UNHCR urges solutions for refugees to combat trafficking

News Stories, 29 April 2003

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
Afghan returnees from Attock, Pakistan, are a testament to how proper protection and solutions for refugees in their region of origin can help reduce secondary movements and human trafficking.

BALI, Indonesia, April 29 (UNHCR) UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers today warned that stricter border controls and a crackdown on criminal networks alone would not be enough to combat people smuggling and trafficking. He said finding lasting solutions for refugees must also be part of any global effort to fight crime.

"One needs to limit the amount of oxygen that feeds this crime by reducing the number of potential victims of exploitation," said Lubbers in an address to the Regional Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking and Related Transitional Crime held on the Indonesian Island of Bali on Tuesday.

The High Commissioner stressed that without proper protection for refugees in regions of origin and the promise of longer-term solutions, they will continue to fall prey to criminal networks. He said that faced with a lack of protection and durable solutions in the areas they come from, many refugees choose to move elsewhere. They often undertake a perilous odyssey halfway around the world in search of safety and better lives.

Lubbers outlined UNHCR's proposals for dealing with what the agency calls "secondary movements." These movements are often hard to address on the basis of the 1951 Refugee Convention alone.

He cited the "Convention Plus" approach, under which special agreements can be drawn up between countries/regions of origin, transit and final destinations to help in resolving "secondary movement" situations. He said one good example was a comprehensive plan of action adopted by the international community two decades ago to deal with the problem of Indochinese boatpeople.

He told the meeting that Convention Plus is about sharing responsibilities rather than trying to shift them to others, adding that the desire of individual states to reduce the number of asylum seekers should not be pursued at the expense of neighbours or of the international community.

Lubbers noted that burden-sharing included providing support to host countries so that refugees did not feel compelled to move on. He emphasised that preventing secondary movements was also about making sure that when refugees finally can go home, they get the help they need to make the return sustainable. He said repatriation can only work if it is followed by re-integration, rehabilitation and reconstruction a concept he described as the "four Rs."

The High Commissioner urged all countries to work together, noting that despite all the regional differences and country-specific problems, the issue of refugee and human trafficking was a universal one. "Let us be practical. Let us fight crime together," he said.