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Lubbers: refugee convention no 'safe haven' for terrorists

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Lubbers: refugee convention no 'safe haven' for terrorists

5 October 2001

GENEVA - Stressing the importance of continued international refugee protection, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers on Friday urged governments to avoid making an unwarranted link between asylum and terrorism.

In closing remarks to UNHCR's annual Executive Committee meeting, Lubbers noted that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States meant international attention was now very much focused on the fight against terrorism. Several nations are currently considering additional security safeguards in refugee status-determination procedures.

"We must ensure that the fight against terrorism does not weaken the refugee protection regime in other ways," he said. "All of you can play a role in conveying to your governments the necessity that the 1951 Refugee Convention is not misrepresented as an instrument that provides a safe haven for terrorists," he told representatives of the 57 nations that make up UNHCR's governing body. "The Convention, when properly applied, does not provide safe haven to criminals. On the contrary, it is carefully framed to exclude persons who committed particularly serious crimes."

While acknowledging that the international community needs to fight terrorism and abuses of asylum, Lubbers said "no unwarranted links should be made between refugees and terrorism, or refugees and crime."

The High Commissioner also called on governments to fully fund UNHCR's $828 million budget for 2002, noting that current projections for the coming year already indicate a shortfall of at least 10 percent. More than $100 million remained outstanding for 2001 as well, out of a total budget of $882 million, he said.

UNHCR this year reduced its staff by 16 percent, and its budget by roughly 10 percent, to meet projected income. At the same time, Lubbers noted, donor governments continue to press UNHCR to improve the quality and performance of its work on behalf of the world's 21.8 million refugees.

"It is not possible for UNHCR to fight a war on two fronts - improving performance and quality without funding is not do-able," he said.

Lubbers also urged donor governments to ensure that a new, $268 million, UNHCR emergency appeal for humanitarian needs in and around Afghanistan did not deprive other operations and needs elsewhere in the world.

"Afghanistan contributions should not come at the exclusion of other refugee programmes," he said. "We cannot afford to let any of our present refugee operations be forgotten."