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UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Protection

UNHCR Fundraising Reports, 1 December 1998

Securing Basic Rights

The aim of all UNHCR's protection operations is to secure respect for the basic rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. These persons of concern to UNHCR have a right to live in safety and to be treated fairly and humanely during their stay in host countries. They also have the right not to be forcibly returned, or refouled, to danger in the country from which they fled. UNHCR ensures these rights by monitoring refugees and asylum-seekers and, when necessary, intervening on their behalf with the authorities concerned. International protection officers and support staff are deployed at key locations, including border-crossings, camps, airports, and immigration detention centres.

Ensuring Asylum

Ensuring that genuine refugees are recognized and granted asylum is the key function of international protection and the prime task of all UNHCR protection officers. When Governments cannot or do not wish to carry out refugee status determination, UNHCR protection teams are prepared to step into the breach, and, whenever necessary, conduct the detailed, case-by-case interviews and inquiries through which individual asylum claims are examined and assessed. If host Governments are unwilling or unable to provide refuge to genuine asylum-seekers, or if asylum-seekers are at risk in the first country to which they fled, UNHCR staff coordinate their transfer or resettlement to a third country.

Legal and resettlement assistance

Protection staff provide persons of concern to UNHCR with counselling and information on their rights and options and on the laws that affect them; they also offer practical assistance in obtaining basic entitlements, such as identification papers and stay permits. If necessary, staff also arrange legal representation. When resettlement to a third country is an available option or is imperative for protection reasons, UNHCR interviews and processes persons of concern and presents them to the Governments of potential resettlement countries. UNHCR also assists these persons with their eventual move to the new host country. Special resettlement programmes are undertaken to address the needs of especially vulnerable persons, such as women-at-risk.

Protecting Other Persons of Concern

In many countries, UNHCR's protection mandate extends to related categories of victims of man-made catastrophes, such as returnees, internally displaced persons and, in a limited way, stateless persons. While UNHCR's role in the protection of these populations is specific and selective, the on-the-ground operations are often very similar to those undertaken on behalf of refugees. These activities include monitoring the treatment of returnees or threatened groups, including minorities, reporting violations of fundamental rights and intervening with relevant authorities on the returnees'/threatened persons' behalf. In situations of armed conflict and massive violations of human rights, UNHCR has facilitated evacuation of civilians in life-threatening situations, lobbied for freedom of movement and protected the right of the internally displaced to remain in or return to their homes. UNHCR has also participated in legal and judicial capacity-building efforts by providing assistance and support to States in their efforts to develop the structures and operational systems which will enable refugees, returnees and others of concern to benefit from effective national protection.

Protection and security risks

The foregoing activities, which comprise the bulk of UNHCR's protection work in the field, are sometimes fraught with physical risks for UNHCR staff, as well as those they are trying to protect. In recent years UNHCR has had to operate in situations of active conflict, civil disorder or the complete breakdown of central authority; at times, UNHCR staff have been forced to deal with non-state actors who are often armed, hostile and a law unto themselves. Over 40 UNHCR staff have been killed in action in the last four years.

Promoting Refugee Law

UNHCR field offices also conduct a range of activities to promote ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, enact enabling legislation, and strengthen relevant legal and judicial institutions. These activities include seminars and workshops in refugee law for government officials and staff of other agencies that work with refugees and asylum-seekers; advice and assistance in drafting legislation; analysis and research on new laws and regulations affecting persons of concern to UNHCR; technical and financial support for the development of refugee law curricula in law schools and civil service institutes; and support to local human rights and humanitarian advocacy groups and to legal aid and information centres. In addition, UNHCR trains government and NGO staff in the principles, methods and procedures of resettlement programmes.

Finding Solutions

UNHCR remains actively engaged with refugee populations throughout their stay in a host country. Once adequate conditions of asylum have been secured for them, the agency's prime protection responsibility is to seek a satisfactory resolution to their predicament. Whether this can be achieved by acquiring permanent residence, with the possibility of naturalization, in the country of asylum or in a third country (such as by resettlement), or by voluntary return to the country of origin, UNHCR protection staff assess the possibilities, inform refugees of their options, advise and assist authorities with developing and/or implementing necessary laws, regulations and procedures, and monitor the processing and treatment of refugees as they move towards a new life.

Protection Costs

Protection is an activity conducted by people; its success depends on the presence of protection staff in situations where asylum-seekers or refugees may be at risk. Accordingly, the cost of protection is largely the cost of deploying protection personnel, along with the logistical and administrative support they require. Under existing UNHCR budgeting systems, these costs, including salaries, transport and communications, are subsumed under the headings "Programme Delivery" and "Administrative Support". Other costs directly related to protection activities, such as the printing of identity documents, are found under the heading "Legal Assistance/Protection".

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LHR had conceived the project a year earlier after noticing that large numbers of Zimbabwean-born asylum-seekers were telling its staff that they faced problems getting jobs, studying or setting up businesses - all allowed under South African law. They told LHR that when they applied for Zimbabwean passports, necessary to access these rights, they were informed by consular officials that they were no longer recognized as Zimbabwean citizens. This effectively made them stateless.

Since the project's inception, LHR has reached more than 2,000 people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. These people came from more than 20 different countries. It has identified numerous categories of concern in South Africa, both migrants and those born in the country.

The following photo set portrays some of the people who have been, or are being, helped by the project. The portraits were taken by photographer Daniel Boshoff. Some of the subjects asked that their names be changed.

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