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UNHCR's Ogata warns against marginalization of humanitarian work by national governments, military

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UNHCR's Ogata warns against marginalization of humanitarian work by national governments, military

4 October 1999

"The experience and expertise to deal with the human dimension of crises - the suffering of civilians, their traumas, the terror of flight, the pain and uncertainty of exile - are with us, the civilian humanitarian agencies," she said.

Ogata made the remarks in a keynote address to the 50th session of UNHCR's Executive Committee, the refugee organization's top governing body of 54 nations, which meets in Geneva once a year to discuss UNHCR's policy.

The Committee's 50th annual session comes in a year which saw some of the worst humanitarian and refugee crises of the decade. The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo followed by an equally massive return, put huge strains on the resources of UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies. At the same time, aid operations in other regions, especially in Africa, have remained woefully underfunded. Resources were further stretched as an independence referendum in Indonesian-controlled East Timor triggered mass violence by anti-independence militias and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

While recognizing NATO's contribution in the Kosovo crisis, Ogata said there were also incidents where direct military involvement "undermined coordination and deprived civilian humanitarian agencies of effectiveness and clout." She also said that direct military involvement in relief work could jeopardize the security of refugees, possibly even making them parties to the conflict.

Ogata said the military and national governments should support international relief agencies in acute crises but should not try to replace agencies with humanitarian mandates. She said in those operations where military technical logistical expertise is provided, it must be limited and well defined.

The Executive Committee's theme this year is the improvement of the partnership between states and relief agencies in protecting refugees, as well as ensuring the security of refugees and humanitarian workers, who are taking ever greater risks in their daily work.

The meeting is expected to particularly focus on the protection of refugee families, addressing a number of issues ranging from family reunification to the problems of adoption and unaccompanied minors. Continued detention of asylum seekers in many countries will also be discussed.

The Committee is expected to approve UNHCR's planned 2000 budget of US$ 933,553,000. The session will close next Friday with the adoption of the Executive Committee's conclusions - UNHCR's policy guidelines for the year 2000.