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Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-fifth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 8 October 2004

Speeches and statements

Closing Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fifty-fifth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 8 October 2004

8 October 2004
Protection and resettlementConvention Plus and durable solutionsOperationsFood securityPartnershipsBudget and fundingManagement and human resourcesSecurity

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you all for an invigorating week. The positive tone of the interventions, even when they were critical, has been very heartening, both for my people and me. It is encouraging to hear that the programmes and policies we are implementing benefit from your broad support. It reinforces my conviction that through initiatives like Convention Plus we have charted the right course and are making genuine headway in the search for solutions.

Many of you made reference this week to the significant drop over the past few years in the number of people of concern to UNHCR. 2004 was referred to as 'the year of return.' As Mr. Dewey said, the large and successful repatriation operations in Africa, the countries of former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan have been one of UNHCR's finest hours. I share your satisfaction at the decline in the number of refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as the conviction that much remains to be done.

Protection and resettlement

I welcome the adoption of the general conclusion on international protection and its affirmation of the continued importance of the Agenda for Protection. We have noted the general satisfaction expressed with progress on the Agenda for Protection along with the sense that ownership is now truly shared by States.

Many of you seconded my concern that the environment in which UNHCR provides protection has indeed become less friendly to refugees. The resulting challenge to both UNHCR and States is articulated in the conclusions on protection. The fear that a generalized trend toward more restrictive policies could hinder the consolidation of the asylum regime and its effective implementation was expressed succinctly by the delegation from Brazil, but not only Brazil. Under these circumstances, the statements made this week in support of the Agenda for Protection take on added meaning and encourage our continued work on the implementation of the Agenda's Programme of Action.

This includes preserving humanitarian space in face of the challenges posed by deteriorating security environments, for example in the Caucasus, and the mischaracterization of international refugee instruments as providing a safe haven for terrorists, rather than specifically providing for their exclusion from refugee protection, as they actually do. Mixed flows came up during the debate too and our response must be to ask how anyone can ever be certain there are no refugees in a given group. I use the example of North Koreans and allow myself to say 'how can we be sure there are no refugees among them?' The use of the cessation clause requires sometimes difficult judgement calls. Delegates asked Erika Feller how Tajikistan and Rwanda could possibly be cessation clause countries, another issue that we cannot conclude here.

Several delegations expressed the wish that UNHCR devote more resources to protection delivery and we will continue our efforts to create posts and deploy qualified protection staff. My determination to refocus UNHCR on protection met with broad approval. This extends beyond staffing in the field to the level of protection policy-making and strategy. It was in this context that I propose the creation of an Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. The response this week has been a tentative 'yes', with several of you supporting the proposal and several others asking to review it further. In line with the opinion of the Secretary-General and the advice of the ACABQ, as I said in my opening statement, I look forward to consulting with you on this on the basis of our Headquarters review. While this review is scheduled to give us orientations by end-2004 we can have an informal consultation in the first months of next year in order to take decisions on the issue during the March 2005 Standing Committee.

The completion of the Multilateral Framework of Understandings on Resettlement was welcomed by refugee hosting and resettlement countries alike. I welcome the intentions expressed by several resettlement countries to increase the number of places. An increase in the capacity of the resettlement regime will also allow a more strategic use of resettlement. Frankly, this is a win-win situation which will not diminish our pursuit of other durable solutions, such as voluntary repatriation.

UNHCR should increase its own involvement in resettlement activities and act as guarantor of an expanded and diversified programme. Therefore we plan a resettlement 'service' which reflects these goals.

One of the separate panel discussions took up statelessness. It was an encouraging presentation and I was impressed with accounts of what can be achieved - very positive experiences - and the panelists' position on a systematic, concrete way forward.

Convention Plus and durable solutions

I have been encouraged this week by the acknowledgements of progress marked in the area of durable solutions, particularly on the Convention Plus initiative. Convention Plus is no longer a promise; it is a reality. We have made considerable strides since the introduction of Convention Plus two years ago, both on burden sharing and solutions for more refugees, as well as developing tools to do even better. The resettlement Multilateral Framework, which must now be put into practice, is one tangible outcome. We must move forward in a similar way along the other strands of Convention Plus, and specific references many of you have made to the challenge of irregular secondary movements confirmed the validity of our approach.

Many delegations also expressed support for the Afghanistan Comprehensive Solutions initiative. The pledge by the EC for continued financial assistance to the ACS unit is welcome and will help us expand the discussion to non-neighbouring countries which host Afghans. I repeat, not all Afghans abroad should be forced to go home. There are Afghans who are able to contribute - if only temporarily - to the economy of their host States.

The situation of asylum-seekers in Europe elicited a more complex response from delegations. Italy pointed out the mixed nature of arrivals in Europe. True. Today, we have access in Lampedusa but let us be honest: too late. UNHCR is also denied access to asylum seekers in Libya, and when we are denied access it is hard to find solutions. Hungary evoked the new dimension of population flows on the continent with the recent addition of several new border States. Poland underscored the challenges posed by a higher number of asylum-seekers in the east.

The need to provide a better understanding and a united response to these questions motivates the initiative we call the 'European Prong'. As one delegate recalled, UNHCR's hope is that States do not forget humanitarian and legal standards while protecting their interests. Please do not forget humanitarian standards. There is considerable risk if they do. Libya and Nigeria voiced strong concern that asylum-seekers should be given access to proper procedures and that adequate processing is crucial to ensure the cooperation of States outside Europe. I would say yes: better protection all over the world. And I agree that we must be guided by a desire to share, not shift, the burden.

Sometimes we needs sub-regional approaches. I took particular note of the receptiveness of the European Commission to involve UNHCR in the process of elaborating asylum policies that are truly European in scope. We will provide substantive assistance to this process, preserving the commitment to asylum in Europe while addressing the entire chain of displacement and solutions in regions of origin and transit. From our perspective the Mediterranean issue has three components. First, building up protection capacity in north African States - and here I am happy to inform you that support for this by the Commission and some member States is assured. Second, what to do with people intercepted on the high seas. Here, a responsibility - and burden-sharing system is needed in particular now that the 'Nettuno III' border and interception arrangement is in effect. While we are talking about the Agenda for Protection, States are talking about border control. We must find a way to bring these together, keeping human beings first. Third, how individuals who have entered a EU member State will be treated and screened in conformity with the Tampere principles. I would like to repeat what I told NGOs during our Pre-ExCom Consultation, that UNHCR respects readmission agreements with countries of origin but does not endorse their return to reception centres.

The effort to find solutions for people in UNHCR's care must remain a high priority. I agree wholeheartedly with Tanzania that we should revitalize our commitment to this goal. We must challenge the notion that refugees are being 'warehoused' by empowering them on the way to solutions. Among others, I appreciate the remark by Japan, which spoke of a 'protection and empowerment framework' to address protracted refugee situations. It is this conjunction of protection and durable solutions that leads to progress.

Several delegations, particularly representatives from Africa, spoke of the need to break the cycle of violence in order to make refugee return sustainable. I salute the focus of the AU on the security dimension. There can be no development if violence is allowed to continue. I observe more and more implementation of the 4Rs, not only by UNHCR but, more importantly, by the UN and international financial institutions.


I was pleased to be able to brief you on my recent mission to Chad and Sudan. For UNHCR, Sudan no longer means either the North-South dynamic or the Darfur situation, but both of these. The South requires an effective 4Rs approach. Darfur requires protection: protecting and rebuilding trust. I will sit down with Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and with Jan Egeland, responsible for OCHA and IDPs, in order to join forces and offer this to Mr. Pronk, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, to ensure an effective follow-up and a next step to his valuable but time-bound agreement with the government of Sudan.

I note with satisfaction your support for our newly developed Emergency and Security Management Initiative. Operations, both emergencies and long-running situations, also need your support. I was pleased by the number of delegations who urged us all not to forget the Great Lakes and Burundi, which stand at a historical crossroads. I will attend the conference on the region next month in Dar as Salaam and reiterate UNHCR's appreciation for the effort expended on the issue by South Africa. This engagement exemplifies the political will needed to resolve protracted situations, as I had the pleasure of discussing protracted situations with His Excellency the Vice-President of Kenya on the subject of Somalia - peace is coming there - and as Canada mentioned in relation to the case of Bhutanese in Nepal. We also took note of the many interventions anticipating a constructive result when we revisit the Cartagena Declaration next month in Mexico City. Along with a focus on displaced Colombians I hope the meeting also draws attention to resettlement in Latin America.

I want to repeat in this context my call to consolidate successes in southeastern Europe. UNHCR will do so by ensuring the right to return for everyone who chooses to, supporting local integration. This same spirit continues to inform our actions in Afghanistan. The unprecedented registration of refugees in Iran and Pakistan for tomorrow's Presidential election - over 750,000 voters in Pakistan alone - demonstrates clearly that the international community cannot afford to walk away from the reconstruction of that country. I will travel to Kabul by the end of next month and continue this dialogue with partners. I will go as well as to the southern Caucasus. Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane and new regional Director Janet Lim will soon go to another very important operation in Myanmar and Thailand.

This morning I sat down with Uganda's Moses Ali. Yes, we will make self-reliance there successful with the help of the donor community. Today we talk about the Zambian initiative, tomorrow we will talk the same way about Uganda.

A last note on operations. The Iraqi delegation has asked me to be relay their wish that the UN facilitate out-of-country elections, as in Afghanistan. Iraq is heading for elections and Minister Warda emphasized how important it is for Iraqis to participate. Minister Warda also reiterated her concerns about the fragile situation in Kirkuk and stressed the need for the UN to offer its good offices. I have been advised of an important meeting on Iraq to be held soon in Tokyo and it is a pity that one of the only people with experience on the ground in Baghdad, our Yacoub El Hillo, will not be there to contribute to the discussion. We will see if there is a way for him to attend.

Food security

Mr. Morris articulated UNHCR's perspective when he said that refugees are the most vulnerable group within the World Food Programme's considerable caseload. All of us took note of the sizeable deficit projected for next year and the need to broaden the donor base, as well as look into producing more food in refugee-hosting countries: after all, that is development. Shortfalls underline the importance of self-reliance to help overcome the vulnerability of international supply pipelines.

I noted also the suggestion that WFP and UNHCR meet annually with donors, perhaps in the margins of ExCom, to systematically review global priorities and problems.


This was a partnerships ExCom: we noted the co-sponsorship of UNAIDS, the steps taken to reinforce collaborative approach to IDPs, the integration of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly goal number eight, and the progress marked with WFP. Jim Morris mentioned UNHCR's Project Profile registration as a good example of the benefits of our collaboration.

NGOs have been with us throughout. This year's NGO Consultations, which are essential to our goal of better incorporating NGOs into the way UNHCR operates, gathered 50% more participants than last year. The NGOs turned this ExCom into an 'ExCom Plus'.

The confirmation this week from the African Union that more peacekeepers will be deployed to Darfur gives me the opportunity to point out another valued partnership and, on a broader note, I would like to pay my respects to AU Commissioners Djinnit and Joiner. Our partnership with them is key for Africa, key for its uprooted people, and key for its peace and development.

Budget and funding

On funding, I want to thank donors again for their contributions and UNHCR's improved outlook. However, though we have received $10 million in contributions since my appeal two weeks ago our 2004 Annual Budget still has a shortfall of some $60 million. This amount is smaller than in past years but I am concerned that funds we were counting on for the AB have gone instead to Supplementary Programmes, and so I repeat my request for urgent additional contributions to these SBs. The United States of America gave an example this morning, as the Netherlands has done time and again. I hope others will follow these examples. Because, as the Netherlands put it, our funding situation has improved but remains precarious. I apologize for the Dutch language: we are never really satisfied.

I welcome the approval of the 2005 budget and express particular thanks to those States which have announced an increase of their annual contribution for 2005. I noted also support for a move to a bi-annual cycle of resource allocation. As I said Monday, I would like to consult with you on its implementation bearing in mind the need to maintain flexibility and ability to respond to emergencies, which was recalled by several delegations.

Management and human resources

On management, you have expressed support for our Headquarters process review. We will be looking at processes here in Geneva through a field prism, focusing on workforce management policies, the budget and resource allocation process, senior management decision-making, and internal reporting requirements with the goal of reducing them. As I explained earlier the review will include the plan to add an AHC for Protection.

Several of you referred to the recommendations of the Joint Inspection Unit. We too find these well worth discussing, to use Germany's formulation. I want to recall that some of the JIU recommendations have been implemented already and that our Inspector General is currently reviewing others. Confirmation from many of you this week that we have responded transparently and quickly to organizational weaknesses is gratifying, and I take this opportunity to reiterate our goal of improving further the accountability and performance of UNHCR.

On human resources, I am pleased that states have welcomed our new human resource management methods and repeated that staff are UNHCR's greatest asset. Delegations joined me in recognizing their untiring commitment to work in dangerous and challenging conditions.

I took note of delegates' satisfaction at the appointment of a Senior Advisor to the High Commissioner on Gender. She reports to work on 20 October. Her work will of course complement that of the Division of Operational Support on several issues raised here this week.


As many of you have highlighted, UNHCR remains fully dedicated to enhancing the security of staff and people of its concern. Well aware of the scale of this challenge, we will use new and innovative approaches and work together with UNSECOORD and DPKO on global security management. Several of you welcomed steps we have taken recently, including strengthening security management practices following our own internal review and more comprehensive training and awareness programmes, including the eCentre, all designed to provide staff with the tools needed to conduct operations through risk management, not risk aversion.

I would like to close by paying tribute to two people. One is Hope Hanlan, our Director of the Americas who as I mentioned Monday retires this year. I join several delegations in thanking her for her service to refugees and UNHCR. The second is Ambassador Boulgaris, the Chairman of ExCom during the past year. His remarks this week made "in the spirit of constructive engagement" - but this time from the other side of the podium - perfectly characterize the relationship we enjoyed so much with him. Our sincere thanks to Ambassador Boulgaris and best wishes on his retirement.

Thank you.