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Message from Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2002

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Message from Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2002

20 June 2002

20 June 2002

June 20 marks the second World Refugee Day. This year, we pay special tribute to the courage and determination of refugee women. With their children, refugee women account for up to 80 percent of the world's uprooted people. We must ensure that their voice is heard, that their potential is developed, and that their role is fully recognized.

This day should also prompt us to redouble our efforts to find lasting solutions for the millions of refugees and displaced people who are still searching for a future. My goal as High Commissioner for Refugees is to help them find it. To do so, we focus on three durable solutions - repatriation to their homeland, local integration in the first country of asylum, and resettlement to a third country.

To reach our goal, UNHCR depends on international support. Frankly, we need a lot more help than we have been getting. The reluctance of donors to support the work of UNHCR is short-sighted. If we cannot offer adequate protection and assistance for refugees, as well as some hope of durable solutions, refugee camps can become breeding grounds of despair. Desperate refugees often go on the move, falling prey to human smugglers and traffickers and fuelling criminal networks. Providing solutions for them halts rising crime, prevents new violence and can be crucial for global security. Thus, we must work together to find solutions for refugees.

UNHCR always works in partnership. But if the core activities of UNHCR are under-funded, our implementing partners cannot deliver either.

Since last year's World Refugee Day, we have seen some examples of just how much we can accomplish by working together. For example, I recently attended independence celebrations in the world's newest country - East Timor. After years of struggle, the Timorese gained their freedom with much support from the international community. UNHCR is proud to be a part of that effort, already having helped more than 200,000 refugees return home in a spirit of reconciliation.

Afghanistan, too, is a country full of new hope. This is dramatically demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees who are choosing to return. Afghan women, including our own UNHCR female colleagues, have once again taken their rightful place in society, while Afghan girls are back in school. This year, UNHCR will bring home at least one and a quarter million Afghans, many of them to rural areas. Funds are now urgently needed for their housing.

In Africa, there are also promising developments. UNHCR worked hard to help many of the 70,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who went home ahead of the recent elections. Thousands more are following.

In the Horn of Africa, some 330,000 Eritrean refugees are preparing to go home now that the border dispute with Ethiopia has been resolved. And in Angola, there is new hope after decades of war. By next year's World Refugee Day, I hope I can report the first returns there as well.

But such progress is unfortunately only a part of the global refugee picture. Around the world, large numbers of refugees continue to languish in camps for years on end, anxious for solutions.

These refugees could be making enormous contributions to national development. In this connection, we are pursuing new initiatives to link emergency relief with longer-term development goals. Refugees can be real agents of development and positive change.

For example, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, is aimed at putting the continent back on the path to peace, stability and prosperity through sustainable development. We believe there is scope in this for refugee concerns as well. It offers a real opportunity to include refugees and returnees in overall development plans.

In the field, we still have much work to do. We must ensure that all refugee children have access to education and sports. We must ensure that refugees, particularly women and girls, have enough food and other basic assistance in a secure environment. And we must help refugee women become more self-reliant. They are, after all, the life-sustaining force of any refugee community.

Late last year, I announced five actions to improve the protection of refugee women and girls.

First, through training and other activities, we are working to involve women in all refugee community management and leadership committees. Our goal is to achieve 50 per cent female representation, thus giving women a real voice.

Second, all refugee women are to be individually registered and will receive personal documentation to improve security, freedom of movement and access to services.

Third, we are implementing strategies to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.

Fourth, we are ensuring that refugee women participate in the management and distribution of food and other aid. With the World Food Programme, UNHCR will ensure that, to the extent possible, 80 per cent of food is directly distributed to and controlled by females.

Finally, the provision of sanitary materials to all women and girls is becoming standard practice in all UNHCR assistance programmes. This is vital to health and well-being.

On World Refugee Day 2002, I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress in all of these areas. But much more needs to be done as we - with your support - continue our global efforts to help refugees realize their full potential in building a future for themselves and their children.

In the end, all of us will benefit.