Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Forty-third Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 5 October 1992
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this forty-third session of the Executive Committee. And may I extend a special welcome to the delegations of Hungary and Ethiopia. Their presence here, at their first regular session of the Executive Committee, is symbolic of the global nature of refugee concerns during this historic period of change.
A special word of thanks is due to the outgoing Chairman of the Executive Committee, Ambassador de Riedmatten who has guided us through a year that has stretched our capacity to its very limits, both in the areas of operations and policy formulation. Warm congratulations also go to our newly elected Bureau. I know, Mr. Chairman, that my Office can count on you and your colleagues for support and advice during the months ahead as we continue our voyage in the uncharted waters of this post-Cold War world.
Mr. Chairman, the months since we last met have been turbulent ones indeed. As the international community continues to grope for a new equilibrium, a staggering three million people have been forced to flee in search of safety, while another million and a half refugees have returned home voluntarily. A rapid succession of crises have generated demands and expectations on my Office on an ever-increasing scale.
Nowhere is this more tragically illustrated than in Africa. In Somalia, internal chaos, bloodshed and famine have left my Office struggling to provide assistance to over a million Somali refugees - almost twenty per cent of the Somali population - who have sought asylum in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen. I welcome the signing of the General Peace Agreement on Mozambique yesterday. However, despite this encouraging development, the exodus of refugees into Malawi and Zimbabwe have gathered new momentum in the context of the drought. It is alarming to note that only a fifth of the urgently needed food supplies have actually arrived in a region ravaged by the worst drought in fifty years. Meanwhile in West Africa, some 800,000 refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to stagnate without a solution in sight. Human misery deserves the same attention wherever it occurs, but clearly does not receive it always. We are striving towards a broader international focus in our public information strategy so that the silent refugee situations are not lost in oblivion.
Africa, Mr. Chairman, has no monopoly of crisis. Ambassador de Riedmatten has eloquently reported to you on the situation of 265,000 refugees from Myanmar who have, for the second time in little more than a decade, flooded into neighbouring Bangladesh in an area itself prone to natural disasters. I continue to work closely with the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to overcome the impasse on their return to Myanmar and to ensure an international presence in Myanmar which can help to provide the degree of confidence necessary for a safe and voluntary return. Further north, in Nepal, an influx of asylum-seekers from Bhutan have required a strengthened UNHCR presence and a series of emergency response measures.
In contrast to South Asia, refugee problems in South-east Asia have receded as repatriation to Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia gain impetus. Over 30,000 Vietnamese have now returned home voluntarily within the framework of the Comprehensive Plan of Action, while the outflow from Viet Nam has dropped to a negligible level. Although much still needs to be done to address the situation of those who remain in first asylum countries, I believe we are entering the final chapter of the saga of Indo-Chinese refugees.
Similarly in Central America, continued progress towards durable solutions within the framework of CIREFCA has made this a region where returnees today outnumber refugees. With the reintegration of returnees moving into the developmental phase, we hope by next spring to hand over the process to UNDP. The Peace Accord concluded in El Salvador in early 1992, despite some implementation problems, has further consolidated the reconciliation process. The launching of the first phase of a Plan of Action for repatriation to Guatemala in February, and the establishment of UNHCR presence in the major returnee areas mark a significant step towards solving Central America's major remaining refugee problem.
I remain preoccupied however at the situation in Haiti where the political stalemate, combined with a deteriorating economy and biting sanctions, have kept alive the risk of a major outflow. I renew my call to all governments in the region to maintain an open, humanitarian policy of admission for those who are compelled to flee.
Turning to the Middle East, we have virtually withdrawn from northern Iraq with the end of the refugee crisis. Nevertheless I am gravely concerned that the impasse on the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqi Government, the deteriorating situation in northern Iraq and the onset of winter could lead to new outflows of Kurdish refugees. I have discussed with the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs the urgent need to preposition food and fuel for the winter and to examine cross border operations in order to avoid or mitigate this eventuality.
Mr. Chairman, the industrialized world has been forcefully reminded this past year that refugees are not a marginal phenomenon of a distant third world. Europe has again become a major theatre for refugee movements, bringing full circle the history of my Office. Over 2.6 million persons have been displaced or are under siege as a result of the terrible conflict in the former Yugoslavia. It has given new immediacy to the refugee issue in Europe, and fresh impetus to the debate on novel approaches to the protection of refugees and displaced persons and the prevention of refugee flows. No crisis has so tested our capacity to respond nor our ability to innovate. We have launched a comprehensive humanitarian response for victims of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which was broadly endorsed by the international ministerial meeting which I convened on 29 July 1992.
Such is the uncertainty of the present situation, so little known the laws of its chemistry, that we can as yet have no idea of the precise limits of the forces unleashed by the abrupt dislocation of international relations. In some extreme instances, the breakup of States has ensued; in others the breakdown of meaningful government. In such a context, the dynamics of displacement have taken on new proportions and added complexity, as refugee flows become increasingly bound up with the ethnic, cultural and religious fault lines which cut through many of the world's States. Indeed, ethnic conflict is a common denominator in many of the refugee problems confronting us today.
It was against this complex background of hope and hazard that you will recall, Mr. Chairman, I launched my strategy of preparedness, prevention and solutions last year. These twelve months have given us ample opportunity for its pursuit. They have also given a new dimension to UNHCR's role and responsibilities, as humanitarian action increasingly becomes a part of the wider agenda for peace and stability in a rapidly changing world. While welcome in many ways, it undoubtedly confronts us with new challenges, risks and dilemmas. It is in the light of all those experiences and concerns that I would like to share with you, in six points, not only what we have achieved, but also the lessons we have learnt and what more we must do.
1. Enhancing emergency response
I would like to begin with my goal of strengthening UNHCR's emergency preparedness and response capacity within the framework of strengthened inter-agency cooperation and partnership with donors and non-governmental organizations. As you know, we have taken a number of measures to establish emergency response teams, diversify our emergency training and stockpile basic relief supplies. Stand-by arrangements have also been established with a number of experienced NGOs for the secondment of staff. On a number of occasions we have tapped the rich pool of skills offered by the UN Volunteers programme, and I hope that we can further develop that cooperation. These new arrangements have played a key role in our ability to respond to recent crises in Kenya, Mauritania, Yemen, former Yugoslavia, Bangladesh and Nepal.
However, our effectiveness in emergencies is being determined, not only by our readiness and capacity to act, but also by the prevailing security situation. As humanitarian emergencies show an increasing tendency to erupt in the midst of armed conflict, UNHCR has found itself more and more having to provide protection and assistance to the displaced and the distressed in conditions of insecurity and anarchy. Volatile and hazardous conditions in parts of Africa, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia have jeopardised the delivery of relief and the safety of my staff and others, including those of NGOs. The recent loss of lives of UN and relief officials in southern Sudan is yet another tragic reminder of the price we have had to pay this past year to uphold humanitarianism in diverse and dangerous situations around the globe. I want to pay a warm tribute to the courage and commitment of all those who continue to keep the relief pipeline open at considerable risk to their personal safety. I would particularly like us to remember here today all our colleagues in UNHCR, the UN system and among NGOs and other organisations who have lost their lives in that effort.
May I add, Mr. Chairman, that at the request of UNHCR, a meeting on security matters was held at the level of the UN system. It resulted in a number of concrete recommendations which we have begun to implement.
In the face of emergencies on an unprecedented scale, we have had to turn on occasion to the military for logistical support. It has given a new dimension to humanitarian operations as well as to the role of the military in the post-Cold War era. When peace and compassion replace war and destruction, when the enormous logistical capacity of the military is channelled into non-political, humanitarian purposes, in cooperation with Governments, UN agencies and NGOs, I believe we all stand to gain.
2. Meeting the Challenge of Solutions
My second point, Mr. Chairman, and one which I have repeatedly made, is that emergency response to refugee situations must be coupled with energetic political initiatives to promote solutions which can allow the safe and voluntary return of refugees. I am pleased to report that 1992 has been a year of repatriation for 1.5 million refugees. However, just as refugee influxes have become increasingly challenging, so too the returns have tended to be more complex and precarious.
Hopes of rapid repatriation have been set back in Mozambique, Liberia and South Africa by widespread drought, food shortages, persistent conflict and political confrontation. Although over 60,000 refugees have returned spontaneously to Angola, fragile security and the presence of large numbers of mines continue to slow down the progress on solutions. Lack of adequate funding in the early stages hampered our ability to organize repatriation to Angola but that is now being overcome as some funds come in. We have also made arrangements for the voluntary repatriation of Burundese refugees from Tanzania. We are closely involved in the negotiations and activities under the auspices of the OAU on a solution for Rwandese refugees. The will to establish peace and democracy which has manifest itself in these and other parts of the African continent holds out the hope for large-scale repatriation in the future.
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates in most graphic form the difficulties and uncertainties of repatriation today. Over one million refugees have returned to Afghanistan so far this year from Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, conditions of extreme volatility and widespread insecurity in Afghanistan are seriously affecting the funding and implementation of urgent reintegration and rehabilitation measures. I have already alerted the Secretary-General and Under-Secretary-General Eliasson that unless all agencies and donors are vigorously and urgently mobilised, we may have another humanitarian catastrophe on our hands with the onset of winter.
Repatriation, Mr. Chairman, is a difficult undertaking, often of greater political and operational complexity than emergency response. The potential for solution can easily become the seed for disaster in the face of premature return of refugees to insecure and unsatisfactory conditions. Planning and preparation are important, but the key lies in innovation and flexibility, as our operation in Cambodia shows. Within the framework of the Paris Peace Agreement of October 1991, some 130,000 Cambodians have returned to date, mainly from Thailand. Barring a major set-back, we expect all the Cambodian refugees in Thailand to be home by early 1993, in time to participate in the planned national elections. In order to meet this deadline, however, assistance options have had to be modified to take account of the lack of available, mine-free land for returnees. Although unresolved tensions in Cambodia create an element of uncertainty, I am optimistic that the sustained political will of the international community will secure the process of reconciliation and the long-term future of the returnees.
In line with our constant, yet innovative, search for solutions, we have launched a new initiative in south-eastern Ethiopia, which abandons the traditional distinctions between refugees, returnees and affected population. In a cooperative effort with other UN and non-governmental organisations, UNHCR has "crossed" its mandate to assess and address the needs of the entire community with the goal of stablising the population. It is a drastic and desperate measure to break the vicious cycle of exile, return, internal displacement and exile again in an area of chronic under-development, drought and instability. It is prevention and solution at the same time.
These repatriation operations underline the crucial importance of quick-impact development projects in the context of repatriation to bridge the gap between relief and longer-term development. We have made significant progress in this area in the past year, together with UNDP and other agencies, within the framework of the International Conference on Central American Refugees. The lessons learnt in that part of the world are now being applied in Cambodia through the early introduction of quick-impact projects for the reintegration of returnees.
Much remains to be done, however, to give greater priority to incorporate returnees and their communities into national reconstruction and development efforts. The respective roles and responsibilities of the agencies at the various stages of the relief-to-development continuum need to be further clarified and dovetailed. Indeed, this is an area where there is an acute need for better inter-agency coordination. The extent to which the international community is able to meet the development challenge will affect our ability to maintain the impetus on repatriation and to provide genuine and lasting solutions to refugee crises.
While the pursuit of solutions through voluntary repatriation is a fundamental part of my strategy, we must not overlook the continued need for resettlement of refugees whose lives or fundamental well-being would otherwise be in jeopardy. With the proliferation of refugee situations around the world, the need for resettlement places have grown, though in absolute terms the numbers are still very limited. We rely on the continued generosity and commitment of the international community to accept those who are in urgent need of resettlement. I take this opportunity to call for an early response to our recent appeal on behalf of detainees being released in former Yugoslavia.
3. Developing Prevention
Let me now turn to the third point of my strategy: prevention. In our efforts to seek innovative and flexible solutions to refugee problems, we continue to emphasise preventive efforts to attenuate the causes of refugee flows and contribute to averting them.
Given the close links between serious violations of human rights and refugee flows, we have sought to reinforce our contacts with the human rights sector of the United Nations system, and are participating actively in the preparations for the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. We have also, together with other organisations and with the help of some governments, stepped up our training and advisory activities as a part of the institution-building effort throughout Eastern Europe and in the CIS countries in order to preempt and manage the problems of massive displacement.
Most significantly, we have undertaken increased initiatives to provide protection and assistance to displaced populations within countries of origin, notably in former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka and the Horn of Africa. We have broken new ground in former Yugoslavia in many respects, not least in using preemptive assistance as an important tool for preventive protection. The airlift to Sarajevo and the road convoys that my Office have organized for the stricken population of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been valuable not only for transporting relief, but also in terms of confidence-building and protection monitoring.
Our experience in former Yugoslavia convinces me that international presence is an essential element of prevention. While the precise beneficial impact of presence is difficult to quantify, and while it may not always succeed in preventing forcible displacement, it nevertheless allows for international monitoring of humanitarian treatment and can have a restraining effect.
Like solutions, prevention must be applied with imagination and flexibility to each situation. Thus, in the context of the Somali crisis our preventive activities have taken the form of supplying food, tools and essentials from Kenya, where UNHCR is based, to areas up to one hundred kilometres inside Somalia itself, so that people do not feel compelled to cross borders in search of humanitarian assistance. My Office is coordinating this cross border infusion of aid from Kenya as part of a comprehensive United Nations plan to accelerate relief efforts into the war-torn country.
Cross-border operations to affected populations, as in Somalia, have serious implications in terms of resources, and in order to be effective, require the full cooperation of the agencies, the acquiescence of the parties concerned and the wholehearted commitment of the international community. Protection and assistance to the internally displaced, as in Yugoslavia, can be successful only to the extent that their safety can be assured and an early solution found to their plight, both dependent on the political will of the parties. Thus, prevention is a promising strategy, but it has its limits. It is not a substitute for asylum but rather a supplement.
4. Strengthening Protection
This brings me to my fourth point on the strengthening of international protection. Protection, Mr. Chairman, is not an adjunct to my three-pronged strategy; it is the basis for it.
The focus of protection has traditionally been on the refugee's needs from the time of flight until the attainment of a durable solution. However, the sheer size, scale and complexity of contemporary population displacements have placed serious strains on this orthodox approach to refugee protection, weakened international solidarity and, at times, seriously endangered the principle of asylum. Whether in the context of ongoing strife in Somalia, insecurity and famine in Mozambique, ethnic tensions in Myanmar or violent conflict in Yugoslavia, questions have arisen as to the extent of the burden that countries of asylum can reasonably be expected to sustain. They have highlighted the urgency and importance of a coherent, principled, yet flexible framework for international protection which safeguards the fundamental principles and premises. At the same time, it must take account of current realities and allow UNHCR to play a creative role, not only in addressing the problems of refugees, but also in tackling the refugee problem. And, in the contemporary situation, I am convinced that the former is impossible without a serious commitment to the latter.
With this objective in mind, I set up an internal Working Group, chaired by the Director of International Protection, to recommend a strategy for strengthening international protection in the 1990s. The results of that Working Group have been presented to the Executive Committee in the Note on International Protection. I hope the Committee will endorse the new thrust which the Note describes and which underlies many of the current activities of my Office.
The Note does not seek to redefine UNHCR's mandate nor to extend its competence to new groups. It seeks rather to take account of the existing realities of my Office's activities and affirms UNHCR's readiness to play a clearly defined role in the prevention and solution of refugee problems. Let me reiterate, however, that the new protection focus on the country of origin is not a substitute for the well-established humanitarian obligations towards refugees and asylum-seekers. The institution of asylum must be preserved and efforts continue to establish efficient and fair procedures which ensure that valid claims to refugee status are duly and expeditiously recognized. At the same time, we must show sufficient flexibility, as indeed we have done in South-east Asia and Central America, to develop concerted and comprehensive regional arrangements to meet the specific problems of displacement in the different parts of the world.
A regional arrangement, which combines the commitment to provide protection to those who need it, with clear policies for immigration and development assistance, as well as a coherent information strategy, could be helpful in formulating an appropriate response to the problem of mixed movements of refugees and migrants in Europe. We need to give more thought to tailoring such a comprehensive regional approach in Europe. I hope that the rationalisation of UNHCR's priorities, structures and resources in Europe, which we began last year, will help to strengthen our ability to engage governments and other actors in a fruitful dialogue to this end.
5. Building partnership
It is evident that the magnitude of the challenges clearly exceeds the capacity of UNHCR alone. Whether we speak of prevention, protection or solutions, coherent and comprehensive strategies demand a vigorous renewal of UNHCR's partnership with governments, other UN agencies and international, regional and non-governmental organisations.
The very nature of the common challenges we face are drawing us all together. Rarely has the Office enjoyed such close cooperation of, or received such strong encouragement from governments. I am deeply grateful to all of you for the extraordinary support which you have extended to my Office, whether diplomatic or political, financial or human.
Turning now to international organisations, our close operational links with our sister agencies, particularly WFP and UNICEF, and with IOM are invaluable. As you know, I had the privilege of addressing the UNICEF Executive Board in June this year. Unfortunately, Mr. Grant's schedule made it impossible for him to accept my reciprocal invitation. Our collaboration with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs continues to evolve positively, while our relations with ICRC are gaining new depth as we find ourselves increasingly operating in areas of conflict.
Last but not the least, let me pay a warm tribute to the large number of deeply committed NGOs who spearhead so many aspects of refugee operations, often under the most difficult of conditions. I met many of you last Friday. Your efforts in providing assistance and advocating protection are indispensable, while your constructive criticism keeps us on our toes. I look forward to developing our cooperation further.
The multitude of actors on the scene makes the question of coordination ever more crucial. Coordination, however, is not a panacea. It requires considerable investment of time and effort and cannot, in any circumstances, substitute for the individual or collective capacity of agencies. Nor should we, in our pursuit of improved coordination, lose sight of unique mandates and specific expertise of the various agencies. The objective of coordination should be to enhance such comparative advantages. I would further suggest that the operational coordination of complex humanitarian emergencies is best addressed through the lead agency concept - a role which has appropriately fallen to UNHCR in refugee or refugee-like situations, as in northern Iraq and now in Yugoslavia.
Partnership, Mr. Chairman, must engage not only governments and organisations but also public opinion, especially at a time when disturbing trends of racism and xenophobia are becoming evident in some parts of the world. UNHCR is stepping up its public information campaign to build greater support for the humanitarian values and traditions for which this Office was created. I urge all political leaders and opinion-makers to join us in combatting the forces of intolerance against refugees and asylum-seekers.
6. Managing resources
My sixth and final point, Mr. Chairman, is on the preoccupation which we all have about resources. Greater challenges bring with them greater management requirements for funds, programmes and human resources.
To do more with less is the lot for many of us in today's world. Yet, as I said at our meeting in June, unlike some other United Nations agencies, my Office has very little scope to be selective in assuming its responsibilities. We cannot avert or avoid them when a new refugee crisis occurs and the international community urges us to act. What we can and must do is to constantly look at ways of better managing and utilising our resources.
One year of unprecedented need has been followed by yet another. Against global needs of US$ 1.1 billion, we have received US$ 751.9 million as at 29 September. I am very grateful for the contributions, and particularly appreciate the widening of our donor base. Nevertheless, I must appeal strongly to our so-called "traditional" donors, to maintain, at least as a minimum, their contribution at a time of increasing needs. Furthermore, I plan to undertake a number of personal initiatives later this year to diversify the sources of governmental funding. Encouraged by the significant increase in private funding, I am pursuing numerous initiatives in this area - in close consultation with NGOs and in full understanding of their concerns.
I am deeply grateful for the generosity of our donors, but I am also very mindful of our responsibility to manage the funds as effectively as possible. As operational challenges become more complex and demanding, we need to continuously re-assess our programmatic approaches and related management and monitoring systems. Our capacity, and that of our operational partners, for prompt, yet thorough needs assessment and programme design has to be markedly improved, so that the effectiveness of our programmes can be measured against clear objectives. In the course of the coming year, I intend to undertake a number of steps to enhance UNHCR's programming skills. I am determined that our efforts to strengthen our financial accountability - on which the Deputy High Commissioner spoke to you last Friday - should be matched by a parallel improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of our programme delivery.
Such measures should also help us to respond better to the needs of the majority of our refugees: the women and children. The "people-oriented" training activities on which we have embarked are geared to providing the staff with the understanding and tools to incorporate the guidelines on refugee women more effectively into our programme design and implementation. Thanks to the generosity of the Norwegian government, we now have a Coordinator for Refugee Children to help us increase our awareness of the special needs of refugee children. I hope greater emphasis can be placed on developing educational opportunities for refugee children, so that they are better able not only to cope with the trauma of exile but also to face the future when they return home.
Better programming should also include a more ecological approach in our delivery of protection and assistance to refugees. At the Rio Summit I pledged UNHCR's full support for the Declaration on Environment and Development. The global responsibility which we all share requires UNHCR to ensure that environmental damage in and around refugee camps is kept to a minimum, and to cooperate in repairing it, if and when it does occur. A policy framework has been proposed in the conference room paper on the subject. In order to further its implementation, I hope that resources can be found to enable us to appoint a coordinator on environmental issues as we have done for refugee women and children.
Good management of funds and programmes are closely linked to the issue of human resources. The spate of emergencies confronting UNHCR in the past two years has placed a tremendous burden on our staff. I am proud of the way in which UNHCR staff have risen to these challenges. However, if we are to maintain the same standards of competence and commitment, we must manage our human resources more carefully and creatively. In a constant struggle to respond to emergencies and other priority programmes, staff are being pulled out of one operation to fill another or hurriedly recruited, in a manner which is neither to the satisfaction of the staff's career aspirations nor to the goals of sound management. Piece-meal approaches must be replaced by a coherent policy which takes into account the role and responsibilities confronting UNHCR today as the leading refugee organisation in a turbulent world. I intend to personally undertake a qualitative review of UNHCR's staffing requirements, and devise a human resources strategy which would permit UNHCR to respond meaningfully and efficiently to the challenges of the post-Cold War era.
I should also mention that in order to further improve the status of women in UNHCR and thus ensure a better use of our resources, we have adopted guidelines for sound affirmative action to redress the gender balance. The guidelines are now being translated into a concrete plan of action.
Mr. Chairman, the six points of prevention, preparedness, protection, solutions, partnership and resources represent in a nutshell the tremendous challenges with which we are confronted, and the path we must pursue to overcome them.
Let me conclude, Mr. Chairman, by recalling that two years ago, my predecessor, Mr. Stoltenberg spoke to this Committee of his ambition to see the issue of movement of people placed on the international political agenda. Today, it is undoubtedly there. I welcome this development. It is through political initiatives that the root causes of displacement can be addressed. It is through political agreement that durable solutions to refugee problems can be attained. Humanitarianism can create space for political action but it can never be a substitute for it.
As humanitarian action becomes dynamically linked to peace-keeping and peace-making, for UNHCR the challenge is to maintain the issue of refugees and displacement on the political agenda while, at the same time, preserving our non-political and humanitarian approach. For political bodies, the challenge must be to support humanitarian action, while resisting the temptation to use humanitarian avenues to overcome political hurdles. Nor must political action jeopardise the speed, efficiency and neutrality of humanitarian aid. Close coordination between political bodies and humanitarian agencies is needed to ensure that due account is taken of the capabilities as well as limitations of humanitarian work.
Mr. Chairman, when the Cold War so abruptly and unexpectedly came to an end, many had hoped to reap immediately the fruits of the new warmer political climate. Time has shown the fallacy of those expectations. We must remain attentive to the dangers, lest they engulf us, and alert to the opportunities, lest they escape us. The past year has been full of the contradictions of the new era in which we are living. But it is with a sense of responsibility and feeling of satisfaction that we continue our work. Sense of responsibility because of the vital importance of humanitarian action in the post-Cold War era. Sense of satisfaction because of the cause and people we are serving - and because of the knowledge of the many voluntary returns we have seen this year.
We are stretched to the limit but with the extraordinary support which the international community and this Committee have given us, we are determined and prepared to continue on our humanitarian course. I thank you all.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.