UNHCR chief Guterres sends message of partnership to NGO partners

News Stories, 28 September 2007

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
High Commissioner António Guterres talks about partnership at an annual meeting with NGOs.

GENEVA, September 28 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday called for a strengthened strategic partnership between the refugee agency and its many NGO partners.

His message came during a closing address to representatives of some 200 non-governmental organizations small and large, national and international attending annual consultations in Geneva with UNHCR.

"I do believe that more and more the UN system, the Red Cross-Red Crescent system and the NGO movements need to establish ... a partnership that is strategic, that is a partnership among equals and that is accountable to the beneficiaries, to the people we care for, because they are the raison d'être of our work," he said after his closing speech.

Guterres outlined several areas in which NGO partnership, help and feedback could help the refugee agency plan and achieve internal reforms, advocate more effectively with donors and governments, and better serve refugees and other people of concern.

"It is important to have your input in our change process," Guterres said, nothing that the streamlining of headquarter operations were aimed at freeing up resources and funds for UNHCR field operations, including those implemented by NGO partners.

He said a strong relationship with NGOs would be vital in meeting and publicising the challenges of the 21st Century, including the growing asylum-migration nexus and displacement due to war, persecution, deprivation and environmental degradation.

This year's consultations, attended by some 300 people and co-hosted by the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), were opened on Wednesday by Deputy High Commissioner Craig Johnstone. The main theme was partnership, but other special debate topics included "Next Steps in Durable Solutions" and "Special Situation Focuses."

Meeting coordinator Manisha Thomas said the meeting had given NGOs a valuable opportunity to network and have frank discussions with UNHCR staff and other NGO colleagues.

"The relationships that get built at meetings like this help in terms of further work and future work. A number of ideas have come out and a number of challenges have been put to NGOs and to UNHCR that they're going to have to work on in the future," said Thomas, an ICVA policy adviser.

The NGO consultations provide an important forum to raise issues, network, and exchange views with UNHCR. They will be followed on Monday by the annual gathering of UNHCR's governing body, the Executive Committee, or ExCom. Since 1997, NGOs have participated in UNHCR's Executive and Standing Committees as observers.

For the past two decades, the annual consultations have brought together NGOs and UNHCR managers to examine all aspects of their partnership on behalf of the world's uprooted people.

NGOs are vital partners for UNHCR, implementing programmes for refugees and IDPs in some of the world's most remote and difficult places. In all, about a quarter of UNHCR's resources are channelled through its partners. The UN refugee agency works with more than 500 NGOs worldwide.

By Leo Dobbs in Geneva