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Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 13 June 1986

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 13 June 1986

13 June 1986

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to meet with you all once again on this occasion. I have already come to look forward to our twice-yearly Informal Meeting as an excellent opportunity to maintain regular and close contact with the Executive Committee as a collective body, and to exchange ideas and impressions about the major problems that confront all of us who are committed by the refugee cause. I greatly value the prospect of a meaningful and constructive dialogue in this forum. I therefore welcome the Chairman's suggestion that we engage in such a dialogue on each of the themes that I have already drawn to your attention in the "highlights" circulated to you earlier this week. I shall accordingly be brief in my opening statement, but shall be pleased to respond in greater detail to your specific concerns and queries in the course of our subsequent discussion.

Since l last spoke with you in this forum at the end of January, I have had a little over four months to put into practice some of the priorities and plans I outlined for you at that time. Within this span of time, I can only claim to have made a beginning in addressing the complex challenges confronting my Office. These few months have permitted me to gain a more direct knowledge of, and insight into, the functioning of UNHCR as an institution. They have also helped me acquire some first-hand experience, as High Commissioner, of refugee situations and perspectives around the world. I have, for instance, visited Pakistan, the country which hosts the largest single refugee population on the glove today, and learned a great deal, both in visits to the camps and in meetings with those who are doing so much to redress the problems of the refugees in that country. It shall be my endeavour in the coming months to develop a similar personal awareness of the situation in the field in each of our major refugee areas. Immediately after this meeting I am leaving for a visit to the Horn of Africa, where governments beset with their own considerable problems of development are dealing with serious refugee influxes. Before I meet with the Executive Committee again in October I hope to travel in South-East and East Asia, a region which has contended with a major refugee situation for nearly a decade. By the end of the year I expect also to have had an opportunity to see for myself the current situation in Central America and Mexico, the most recent of UNHCR's major programme areas and one where our responsibilities are both significant and complex. In Europe, I have paid attention to the problems of asylum-seekers. I will continue to involve myself in the process of finding solutions to their predicament, a process which has already begun at the inter-governmental consultations held at the Hague last April.

It has also been a priority for me to meet with a number of governmental leaders in order to share with them my vision of the Office's role and concerns, and to seek to benefit from their views on a number of humanitarian issues. One of my earliest such meetings was with the current Chairman of the OAU, President Abdou Diouf of Senegal, who received me in Dakar and whom I was privileged to meet again in New York during the recent Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly. I am pleased to have had similar opportunities to share ideas with several European and North American senior government officials and leaders. I hope, in the months to come, to extend this list to include many more countries whose generosity and co-operation enable my Office to fulfil its mandate effectively.

In addition to my travels and my frequent contacts with the Executive Committee, I was particularly gratified by the informal exchanges I have conducted here in Geneva with a number of regional groups, several of whose members are not members of the Committee. This is a process of consultations and dialogue I fully intend to continue, in the spirit of universality and international burden-sharing which must always animate UNHCR's work.

Mr. Chairman, after four months it would be hazardous to arrive at profound conclusions or definitive pronouncements. But it is perhaps enough time to confirm the broad directions the Office must pursue if it is to fulfil its responsibilities. I suggested to you in January that UNHCR must proceed along two major lines of action. First, we must react to existing and new refugee crises with a three-pronged approach that combines effective emergency response, the prompt establishment of basic services, and early action in respect of income-generating activities that will quickly put the refugees back on their feet. Second, and almost simultaneously, we must embark on a systematic and dynamic search for solutions to end the problem, so that the refugees need not be refugees indefinitely. I am convinced that it is only by the determined and constructive pursuit of these two lines of action that we will effectively fulfil the responsibilities of the High Commissioner's mandate.

I have already found myself in the position of having to apply this approach to recent and ongoing refugee situations. The sudden influx of tens of thousands of refugees into North-West Somalia, resulting in a desperate and potentially disastrous build-up of refugees at the border outpost of Tug Wajale, called for an immediate response from UNHCR in circumstances that were far from idea. Despite our reservations about the present location of the camp, we have acted to prevent a crisis turning into a catastrophe. UNHCR has put arrangements in place, in co-operation with our voluntary agency partners and the Government of Somalia, to manage a population that regrettably continues to grow. A head of Emergency Operations has been appointed in the field and a Task Force established at Headquarters to co-ordinate an integrated emergency response. We are already looking beyond the essential needs of food and shelter. Basic services, particularly in the areas of health and sanitation, have been supplied and are being expanded.

It is too early to speak of any other activities for these refugees, particularly while negotiations continue with authorities to find alternative sites to accommodate them, but UNHCR will spare no effort, as soon as it is practicable, to help these refugees to help themselves. It is vitally important that we avoid repeating the demoralizing picture of deprivation and dependence that has been a feature of so many refugee situations in the past. Refugee assistance should not merely lead to indefinite subsistence on charity, on handouts: that is a method that takes care of the present but destroys the refugees' future. It is my cardinal belief that refugees should be enabled to retain their dignity and self-respect and above all their will to return home one day and resume normal lives.

This question of a will to return is, in my view, a vital one. We tend in international assistance to pay too much attention to the material needs and not enough to the aspirations of refugees as individuals or as groups. Yet it is the will that is crucial to any effective solution of a refugee problem: when a refugee ceases to be a refugee he has to find within himself the strength, the resources, to be a capable and determined human being again. As I speak to you today reports continue to come in of large number s of Ugandans returning home from refugee settlements in South Sudan. Over 60,000 have already repatriated and the movement continues. Many of these refugees have benefited from self-sufficiency programmes during their exile and should be able to make the most of any assistance the international community can give them, in response to the appeal I have just launched, to become productive members of their home communities again. I would like to see a situation where no refugee who returns home one day after benefiting from UNHCR assistance should be disadvantaged in his rehabilitation by having developed a syndrome of dependence during his years of living on international assistance.

This applies both to refugee situations of sudden and short duration as well as to the longer-lasting problems for which a solution may not immediately seem in sight. A case in point is Pakistan, where UNHCR is placing renewed emphasis on income-generating activities for refugee groups. I particularly welcome the proposed extension of the World Bank project, this time in the amount of $25 million. The first phase of the project was remarkably successful in channelling the productive energies of the beneficiaries to constructive ends. It remains a model for similar projects that we would like to see established in other parts of the developing world which are hosting significant refugee populations. Of course, self-sufficiency activities cans also be conducted on a smaller scale, and UNHCR's own programmes must continue to accord them the greatest importance. Where such projects can be successfully implemented in the context of the host country's national development plans, they achieve a triple benefit: they maintain the refugees' self-respect and sustaining their will to return home; they offer development opportunities to the local population; and they permit the host country to limit the damage caused by large influxes and to inherit, wherever possible, a tangible legacy when the refugees leave their soil.

If I place so much emphasis on the refugees' willingness to return home, it is because I believe firmly in the vital importance of solving, of ending, refugee problems. UNHCR must never allow the management of a refugee crisis to become an end in itself. Governments must not be permitted to forget the necessity of striving for a political solution to the causes of the refugees' displacement, nor the common responsibility of the international community to attain lasting solutions to the refugees' plight. Immediate assistance does not absolve us from the obligation to act in the longer term. UNHCR must be pledged, above all, to ensuring the promotion of voluntary repatriation, in security and dignity. But when repatriation is not possible, or when its voluntary character cannot be safeguarded, UNHCR must search unremittingly for other solutions: self-sufficiency in asylum countries while awaiting changed circumstances such as is being attempted in Pakistan, durable local settlement in country of first asylum as practiced so remarkably and widely on the African continent and again currently in Mexico, and resettlement when neither of these is possible, as has continued to prove necessary for the bulk of the Indochinese refugees in South-east Asia.

In order to attain these goals I have sought to reorganize UNHCR's structure in a manner that would enhance its effectiveness in meeting the Office's objectives. As I indicated to you in January, I felt it necessary to reorient the Headquarters framework toward the field, where, after all, the refugees are. I have accordingly abolished the old divisional structure, which placed a variety of disparate functions on an equal footing and subordinated through different layers the country desks to, iner alia, the Directors of Protection and Assistance. This structure has, instead, been replaced with one which gives primacy to the geographic bureaux, as you will see from the organization chart that has been distributed to you. In making this change I have sought to emphasize UNHCR's operational tasks over its functional responsibilities, by granting full authority to the Heads of Bureau to give policy leadership to their field areas in all aspects of their activities both in terms of protection and assistance.

The reorganization has in turn brought about a redefinition of the role of the former Division of International Protection. The vital nature of the Office's protection mandate is now emphasized by having its due place in the policy priorities of each Bureau. For it is in the work of the Bureaux that the inter-relationship between Law and Action, to which I referred in January, must manifest itself in UNHCR's day-to-day operations. However the regional Bureaux, by definition, cannot assume the global perspective that UNHCR must always possess, and this is where the new Division of Refugee Law and Doctrine plays its major role. By giving legal support and advice to the Bureaux, by stimulating research and the promotion of refugee law, the Division develops the concepts and doctrine which derive from and underpin UNHCR's protection action in the field.

I know that the restructuring of the Office is a matter of great interest to the Executive Committee, but at this stage it is difficult to say very much more. The new organigram has to be given time to work and to prove itself in practice. With the help of an internationally-renowned team of management consultants, an exercise is under way aimed at refining, at every organizational level, the procedures and practices that will facilitate the functioning of the new structure. The consultants' report is due in the last quarter of the year. I hope to have more to tell you about their conclusions and recommendations when next meet at our annual session in October, or at next January's Informal Meeting.

Needless to say, UNHCR's successful functioning does not depend only on clear objectives, such as those I have sought to described today, and an efficient organization, such as the one we are now trying to put into place. Our success is also dependent on the resources placed at our disposal by the international community. Reliant as we are entirely on voluntary contributions, we could find our best-laid plans being thwarted by a lack of funds, as so nearly occurred last year. I have myself begun to explore new sources of funding in addition to our traditional donor, but his quest cannot yield immediate results. Our concern today is with the current financial situation. It would be particularly tragic at this stage if the Office were to find itself crippled by a recurrence of the financial crisis that beset UNHCR in 1985. As of today my Office has raised some $174 million against our General Programmes target of $330.4 million, in other words just over half our needs. Our projections show that by the end of this month we will have spent $140 million of that amount. This will leave us dangling by the slenderest of threads, with enough funds to cover our activities in July, and nothing beyond. A similar situation exists with regard to our Special Programme for the African Emergency, where we are experiencing a shortfall of $20.7 million against a total budgeted requirement of $80.7 million.

For an Office that could at any time confront an unexpected new refugee crisis, in addition to its ongoing responsibilities in established and evolving refugee situations, this could be calamitous. If I may be allowed the metaphor, we cannot continue wading through the river with our nose barely above water. I therefore appeal to the Governments represented here today, as well as to those who support us from outside the Executive Committee, to make urgent additional contributions - not only pledges, but actual payments - as soon as possible in the coming weeks, in order to enable UNHCR to function effectively and responsibly in the second half of the year.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I am conscious of the innumerable issues and areas which I have not touched upon in these remarks. But I have promised to be brief, and I look forward to adding to or amplifying upon these ideas in the discussion that follows. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.