights topics.


18. It is a basic humanitarian precept that assistance is provided to all victims, without discrimination or considerations based on political motivations. Many Islamic charities traditionally respect the distinction between their humanitarian activities and political considerations. Recently, though, problems have arisen when the line between humanitarian and political activities has become blurred. This is sometimes simply a problem of perception. It is essential to maintain the good name of humanitarian work and remain apolitical. Focusing activities solely on the humanitarian needs of beneficiaries, strengthening and professionalizing resource management and demonstrating greater transparency in the collection and distribution of aid will reinforce the image of Islamic charities and help demonstrate the important contribution that they are making. UNHCR is convinced there is enormous potential to expand its collaboration with Islamic NGOs.




19. The number of persons of concern to the High Commissioner in the Muslim world has gone down, principally because the root causes of major displacement, from Afghanistan through to West Africa, have been addressed sufficiently to permit the voluntary return of large numbers of refugees.


20. In Afghanistan, 3.5 million people have returned to their homes after years of displacement during which they were generously hosted by countries in the region, especially the Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Iran. This is the largest repatriation movement in UNHCR history. UNHCR has provided returnees with initial aid for their reintegration in their country of origin, but greater efforts are needed by development actors to tackle the underlying problem of poverty, in order to consolidate and ensure the sustainability of return. While voluntary repatriation remains the priority, UNHCR is also consulting Governments in the region to open up new avenues for durable solutions for Afghans.


21. In Central Asia, citizenship has been granted to Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan, a process which will lead to the local integration of almost all Tajik refugees. In Turkmenistan a country-wide registration of all refugees, mainly Afghans and Tajiks, is due to be completed in 2005.


22. In many parts of Africa, UNHCR has focused on the durable solution of voluntary repatriation. The year 2004 saw sizeable repatriation movements to several countries in Africa. The main challenge in all these repatriation movements is how to ensure the sustainability of return, so that returning refugees do not feel compelled to leave their home countries again owing to a precarious economic, social or security situation. While this fundamentally hinges on enduring peace and stability, the sustainability of reintegration requires strong international financial support, progress in poverty alleviation and investments in long-term development, including in areas to which refugees are going home.


23. The peace processes now underway on the continent are driven by African States themselves, with the support of the African Union, sub-regional organizations and, in quite a number of situations, OIC member States. Nevertheless, poverty, socio-political inequities, weak rule of law and governance continue to burden African countries emerging from armed conflict. In cooperation with various partners, UNHCR is engaged, for example, in devising a Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) for Somali refugees. Its aim is to secure a range of durable solutions to their long-standing plight, benefiting from strong international support. There is no doubt that OIC members have a role to play in supporting Africa in this very promising period.


24. Since the start in early 2003 of the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, UNHCR has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response. The Office now assists the 210,000 Sudanese from Darfur who have sought refuge in Chad. A protracted emergency response is sustainable neither in Sudan nor in Chad. It is therefore vital for the international community to intercede with local authorities to diminish the causes compelling people to move, to rebuild the victims’ confidence that they will be protected effectively in their former home areas, and to create conditions conducive for durable solutions, notably voluntary repatriation. UNHCR has been engaged at the same time in the repatriation of Eritrean refugees from eastern Sudan. In southern Sudan, following recent political developments, there is growing hope that the 500,000 Sudanese refugees presently in eight neighbouring countries and the millions of internally displaced persons will be able to return home.


25. Improving procedures and standards for the registration of asylum-seekers and refugees has been an important focus of UNHCR in recent years. Gender-sensitive registration and documentation have been incorporated into standard registration procedures in countries from Uzbekistan to Yemen. UNHCR interventions in some countries focused on ensuring that obstacles were removed from refugees being issued identity documents, work permits, birth and marriage certificates, and 1951 Convention travel documents.


26. Significant numbers of Iraqis are still hosted by countries in the region and further abroad since the present situation does not yet allow return in safety and dignity. The challenging operational environment calls for innovative programming, and UNHCR is working in close partnership with the Iraqi authorities and NGOs on a range of assistance, property, displacement and citizenship issues. For those Iraqis who have spontaneously returned to Iraq, UNHCR is providing shelter assistance and supporting basic services in areas of return. Iraq is also hosting thousands of refugees from Islamic States and is working in coordination with the UNHCR to provide the required protection and services to these refugees so that they can live in dignity and safety.


27. In Asia, the protracted exile of some 20,000 Muslim refugees of Myanmar in Bangladesh remains a major source of concern to UNHCR. Although the vast majority of the initial 250,000 refugees have voluntarily returned to Myanmar, those remaining in Bangladesh have been without a lasting solution for more than a decade. In a positive development, the Malaysian Government has recently indicated that some 10,000 Rohingya asylum-seekers from Myanmar, resident in Malaysia for over a decade, will be provided with temporary stay permits.
28. In Europe, close cooperation has continued with OIC countries on asylum and refugee protection issues. This year, Azerbaijan not only signed the 1951 Convention but also adopted national asylum legislation and began refugee status determination. Important progress was made in Albania, where asylum legislation was adopted last year and the European Union (EU)-funded CARDS initiative, which provides a valuable tool to manage mixed migration flows through a formal system of registration and referral. In addition to this, Turkey endorsed an action plan on asylum and migration and turkey has been preparing an asylum law. Informity with the EU legislation nowadays. The Turkish NAP on Asylum and Migration aims to align Turkish Legislation and System on Asylum, Migrants and Aliens with the EU Acquits and systems within the process of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU. The Turkish NAP it has been foreseen that “in order to increase the capacity, institutional set-up will be realized to establish a specialization unit in the field of migration and asylum. And the existing specialization unit will be expanded and strengthened for guaranteeing that asylum and migration procedures are enforced in harmony with the EU Acquits”.   Another success story in Europe is in the Balkans, where Bosnia and Herzegovina welcomed home the one millionth returnee a few months ago.


29. One of the challenges in Europe remains the fate of internally displaced Chechens and Chechen asylum-seekers. UNHCR will help those who want to return and has asked host governments to help with those who cannot return at present. UNHCR is committed to working with the Russian Federation and other Governments to find durable solutions for both groups.




30. Despite these many positive developments and accomplishments, the refugee situation in the Muslim world is nevertheless marked by a range of challenges relating to access to protection; to implementing durable solutions, including to a variety of protracted refugee situations; and to building partnerships and domestic asylum systems.


A.  Accession to the refugee instruments,

development of protection frameworks and capacity building


31. A total of 23 countries in the Muslim world have not yet acceded to the international refugee instruments. This is an important challenge. While accession is not an ultimate goal in and of itself, it provides a means to make progress in further building countries’ capacity to deal with asylum issues by adopting asylum laws and related structures and procedures that are in conformity with international standards, while also establishing and enforcing protection-sensitive migration policies. There is also a need to revisit a number of outdated pieces of refugee legislation, often mirroring reservations made principally to the social and economic provisions of the 1951 Convention at the time of accession. This requires the political will of the concerned governments, combined with more substantive investment from UNHCR aimed at the planned, orderly and gradual handover of the refugee status determination responsibility to national structures.
32. A comprehensive protection framework also involves the training of law enforcement authorities and other national institutions dealing with refugees. It equally includes providing appropriate documentation to refugees attesting to their protected status, and the grant of certain rights, including the right to an education, freedom of movement, and access to employment. UNHCR regularly provides technical support to countries for the enactment and implementation of legislation consistent with international standards. UNHCR can also play a catalytic role in encouraging the States of the region to provide further support to the non-governmental sector and to further associate civil society in dealing with asylum problems so that such institutions can relieve the pressure on State structures, attract additional funding for refugee programmes and find more tailored responses to refugee situations.


B.  Statelessness


33. Large numbers of people in the Muslim world continue to live with no formal bond to any States whatsoever or with no effective citizenship. These include, for example, ex-deportees or persons deprived of an effective nationality owing to State succession and subsequent changes in citizenship legislation. Reducing and preventing statelessness remains one of the major challenges for many OIC countries and is part of UNHCR’s mandate towards stateless persons as provided for by the 1954 Convention relating to relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. While the concerned States, for a variety of reasons, are hesitant in addressing this issue, UNHCR is ready to offer its expertise and assistance to protect stateless persons and to assist concerned States in reducing statelessness.  In 2004 the Executive Committee of UNHCR specifically requested UNHCR to pay more attention to protracted statelessness situations and explore ways together with States concerned to ameliorate them and bring them to an end.


C.  International Cooperation and Burden and Responsibility sharing


34. Many OIC member States do not offer long-term prospects to refugees. While some refugees have managed to integrate and even obtain citizenship, the overwhelming majority remains on the fringe of society surviving on limited aid. provided by the International community This situation also has an impact on the local population. Refugees are often located in fragile environments or communities with limited resources and infrastructure to sustain struggling national populations, much less refugees. The competition for water, firewood, and grazing possibilities for livestock is a persistent scenario, and occasionally leads to tensions and incidents. In some settings, refugees and asylum-seekers are portrayed as a burden, a cause for social and economic instability, or an outright threat to national security. The grant of asylum is at times viewed as a “political” act. As a result, asylum-related policies and decisions are weighed against their potential impact on local security interests and political alliances. Other factors impeding the effective integration of refugees include the fact that development policies and plans fail to target local host communities. This is compounded by weak coordination between refugee and development agencies.


35. Creative new approaches are called for to alleviate these negative effects and mitigate these misperceptions. Refugees can be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem. Their capacities can be recognized and they can be empowered to adapt to their new environment and work towards their own solutions.  The anchoring of refugee issues within the development agenda reduces the gap between humanitarian assistance and development efforts and has to be one goal of any new approaches.  Greater attention now needs to be paid to overcoming these difficulties so as to maximize the potential contribution of refugees towards local communities, and ensure that they participate in the development of localities and regions. In addition, more work needs to be done to influence misperceptions about refugees in the public mind. Public opinion in refugee-hosting countries of the Muslim world should be made more informed about of the plight of refugees and more sensitive to the protection of refugees and to their need for durable solutions, including integration. This requires activities aimed at creating awareness, promoting refugee law and disseminating refugee principles among the public at large, academia, decision-makers and other influential audiences.


D. OIC Member States need more support


36. Respect by States for their international obligations is enhanced by international solidarity and responsibility sharing. There is a growing perception among OIC member States that refugee burdens are disproportionately spread. Many also feel that they do not have the tools to meet their international protection responsibilities. They believe that the international community is not supportive enough in helping them cope with the burden resulting from the presence of refugees and not active enough in seeking political settlements to resolve the refugee-producing crises that have affected the Muslim world for so many years. Many States in the Muslim world believe that their national concerns should be given more attention by the international community, and increased financial and technical assistance should be provided, commensurate with the burden they assume as host countries, in order to achieve more equitable responsibility and burden sharing on refugee issues.  UNHCR is ready to foster more effective partnerships in support of the international protection system in the Muslim world. With protection needs many and resources not adequate, partnership-building is an indispensable priority and should involve a wide variety of actors both local and external, public and private.


E.  More active search for durable solutions


37. Focusing efforts more resolutely on the promotion and realization of sustainable solutions at the earliest possible opportunity is yet another challenge in many refugee situations in the Muslim world. There are many long-standing refugee situations resulting from conflicts which have not been resolved with the ending of the Cold War or which have taken on a life of their own, often fueled by the plunder of natural resources and/or illicit trade in small arms. Endemic instability and insecurity often accompany displacement within and from failed States or States where the central government controls only part of the territory, hardly offering conditions for safe return.


38. UNHCR has consistently stressed the link between repatriation and the impact on peace and stability. It argues that in post-conflict situations involving the return of large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, there is a need for a balanced and integrated approach to make returns durable and part of sustainable peace-building. The World Bank recently estimated that one half of all post conflict situations relapse into violence because of the lack of sustainable recovery.


39. Many unresolved conflicts have the potential to generate humanitarian emergencies that can evolve at any time into major involuntary displacements. It is therefore essential for all concerned parties to be sensitive to such potential and to maintain an adequate level of contingency planning and emergency preparedness.


F.  The migration debate and heightened security concerns


40. The debate on migration in today’s globalized world – often with asylum issues at its heart – has taken on a dimension of its own. Refugees are increasingly part of movements including both forced and voluntary departures and may resort to smugglers in order to leave and reach their chosen destination. Refugees may also move to other countries either because they do not enjoy effective protection or for other reasons. At the same time, people not in need of international protection and lacking legal migration options may resort to asylum channels in the hope of gaining temporary or permanent stay abroad. As a result, the line between migrants and refugees is blurring in the public mind, as is the distinction between migration control and refugee protection in the policies of many States.
41. Refugees do not lose their protection needs and entitlements just because they are part of a mixed flow. What changes is the context in which protection and solutions have to be realized. It is therefore important for all partners to be sensitive to the inter-linkages between migration and asylum flows, so that the management of this “asylum-migration nexus” respects the differences between the various groups and interests at stake, and approaches are adopted which recognize these differences. The real challenge here is to foster the development of a protection perspective onto the migration control agendas of governments. Such an approach would take account both of the right and needs of individuals of concern to UNHCR, and of the legitimate interests and constraints that the concerned governments face.


42. Moreover, security concerns since the attacks in the United States of America on 11 September 2001 have dominated the debate, including in the migration area, and have at times overshadowed the legitimate protection interests of individuals. A number of countries have, for instance, designed their asylum systems from a security angle and have, in the process, tightened procedures and introduced substantial restrictions, including on admission to safety. Of grave concern is the shrinking space for safe and unhindered humanitarian action as a result of direct attacks on the United Nations and on humanitarian personnel. These attacks are stark reminders that the United Nations and other humanitarian personnel are increasingly being targeted for political reasons as they seek to deliver protection and assistance. Indeed, the United Nations itself, together with the emblems which for decades have symbolized non-political, humanitarian action, are now themselves under attack in a deliberate effort to destabilize humanitarian work. Threats and insecurity have curtailed operations to assist refugees, returnees and internally displaced victims of persecution and conflict in several countries.


43. Bona fide efforts, multilateral or national, to root out international crime and effectively combat terrorism effectively are supported by UNHCR. An important point of departure for UNHCR, however, is that genuine refugees are themselves escaping persecution and violence, including terrorist acts. They are not the perpetrators of such acts. A second starting point for UNHCR is that the international refugee instruments should not be characterized as providing a safe haven for terrorists. On the contrary, they provide for their exclusion from international protection. They do not shield from either criminal prosecution or expulsion. While there may be persons in both categories associated with serious crime, this is no justification for the majority being damned by association with the few. Equating asylum with a safe haven for terrorists is not only legally wrong and unsupported by the facts, but it serves to vilify refugees in the public mind and promotes the singling out of persons of particular races or religions for discrimination and hate-based harassment.


44. It is imperative that the combination of security fears and confusion with economic migrants does not weaken international commitments to protect genuine asylum-seekers and refugees. UNHCR hopes that the OIC Ministerial Conference will give States the opportunity to reflect upon the specific challenges posed by mixed movements of populations, including not only refugees but also armed elements seeking sanctuary in neighbouring countries, posing security concerns for the host communities and refugees alike. The civilian and humanitarian character of asylum is among the basic tenets of both international and regional refugee instruments.




45. There was hope that the end of the Cold War would result in the strengthening of multilateral approaches to address international problems. In the area of forced displacement, developments in the 1990’s did not, however, fully realize this hope. On the one hand, concerns over irregular migration, smuggling and trafficking, abuse of asylum procedures increasingly dominated the international debate. On the other hand, protracted refugee situations, massive refugee outflows, elusive durable solutions and lack of genuine will to engage in burden sharing frustrated many countries in the developing world. The end of the nineties even witnessed an open questioning of the 1951 Convention. Some politicians saw in it, wrongly, the embodiment of a bygone era brought to a close by the end of the Cold War. Advancing protection standards in such a context posed difficult challenges for UNHCR, but also offered opportunities for revitalizing the international protection system.


46. It was against this background and in the context of preparations for the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention, that UNHCR in June 2000 embarked on a process of broad consultations on the international refugee protection framework, known as the Global Consultations on International Protection. The Global Consultations proved highly effective in bringing together the different stakeholders and succeeded in raising awareness of the key challenges facing refugee protection today. Two concepts kept recurring throughout the Consultations: the need for international cooperation on refugee issues in a globalized world and the importance of realizing durable solutions. The most important outcome of these Consultations is the Agenda for Protection, consisting of a Declaration and a Programme of Action.  The Agenda for Protection reflects a wide cross-section of concerns and recommendations of States, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs, as well as refugees themselves. It recognizes the enduring importance of the 1951 Convention and its Protocol, reaffirms political commitment to upholding the values and principles they embody, and urges all States to consider ways to strengthen their implementation. It also affirms the need for closer cooperation between States and UNHCR to facilitate the latter’s duty of supervising the application of these international instruments.



47. The Agenda for Protection was the product of a multilateral process to which a significant number of OIC member States actively contributed. It addresses those elements of protection which stand to benefit from strengthened multilateral cooperation. It has helped to mainstream concepts and to improve ownership of and accountability for the performance of protection. It has also served to promote more coherent and globally consistent policies, by offering a planning framework, which is not region or country specific, within which countries can develop their  own more locally tailored protection strategies. It promotes partnerships for protection, built around burden sharing.


48. The Programme of Action has six goals:


1.      strengthening implementation of the 1951 Convention and 1its 967 Protocol;
2.      protecting refugees within broader migration movements;
3.      sharing burdens and responsibilities more equitably and building capacities to receive and protect refugees;
4.      addressing security related concerns more effectively;
5.      redoubling the search of durable solutions; and
6.      meeting the protection needs of refugee women and refugee children.


The Agenda for Protection also led the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to launch the Convention Plus initiative in 2003, aimed at establishing a more predictable and principled framework for action. The objective is to develop new multilateral arrangements covering several issues which are deemed amenable to multilateral approaches. These issues include expanding the potential of resettlement as a burden and responsibility sharing tool; targeting development assistance to facilitate solutions to refugee problems; and improving protection in regions of origin closer to the source of the need.  UNHCR believes that the variety of tools offered by the Agenda for Protection are adequate to address the protection challenges confronting the Muslim world.




49. The Ministerial Conference comes at a critical juncture for the Muslim world which is going through profound political, social and economic changes. UNHCR hopes that the Conference will make a significant contribution to further improving the protection of and securing durable solutions for refugees in a part of the world with a long and generous asylum tradition, but where refugee flows are an ever present, daily human tragedy.








Draft: 18 March 2005: Working Document #2


OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World


28-30 November 2005


Multilateral Cooperation On refugee-related issues


I.          Introduction


1.         Refugee protection and assistance cannot be achieved without solid international cooperation.  Paragraph 2 of the General Assembly resolution establishing the Statute of the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)[1] “calls upon Governments to co-operate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the performance of his functions concerning refugees falling under the competence of his Office”, including by:


  • becoming parties to international conventions providing for the protection of refugees, and taking the necessary steps to implement them;
  • entering into special agreements with UNHCR to improve the situation of refugees and to reduce the number requiring protection; and,
  • admitting refugees to their territories, not excluding those in the most destitute categories.


2.         The Preamble to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention) recognizes that “the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the United Nations has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international cooperation”.  Article 35 of the same Convention requests “Contracting States to undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or any other agency of the United Nations which may succeed it, in the exercise of its functions…”


3.         Lastly, the 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa stipulates that “where a Member State  finds difficulty in continuing to grant asylum to refugees, such Member State may appeal directly to other Member States and through the OAU, and such other Member States shall in the spirit of African solidarity and international cooperation take appropriate measures to lighten the burden of the Member State granting asylum” (Article II, paragraph 4).


II         UNHCR’s efforts to improve multilateral cooperation


4.         The United Nations system deals with every issue affecting the globe, from refugees to oceans, and the world body remains the primary source of international legitimacy in matters of peace and security.  The United Nations system will also continue to be assessed in terms of its actual and perceived effectiveness in achieving human security for all.  This multilateral approach to solving problems is of particular relevance in solving refugee problems as UNHCR cannot achieve its mandate in isolation.  It must rely on a series of measures and partnerships to ensure that the needs of displaced populations are met.  This approach is widely known as “burden sharing” and represents the common efforts not only by the United Nations system, but also by governments, other international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other key members of civil society toward this end.  In the paragraphs that follow, some of the most important aspects of burden sharing and the multilateral approach to solving refugee problems are outlined.  


5.         Amongst the various innovative steps taken these last years by UNHCR to improve and strengthen protection and assistance to refugees and persons of concern to it, particular mention should be made of the Convention Plus initiative launched by the former High Commissioner in October 2002.  Its aim is to improve refugee protection worldwide and to

facilitate the resolution of refugee problems through multilateral special agreements.  Three priority objectives are:


  • the strategic use of resettlement as a tool of protection, a durable solution and a tangible form of burden sharing;
  • more effective targeting of development assistance to support durable solutions for refugees, whether in countries of asylum or upon return, in order to enhance self reliance of refugees and returnees in countries hosting large numbers of refugees; and,
  • clarification of the responsibilities of countries of origin, transit and destination in irregular or secondary movements.


6.         Convention Plus means a stronger multilateral commitment to finding durable and sustainable solutions to refugee problems in a burden-sharing framework.  Two examples illustrate this approach:


a) with regard to Afghan refugees, UNHCR has developed a comprehensive, collaborative and imaginative approach called “Afghanistan Plus”, in close collaboration with all countries concerned inside and outside the region; and,
b) in the context of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative, which provides an opportunity for NEPAD actors and UNHCR to identify situations that would benefit from targeted use of development assistance, a Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) is being developed for Somali refugees.


III        Cooperation to protect and assist refugees: some examples


7.         UNHCR relies on many partners to help uprooted people.  In its effort to protect refugees and to promote durable solutions to their problems, UNHCR works in partnership with many other actors.  These include other United Nations agencies, governmental as well as intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and various civil society partners, including universities, advocacy groups, foundations and corporations.


The United Nations System


III        Cooperation to protect and assist refugees


8.         During the last several years there has been an increasing trend of large-scale refugee movements due to the changing nature and complexity of conflicts in the post-Cold War period.  In addition, a rapid rise in the number of actors responding to humanitarian crises has been witnessed.  UNHCR has also enhanced its partnerships with a number of agencies, including those in the United Nations system, and other international and regional organizations, in an effort to ensure effective action and coordinated responses to refugee crises.  The use of Memoranda of Understanding in their various forms, including Letters of Understanding, Cooperation Agreements and Exchanges of Letters, has served to further UNHCR’s global efforts to strengthen partnership and cooperation to assist refugees.


The United Nations System


9.         UNHCR maintains close cooperation with a wide range of United Nations entities whose areas of expertise extend to assisting displaced populations including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees.  Among these key partners are the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), as well as the Bretton Woods Institutions.  UNHCR has entered into some form of cooperation agreement with many of those partners.  Some important examples of this cooperation are listed here below:




10.       WFP has been one of UNHCR’s closest partners over the years, with a first Memorandum of Understanding being signed in 1985 between the two agencies and the fourth revision finalized in July 2002.  This most recent revision reflects the dynamic changes in refugee programmes globally, such as increased attention to the needs of refugee women and children to guarantee their protection against abuse, addressing protracted refugee situations by establishing more income-generating activities to increase self-sufficiency, and negotiating with host countries to include refugees’ specific needs into national development plans.  The MoU also includes the initiative to pilot final food distribution for refugees by WFP with a view to determine whether this division of labour would be an optimum arrangement for worldwide implementation in refugee situations.




11.       A global Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1996 between UNHCR and UNICEF outlining the respective mandates and responsibilities of each organization, with a special emphasis on the needs of refugee children as well as affected local populations. A number of country-level MoUs have also been signed between the two agencies targeting specific country operations.




12.       In 1997 UNHCR and UNDP signed a global Cooperation Agreement addressing the issues of prevention of forced population displacements; refugee impact on hosting areas; reintegration and rehabilitation; and joint planning, programming and resource mobilization, etc.  In addition, several country-specific agreements have also been signed with UNDP over the years to complement the global Cooperation Agreement.





13.       UNHCR and DPKO signed a Joint Letter and Information Note in 2004 setting out cooperation in the areas of refugee, IDP and returnee security; Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR); mine action; rule of law; staff exchange, etc.  This formalized cooperation with DPKO reflects the need to address the link between forced population displacement and endeavours to ensure international peace and security.


Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)


14.       UNHCR and the OIC signed a cooperation agreement on 15 July 1988, centring on humanitarian issues of global concern and, subsequently, expanded their collaboration in priority areas relating to refugees through regular contacts, exchange of information and mutual attendance at major events organized by each other.  As some 38 per cent of the refugees in the world originate in the Muslim countries, and taking into account the impact of the tragic events of 11 September 2002 on the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers originating from OIC member States, the two institutions have strengthened their cooperation in order to find durable solutions to refugee problems in the Islamic world.


15.       During the UN/OIC General Meeting held in Vienna from 9 to 11 July 2002, representatives from UNHCR and OIC agreed to focus on the following priority areas of cooperation:


i.          joint events to create awareness of the problems of refugees in the Islamic countries and advocate non-discrimination in the treatment of Muslim refugees and asylum-seekers;
ii.          in cooperation with the Islamic Solidarity Fund (ISF) design and implement joint projects in support of UNHCR operations focusing on education, disabled children, environment and health (this project will centre on returning refugees in Afghanistan and other refugee situations in other OIC member States);
iii.         further associate OIC staff in UNHCR training activities on basic protection principles;
iv.         review the mechanism relating to the exchange of information between the two institutions and work towards their improvement.
v.         organize joint field visits to familiarize OIC staff and management with refugee problems in Islamic countries; and,
vi.         hold regular consultations on refugee policies and operations throughout the OIC member States.


16.       UNHCR and the Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) are linked by a cooperation protocol since 1991 and signed a programme of action in 1996.  Furthermore, they agreed to reinforce their cooperation through the following activities for the period 2003/2004:


i.          further associate ISESCO staff in UNHCR training activities on basic protection principles;
ii.          assign teaching staff from OIC member States to assist in the education of the returning refugees in OIC countries;
iii.         provide support to set up specialized educational programmes for handicapped refugees in OIC member States;
iv.         hold training workshops in the field of health, environment and population for returnees in OIC member States; and,
v.         implement reforestation projects in refugee camps in OIC member States.


17.       UNHCR and the Islamic University of Technology (IUT) agreed to continue their cooperation in the area of education for Muslim refugee students, studying at or graduated from IUT.  UNHCR has also undertaken to share information about its annual programme with ITU to enable the latter to review the possibility of further cooperation in the area of education for refugee students in various OIC countries.


18.       Furthermore, the OIC Summit, held in Putrejaya in October 2003, adopted a resolution on the “Problem of refugees in the Muslim world”, which reaffirmed the concerns of member States over the effects of the existence of millions of refugees in Islamic States.  The resolution called on OIC members to coordinate with UNHCR to determine the root causes behind refugee movements and to enable refugees to repatriate as soon as possible.  The same resolution also calls on member States that have not acceded to the 1951Convention to do so and to consider, inter alia, the convening, in coordination with UNHCR, of a ministerial conference in 2005 to address the problem of refugees in the Muslim world.


The League of Arab States


19.       UNHCR and the League of Arab States have a long-standing cooperation with respect to refugees.  To formalize and further strengthen their cooperation, the two institutions signed a cooperation agreement on 27 June 2000, by which they notably recognize that the refugee problem is international in scope and nature, and that its resolution is dependent on the will and capacity of States to respond in concert, in a spirit of burden sharing and solidarity.  The two institutions agree that strengthening the implementation of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol is the first step in improving the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.  To this end, UNHCR and the League of Arab States have identified three priority areas for joint action, namely:


i.          promote and encourage accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol by the States that have not done so;
ii.          promote and support enactment of specific domestic laws and procedures for the reception and registration of asylum-seekers and determination of their refugee status; and,
iii.         initiate measures for strengthening partnerships for refugee protection and awareness-raising with NGOs and other actors of civil society.


20.       To achieve these objectives, the two institutions are jointly to implement during the period 2005-2006 a number of asylum capacity-building activities, including workshops and seminars on international refugee law, public information and education activities, and the establishment of a centre for documentation on refugees at the Secretariat of the League of Arab States.  To coordinate the planning, implementation and evaluation of these activities, UNHCR and the Secretariat of the Arab League of States will establish a steering committee that will meet regularly.


21.       Recent examples of cooperation include the fact-finding mission dispatched during last summer by the League of Arab States to the Darfur region of the Sudan and to the Republic of Chad, and the drafting of an Arab refugee convention which is under consideration.




22.       Article 20 of the Statute of the Office of the UNHCR stipulates that “no expenditure other than administrative expenditures relating to the functioning of the Office of the High Commissioner shall be borne on the budget of the United Nations and all other expenditures relating to the activities of the High Commissioner shall be financed by voluntary contributions.”


23.       When UNHCR was established in 1951, its budget during the first years was around US $300 000 per year.  The funds were made available from the United Nations regular budget and were to cover the Office’s administrative expenditures.  Only from 1956 onward did UNHCR raise voluntary contributions, initially only for specific situations, but later also for the quasi-totality of UNHCR’s budget.  Nowadays, the organization’s budget is over US $1 billion per year, of which almost 98 per cent comes from voluntary contributions.  The majority of these contributions come from a limited number of donors: three of UNHCR’s donors fund over 48 per cent of its income; eight fund over 78 per cent; and twelve fund close to 90 per cent.


24.       Considering the organization’s dependency on a limited pool of donors, UNHCR urgently needs to expand its donor base.  In this regard, while acknowledging the contributions of host countries that provide asylum to large population of refugees, UNHCR needs to expand its cash donor base.  UNHCR has noted that donor members of the OIC rank amongst the most generous in the world for funding the cause of refugees.  Unfortunately, their contributions to this cause are not visible enough, as they are mostly channelled through bilateral means.


25.       In 2004, UNHCR received US $727,205 from Members and Observers of the OIC. This figure represents close to 0.1 per cent of the total voluntary contributions the Office received in that year.  Considering that the size of cash contribution made by these OIC Members and Observers towards the resolution of refugee-related issues is much higher, it is important that this generosity be known by stakeholders outside the OIC.  OIC Members and Observers may therefore wish to consider funding the programmes aimed at assisting, protecting and finding durable solutions for refugees in a multilateral context, through agencies such as UNHCR.


New Approaches to Funding


26.       Voluntary contributions received each year do not cover the organization’s financial requirement for that year.  For instance, UNHCR’s total requirement for the year 2004 was US $1.2 billion.  Total voluntary contributions received in the same year amounted to US $962.3 million.  Even including other income, such as money carried over from the previous year and the contribution from the United Nations Regular Budget (US $27.7 million in 2004), the organization faced a gap between its financial needs and its actual income.  In an effort to meet the financial requirements, UNHCR has also turned to complementary sources of funding.


27.       UNHCR has identified some activities that could be sponsored through non-traditional funding lines.  Many governments have responded positively to this initiative and provided funding to UNHCR from sources other than humanitarian (i.e. funds under cooperation/development, health, immigration and justice budgets).  In 2004, UNHCR entered into joint ventures with the Council for Europe Development Bank and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE0.  The Office also received earmarked contributions through the UNDG Iraq Trust Fund and the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security.


28.       The private sector also has a role to play and can benefit from helping to address the plight of refugees and support returnee families, thus contributing to the development of more stable societies.  The efforts to work with the private sector started in the early 1990s and since 1999 UNHCR has increased its push to work with this sector by creating a special professional service to this end.  This initiative is paying off.  A number of companies and thousands of individuals worldwide have supported UNHCR programmes.  Income from the private sector has doubled in the last five years.  Since 2000 the income from the private sector has increased from US$13 million to more than US$26 million in 2004, bringing significant additional funding to refugees world wide.


29.  In order to boost their partnership, UNHCR and its five major corporate partners have created the UNHCR's Council of Business Leaders, which was officially launched at the 2005 World Economic Forum in Davos.  UNHCR’s Council of Business Leaders is designed to strengthen the funding efforts of UNHCR, capitalize on synergies between UNHCR's key corporate partners, leverage business contacts with like-minded corporations, mobilize support from diverse constituencies and galvanize interest in order to scale up projects that have demonstrated impact from successful pilots supported by the corporate partners.


Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)


30.       In its effort to protect refugees and to promote durable solutions, UNHCR works in partnership with some 600 NGOs whose support and cooperation are indispensable.  Be it local, national or international, implementing or operational partners, NGOs cooperate with UNHCR in a wide variety of activities, including protection, emergency response, capacity building and joint training, advocacy and fund raising, resettlement.  Over the years, UNHCR and NGOs have created various mechanisms and networks to work better and do more together.


31.       [H1] The PARinAC (Partnership in Action) process, conceptualized in 1994 in Oslo, established a framework for cooperation between UNHCR and its NGO partners.  The Oslo Conference developed a broad plan of action including recommendations on refugee protection, IDPs and emergency preparedness.  The Framework Agreement for Operational Partnership (FAOP), which evolved from PARinAC, seeks a common and coordinated approach by UNHCR and its operational partners in addressing refugee protection and assistance.  It needs to be reviewed and strengthened.  The process has moved ahead and has now come to refer to all activities related to and resulting in strengthening of ties between UNHCR and its partners, especially national NGOs.


32.       NGOs play an important role in UNHCR’s governance in so far as they bring special expertise and field experience to deliberations in the Office’s Executive Committee.  The International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), established in Geneva since 1962, and various other NGO networks provide valuable input in the form of ideas and recommendations, especially as regards joint needs assessment, planning and implementation of projects.  UNHCR regularly participates in ICVA and other NGO network’s forums, conferences that influence UNHCR policy.


African Union (Ex-OAU)


33.       Since its creation in May 1963, the OAU and its successor organization, the African Union, have cooperated closely with UNHCR, in view of the large number of refugees on the African continent.  Previous High Commissioners have regularly participated in the annual “Summit” of African Head of States while the Regional Liaison Office in Addis Ababa has maintained a close relationship with the OAU Secretariat.


34.       This relationship started with a resolution (AHG/ Res. 26) of 24 October 1965 in Accra by which the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU “re-affirmed the desire to give all assistance possible to African refugees on a humanitarian and fraternal basis, and expressed its appreciation of the assistance to refugees provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.  On 13 June 1969, the General Secretariat of the OAU and UNHCR concluded a cooperation agreement, which was amended on 9 April 2001.


35.       The 1969 OAU Convention governing the special aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa was adopted in September 1969 and in March 2000 a “Special Meeting of Government and Non-Governmental Technical Experts and Non-governmental Organisations” was held in Conakry (Guinea) to commemorate the Thirtieth Anniversary of the entry into force of the said Convention.  This meeting adopted several action-oriented recommendations called the Comprehensive Implementation Plan (CIP), focusing in particular on addressing the root causes of refugee flows in Africa, enhancing refugee protection and national protection capacities, and finding durable solutions.  The OAU Council of Ministers endorsed the CIP at its seventy-second session in July 2000 in Lome, TOGO, and appealed the OAU member States to ensure the CIP’s follow up and full implementation.


36.       In summary, the areas of cooperation between the two institutions cover areas as diverse as:


  • matters affecting the rights and obligations of refugees and the provision of material assistance as well as the search for durable solutions;
  • addressing the root causes of the African refugee problem; and,
  • promoting legislation related to the protection of refugees , IDPs and other persons of concern.


Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)/ African Parliamentary Union


37.       The Inter-Parliamentary Union has, since its creation, been concerned by refugees and has adopted many resolutions urging States to accede to and implement the instruments relating to refugees.  It has also encouraged parliaments to contribute to the consolidation of the international refugee protection regime through a strengthened and more effective implementation of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol.  In so doing, the IPU has always cooperated closely with UNHCR.


IV        Recommendations


38.       Member States of the OIC could:


i.                     reinforce their cooperation on refugee and returnee matters with UNHCR and the concerned United Nations agencies;
ii.                   for those which have not done so, accede to the international instruments relating to refugees, in particular to the 51 Convention, its 1967 Protocol and, where appropriate, to the 1969 OAU Convention;


iii.                  for those which have not done so, examine ways and means to enact specific domestic legislation and establish appropriate procedures to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees;


iv.                 examine ways and means to set up a comprehensive plan of action (CPA) to ensure more effective and predictable responses to mass influx situation in the OIC countries, notably by establishing standby arrangements to strengthen preparedness for mass influx emergencies;


v.                   better target development assistance in order to insure self reliance of refugees and returnees in countries hosting large number of refugees, in refugee-hosting countries, as well as in countries of origin;


vi.                 increase their financial contributions to UNHCR’s annual budget and examine the possibility of financial support measures at a global or regional level;


vii.                examine the role of particular forms of financial assistance as means of sharing burdens and responsibilities in the search for solution to protracted refugee situations; and,


viii.              encourage and facilitate the partnership between NGOs from OIC countries and UNHCR, particularly in the field of capacity building, in order to enhance refugee protection.


                                              Geneva,15 March 2005


Draft: 18 March 2005: Working Document #3



OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World


28-30 November 2005


Durable Solutions for the Problem of Refugees



I.          Introduction

1. This working document is prepared by UNHCR for the OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World as a background document for the discussion on solutions to refugee and returnee situations. The paper aims to draw attention to the reasons for intensifying the search for durable solutions as well as initiatives and conditions necessary for achieving sustainable solutions. Furthermore, it illustrates best practices for OIC member States to draw upon in search for solutions to specific refugee problems.
2. The mandate of UNHCR is to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and other persons of concern,[2] and to help bring about durable solutions for these groups. Finding durable solutions to displacement is not only a humanitarian issue. It is a challenge of close cooperation among partners and stakeholders in both the humanitarian and the development field. Achieving durable solutions for displaced populations will advance UNHCR’s mandate as well as contribute towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.
3. Despite the continued relevance of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, they cannot sufficiently address all the pressing issues pertaining to refugee protection in today’s world. The Agenda for Protection[3] reflects a wide cross-section of concerns and recommendations of States, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as refugees themselves. The Agenda is also the premise for new initiatives on the part of UNHCR aimed at pursuing durable solutions for refugees more effectively, involving self-reliance and poverty reduction as core components of international protection of refugees, notably the Framework for Durable Solutions[4] and the Convention Plus initiative[5].


4. So far, the international community has largely been considering displaced populations as a humanitarian issue in need of a humanitarian response. Both the Framework for Durable Solutions and the Convention Plus initiative are based on an understanding that it is not enough to focus solely on the humanitarian dimension of refugee problems. It is necessary also to consider the economic, social and political dimensions, and consequently to target development assistance towards solutions for refugees to ensure more comprehensive and effective responses. At the same time, durable solutions for refugees cannot be attained by UNHCR alone, but is a collective task requiring partnerships with donors, refugee-hosting countries, countries of origin and the development community, including other United Nations agencies and NGOs. This is necessary to maximize the opportunities to respond to the challenges inherent in refugee and returnee situations today.



II.        The Issues at Stake 


5.   To understand the need for durable solutions better, it is important to consider the present situation of refugees, both in protracted situations[6] in countries of asylum and in post-conflict situations in countries of origin.


Protracted Refugee Situations


6.   Civil wars and violent conflicts are increasingly of an extended duration and thus have led to the emergence of a type of refugee situation that is protracted in nature, where refugees have no immediate or short-term prospects of finding sustainable solutions to their plight. Simultaneously, countries of asylum are generally moving towards a tighter control of borders due to global terrorism and concerns about security, while donors are concerned that their assistance is having little effect.
7.   Using a crude measure of refugee settlements of 25,000 persons or more who have been in exile for five or more years in developing countries, statistics show that, by the end of 2003:
·        there were 38 protracted situations globally accounting for 6.2 million refugees,[7] representing an increase from 27 situations in 1993, even though the absolute number of refugees living in protracted situations fell from 7.9 to 6.2 million;
·        the proportion of protracted situations increased in relation to the total number of refugee situations from 45 to 90 per cent in the same time period; and


·        the average length of protracted refugee situations has increased from 9 years in 1993 to 17 years in 2003.


As of June 2004 (see Figure 1.3):


·        with 22 protracted situations, sub-Saharan Africa comprises the majority, involving 2.3 million refugees;
·        in absolute terms, the majority or refugees in protracted situations are located in Central Asia, South-West Asia, North Africa and the Middle East region, where only 8 protracted situations account for 2.7 million refugees;


·        in Europe, the 3 major protracted refugee situations involve 530,000 refugees;


·        the rest of Asia comprises 5 protracted refugee situations involving 670,000 refugees.



TABLE 1.1 Examples of Protracted Refugee Populations

(as of December 31, 2003)

Country of Origin

Country of Asylum



Zambia, DRC



Iran, Pakistan

















Sources: “Protracted Refugee Situations,” EC/54/SC/CRP.14 Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme, UNHCR, June 10, 2004.


The severity of a protracted refugee situation is both a function of the condition of the refugees (e.g. a lack of status and no enabling legal environment) and the duration of the situation.
Statistics show by the end of 2003 (see figure 1.4):
·    an estimated 34 per cent, or 4.5 million, persons of concern were located in camps;
·    approximately, 14 percent were in urban locations; and,
·    an estimated 52 percent were dispersed. 
In addition (see figure 1.5):
·    in Africa, 61 per cent of all persons of concern are in camps; and
·    in Central Asia, South-West Asia, North Africa and the Middle East region, 37 per cent of all persons of concern are in camps.[8]



(YEAR-END 2003)




Source: 2003 Global Refugee Trends, UNHCR, Geneva.


8. Countries hosting large refugee populations are often among the least developed countries and refugee-hosting communities are often located in remote areas where a high level of poverty prevails. Refugees frequently face restrictive asylum regulations, which limit their freedom of movement and access to education, skills training and productive livelihoods. Consequently, their potential for human growth and development is stifled. Reducing refugees to mere recipients of humanitarian assistance, limit their opportunities to contribute positively to the economy and society of the asylum country. Idleness and dependency can fuel frustration, tension and even conflict within communities.[9] 
9. Developing countries hosting refugees, sometimes for decades, do not consider refugees or remote host communities as development priorities. A common feature in development planning is that transition and recovery plans by governments concerned do not systematically incorporate the needs and potential of refugees, who are in most cases not part of the national development planning. The donor community and the United Nations system do not systematically include refugees in their development planning either. Thus, refugees and the population hosting them are often an excluded and marginalized group, with refugees being “passive” recipients of humanitarian aid. Ignoring their needs in development planning and, more importantly, their potential economic contributions to society, neglects the reality that self-reliant refugees can contribute to host communities and the country’s development efforts.[10] 


Post-Conflict Situations


(Figures to be provided on return situations)


10. In post-conflict situations, the reintegration of returnees poses a considerable challenge. After the initial assistance provided by humanitarian actors, which is of an emergency nature, the subsequent process of reintegration to longer-term reconstruction does not occur in a seamless fashion. In the politically fragile environment, which is characteristic of post-conflict situations, returnees are often left in deprived conditions for extended periods without means and opportunities for the future. The needs of relatively small numbers of returnees are considered of minor concern compared to more pressing national development priorities in the process of rebuilding an entire country.[11] As a result, returnees are not included in national reconstruction and rehabilitation planning and excluded from benefiting from development cooperation. Many returnees may opt to return to their country of asylum.  This phenomenon of “back-flows” is witnessed in repatriation operations when reintegration is not sustainable. 


III.       Durable solutions


11. The Statute of UNHCR establishes that “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, acting under the authority of the General Assembly, shall assume the function of providing international protection, under the auspices of the United Nations, to refugees who fall within the scope of the present Statute and of seeking permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting governments and, subject to the approval of the governments concerned, private organizations to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of such refugees, or their assimilation within new national communities.”[12] 
12. There are three durable solutions:. voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement.



Voluntary Repatriation

13.  Voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution for a vast majority of refugees. Ensuring sustainable return, with support form the international community, is the primary responsibility of the countries of origin. Core components of voluntary repatriation are physical, legal and material safety and reconciliation. In a return situation, this implies the restoration of national protection and, through the reintegration process, the ability to maintain sustainable livelihoods, access basic services and fully reintegrate into communities and countries of origin. The reintegration process should result in the disappearance of differences in legal rights and duties between returnees and their compatriots and equal access to services, productive assets and opportunities. [13]


Local Integration

14.  Local integration of refugees is also a solution to refugee problems, particularly in situations where repatriation is not foreseeable. The government of the host country must agree to the process of local integration. The political agreement and the granting of asylum are followed by assistance to settle in order for refugees to become independent. Refugees should enjoy all the benefits and rights of other aliens in similar circumstances, including the right to participate in the local economy, access to housing, education, health and other social services.[14] Local integration may eventually lead to refugees becoming naturalized. For that reason, local integration is often referred to as a permanent solution to refugee problems.



15.  Resettlement is an important instrument to provide protection and a durable solution for refugees unable to return home or to remain in their country of refuge. Resettlement also contributes to international solidarity and to maintaining the fundamental principles of protection by assisting countries of refuge in the task of caring for refugees.[15] Resettled refugees are normally granted some form of long-term residence permit, which in many cases include the opportunity to become a naturalized citizen.


IV.       The Framework for Durable Solutions

16. Experience over the past five decades has confirmed that durable solutions in terms of self-reliance, sustainable return and reintegration, or local integration cannot be found by UNHCR acting alone, but require the active engagement and contribution of States and partners. This is recognized in the Agenda for Protection, which calls on UNHCR to encourage multilateral and bilateral partners to extend tangible support for initiatives aimed at achieving durable solutions, notably to make voluntary repatriation sustainable and to underpin self-reliance and local integration. The Agenda also encourages states to consider allocating development funds to programmes simultaneously benefiting refugees and the local population in host countries, and the latter to consider including refugee-hosting areas in their national development plans. In 2003, UNHCR developed the Framework for Durable Solutions with the aim of providing methodological models to facilitate the targeting of development assistance more effectively to underpin and sustain solutions for refugees. The Framework proposes three programming concepts:


·        Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR) to prepare refugees for solutions;
·        Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (4Rs) to ensure sustainable return and reintegration; and,
·        Development through Local Integration (DLI) to promote local integration, where feasible




17. The DAR concept focuses on host countries and seeks to empower refugees by allowing them to use their productive capacity to become self-reliant, while at the same time supporting host country and local community development. It intends to provide additional development assistance, improve burden sharing for countries hosting large numbers of refugees, and promote a better quality of life for host communities as well as a better quality of life and self-reliance for refugees pending a durable solution.
18. The 4Rs approach focuses on countries of origin and on improving the sustainability of repatriation. It combines the notion of voluntary repatriation with post-conflict reconstruction and places emphasis on the need to incorporate displacement and, in particular, returnees in long-term development planning. The aim is to ensure that more resources are allocated to create an environment inside the countries of origin conducive to facilitating sustainable repatriation while preventing the recurrence of mass outflows.



19. DLI focuses on situations in which the country of asylum provides an opportunity for those refugees who are unable to repatriate, to find a solution to their plight by gradual integration. It follows the granting of asylum and assistance to settle in order for the refugees to live independently within the community. In these situations, DLI solicits additional development assistance to help facilitate economic self-reliance, socio-cultural integration, and access to legal rights culminating in citizenship[16]. Central to the success of this strategy is the attitude of the host government and the local authorities as well as a commitment on the part of the donor community to provide additional assistance.


V.        Convention Plus

20. In the beginning of 2003, UNHCR launched the Convention Plus Initiative, which complements the 1951 Convention and aims at turning the international community’s common aspirations of achieving durable solutions into multilateral special agreements. Through a process of discussion and negotiation with States and other partners, UNHCR is mobilizing support and bringing about firmer commitments to better address both protracted and evolving refugee situations in a proactive manner. The intention is to make the international response more reliable and effective, as well as to ensure greater equity in the sharing of responsibilities and burdens.
21. Convention Plus aims to develop generic multilateral agreements that will set out shared understandings and commitments, which will be incorporated into situation-specific multilateral agreements to resolve particular refugee situations. The three priority challenges of the agreements are:
·        the Convention Plus Core Group on the Strategic Use of Resettlement reached agreement on a Multilateral Framework of Understandings Resettlement in June 2004. The purpose of the Multilateral Framework is to guide parties to situation-specific multilateral agreements in designing comprehensive arrangements, involving multilateral resettlement operations, to address the protection and durable solutions needs of refugees. Implementation of the Multilateral Framework will enable UNHCR and States to make more strategic use of resettlement, in tandem with other durable solutions, while over time making resettlement available to more refugees;
·        the Core Group on Irregular Secondary Movements works towards a multilateral framework of understandings and undertakings to address these movements predicated on principles of refugee protection and burden sharing. Simultaneously, the Core Group monitors the progress of a group-specific survey, which intends to inform the deliberations;[17]
·        targeting of development assistance to achieve durable solutions. This strand of Convention Plus aims at promoting more effective partnerships and international solidarity with refugee-hosting countries and communities, as well as with countries and communities facing the challenge of durable reintegration of returning refugees. More effective and strategic targeting of development assistance will yield tangible benefits for host States and communities as well as the international community at large. A group of states is working on a Statement of Good Practice relating to the granting of development aid to refugees and their host communities as well as to returnees and their communities of origin (cf. Issues Paper on Targeting of Development Assistance, UNHCR, Geneva, June 2004).[18] 


VI.       Best Practices


22. Recent years have seen a number of initiatives aiming to implement the programmatic approaches of the Framework for Durable Solutions. The following provides examples of early experiences and practices from Uganda, Afghanistan and Zambia
DAR in Uganda
23. Uganda has a long-standing tradition of unique and progressive refugee policies and hosting practices. For years, Uganda has provided a favourable environment for refugees. The objective of the Government of Uganda’s (GoU) current refugee policy is to find durable solutions to refugee problems by addressing refugee issues within the broader framework of government policies. The principal aims are to empower refugees and nationals to become self-reliant and to establish mechanisms that will ensure integration of services for the refugees with those of the nationals.
24. The Self-Reliance Strategy (SRS), launched in 1999, by the GoU and UNHCR, intended to increase access to and quality of services and local infrastructures in host communities to improve the quality of life of both refugees and nationals. Through the implementation of SRS services in eight key sectors of assistance (health, education, community services, agricultural production, income generation, environmental protection, water and sanitation, and infrastructure), refugee needs and their potential have increasingly been integrated into the regular programming of government structures and policies, including the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP – the country’s self-developed PRSP covering 2004-2009). Moreover, local district authorities are including refugees into their population figures and their needs into specific District Development Plans.


25. A mid-term review of the SRS, jointly conducted by the GoU and UNHCR in February 2004, revealed many positive impacts of specific policies and activities implemented, namely a significant increase in food production and improved access to health and education services for both refugee and neighbouring national populations. The participation of refugees and host communities in an integrated manner is supporting the GoU in addressing problems of poverty and under-development in refugee hosting districts that could promote further peace, security and stability in the region. The DAR is also viewed as an important mechanism for preparing refugees for eventual repatriation.


26. In 2004, following the review of the SRS’ impact and responding to recommendations, it was agreed to develop the SRS into a DAR programme, as the main policy framework for refugee assistance in Uganda. Simultaneously, UNHCR began to explore opportunities to support the initiative by promoting more effective targeting of development assistance under Convention Plus.


27. The GoU, in the PEAP, stresses the importance of recognizing the critical role that hosting refugee areas play in the broader socio-economic development of the districts in which they are located and the long-term social, economic, and political stability of Uganda and its neighbours.
4Rs in Afghanistan – still to be prepared, info from the field missing


DLI in Zambia

28. Angolan refugees have been present in western Zambia for over thirty years. The routine provision of plots of land of between 6 and 12 acres of fertile land on which refugees are able to grow crops has allowed the greater part of the refugees to become food self-sufficient. The refugees’ contribution to the local community was apparent by the collapse in food production that took place in western Zambia following the repatriation of 220,000 Angolans in 2002. [19] 
29. The Government of Zambia (GoZ) recognized the positive role refugees can play to alleviate poverty in refugee-hosting communities and, in 2002, embarked on the Zambia Initiative (ZI), a Government-led DLI project. The aim of ZI is to achieve local development, and in the process to find durable solutions for refugees hosted in Zambia. The ZI promotes a holistic approach in addressing the needs of remote, poor and resource-strained local host communities in order to improve the living conditions for both the refugees and the local population. Further, the GoZ realized that DLI opened avenues for additional funding.


30. The political will to consider refugees as catalysts for and contributors to local development as demonstrated through the fact that most technicians involved in the construction of schools, health posts and related skilled work under the Zambia Initiative are Angolan refugees. The local community also benefits from refugees accepting appointments in the teaching/health fields in remote areas where qualified and experienced Zambians are reluctant to go. Ultimately, the Initiative will contribute effectively to social integration, poverty reduction as well as security and stability in the region to the benefit of both refugees and the local community.


31. The ZI is benefiting both refugees planning to repatriate and refugees who will remain in Zambia. Repatriating refugees will acquire skills that will enhance their opportunities upon return to their country of origin. Voluntary repatriation may not always be possible or it might not be a viable solution for all refugees and consequently some refugees may opt to remain in Zambia. Against this background, the GoZ has introduced measures to integrate needs and interests of refugees into long-term national development plans.


7. Recommendations


32. UNHCR believes that the Framework for Durable Solutions and the Convention Plus initiative offer a variety of tools and practices that are relevant to refugee problems in the Muslim world. By building on the productive capacities of refugees and returnees, ensuring their inclusion in national and international transition and development plans and by adopting comprehensive approaches to meet the development needs of refugees or returnees and of their host communities, OIC member states will attain tangible benefits, including
i.                       redressing the economic and social impact of hosting refugees;
ii.                     diminishing tensions between host communities and refugees;
iii.                    contributing to peace and security;
iv.                   improving poverty reduction and human development contributing to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration;
v.                     strengthening of national and local capacities; and
vi.                   enhancing burden sharing and international solidarity



March 2005




[1] General Assembly Resolution 428 (V) of 14 December 1950


[2] Returning refugees (returnees), stateless persons and, in some situations, internally displaced persons (IDPs).

[3] The Agenda for Protection is the main product of the Global Consultations on International Protection launched in December 2000.  The Agenda was endorsed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and welcomed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002.

[4] Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and People of Concern, UNHCR, May 2003.

[6] “Protracted Refugee Situations,” EC/54/SC/CRP.14 Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme, UNHCR, June 10, 2004.

[7] This figure does not include the approximately 2 million Palestinian refugees, which fall under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

[8] Handbook for Planning and Implementing Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR) Programmes (Draft), UNHCR, January 2005.

[9] Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and People of Concern, UNHCR, May 2003, p. 4

[10] ibid, p. 4

[11] Convention Plus Issues Paper on Targeting Development Assistance, UNHCR, June 2004, p. 3.

[12] Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, G.A. res. 428 (V), annex, 5, U.N. Doc. A/1775 (1950).

[13] Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, UNHCR, May 2004, p. 3-5.

[14] Resettlement Handbook, UNHCR, November 2004, chapter II/ 6

[15] ibid, chapter I/ 1


[17] A Guide to Planning and Implementing DAR Programmes, UNHCR 2005.

[18] Issues Paper on Targeting of Development Assistance (UNHCR, June 2004) identifies the issues involved in the granting of development assistance by the donor community and in the spending of development assistance on the development of refugee-hosting countries and countries of return; outlines and explores challenges to targeting development assistance to find solutions for refugees in refugee situations as well as returnees in post-conflict situations; and, identifies donor policies conducive to targeting development assistance to find solutions for refugees.

[19] Frushone, Joel, ‘Unevenly Applied, More Often Denied: Refugee Rights in Africa’, World Refugee Survey, 2004, p. 74-77.

 [H1]Is PARin AC being resurrrected?!  I would suggest this para. can and should be left out.