Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Introductory Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 23 June 1994

Speeches and statements

Introductory Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 23 June 1994

23 June 1994
Responding to emergenciesIn search of solutionsFrom solutions to preventionEnsuring ProtectionForging new alliancesFunding

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this informal meeting of the Executive Committee. May I say how pleased I am to see the delegation of Spain amongst us today as a member of the Executive Committee. I am sure that your presence in that new capacity will further enrich our discussion as we seek to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern to my Office.

Given the short time at our disposal this afternoon, and the extensive Briefing Note on Regional Developments which has already been distributed, I will limit my statement to some of the most significant recent developments in terms of refugee emergencies and the evolution of our solution-oriented and preventive strategies.

Responding to emergencies

The period since our last informal meeting has been marked by both joy and tragedy. Nowhere has that juxtaposition been more evident than in Africa.

When I speak of tragedy, Mr. Chairman, uppermost in my mind is the situation in Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been indiscriminately slaughtered.

In a period of little more than six months the region of the Great Lakes has been riven by two massive refugee movements. As a result of these terrible events, my Office is caring for over 800,000 refugees and returnees in the region, and the number is rapidly rising. Even as I speak to you, some three to four thousand persons are fleeing into the United Republic of Tanzania every day. The generous response of that heavily burdened asylum country and of other neighbouring States has been exemplary. I appeal to them to continue to keep their doors open and urge the international community to provide them with the necessary assistance and support.

Fortunately, early warning signals in Rwanda enabled us to prepare for the emergency. We had deployed emergency teams and pre-positioned relief goods by 28 April, when the massive influx into the United Republic of Tanzania began. In close cooperation with DHA and other agencies such as WFP, IOM, UNDP, UNV, UNICEF and WHO, we are now coordinating a massive emergency assistance operation covering Burundi, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. As in other emergency operations, the early presence and involvement of numerous NGOs have been absolutely crucial. Nevertheless, despite all our efforts, logistics remain problematic. The impact of very large numbers of refugees on the environment is a matter of concern and we are examining the steps necessary to ameliorate the situation.

Following recent security incidents, the Tanzanian authorities are strengthening measures to protect UNHCR and other humanitarian workers. Measures are being taken to relieve congestion in the camp sites, which should also improve security.

On 9 May, my Office issued an emergency appeal for $ 56.7 million to cover the cost of our operations in the region for a three month period. Revised requirements to mid-July now total $ 75 million. While donor response has been generous, substantial additional funding will undoubtedly be needed once the requirements for the remainder of the year have been assessed.

I am profoundly concerned about the safety of Burundi refugees still remaining in Rwanda and that of Rwandese refugees who had returned to their country earlier. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in Rwanda, whose fate remains largely unknown. The DHA-led attempts to obtain humanitarian access to these groups are important, both to alleviate suffering and to reduce further outflows of people.

Nevertheless, I am afraid that whatever course of action the international community decides to take in Rwanda, there is likely to be further population movement. Thus, UNHCR is preparing itself, as best as it can, to address the consequences and meet the humanitarian needs of those who may have to flee.

The recent crisis in Rwanda has underlined once again that international political will to avoid and resolve conflicts must be underpinned by a strong commitment on the part of the leaders in the region itself. I was encouraged by the frank discussion of the Rwandese tragedy and other African conflict situations at the OAU Summit in Tunis, which I attended. I welcome the increasingly strong role being played by the OAU in conflict resolution and hope that the international community will lend its full support to these efforts.

In search of solutions

Mr. Chairman, if Africa has confronted us with our most recent emergency, parts of the same continent have shown remarkable progress towards solutions.

The birth of a new, democratic South Africa, marked by the equality of all its citizens irrespective of race, has been an uplifting and encouraging event for all of us. I am sure that I speak for one and all in extending our heartfelt best wishes to the Government and people of South Africa. In recognition of the profound importance of this historic turning point, I have decided to upgrade our presence in South Africa to the level of a Regional Office and have asked Mr. Bwakira, the current Director of UNHCR's Regional Bureau for Africa, to assume the duties of my Regional Representative.

The developments in South Africa have opened up a new era of hope not only for the people of that country but for the whole of southern Africa. In March this year I visited South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to see for myself the Mozambican repatriation operation. I was impressed by progress in the peace process in Mozambique, particularly the strong political commitment of the parties to the agreement. In Zimbabwe, I met large numbers of refugees preparing to return home, complete with belongings, animals and even birds. In Swaziland, I walked the length of an entire train carrying refugees home. They told me they did not like to see the empty spaces in the camps after others had gone back. They felt left behind, they said, and wanted to go home too. I saw the returnees getting off the train when it arrived in Maputo, their faces sparkling with joy and relief. Clearly, there is a strong momentum to repatriation. More than half of the over one and a half million Mozambican refugees have now returned home. The operation from Swaziland was recently completed, with over 16,000 Mozambican refugees having returned from that country. We are accelerating the process of repatriation from the other countries in the hope that the majority of refugees will be back in time for the elections in late October, although the operation itself will not be completed before the end of this year. Needless to say, reintegration activities will continue in 1995 and, to a lesser extent, 1996.

The reintegration of those who have returned is proceeding well. In Tete and Maputo provinces I could already see the maize which the returnees had planted with seeds and tools provided by UNHCR and other organizations active in Mozambique. I had the pleasure of handing over to the district authorities several community service centres consisting of schools, clinics and water points. However, like other countries emerging from conflict, Mozambique needs sustained assistance from the international community to maintain the schools and clinics that have been provided. Nurturing the fragile process of reconciliation and rehabilitation will require long-term commitment and support.

Mr. Chairman, in other regions this year has marked a watershed for solutions. In a historic move in February this year, the Steering Committee of the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees set a target date to conclude its activities by 1995.

In April, I paid an official visit to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, and was deeply impressed by the extraordinary changes that have taken place in that country. I am convinced that the dramatic drop in the number of persons leaving by boat is due not only to the successful implementation of the CPA but also to the growing optimism and confidence which the Vietnamese people now feel for the future of their country. It is a credit to the Vietnamese authorities that they have fully respected the terms of the 1988 Memorandum of Understanding with UNHCR. The resulting atmosphere of openness and confidence has helped ensure the repatriation and successful reintegration of the 62,000 returnees who have so far gone back from camps in South East Asia and Hong Kong. In addition to very fruitful meetings with the Government, I visited reintegration projects in Haiphong, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City and met many of the returnees. I asked several of them why they left and why they chose to return. Invariably the answers were: "We left because we wanted a better chance to live, but decided to return because there were no possibilities." I asked one young woman, who was being trained to be a seamstress: "Are you happy to be home? "She replied: "It is better to be home than to live in a camp".

Elsewhere in Asia too, progress is being made on voluntary repatriation, this time from Bangladesh to Myanmar. UNHCR staff and infrastructure are now in place to receive returnees in Rakhine State, although some time was lost when a cyclone destroyed facilities on the Bangladesh side as well as in Myanmar. However, movements have re-started and we are confident that, by the end of this year, substantial numbers will have returned home under UNHCR auspices.

Turning now to Central America, I am pleased to announce that the CIREFCA process will be formally closed at an event in Mexico City next week. The achievements of CIREFCA must now be consolidated under the leadership of UNDP and through national strategies on human rights and human development of marginalized areas from which uprooted populations originate. I have proposed to Mr. Speth, the UNDP Administrator, that UNHCR and UNDP should undertake a joint evaluation of CIREFCA in order to learn from this important experience of hand-over on how to move from relief to development.

The only major refugee problem remaining in Central America is that of the 45,000 Guatemalans still in Mexico. The absence of a peace agreement, the worrisome security situation and complex land issues still hamper their return. I hope that the recent accords signed between the Government of Guatemala and the armed forces will give an impetus to voluntary repatriation.

In any situation of voluntary repatriation, the primary concern of my Office remains the safety of those returning. The positive evolution in parts of former Yugoslavia is leading Governments of asylum countries to take an increasing interest in the repatriation of those to whom they have granted temporary protection. I intend to call an extended meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group on 7 July in order to assess the situation and to ensure that the established norms of safety and dignity are fully respected in any repatriation plan that is adopted in respect of former Yugoslavia.

From solutions to prevention

Mr. Chairman, when solution-oriented approaches are adopted early enough in a crisis, and with the right mix of political, military and humanitarian initiatives, they can play an important role in the prevention and containment of refugee flows.

Tajikistan, where civil war displaced over half a million persons and forced another 60,000 refugees to flee to northern Afghanistan in 1992, is a case in point. I believe the efforts which were undertaken to promote an integrated approach, have helped to create a climate of confidence, encouraging most of the displaced and refugees to return home. Today, our main task is to monitor their safety and human rights in a situation which is still fragile, pending the outcome of United Nations sponsored political talks in Moscow. Unfortunately, shortage of funds may force us to curtail our activities severely in Tajikistan.

I am convinced that similar innovative approaches could be promoted in other parts of the former Soviet Union where there is a compelling need for preventive strategies. In consultation with the Russian authorities and other Governments in the region, my Office has been seeking to foster the development of a comprehensive approach to the problems of refugees, returnees, internally displaced persons and migrants in that region. We have held preliminary discussions with interested Governments and organizations on the convening of an international meeting on the subject, and will keep the Executive Committee informed of further developments in this respect.

Ensuring Protection

As I have often said before, prevention has its limits and cannot replace the need for international protection in a world in which war, violence and persecution continue unabated. The right to seek asylum must be upheld vigorously. Therefore, I warmly welcome the decision of the United States Government to examine asylum claims from Haitians fleeing the island by boat. UNHCR is collaborating closely with the United States and other concerned governments to put in place the necessary facilities and procedures for status determination.

Forging new alliances

Many of the activities and preoccupations that I have outlined today, Mr. Chairman, indicate the extent to which my Office is becoming increasingly involved inside the countries of origin of refugees and displaced persons. More and more frequently, we are working in situations for which we have neither an exclusive mandate nor a monopoly of expertise. They underline, yet again, the need to forge alliances and reinforce partnerships.

Growing recognition of the relationship between humanitarian issues and human development, and the need to link relief with longer-term development activities are creating new opportunities for collaboration. It was in this context that I paid a visit to the World Bank earlier this month, and had the privilege to be the first Head of a United Nations agency ever to address the assembled staff of the Bank and IMF. I believe that our complementary skills and capacities, UNHCR's in emergencies and international protection, the Bretton Woods institutions' in development and reconstruction, provide a promising basis for future collaboration. In this connection, we will seek to participate more actively in the Consultative Group meetings of the World Bank. We also look forward to exploring new approaches in the funding of projects, particularly of reintegration in post-conflict situations.

Ever-increasing challenges, limited resources and our over-stretched capacity have also made more crucial than ever our efforts to strengthen our partnership with non-governmental organizations. A year ago, my Office embarked on a process of consultation with NGOs, known as PARinAC, which comprised a series of regional UNHCR-NGO meetings in Caracas, Kathmandu, Tunis, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Budapest.

The process culminated this month in a four day Global Conference in Oslo, where I had the opportunity to address over 250 participants at the opening of the Conference, as well as to take part in the regional working groups. I am very grateful to the Government of Norway for hosting the Oslo Conference and for the financial support from a number of Governments which made the PARinAC process possible. I should also like to express my gratitude to you, Mr. Chairman, for your active participation. Your closing statement, indeed, received resounding applause.

At the conclusion of the Conference, NGOs and UNHCR agreed upon a joint Oslo Declaration and Plan of Action, which covers a wide range of issues of common concern. I hope that the Plan of Action will serve as the basis for the UNHCR-NGO humanitarian agenda for action for the remainder of this century. My Office is committed to making every effort to implement the proposals contained in the Plan, and I am sure that the 450 NGOs which participated in PARinAC fully share that commitment.

I realize that the agenda is an ambitious one, with certain resource implications. The UNHCR/NGO partnership cannot flourish without governmental support. Therefore, we will be organizing a meeting of the Executive Committee with NGOs just before the next session of ExCom, at which you will have the opportunity to discuss the proposals for follow-up.


Mr. Chairman, I would not wish to conclude my remarks without thanking donors for their continued support and generosity. Given the scale of current needs, we can by no means afford to be complacent that this year's combined General and Special programme needs amounting to $ 1.23 billion will be fully met. We have noted a disturbing downward trend in contributions to the General Programme over the last three years. I would urge that this trend be reversed, as our top priority must remain the funding of these core programmes. In relation to Special Programmes, I am afraid that it is often the very preventive and solution-oriented programmes to which this Committee so fully subscribes that fall victim to funding shortfalls. Many of our programmes in the former Soviet Union, notably those in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, are seriously under-funded, as are the cross border operation from Kenya to Somalia, and the repatriation programme to Afghanistan.

I am confident that, with the continued support of this Committee we can meet, not only the formidable humanitarian challenges that confront us, but also promote new opportunities to solve and perhaps even prevent the crises of displacement that have become such a tragic hallmark of our era.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.