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Lubbers to continue as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

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Lubbers to continue as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

6 October 2003

6 October 2003

Acting on the proposal of the Secretary-General, the U.N. General Assembly today extended the term of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers through the end of 2005. With the two-year extension, Lubbers will have served a term of five full years.

In Geneva, Lubbers expressed appreciation for the continuing support and confidence of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the international community.

"Our shared goal is to find solutions for the world's refugees and displaced," he said. "We are now in the process of implementing a very wide-ranging set of internal and external initiatives that I believe will help us toward that goal and enable UNHCR to meet the many new challenges that lie ahead."

The 64-year-old Lubbers, who spent more than 20 years in government service, including 12 as the Netherlands' longest-serving Prime Minister, has focused much attention on developing innovative new approaches toward finding solutions for refugees, particularly in protracted situations in Africa and Asia. These range from promoting more international development assistance to poor communities that host many of the world's displaced to educational programmes aimed at giving refugees the skills they need to rebuild their lives and societies.

Lubbers, who took office on Jan. 1, 2001, has overseen major UNHCR programmes and emergency operations in several countries and regions, including West Africa, Angola and Afghanistan, where more than 2.5 million refugees and displaced have returned home in one of UNHCR's largest ever repatriations. Plans for the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees are currently on hold following recent attacks on UN and humanitarian staff, including the Aug. 19 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad that left 22 people dead. Throughout the Iraq crisis, Lubbers has urged the international community not to forget the enormous humanitarian needs elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa. The agency is currently dealing with a refugee emergency in Chad, where some 65,000 Sudanese fleeing fighting in the northern Darfur region have arrived in recent months, and is assisting both refugees and internally displaced in strife-torn Liberia.

More broadly, Lubbers has introduced the "Convention Plus" initiative aimed at building on the foundation of the 1951 Refugee Convention through development of special tools that can address some of today's new challenges through multilateral special agreements. While the 1951 Convention remains the basic foundation of refugee rights, it alone does not suffice. Finding lasting solutions for the world's refugees requires more equitable burden-sharing by the international community. Convention Plus promotes this through a more multilateral approach that includes negotiated commitments by a number of states to address specific situations.

The High Commissioner has also focused on ensuring that UNHCR itself remains as efficient and effective as possible. His "UNHCR 2004" process has re-examined the agency's mandate, work, funding and governance, particularly how it is best situated within the UN system. The "UNHCR 2004" report is now before the 58th session of the General Assembly. He is also overseeing implementation of new human resources policies and a strict financial management system that is restoring predictability and balance in UNHCR's income and expenditures.

UNHCR currently has about 6,000 staff in 250 offices in 115 countries. About 85 percent of its staff work in the field, 60 percent of them in often difficult and dangerous non-family duty stations. The agency's total budget for 2004 is $1 billion to care for more than 20 million people worldwide.