• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Lubbers calls for closer partnership with NGOs to face new challenges

News Stories, 25 September 2002

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers addressing NGO delegates at the opening of Pre-ExCom in Geneva.

GENEVA, September 25 (UNHCR) UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers today opened an annual meeting with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by calling for closer partnerships in the face of new challenges.

"There are now fewer persons of concern to UNHCR, but the job has become more difficult," said the High Commissioner as he kicked off a three-day meeting between the agency and NGOs known as Pre-ExCom in Geneva on Wednesday.

Addressing an audience of some 200 delegates from 160 NGOs and international organisations, Lubbers explained that while the number of persons of concern to UNHCR has dropped from 21.8 million to 19.8 million, attitudes toward refugees and asylum seekers had in many places grown harsher.

"But together we can do the job," he assured them.

"It is an evolving effort on both sides," said Lubbers, calling for closer partnerships between UNHCR and NGOs in the field and when working with governments. He noted that small NGOs in emerging countries need more support as they play an important part in building a vibrant civil society.

"The beauty of our partnership is that it is a dynamic process," he said, acknowledging that NGOs should be critical and alert UNHCR on how it can improve its programmes. "But at the same time," he reminded them, "we're in the same ballgame, and that keeps it lively."

Pre-ExCom offers "invaluable input" to ExCom, added the High Commissioner, referring to UNHCR's 61-member governing body, the Executive Committee, scheduled to meet in Geneva from September 30 to October 4.

One of the issues up for review at this year's Pre-ExCom consultations is the Agenda for Protection, the first comprehensive framework for global refugee policy in five decades, combining clear goals and objectives with suggested activities to strengthen refugee protection. It is the result of UNHCR's exhaustive two-year Global Consultations process.

"For UNHCR, the Agenda will serve as a platform on which to build our protection strategies and interventions, region by region, even down to the country level," said Erika Feller, head of the agency's Department of International Protection, in a separate Pre-ExCom session Wednesday. "But it is not a blueprint as such, rather a framework containing the broad lines, general directions and 'yardstick' activities, to be adjusted office by office to the exigencies on the ground."

She added, "The Agenda should help both of us that is, UNHCR and the NGO community to engage governments and to look for improvements."

Lubbers elaborated, "Three themes keep coming up do protection better, more burden-sharing and effective durable solutions."

But in view of current challenges, he noted, "The 1951 Convention itself doesn't suffice. We need additional tools to achieve more burden-sharing and durable solutions."

These additional tools, or "Convention Plus", as Lubbers calls them, could mean revising a comprehensive plan of action to allow for emergency situations. Feller picked up on this in her speech, saying that UNHCR was looking at similar plans to try and find solutions for some of the world's most protracted refugee situations.

As part of "Convention Plus", Lubbers also proposed focusing more development assistance on host countries with large refugee populations. "They should focus on making the refugees more productive. Empower them through self-reliance activities," he said, pointing to the Zambia Initiative as a case in point.

Lastly, he said, in a post-conflict scenario, UNHCR has a role to play in repatriation and reintegration. "Reintegration and reconstruction will need additional, special agreements to realise.... Where repatriation is not possible, we need special agreements to resettle refugees. Countries must come forward."

In the process of getting governments to endorse this idea of "Convention Plus", Lubbers called for NGOs to play their part by providing expertise and advice to UNHCR's Executive Committee.

On top of this year's refugee agenda, the High Commissioner also unveiled "a more practical, less theoretical approach" to the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs). He told the Pre-ExCom audience that UNHCR is clarifying which IDPs are of concern to the agency, and highlighted the special programmes available to help them. He invited their comments in this process.

Addressing the NGOs after Lubbers, UNHCR's Feller reiterated the agency's core mandate by pointing to efforts made to reinforce its protection activities around the world, including 75 special deployments so far in 2002. She stressed that improving the refugee agency's protection performance remained an extremely high priority despite UNHCR being "severely hampered by financial restraints".




Convention Plus

International initiative aimed at improving refugee protection worldwide and to facilitate the resolution of refugee problems through multilateral special agreements.

Partnership: An Operations Management Handbook for UNHCR's Partners (Revised Edition)

A practical guide for those working with UNHCR in protecting and assisting refugees.

Non-Governmental Organizations

A priority for us is to strengthen partnerships with non-governmental organizations.

Annual Consultations with NGOs

An important yearly forum

2016 Annual Consultations with NGOs

The 2016 Annual Consultations with NGOs will take place from 15 to 17 June at the International Conference Centre Geneva (ICCG). For further information, visit our website:

Arriving in Europe, refugees find chaos as well as kindness

Each day, thousands of refugees and migrants are risking everything to make the perilous journey to Europe. The majority - who come from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - are passing through Greece and then making their way to Germany. Transit countries have been overwhelmed by the influx, but volunteers and NGOs are stepping in to provide support along the route. In Hungary, where there is a large bottleneck of people trying to make their way onwards to places like Germany, UNHCR is mobilizing relief items, including tents, plastic sheets and thermal blankets. The refugee agency is also calling on officials there to streamline the registration process and allow humanitarian organizations to provide swift assistance to those in greatest need. UNHCR is also calling on EU Member States to work together to strengthen emergency reception, assistance and registration efforts in the countries most impacted by arrivals, particularly Greece, Hungary and Italy. UNHCR photographers have been on hand documenting the arduous journey.

Arriving in Europe, refugees find chaos as well as kindness

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Greece: Refugee Crisis in EuropePlay video

Greece: Refugee Crisis in Europe

Over 100,000 refugees have arrived to Greece by sea this year. UNHCR is mobilizing emergency teams, resources and delivering basic humanitarian assistance in order to address the most urgent gaps and support government efforts. Volunteers, local communities and NGOs are providing invaluable assistance but they need support.

Lebanon: Rush to ArsalPlay video

Lebanon: Rush to Arsal

The bombardment of the Syrian city of Yabroud has driven thousands of refugees across the mountains into the Lebanese town of Arsal. UNHCR and its partners, including Lebanese NGOs, are working to find shelter for the newly arrived.