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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 2nd Regular Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 19 July 1982

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 2nd Regular Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 19 July 1982

19 July 1982

Mr. President,

I am very pleased to have this opportunity of addressing the Economic and Social Council today. Let me also say how happy I am to know that our discussions will take place under your most able and efficient guidance.

In accordance with the relevant resolutions concerning the activities of my Office, I should like to talk today mainly about the International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA), Somalia, and southern African refugee students. I am, however, very much aware of the Council's interest in other specific situations to which I shall briefly refer, and in the refugee problem as a whole.

In looking at the situation of refugees throughout the world, there are highly satisfactory and encouraging aspects to be seen in the evolution of refugee problems. In particular, I am thinking of the various voluntary repatriation operations successfully concluded over the last few years. In general, however, the problem remains a matter of deep concern and shows no sign of receding.

The burden posed by the presence of large numbers of refugees continues to weigh heavily on many developing countries, some of them the poorest in the world. The resources needed to come to their assistance continue to be substantial, in terms of both national and international, governmental and non-governmental aid.

Much of our effort is concentrated in Africa. In the Horn of Africa. while continuing to provide for the basic needs of the refugees we also try more and more to stress the search for durable solutions,

In Djibouti, where there are more than 30,000 refugees, the programme is basically intended to help refugees in camps - where most of them live - while seeking solutions - in a successful way lately - for the urban refugees, particularly through resettlement in third countries.

In Ethiopia, we recently launched an appeal for funds towards an expanded programme on behalf of returnees aimed at providing limited relief and rehabilitation assistance to the returnees, as well as a material context for and a climate conducive to further voluntary repatriation. With the necessary operational arrangements now in place, I am confident that action on this programme can be initiated without delay.

In the Sudan, measures are being taken to deal with new influxes of refugees in the south of the country, to review the local settlement programme in this region with a dense refugee population, and to continue with the establishment of rural or semi-urban communities in areas throughout the country where the refugee population is significant. As requested by ECOSOC at its first regular session this year, I shall submit a report on the situation of refugees in the Sudan to the thirty-seventh session of the General Assembly.

In Zaire, the main programme benefits some 50,000 refugees in Haut-Zaire who, despite considerable logistical difficulties mainly due to the distance to be covered in transporting goods, are receiving food and other basic necessities as well as assistance with rural settlement.

In Chad, I am glad to be able to report that the programme of repatriation and rehabilitation of 200,000 Chad nationals, most of them returned from abroad, has been successfully concluded.

Mr. President, I should now like to refer to three points concerning Africa which I have been requested to report on under the relevant General Assembly and Economic and Social Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General has asked me to introduce his Report entitled International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa which has been made available to Council members in document E/1982/76. The report provides detailed information on post-ICARA activities. I should like, therefore, on behalf of the Secretary-General, to summarize the main elements concerning the follow-up of ICARA.

At ICARA, the organizers of the Conference - the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - were requested to continue their collaboration and consultation with respect to post-conference activities. The implementation of the conclusions of the conference was therefore entrusted to the ICARA Steering Committee which is composed of senior representatives of the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity and UNHCR.

In the course of its work, the Steering Committee embarked on the task of determining priority projects from among all project proposals submitted at ICARA. In this endeavour, the Committee was assisted by the recommendations of a Technical Working Group which undertook an examination and study of all projects submitted by asylum countries to the conference.

As Distinguished Delegates know, one of the results of the conference was the receipt of pledges with a total value of approximately $574 million. During the course of the year, donors clarified not only the nature of their pledges but also specified the channel through which their contributions were to be disbursed for the benefit of refugees and returnees in Africa. At the present time, all but some $12 million of the pledges made at ICARA have, at the express wishes of donors, been channelled either bilaterally or through various Agencies and Organizations.

In considering the recommendations of the Technical Working Group on priority projects, the Steering Committee did not lose sight of the fact that the volume and availability of unspecified pledges was pivotal in the exercise of drawing up a first selection of ICARA priority projects.

My Deputy, Mr. Smyser, on behalf of the Steering Committee members, addressed the community of donors in his letter of 22 December which conveyed the first selection of priority projects requiring funds for their implementation. Meanwhile, the Committee has been continuing efforts to obtain assistance from UN agencies in the improvement of project documentation required by the donors. It is hoped that they can then be prevailed upon to provide funds for the implementation.

As the distinguished delegates also know, one of our purposes is to report to the members of ECOSOC on the conditions of refugees. Much of this information is in my report to the General Assembly. To complement this report and to provide ECOSOC with additional information, the report of the Steering Committee of ICARA has been circulated as annex to the Secretary-General's Report, document E/1982/76. These reports provide an up-to-date picture of the conditions of refugees in Africa.

Allow me, Mr. Chairman, to add my personal appeal to all concerned to take urgent action, so that countries of asylum may be assisted to meet those additional needs that the presence of refugees has created and which ICARA, and subsequently the Steering Committee, have identified and justified. In this connection I should like to refer to pages 5 to 7 of the Secretary-General's Report which indicates action already taken by UNHCR to include in its programmes ICARA-related projects, amounting to more than US$ 140 million.

At its first regular session, the Economic and Social Council adopted resolution 1982/4 requesting that a report on the refugee situation in Somalia, including the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the interagency review mission which visited Somalia from 28 January to 3 February this year, be presented to its second regular session, pending a comprehensive report to the thirty-seventh session of the General Assembly. In accordance with that resolution, I should like to make some remarks about the refugee situation in Somalia.

The Somali Government and the review mission agreed on a planning figure for the programme in 1982 of 700,000 beneficiaries in 35 camps in the four regions of Lower Shebelle, Gedo, Hiran and the North-West.

Since the inception of the Programme some three years ago, the emphasis has shifted from exclusively meeting the survival and emergency needs of the refugees towards enabling them to earn a living. However, where necessary, relief aid is continuing and additional deliveries of such items as tents, blankets, clothing, soap, utensils and mats are foreseen for the latter part of this year.

As the situation gradually stabilized, we began to be able to turn our attention to longer-term measures. To reduce malnutrition, particularly among the children, supplementary feeding was organized by the camp health clinics. An agreement has been reached with the Government to maintain, improve and expand potable water facilities. The health situation in general is stable, and primary medical services are available in each camp. Secondary health facilities, however, are limited and not easily accessible to the refugee population. A few refugee cases have had to be treated outside Somalia, using funds earmarked for handicapped refugees.

Educational facilities are being expanded in the camps. An Institution for In-Service Teachers' Training was established and will train some 2,100 refugee primary school teachers by the end of 1984. Six hundred classrooms will be built in the camps by the end of 1983. Scholarships are being provided to refugee students for secondary and/or vocational training within the limitations of locally available facilities.

Several measures have been initiated to conserve and to meet the demands for domestic fuel. A programme of afforestation in the south is well advanced and will be expanded to other regions; meanwhile, we are looking into alternative possibilities such as kerosene oil, carbon and wood briquettes.

While the prospect for voluntary repatriation is given all due attention, we are nevertheless devoting a great deal of effort toward helping the refugees become economically active, and hopefully self-sufficient. Major activities are under way to maximize opportunities for self-reliance through agriculture and other self-help activities. Discussions between the Somali Government and the interagency mission led to the removal of restrictions for refugees to engage in agriculture. It has been agreed that some camps will be relocated in more economically viable areas, and plans now call for a fivefold increase in crop framing, so as to bring some 15,000 hectares under cultivation by the end of 1983. A large-scale poultry project and a pilot project for animal husbandry will also be initiated.

Thus, through the joint efforts of the Government, UNHCR and other UN agencies, and more than 30 voluntary agencies, progress has been made, despite serious difficulties - inevitable, in a country with limited resources facing its own development problem.

At its thirty-sixth session, the Assembly adopted resolution 36/170 requesting the Secretary-General, in co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to organize and implement educational and other assistance to student refugees from Namibia and South Africa who had taken asylum in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia. A report on this matter is presently being prepared for submission to the thirty-seventh session of the General Assembly. At this juncture, I should like to apprise this Council of the measures taken by UNHCR to assist refugee students in southern Africa.

Educational assistance remains a priority objective for UNHCR in our search for durable solutions to the problems of refugees. Training, in all its forms, is a requisite for attaining self-reliance, which is vital to the success of any durable solution. In southern Africa, this kind of aid/assumes special importance since it seeks to compensate for the denial of equal educational opportunities of which young people are victims under the system of apartheid in South Africa, and in Namibia. At the same time, UNHCR prepares the refugee students from Namibia and South Africa to become constructive citizens upon their return to an independent Namibia and to their legitimate place in South Africa. All these educational programmes are undertaken with the active participation of the front-line states, whose liberal asylum policies are invaluable assets to UNHCR.

In Botswana, some 118 refugee students are currently enrolled at various public and private educational institutions and receive financial assistance from UNHCR. We have contributed significantly toward the construction of two secondary schools which were completed in 1981; they are now both fully operational and will continue to be used by nationals and refugees alike.

The main thrust of our programme in Lesotho is to encourage the Government to continue its liberal admission policy for refugee students by improving the educational infrastructure of the country at the secondary, vocational, technical and university levels. Facilities at the Lerotholi Technical Institute and the National University of Lesotho, which were improved and expanded with UNHCR's aid, will benefit hundreds of refugee students who are presently enrolled, and many more who will be able to follow. In fact, most of the 11,500 refugees in Lesotho are students, refugees from apartheid.

Swaziland too continued a generous policy of accepting refugee students to educational institutions at all levels. Assistance with tuition, transportation, books and the like is available to those in need. A project to expand the facilities of the University College of Swaziland by providing additional dormitories, laboratories and teaching aids will commence during the latter half of 1982 pending the receipt of funds from the international community. In return, the Government of Swaziland has agreed to reserve 10 to 15 per cent of admissions for refugees.

In Zambia, some 4,500 Namibians live at the SWAPO Education and Health Centre at Nyango, an increase of 1,500 over the previous year. At the request of SWAPO, UNHCR has provided educational materials along with other basic necessities such as food, clothing and medicines.

Refugee students in all the countries are, of course, able to take advantage of the counselling services available to all refugees. Many refugees sought and obtained advice on, for example, the most appropriate educational courses to follow and, once their studies were completed, on employment prospects in their respective fields.

There was a marked increase in 1981 in the percentage of female students assisted by UNHCR, and thereby enabled to get an education. We are pleased by this development, and expecting a further increase in 1982, we very much hope that this trend will continue.

Mr. President, I should like also to touch briefly on the refugee situation in other parts of the world.

In Asia, there are several areas of major concern.

In Pakistan, the UNHCR programme this year was planned for 2.1 million refugee - out of a total of 2.7 million registered by the authorities - scattered over 300 refugee villages in the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. In addition to the difficulties of starting up and maintaining the momentum of so vast a programme, there was the danger of damage to the environment caused by the refugees and their livestock. The World Bank is in the process of preparing a programme which would provide employment opportunities for a number of refugees and the surrounding local population, help to repair the damage caused to the region's resources and create durable economic assets in the affected areas.

In Iran, the Government intends to set up 10 rural centres with 5,000 refugees in each. In response to a government request UNHCR intends to cover certain parts of the programme, notably in the sectors of food, shelter, water supply, health, education, and activities designed to assist refugees to become self-reliant.

We have been deeply moved by the events in Lebanon. We have been following the situation very closely and are in constant contact with our representative on the spot. Although UNHCR's role in the country is restricted by its mandate, in view of the enormous humanitarian needs we are co-operating closely with the co-ordinator appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and we participated in the interagency mission which visited Lebanon this month. We have made two initial contributions of $100,000 each, and we intend to continue our efforts. Our offices in the region have been instructed to take the necessary steps to obtain at least temporary rights of residence for Lebanese fleeing their country who have no possibility of returning in the near future, and to assist them as appropriate. We are studying each situation, and we have sent a mission to Syria which recommended that UNHCR help 5,000 Lebanese in distress in that country. A sum of $100,000 has been allocated locally by the mission.

In South-East Asia, more than 30,000 new refugees arrived in countries of first asylum during the first six months of the year, and a total of 215,000 refugees are still awaiting a durable solution in the region. Without losing sight of possibilities for voluntary repatriation, everything is being done to maintain the momentum of resettlement to third countries. Efforts are also made in other important areas such a orderly departure from Viet Nam, and the rescue of refugees at sea; furthermore, an agreement has recently been concluded between my Office and the Government of Thailand on a programme to combat piracy attacks against refugees in the South China Sea.

In Latin America, the most important programmes are those under way in Honduras, which is receiving refugees from three countries and where special efforts are being made, once the refugees are away from the frontier areas, to find a long-term solution for them in agriculture.

Mr. President, even the most rapid overview shows that there are refugee problems everywhere in the world. Year after year, while some problems are brought to a successful conclusion, hundreds of thousands of new persons are uprooted. We must all continue our vigorous search to offer them lasting solutions. For this, the continuous support and understanding of governments are of paramount importance. Our faith in the dignity and worth of the human person must constantly be reaffirmed.

Thank you, Mr. President.