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Conclusion on International Cooperation and Burden and Responsibility Sharing in Mass Influx Situations

Executive Committee Meetings

Conclusion on International Cooperation and Burden and Responsibility Sharing in Mass Influx Situations
No. 100 (LV) - 2004

8 October 2004
Executive Commitee 55th session. Contained in United Nations General Assembly document A/AC.96/1003

The Executive Committee,

Considering that the achievement of international cooperation in solving international problems of a humanitarian character is a purpose of the United Nations as defined in its Charter and that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees recognizes that a satisfactory solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation,

Reaffirming that respect by States for their protection responsibilities towards refugees is strengthened by international solidarity involving all members of the international community and that the refugee protection regime is enhanced through committed international cooperation in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility and burden sharing among all States,

Recalling the importance of international cooperation to resolve the plight of refugees, action to address the causes of refugee movements, as well as to avert them, inter alia, through the promotion of peace, stability and dialogue, and of action to prevent refugee movements from becoming a source of tension between States,

Emphasizing States' obligations with respect to refugees as contained in the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol and as reflected in international human rights law and international humanitarian law; and highlighting that States' continued commitment to upholding the values and principles embodied in these areas of law contributes to an effective international response to mass influx situations,

Reaffirming the importance of international burden and responsibility sharing in reducing the burdens of host countries, especially developing countries,

Noting that persons who arrive as part of a mass influx seeking international refugee protection should always receive it, at least on a temporary basis,

Reaffirming that access to asylum and the meeting by all States of their international protection obligations should not be dependent on burden and responsibility sharing arrangements first being in place, particularly because respect for human rights and humanitarian principles is a responsibility for all members of the international community,

Recalling that mass influx situations pose challenges for receiving States in particular, as well as for other States in the region and for the international community; and reiterating its recognition of the heavy responsibilities and burdens borne by countries receiving a mass influx, especially when the resulting presence of refugees becomes protracted, and the need for international cooperation to achieve a satisfactory durable solution to a problem which is international in scope and nature,

Reaffirming, in regard to mass influx, the guidance on reinforcing burden and responsibility sharing, including in particular that set out in Conclusion No. 22 (XXXII) of 1981 on the protection of asylum-seekers in situations of large-scale influx, Conclusions No. 15 (XXX) of 1979 on refugees without an asylum country, No. 52 (XXXIX) of 1988 on international solidarity and refugee protection, No. 80 (XLVII) of 1996 on comprehensive and regional approaches within a protection framework, No. 91 (LII) of 2001 on registration of refugees and asylum-seekers, No. 94 (LIII) of 2002 on the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum, and Conclusions No. 77 (XLVI) of 1995, No. 85 (XLIX) of 1998 and No. 89 (LI) of 2000 on international protection, as well as General Assembly Resolution 58/169 of 22 December 2003 on human rights and mass exoduses,

Expressing its appreciation for the useful discussions on mass influx situations and burden and responsibility sharing which took place in the context of the third track of the Global Consultations on International Protection,

Recalling the Agenda for Protection, endorsed by the Executive Committee, and the goals and objectives set out in its Programme of Action, aimed at achieving, inter alia, more effective and predictable responses to mass influx situations and improving responsibility-sharing arrangements to share the burdens of first asylum countries, in responding to the needs of refugees,

(a) Notes that mass influx is a phenomenon that has not been defined, but that, for the purposes of this Conclusion, mass influx situations may, inter alia, have some or all of the following characteristics: (i) considerable numbers of people arriving over an international border; (ii) a rapid rate of arrival; (iii) inadequate absorption or response capacity in host States, particularly during the emergency; (iv) individual asylum procedures, where they exist, which are unable to deal with the assessment of such large numbers;

(b) Recognizes the differing capacities of States to contribute to resolving mass influx situations; commends the significant contributions made by countries of first asylum, particularly those in the developing world and those faced with protracted refugee situations; and stresses the value of action by States, UNHCR and other actors to share the burden and responsibility of countries of first asylum and to strengthen capacities for the protection of refugees in such host countries;

(c) Encourages all States to continue their efforts to tackle the root causes of, and seek durable solutions for refugees in, mass influx situations, including through heightened international efforts in the field of conflict prevention and resolution, poverty alleviation and promotion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;

(d) Emphasizes the importance of efforts to mainstream gender and age concerns into responses to every stage of a mass influx from programme development and implementation to monitoring and evaluation, so as to ensure that the particular protection needs of refugee women, refugee children and older refugees, including those with special protection concerns, are effectively addressed, inter alia, through registration in principle on an individual basis, full and equal participation in matters affecting them, protection from sexual and gender-based violence and military recruitment, and maintaining family unity wherever possible;

(e) Notes the importance of the development by potential host States and UNHCR, as well as other relevant humanitarian organizations, with support by the international community, of emergency preparedness and response strategies in anticipation of situations likely to lead to a mass influx;

(f) Acknowledges the need for consultations on the international response to a mass influx situation with a view to developing appropriate international responses, including arrangements among States, regional and international organizations and, where applicable, financial institutions, as a clear sign of international solidarity and in the interest of protecting refugees;

(g) Recommends that such consultations should seek to develop, as early on in a crisis as possible, a comprehensive plan of action, including within the Convention Plus context, that includes arrangements on a bilateral or multilateral basis to apportion burdens and responsibilities in response to specific mass influx situations;

(h) Notes further that such consultations could be convened by the High Commissioner, consistent with the Statute of the Office, through a request by a country exposed to a mass influx or on an ex officio basis, to examine options appropriate to the particular circumstances of the situation;

(i) Emphasizes that such comprehensive plans of action in a mass influx situation should assist States and UNHCR and other relevant actors in dealing with the immediate humanitarian emergency in a more effective, predictable and equitable manner, in achieving standards of treatment for those in need of international protection which fully respect international refugee, humanitarian and human rights law, including in particular the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, and in identifying and promoting durable solutions adapted to the particular characteristics of the situation;

(j) Recommends that States, UNHCR and other relevant actors, in the emergency response to a mass influx situation, including when developing a comprehensive plan of action, give consideration to the following burden and responsibility-sharing arrangements where necessary and appropriate to the situation:

  • the provision of emergency financial and technical assistance and other forms of support where necessary, including to humanitarian organizations assisting refugees;
  • the implementation, in countries receiving mass influxes, of coordination mechanisms involving relevant host State authorities, Inter - Agency Standing Committee country team members and other relevant actors to help ensure an effective international response to the mass influx situation;
  • the establishment, at the international level, of an effective consultation mechanism involving affected States, other interested States, relevant United Nations system actors and other international and non - governmental organizations, to begin developing strategies and approaches to address the refugee crisis, including identifying possible durable solutions, bearing in mind broader political processes that may be under way to address the mass influx, including its root causes;
  • the strengthening of existing mechanisms to ensure that the necessary funds and other material and technical assistance are immediately made available;
  • the provision of support to host countries, especially developing countries, to assist the early and effective registration and documentation of refugees and asylum-seekers;
  • the mobilization of adequate resources to support and assist host States in maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum, including in particular through disarmament of armed elements and the identification, separation and internment of combatants;
  • the provision of support by the international community - agencies acting within their mandates - to host States in order to follow-up on those persons identified as falling within the scope of subparagraph (vi), including, where appropriate, the establishment of adequate mechanisms and special procedures for individual refugee status determination, including, inter alia, any possible application of the exclusion clauses of the 1951 Convention, for assessing claims of those combatants who have genuinely and permanently renounced military activities and seek asylum;
  • the setting up of standby arrangements to allow for an immediate response to urgent security needs in countries of first asylum, including through the deployment of experts to help assure the security of refugee camps where appropriate and requested by the State concerned;
  • the development of criteria and modalities for humanitarian transfer or evacuation to other countries,1 fully consistent with international guidelines on the evacuation of children,2 and financial assistance and other forms of support for the countries involved;

(k) Acknowledges that the principles of international cooperation and solidarity in the context of mass influx situations and the approaches as set out in this Conclusion in particular in operative paragraph (g), are equally relevant to protracted refugee situations resulting from a mass influx and can contribute significantly to the sustainability of the international response; and highlights the importance in this respect of continued international engagement, including to resolve the causes of the mass influx in order to achieve durable solutions;

(l) Notes the ongoing problems faced by countries of asylum, particularly those in the developing world, in coping with the consequences of mass influx situations once they have stabilized and particularly if they become protracted; and recommends that the following elements could be considered as part of the international response, including any burden and responsibility sharing arrangements that have been developed:

  • the evaluation, together with United Nations specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations and other relevant actors, of the impact of refugees on host country economies, society, environment and security, especially in protracted refugee situations;
  • the review and updating, on a regular basis, of any comprehensive approach that may have been developed to address the mass influx situation;
  • the advance pledging, where possible, of further financial or other assistance beyond the emergency phase until durable solutions are found;
  • the provision of support for national protection capacities of host States as needed, inter alia, to strengthen registration and documentation systems, and establish national legal frameworks and other mechanisms required to enable protection and assistance to be assured over time;
  • the provision of financial and in-kind assistance in support of refugee populations and host communities to promote refugee self-reliance, as appropriate, thus enhancing the sustainability of any future durable solution and relieving the burden on countries of first asylum;
  • the provision of financial and other forms of support, as appropriate, linked to broader economic developments and other concerns countries of first asylum may have in relation to providing protection to large numbers of asylum-seekers and refugees;
  • the encouragement of international financial institutions to consider to what extent the economic and social costs of hosting large numbers of refugees can be factored into the justification for their activities, including in the conditions of financial lending schemes and grant-based assistance;
  • the exploration by States, inter- and non-governmental organizations, as well as other actors of ways to improve primary education for refugees, achieve gender parity in education, and secure funding, including through the private sector, to expand secondary, vocational and tertiary education opportunities for refugees, especially adolescents;

(m) Recommends further that action to address and facilitate durable solutions, with a view to burden and responsibility sharing, be directed, as appropriate, in the form of voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement in third countries or, where applicable, in a strategic combination, and assistance to host countries, including through:

  • the provision of financial assistance and other forms of support in situations where voluntary repatriation is foreseeable or taking place, in particular bearing in mind that voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution;
  • where local integration is appropriate and feasible, the provision of financial assistance and other forms of support, including development assistance, for the benefit of refugees and the communities hosting them so as to assist countries of asylum in integrating refugees locally;
  • the more effective and strategic use of resettlement as a tool of burden and responsibility sharing, including through the application of a group resettlement referral methodology;
  • the mobilization of support for rehabilitating refugee-impacted areas in the host country from which refugees have returned;

(n) Recommends that, where a plan of action or arrangement is adopted, an effective review mechanism be included whereby all actors are brought together to evaluate its implementation and the need for any amendments to it in light of developments;

(o) Requests UNHCR to report regularly to the Executive Committee, within existing reporting mechanisms, on developments in international burden and responsibility sharing regarding mass influx situations.

1 In the context of the 1999 Kosovo crisis, the former involved the transfer of refugees to other States within the region, while the latter involved their evacuation to States further afield.

2 ICRC, IRC, SCUK, UNICEF, UNHCR, WVI, Inter-Agency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children, 2004, pp. 24-26; UNHCR, Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and Care, 1994, pp. 88-95; Evacuation of Children from Conflict Areas, Consideration and Guidelines, Everett M. Ressler, UNHCR and UNICEF, 1992.