Statements by High Commissioner, 24 October 1988
Mr. Secretary-General, friends and colleagues,
It might surprise some of you that I am seeking to take the floor on an item on which UNHCR has not often had much to say – development. And yet, if there is one thing that has become apparent in the course of inter-relatedness of the activities and concerns of each one of us. You, Mr. Secretary-General, are leading an institution devoted principally to the pursuit of peace, the protection of humanitarianism and the promotion of development. The challenges you face and the successes you have achieved cannot but impact upon the work of each of us, not least UNHCR. The great achievements of the United Nations this year in the area of peace – the progress on Afghanistan, Western Sahara, the war in the Gulf and, dare I say it, on the future of Namibia – all deal with situations that involve the movements of large numbers of people and specifically of refugees. At the same time, peace must be buttressed by development, which guarantees human dignity and the fulfilment of the human potential of those we are trying to help. These are precisely the major areas of concern for UNHCR.
I believe that, in discussing the strategy for the development decade, we in the ACC should be concerned with refugees for a number of reasons. Fundamentally, it is in all our interests to move refugees out of the dehumanizing conditions of rural refugee camps where so many of the world's 12 million refugees are situated. Far too many of them are virtually "warehoused" in a state of near-total dependence. From the very beginning of their exile, the refugees' plight cries out for development-related self-reliance activity. Later, provided the political situation permits and the Secretary-General's peace-making and peace-keeping efforts pave the way, the continued endeavours of the relief and development communities are required to bring about a lasting solution to the refugees' problems.
Today's refugee problem is inextricably caught up in the drama of development. The majority of the world's 12 million refugees are from developing countries and in developing countries, many of them among the world's least developed. As refugees stream across frontiers, they flee persecution, the violation of their human rights, and a variety of political, military and economic disasters, emerging in one way or another from the crisis of under-development. One cannot any longer deny the linkage between mass displacement and missed development. In the refugee context, development is, in fact, both a cure and a preventive. Development projects can solve refugee problems and prevent refugee exoduses. They can ensure that refugee solutions do not unravel, and that a refugee who returns home because he no longer fears violence or persecution is not forced to leave again because he cannot face poverty and starvation. Development is not an irrelevancy in refugee affairs: it is rapidly becoming the central factor in our ability to resolve refugee problems.
There are also a number of practical considerations that under-pin my argument. The resource savings resulting from refugee self-reliance and permanent solutions are readily apparent. The financial burden on the international community to support the world's refugees in indefinite subsistence on charity is enormous. By investing some of these resources through development agencies, we begin the essential process of reducing these horrendous monetary and human costs.
While such cost reductions were envisaged long before the Group of 18 laid out the blueprint for cost-cutting reform, they seem to fit the classic mould of what the Group of 18 intended. The Group of 18 told us to avoid duplication and overlap, to use the co-ordinated coalition approach, which proved itself in the Office of Emergency Operations for Africa. We were exhorted to uphold the principles of inter-agency co-operation, of interdependence, of teamwork in the UN family at headquarters, and of working as a UN country team in the field. Of course, this speaks to our own experience and our own commitment to constructive collaboration. In the specific linkage of refugee assistance and development activities, UNHCR, UNDP, the World Bank and IFAD are responding directly to the Group of 18's call for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
To maximize the benefits of our collaboration with many of you around this table, UNHCR tries to involve appropriate development agencies from the very beginning of a refugee situation – whether it be a new refugee influx or the beginning of a refugee solution. This involvement promotes self-reliance by drawing on the development-related expertise required for food growing and income-generating projects. Where the solutions of voluntary repatriation or local settlement are possible, development agency inputs – in the form of infrastructure and integration of refugee or returnee communities into national development planning – permit UNHCR to pass the baton, ensuring a lasting solution after our mandate has been fulfilled.
Why is this concept working? And why are we convinced that this approach offers perhaps the most promising and exciting direction for our future efforts?
The answer is simply that there is so much to be gained by each of the participants in a refugee situation – and conversely so much to lose if we neglect this approach.
The interest that we consider paramount is that of the refugees themselves. Linking them to self-reliance and solution-oriented activities can avoid the loss of their dignity and self-respect. It can free them from the dehumanizing conditions of so many of the world's refugee camps. It can avoid the loss of entire generations of some of the world's most productive and gifted people – generations too often denied the right to an adequate education and, above all, the right to hope.
But what is the interest of another important participant? – i.e., the first-asylum countries who have extended hospitality to thousands – in some cases, millions – of refugees, often at great human, material and environmental cost. There are specific examples of these countries receiving tens of millions of dollars of development assistance – of one major asylum country receiving hundreds of millions of dollars – that would not have been provided had they not opened their doors to refugees. This is assistance that helps local nationals to cope with the additional burden and to benefit as much as – sometimes more than – the refugees themselves. Income – generating projects, including reafforestation and other environmental projects, are in this category. Refugee-related development projects are stabilizing sand-dunes in Somalia and making the hillsides blossom again in Pakistan. For some countries – though still not enough – hosting refugees has brought the additionality envisaged in ICARA II, and as advocated in the Plan of Action for the SARRED Conference in Oslo.
Several international development agencies have discovered that they, too, benefit by working with refugees. Several agencies experiencing funding difficulties or problems of access have realized that the co-operation that the international community continues to extend to UNHCR also tends to spill over to development agencies that co-operate with UNHCR. The World Bank's income generation project for Afghan refugees in Pakistan is the classic example. Here the combination of UNHCR, a respected development agency (the World Bank), and highly productive refugees working with local Pakistanis on environmental projects, among others, has produced a success formula that speaks to other development agencies, as well as to refugee situations in other parts of the world.
Finally, what is in refugee and development co-operation for the typical donor country? First, their net costs of assisting refugees become measurable lower over the long term. While they may channel their assistance through separate relief and development conduits, the overall cost at the end of the day is lower. More than this, they have helped to salvage the tragic human condition of some of the world's traditionally most productive individuals – people who have a legitimate claim on their generosity.
As we look toward a strategy for a new UN Development decade, we need the help of development agencies to ensure UNHCR does not remain a voice crying in the wilderness to include refugees in such a strategy. We are all aware of the priorities favouring the "poorest of the poor" in development projects – women, children, the handicapped, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. These very groups, most deserving of development assistance, are also UNHCR's concern. There is nothing vague or theoretical about them for us. This is where we labour every day. These are who the refugees are. There is no assurance, of course, that our best efforts will make any new development decade more successful than its predecessors. But of this we can be sure: its chances of success diminish to the extent that we leave refugees out.
Conversely, solid success stories of our co-operation with other development agencies point to the advantages of bringing refugees in. And this record of achievement with other development agencies points as well to at least the need for the ACC to include the refugee issue in its pronouncements on the development strategy. We cannot afford the staggering human and material cost of not utilizing the development vehicle to the fullest to move refugees out of their state of near-total dependence to increasing self-reliance – and ultimately solutions to their plight, when the political climate permits.