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Address by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 24th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 24 June 2002

Speeches and statements

Address by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 24th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 24 June 2002

24 June 2002
Global ConsultationsAgenda for ProtectionHigh level forumUNHCR 2004Durable SolutionsAfghanistanAngola and West AfricaThe UNHCR funding situationThe number of people of concern to UNHCRProtection in West AfricaFive commitments to refugee womenStaff

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by welcoming all of you, and by extending a special welcome to the four new members of the Executive Committee: Ecuador, Guinea, New Zealand and Yugoslavia.

Global Consultations

The Global Consultations process is drawing to a close. The last formal meeting took place in May. The process has certainly succeeded in its goal of strengthening dialogue on refugee protection and revitalizing the international refugee protection system. I would like to thank and congratulate all of those who contributed to making this process such a success.

Agenda for Protection

The next step is to finalize the Agenda for Protection. I am looking forward to hearing your comments on the draft Agenda. I understand from Erika Feller that substantial progress has already been achieved on finalizing the Agenda through extensive consultations. I hope that we are almost there.

The Agenda is important for two main reasons. First, because it will serve as a comprehensive framework for further development of global refugee policy, combining clear goals and objectives with suggested activities to strengthen refugee protection. Second, because this framework is the result of a joint undertaking by UNHCR and States, together with a wide range of other partners and experts.

As you know, the Agenda is not a legally binding text. At the same time, once it is finalized, this document - reflecting the outcome of an intensive, two-year process of Global Consultations - must not be allowed to remain unimplemented. You can expect from me, and I would like to expect from you, a firm commitment to use and implement the Agenda. Two of the main themes of the Agenda are the need for effective protection and the need for improved burden sharing. Both of these require funding. To each and every one of you I have to say that the priority setting that you have been doing in drawing up the Agenda for Protection is of limited value if appropriate funding and burden sharing mechanisms are not established, and if the necessary resources are not made available.

High level forum

The Agenda will be endorsed by ExCom. Obviously, concrete follow up will have to take place primarily within the ExCom framework. By the same token, I have closely followed the discussions on the draft Agenda and I strongly support the suggestion that UNHCR continue to provide a high level forum for more thematic discussion on how to operationalize the Agenda to ensure better protection and burden sharing. Protection work must be done resolutely in the field. It calls - particularly at this time - for new strategies, new thinking and new partnerships. I am committed to making this happen by, amongst other measures, organizing from time to time high-level meetings on specific themes or situations which require international attention, be they migration and asylum dilemmas, responsibility-sharing or comprehensive action plans for protracted refugee situations. I would approach this with flexibility, bringing in also States that are not members of ExCom and other actors, including NGOs.

UNHCR 2004

At ExCom last year I announced my initiative to develop a concept of how UNHCR could be positioned better to carry out its mandate, linking this to the renewal of UNHCR's mandate on 1 January 2004. This "UNHCR 2004" exercise takes into account the outcomes of the three tracks of the Global Consultations. This process is progressing and at ExCom this year I intend to provide you with ideas that emerge.

Durable Solutions

In my Opening Statement to ExCom last year, and in response to suggestions made by some Governments such as that of Japan, I announced a renewed focus on finding durable solutions for refugees. To achieve this, I stressed the need to find a more effective way to close the gap between emergency relief and longer-term development. This relates both to the increased self-sufficiency of refugees in countries of asylum, and to the re-integration of refugees when they return to their own countries.

Following up on the work done by Sadako Ogata, my own view is outlined in a letter that I sent to James Wolfensohn of the World Bank and Mark Malloch-Brown of UNDP in March. We need to come up with an innovative approach which is neither characterized as "humanitarian" nor "development", but which is sui generis. The letter has been shared with the Standing Committee, so I will not go into all the details now but simply highlight a few points.

In post-conflict situations, the World Bank, UNDP and the international community have already come up with an innovative approach for addressing the issue of ex-combatants. This approach, which has received considerable support, is now commonly known as "DDRR": "Demilitarization, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation". In dealing with the return of refugees to their homes, I have proposed a similar concept, which is that of the "Four Rs": Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. Afghanistan may be seen as an example of this approach.

In cases where local integration of refugees in countries of asylum is a viable option, I have proposed a concept which I call "Development through Local Integration", or "DLI". The basic idea here is the following: rather than treating refugees simply as a burden, host governments and the international community should recognize that refugees can be agents of development. Refugees are often accommodated in remote areas which are poorly developed. In developing these areas and using the productive capacity of refugees, there can be benefits both for the local society and for the refugees themselves. One concrete example of where this approach has already been started is Zambia, where efforts to enable refugees to become self-sufficient, through activities aimed at supporting agricultural projects and small businesses, have had positive benefits for the local economy. I commend the efforts of the Government of Zambia to move this initiative forward. The commitment and the ownership of the host government are vitally important. The process should now be funded and used as a model of joint co-operation.

From a UN perspective, I have come to the conclusion that neither the World Bank, UNDP or UNHCR can deliver the necessary results on their own, as I explained in my March letter. Given the organizational structures of the World Bank, UNDP and UNHCR, I have therefore proposed joint ventures, on a country-by-country basis. In these joint ventures, UNHCR would play a larger role at the beginning, covering let us say 90 per cent of the activities, and this would gradually be handed over until UNDP (with the support of the World Bank) is covering 90 per cent and UNHCR 10 per cent. In other words, there would be a clear exit strategy for UNHCR.

The next step now is to work on concrete programmes. UNHCR has initially identified eight possible flagship programmes. However, I agreed with my colleagues in UNDP and the World Bank that we would not launch top-down initiatives, but would work only in countries where we are able to pursue our joint venture in a practical and effective way. It will be entirely up to the Representatives to determine where such programmes are possible, and they should refrain where the prospects are not good. It is very important that the process takes a bottom-up approach, and that the joint team and the host government are fully committed. Each situation will have a different solution, so it will be a case of "learn as you go". Some of my field Representatives are already exploring the scope for joint ventures with UNDP and the World Bank in their respective countries. Each initiative and each programme requires the participation of a group of donors.

These ideas are consistent with the European initiative of Linking Relief, Reconstruction and Development. Norway has already introduced a "Transition" budget line, and I hope that more donor capitals will follow this innovative approach. Our efforts to develop partnerships with bilateral development agencies will also continue, as in the case of our co-operation with the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

Making use of "Four Rs" and "DLI" programmes, UNHCR looks forward to participating in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD); a most welcome initiative taken by African leaders and now supported by G8 countries. This week in Canada leaders of the G8 will adopt an Action Plan for Africa, and I understand that the final Plan will touch on the issue of support for countries and communities hosting refugees. I plan to attend the OAU Summit meeting in July in Durban, and will pursue this matter further with key African Heads of State.

All this will require UNHCR to further strengthen its relations with the donor community. On 28 May this year, we had important consultations with ExCom members on Complementary Sources of Funding for Durable Solutions. This was well received, and members stressed the importance of linking up with development actors, adopting tailor-made approaches, and ensuring support from host governments. The next step now is to look into how to operationalize these ideas. Given my commitment to durable solutions, I will personally invest time in this, working closely with the directors of DOS and DCI, and supported by a small team deployed by the Reintegration and Local Settlement Section (RLSS), DRRM and the Executive Office. Kolude Doherty, the former Director of the Africa Bureau, is assisting me temporarily on this issue.


The facilitated return operations that started in March have turned out to be a surprising success to all of us. For refugee returns, a few days ago we passed the one million mark. The majority of these are from Pakistan, while the remainder are from Iran and other neighbouring countries. In addition, some 170,000 internally displaced people have returned to their home communities. I take this as a clear vote of confidence in the Interim Administration led by Chairman Karzai, who will now lead the Transition Government. Pakistan and Iran, which are the main refugee hosting countries deserve recognition for the hospitality they have shown over the past two decades, and for their role in ensuring the voluntariness of the return operation.

Under the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) structure, UNHCR has been tasked to co-ordinate the return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs. It is a big responsibility and challenge for my Office, and we count on your support during this critical phase. I visited the region twice this year. It was gratifying to see the refugees returning in long queues of buses and trucks, and to visit an empty camp after the refugees had left. I saw many families taking old window frames and doors as part of their belongings. It is a good sign that they are determined to rebuild their lives in their home country after decades in exile.

The unexpectedly high pace of returns has required an urgent review of our initial planning figure of 1.25 million refugee and IDP returns in 2002. Our revised planning figure is now 2 million, of which 1.6 million are refugees and 400,000 are IDPs. Despite this, our budget will not be increased. The funding situation simply does not permit it. Difficult choices have had to be made. We are focusing primarily on protection, return assistance and initial reintegration activities, particularly shelter and water. We should all be aware that facilitating initial reintegration will enhance stability and contribute to the longer-term reconstruction of Afghanistan. While I appreciate the donor contributions to date, I must reiterate my plea for additional funding to meet our requirements. This is now extremely urgent.

Angola and West Africa

Peace appears to be returning to Angola, after nearly 30 years of conflict. The Assistant High Commissioner, Kamel Morjane, has just returned from a visit to the region to assess the prospects for the return and reintegration of the 470,000 Angolan refugees in the region - and they are positive. With the cease-fire, large areas of the country are now open and UNHCR is planning in the coming months - if not weeks - to assist in Angola with the spontaneous return of up to 80,000 people. If conditions remain conducive to return, we will prepare to phase into a more organized repatriation from neighbouring countries in 2003.

In West Africa we continue to face a large-scale repatriation of refugees to Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, I am extremely concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Liberia, which is forcing thousands of Liberians to seek asylum in neighbouring countries.

The UNHCR funding situation

I will report separately on the Annual Budget, the Supplementary Budget and the Budget for 2003.

The 2002 Annual Budget of US$ 829 million: US$ 20 million is provided by the UN Regular Budget and US$ 7 million by the JPO Programmes. The needs are therefore US$ 802 million. We started the year with US$ 44 million carry-over and an expected secondary income of US$ 22 million. This means we need US$ 736 million fresh income this year. But since we had to pay back the US$ 12 million loan to the Working Capital Fund, we need US$ 748 million.

Our projected fresh contributions for 2002 are only US$ 659 million, and some of this might be unavailable for use in 2002, due to late funding, or because it is either earmarked for projects which are already fully funded in 2002 or set aside by donors for projects in 2003. Last year this happened with an amount of US$ 32 million.

We urgently need to find ways to address this problem. The problem is not earmarking as such, but the fact that such earmarking must be timely: preferably in the first half of the year and at the latest in the 3rd quarter. If it results in over-funding in 2002, then - after close consultation - there has to be de-earmarking or re-earmarking. But even if it is handled better than last year, I have to estimate that of the projected fresh income of US$ 659 million, only US$ 649 million will be available. Since, as I said, US$ 748 million is needed, this means a shortfall of US$ 99 million. I have to manage this shortfall. How?

While the big Afghan operation is going on, we are able to use some staff and costs which were budgeted in the Annual Budget for this Supplementary Programme. Even then, there is still a shortfall of US$ 89 million, that has to be addressed by less spending. To achieve this, prioritization was needed. To protect our operations in the field as much as possible, we will make significant savings at Headquarters, and we will take austerity measures in our global operations. In these two categories together, we will save 15%. We have also reduced the Administrative Budget (ABOD) all over the organization by 10%.

Then we decided to freeze US$ 30 million out of the Operational Reserve, which leaves us with no money for new needs, emergencies and unexpected developments requiring our intervention in the next six months. We also reviewed all our operations to find significant further savings. We did this on a country-by-country basis to see where less spending than envisioned in the Annual Programme would be feasible. This resulted in cuts of 4% in the operational budget. This was, and is, painful. However, to manage the shortfall we still need additional cuts of 3% in the operational budget. This will have even more dramatic consequences. Concretely it means:

  • we will have to reduce further and even stop some operations altogether, including in countries in Africa, South-west Asia and South-eastern Europe (e.g. Kosovo and Croatia);
  • refugees who are willing to return to their country of origin will not be able to return (such as Angolans and Somalis);
  • newly arriving refugees will remain in overcrowded camps with resulting implications on the security, health and protection situation (such as Liberians in surrounding countries and Somalis in Kenya);
  • Governments of countries hosting large refugee populations may vent their frustration by tightening their asylum regimes;
  • UNHCR's capacity to carry out its monitoring and co-ordination functions will be reduced;
  • we will have to review - and most likely reduce - our current agreements with operational partners and government partners.Therefore, while I appreciate the efforts that many Governments have made to enable UNHCR to meet refugees' needs, it is now essential that you discuss this issue with your Governments to see if some additional contributions can be made in a timely manner, to prevent refugees from suffering further.

Supplementary Budget: The Supplementary Budget is, as you know, mainly the Afghanistan operation. Here we still lack US$ 75 million. We are working hard to get it. You will be informed separately about the difficult choices we have had to make to respond to the revised planning figure. The Afghan Support Group will come together in July to look into implementation and funding in 2002. Once more, this is at one minute to twelve. Together we must not let the Afghans down again.

Budget for 2003: You may remember last year we concluded that a minimum credible budget would be US$ 829 million. With this in mind, we prepared a budget of US$ 837 million. Is this good judgement, or do you see it differently? If so, let me know. On the Afghan operation, we are still preparing for 2003. In September another donor meeting is planned, focusing on requirements for 2003. This meeting will hopefully benefit from the release of the Afghan National Development Budget.

The number of people of concern to UNHCR

Our latest statistics for the year 2001 show that the number of refugees of concern to UNHCR world-wide remained virtually unchanged at 12 million. What those year-end statistics do not show, however, is the repatriation since March of this year of more than 1 million Afghans. And more continue to go home every day. In addition to 12 million refugees, UNHCR also works on behalf of returned refugees, asylum seekers, certain groups of internally displaced people, stateless persons and others affected by war and conflict. On the positive side, there were major returns in 2001 of internally displaced people in various countries. In all, there was a net reduction of some 800,000 IDPs of concern to UNHCR during the year. Also on the positive side was a decrease of 700,000 stateless persons, forced migrants and others of concern to UNHCR, mainly in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The decreases in IDPs and others of concern, largely account for a decrease of 2 million in the overall population of concern to UNHCR - from 21.8 million in 2000 to 19.8 million in 2001.

Protection in West Africa

As you know, we have taken a number of practical measures to prevent and address the problem of sexual exploitation of refugee children in West Africa. We are taking similar measures globally. This has also triggered action to produce a Code of Conduct for UNHCR staff world-wide. Many of you have been briefed on all these actions in detail at the meetings of the Informal Working Group established by the Chairman of ExCom, Ambassador Molander. A policy of "zero tolerance", and an awareness of the reality of power relations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, will be reflected in the Code of Conduct. We would also like to suggest, if possible, reforming the UN Rules and Regulations accordingly. I trust that implementing partners will follow the same course. It is vital to ensure that UNHCR staff act responsibly and professionally towards all refugees and other people of concern to the Office. The UNHCR Code of Conduct will clarify the standards, values and conduct expected of all its staff members. The Drafting Team is now in the process of finalizing the Code and an Implementation Team has been constituted to organize roll-out, dissemination and training.

Concerning the allegations, I have received an interim report from the OIOS investigation team, indicating that none of the allegations - as brought to UNHCR in November and December 2001 - have been substantiated. This could mean therefore that "sex for services" in refugee camps is not as widespread as indicated. However, I remain convinced that it is a very real issue. Outside the allegations report itself, OIOS has, up to now, found one case; not a UNHCR staff member but a humanitarian worker for UNHCR. Action is being taken by the person's employer. I have encouraged OIOS to look further, and with all their professional means to try harder. Where there is proof, strict punitive action will be taken. However, the call for punitive action becomes rhetoric if allegations cannot be substantiated.

Finally, a word on additional funding to ensure better protection. To the extent that more staff are considered to be needed, there are financial consequences. For all the measures that we are putting in place, I count on your support for additional funding.

Five commitments to refugee women

Let me end with a few words about World Refugee Day, which we marked on Thursday last week. This year, we are paying special tribute to the courage and determination of refugee women.

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;
  • second, to ensure that all refugee women are to be individually registered and receive personal documentation to improve their security, freedom of movement and access to services;
  • third, to strengthen measures to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence;
  • fourth, to ensure that refugee women participate in the management and distribution of food and other aid; and
  • fifth, to ensure the provision of sanitary materials to all women and girls in all UNHCR assistance programmes. In marking World Refugee Day this year, I was pleased to report that we have made significant progress in all of these areas.

These efforts will continue. In particular, we are now following up on the recommendations relating to women and children contained in the different evaluation reports we have received recently. I have decided to appoint a senior female staff member to co-ordinate the follow-up with the relevant Departments and the regional Bureaux. She will report directly to the Assistant High Commissioner.


In 2001, we focused on savings and priority setting in UNHCR, with the three "Actions". This year, I have asked all staff to focus on performance and the quality of our work. Many of our staff continue to display outstanding courage and dedication in numerous different situations. I count on your support to enable our very committed staff to deliver better protection and solutions for refugees world-wide.

Thank you.