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Information Note on UNHCR's Activities for Refugee Law Promotion, Dissemination and Training

Executive Committee Meetings

Information Note on UNHCR's Activities for Refugee Law Promotion, Dissemination and Training

23 July 1993


1. Pursuant to Executive Committee Conclusion No. 51 (XXXIX) on Promotion and Dissemination of Refugee Law, this Note provides information on specific promotional activities world-wide, including their financial implications on a regional basis. This year's Note is presented in a slightly modified format in order better to reflect the actual thrust and content of UNHCR's activities in the field of promotion of refugee law, dissemination and training.

2. Promotion of refugee law has traditionally entailed the promotion of wider knowledge and better understanding of, on the one hand, existing refugee protection principles and norms and on the other, effective implementation of international standards in national legislation and administrative procedures. These remain primary objectives of UNHCR's promotion activities and are reflected in the course content of UNHCR's refugee law training seminars. The subjects covered include, inter alia, international instruments, refugee status determination, non-refoulement, standards of treatment of refugees, the role of Governments and UNHCR in refugee protection, the rights and duties of refugees, refugee women and children and voluntary repatriation.

3. At the same time, the Office's new focus on prevention and solutions has become an integral part of UNHCR's promotion strategy. UNHCR's refugee law/protection training seminars thus embody this new focus on human rights, notably including an introduction to various human rights instruments, the functioning of the United Nation's and regional human rights systems and the protection of minority rights.

4. In implementing the preventive and solution-oriented component of UNHCR's promotion strategy, UNHCR has actively sought the cooperation of the Centre for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). These organizations participated in UNHCR's refugee law training seminars during the reporting period by contributing resource persons for specific subjects. This cooperation has been very successful. UNHCR will endeavour to seek cooperation with other organizations to build on this positive experience.

5. Another aspect of UNHCR's promotional activities is institution-building in countries where local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are few, lack resources and are rarely actively associated with refugee work. With the European Consultation on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) as an implementing partner, a project was initiated covering Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania. The objective is to identify interested NGOs and then train selected staff. At the same time the project aims to sensitize and train selected local lawyers. UNHCR has also contributed to a project established by the Council of European Churches aimed at developing the capacity of churches in Central and Eastern Europe to act on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers. Similar efforts will be undertaken in other regions to generate a multiplier effect, particularly by means of training networks.

6. Increasing demand for refugee law and protection training throughout the world has strained UNHCR's capacity to respond promptly and adequately. Protection staff in the field and at Headquarters have had to take on the additional task of serving as resource persons in training activities, on top of the heavy demands of their normal duties. It is evident that protection staff need support when requested to perform extra duties, whether in the form of preparing training materials or training staff as trainers in order to facilitate their task. UNHCR's Promotion of Refugee Law Section (PRLS) will therefore be strengthened by a full-time training officer. One of his/her principal tasks will be to identify and train potential resource persons within UNHCR, Governments and NGOs, thereby increasing the human-resource capacity to respond to the demand for training in refugee law and protection. Planning for future training activities includes the outposting of training coordinators to important field locations.

7. The training activities described in this Note were implemented in close cooperation with the UNHCR's Training Section, which provided technical advice and assisted the PRLS in identifying training needs and developing course content. The Division of International Protection funds promotional activities, while the Training Section is responsible for funding training activities per se out of its own budget. The total cost to UNHCR of the promotional activities carried out during in the reporting period was $ 651,090. UNHCR continues to make efforts to identify potential additional sources of funding to cover these promotional activities. Generous contributions to locally conducted training activities have helped alleviate the financial burden on UNHCR.


8. In five regions, a regional seminar was held with the participation of senior UNHCR staff to disseminate the report of the Working Group on International Protection and to develop further its findings.

A. Africa

9. Despite a number of emergency situations, promotional activities were conducted throughout the continent. At least one refugee law/protection training seminar was held in Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, the Sudan and Swaziland. The seminars were organized in cooperation with Governments and reached a wide circle of Government officials (including immigration department staff members, police and security officers, border guards and members of eligibility committees), implementing partners, NGOs and UNHCR staff. Other promotional activities consisted of lectures to university students, as well as to students and teachers at other academic levels. Additional refugee law/protection training seminars are planned in Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Senegal, the Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania for the second half of 1993.

10. Overall expenditure for the twelve refugee law/protection training seminars conducted in Africa during the reporting period amounted to $ 38,800.

B. Asia and Oceania

11. Within the framework of the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees (CPA), several refugee status determination seminars for new immigration/refugee determination officials were conducted in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand; similar activities are planned in Malaysia. Special workshops on voluntary repatriation were organized in Thailand and are planned in several other countries. Intensive refugee law/protection training was administered in Australia, Japan and New Zealand, targeting Government officials, lawyers and refugee advocates from NGOs. Refugee law courses were also offered in India and Nepal.

12. On the occasion of the annual Pacific Islands Legal Officers Meeting (PILOM), a refugee law training seminar was held in Fiji with the participation of 21 Governments. In November 1992, a UNHCR/NGO consultation on refugee issues held in Australia was attended by 75 participants from NGOs and the Government. UNHCR also supported research activities of the National University of Singapore.

13. In total, 34 refugee law/protection training activities were undertaken in Asia and Oceania at a cost of $ 64,130.

C. Europe

1. Western Europe

14. In implementing its strategy of giving priority to refugee law promotion, as outlined in the Information Note on UNHCR's Activities for Refugee Law Promotion, Dissemination and Training presented to the forty-third session of the Executive Committee (EC/SCP/73), the Regional Bureau for Europe has intensified its training activities throughout the region. Several activities took place during the reporting period, notably in France and Italy, where large number of NGO staff, Government officials, judges, lawyers and academics participated in refugee law/protection training seminars. Similar activities have been carried out in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands (where UNHCR was invited to train the new Police Unit at Schiphol Airport), Norway, Spain and Sweden.

15. UNHCR also intensified its collaboration with academic institutions and universities and has developed, in cooperation with the University of Rome (La Sapienza), a multidisciplinary course on refugees, exile and migration.

16. Overall expenditure for refugee law promotion activities in Western Europe amounted to $ 85,000.

2. Central and Eastern Europe

17. Technical assistance, in the form of training and workshops, was provided to Governments in Central Europe establishing refugee status determination procedures. Such assistance will continue in 1994 with an emphasis on a "train the trainers" programme in order to establish training capacity to respond to needs in the sub-region.

18. A series of seminars on refugee law, human rights and migration issues initiated in 1992, has been completed in 1993. The purpose of the seminars was to familiarize senior Government officials with these subjects. Organized in cooperation with IOM, they included lecturers from the Centre for Human Rights, the Council of Europe, ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as well as experts from Western European Governments. By the end of July 1993, such seminars had been held in 13 countries, including the Baltic States.

19. The above activities were funded under a special project and the overall expenditure amounted to $ 86,500.

D. The Americas

1. Latin America and the Caribbean

20. In Latin America and the Caribbean region, refugee law promotion and promotion of accession to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol have become a major thrust of UNHCR's activities. In addition to topics covered traditionally, promotional activities have also focused on the topics of voluntary repatriation and returnee protection, as well as human rights instruction and institution-building, as part of the Office's preventive strategy. Refugee law/protection training seminars have been held in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Paraguay, either on a national or regional basis. These seminars were attended by Government officials, NGOs, advocacy groups and church representatives. In one country, television spots were developed in order to promote acceptance of refugees. Refugee law promotion activities will continue on a large scale during the second half of 1993.

21. A total of 26 refugee law/protection activities were carried out during the reporting period at a cost of $73,000.

2. North America

22. In both Canada and the United States of America, intensive refugee law training activities targeted at refugee adjudicators, lawyers, advocacy groups and NGOs continued. Several refugee law courses were also held at various universities. No costs were incurred.

E. South West Asia, North Africa and the Middle East

23. During the reporting period, refugee law/protection seminars were held in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. In cooperation with the Refugee and Displaced Persons Study Programme of Yarmouk University, a seminar on refugee issues was held in Jordan. All training activities were well attended; participants included Government officials, scholars and UNHCR staff. At the request of Governments, refugee law training activities will increase in the region and refugee law training seminars are planned for Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

24. A series of seminars on legal aspects of refugee status, human rights and migration are planned for Central Asia. Preparations are well under way: the first seminars are to be held in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

25. Overall expenditure for ten refugee law training seminars held in the region amounted to $ 27,200.


26. UNHCR has continued its cooperation with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy. Last year the annual Round Table on Current Problems of International Humanitarian Law was devoted to a single topic: The Right to Assistance. This year's Round Table will examine the situation of civilian victims of armed conflict and the implementation of international humanitarian law.

27. In November 1992, a group of Arab experts on asylum and refugee law gathered in Cairo adopted the Cairo Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in the Arab World. The event was jointly organized by UNHCR and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, in collaboration with the Faculty of Law of Cairo University. Another event, held in Prague in April 1993, brought together governmental experts and academics to discuss Central and Eastern Europe: the Challenge of Becoming Refugee-Receiving Countries. This seminar arrived at conclusions on topics such as freedom of movement, burden-sharing, minority rights and statelessness.

28. UNHCR, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, held an International Experts Meeting on Promotion of Refugee Law in Latin America (Montevideo, May 1993). Participants included experts from eight countries in the region, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Andean Commission of Jurists, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) and UNHCR. The aim of the meeting was to discuss the situation in the region and to strengthen the asylum principles applicable in Latin America. The last part of the discussion was devoted to steps that should be taken in order to develop further international protection in Latin America. The participants concluded that it was essential to convene an international meeting with private and governmental participants. UNHCR was requested to organize the meeting with the assistance of an ad hoc committee established for this purpose.

29. UNHCR also continued its collaboration with the European Legal Network (ELENA) and contributed to and participated actively in the refugee law course organized in Rome in November 1992. This course was aimed at lawyers representing refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe. Its objective was to provide training on important aspects of the 1951 Convention, such as refugee status determination, non-refoulement and expulsion.

30. For many years, UNHCR has cooperated actively with UNITAR in the latter's International Law Fellowship Programme at the Hague Academy of International Law. UNHCR will continue to provide resource persons to conduct training in refugee law and protection.

31. A Round Table on Voluntary Repatriation was held in Divonne-les-Bains in June 1993. It was designed as a consultative process aimed at generating imputs for the formulation of UNHCR protection guidelines on voluntary repatriation. Participants included academics, representatives of NGOs and UNHCR staff both from Headquarters and the field. This activity was largely funded by the Ford Foundation.

32. Also in June 1993, a number of "Friends of Protection" met with UNHCR staff for an informal exchange of views on current protection issues, such as temporary protection and asylum, and protection in situations of armed conflict. The group included an array of international experts from Governments, NGOs and universities.

33. As a follow-up to last year's Seminar on Forced Migration in the Andean Region, UNHCR, in cooperation with the Latin American Episcopal Conference, held a Regional Bishops' Meeting on Displaced Persons and Refugees in Chile. Further workshops on displaced persons and refugees will be held later this year in Bolivia and Peru. In addressing the issue of displaced persons and refugees in the Latin American region, UNHCR is also collaborating with the Andean Commission of Jurists and IIDH.

34. UNHCR has sought to strengthen its collaboration with other organizations and has already established contacts with international and regional organizations and institutes with a view to organizing joint events. This will be an ongoing effort.

35. UNHCR's contribution to the above events amounted to $ 276,460.


36. At the request of the forty-third session of the Executive Committee, UNHCR has been participating actively in human rights fora with a view to raising awareness of refugee issues, including the responsibility of States to prevent circumstances which give rise to refugee flows and to promote conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation. In addressing the forty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights and the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna (June 1993), the High Commissioner stressed the need for early, effective response to human rights situations which generate refugees or which impede their safe return home, as well as the importance of attention to the human rights aspects of internal displacement. Commission resolutions on human rights, mass exoduses and internally displaced persons responded to some of the concerns raised by the Office.

37. At the request of the Executive Committee, UNHCR played an active role in the Geneva and Regional Preparatory Meetings for the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and also attended the Conference to underscore the link between refugee issues and human rights. In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community reaffirmed the right to seek and enjoy asylum, and the right to return to one's own country; stressed the importance of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol; expressed appreciation to UNHCR; recognized the link between gross violations of human rights and displacement, as well as the need for a comprehensive approach to refugees and displaced persons including addressing root causes, strengthening emergency preparedness and response, providing effective protection and achieving durable solutions.

38. UNHCR will continue to participate actively in other human rights fora, such as the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Committee of the Rights of the Child, the Committee against Torture, and the Human Rights Committee.


39. UNHCR's objectives in the area of refugee law promotion, dissemination and training will also be pursued through a rational research management policy, in line with the recommendations of the Working Group on International Protection and of at least one recent external evaluation of UNHCR. UNHCR is interested in enhancing its capacity to generate research, to have access to and support external research, and to absorb research findings into its policy- and decision-making processes. This need is, of course, not particular to the Division of International Protection. The Division is prepared, however, to act as the focal point for a concerted effort in the area of research management, in view of its existing research activities in the area of refugee law, and of its wide contacts with the academic research community.

40. The strategic management of research would require action in four areas: the definition of a research agenda for UNHCR; the establishment of a database of current research both inside and outside UNHCR; the development of a network of research institutions for coordination of activities and dialogue; and the institution of a mechanism to feed research findings into UNHCR's strategic planning and policy-making process. As the main components of a strategy to achieve these objectives UNHCR has considered an internal Research Steering Committee and a special fund managed by the Office to foster the development of a flexible network of research institutions. UNHCR will seek the support of interested Governments with a view to establishing this special fund, preferably with a multi-year objective.


41. Promotion of refugee law, dissemination and training have continued to gain momentum and are essential tools of UNHCR's protection function. These activities have resulted in new accessions to international instruments, bringing the total number of accessions to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol to 120, and to the 1969 OAU Convention to 41. At the same time, they have sensitized Governments, NGOs, institutions and other interested parties to refugee issues as a whole and to the need for concerted efforts and action to bring about solutions. UNHCR will continue to strengthen its capacity to meet growing demands for promotional activities worldwide. In this respect, UNHCR will increasingly seek the cooperation of its various partners and diversify its partnership to undertake joint activities in all areas of promotion of refugee, human rights and humanitarian law. While UNHCR will endeavour to obtain access to complementary sources of funding, promotion and dissemination of refugee law and protection training need to be recognized as being an integral part of UNHCR's core protection. UNHCR trusts that the necessary resources can be allocated to these activities.