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Closing Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 4 November 1997

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Closing Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 4 November 1997

4 November 1997

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank all those Delegations who have participated in the discussion on my report, and on other questions relating to refugees and displaced persons. I have listened with keen interest to your statements and remarks, and have drawn valuable insights on the complex challenges that confront us in seeking solutions to refugee problems.

I am greatly encouraged by the support you have expressed for our work. Your words of appreciation for the courage and dedication of my staff, and of the staff of our partner agencies, are particularly welcome. I hope that they can now be translated into concrete measures to protect humanitarian personnel living and working in dangerous conflict situations.

Yesterday I illustrated some of the dilemmas my Office has had to face in the past year, especially in the Great Lakes region of Africa. We are confronted, worldwide, by what I would define a 'crisis in protection' - not a crisis of principles and values, but of their application. In many of your statements I noted a greater emphasis on protection issues than was the case in the past few years. I am very concerned by a trend to disregard humanitarian principles and welcome the support you have expressed in this respect. All the more I am pleased by the positive developments in this area, like the increase in resettlement quotas, which some Delegations have announced, or the accession of the Baltic States to the 1951 Convention.

Upholding basic refugee rights - asylum and non-refoulement - constitutes the foundation of my mandate. As such, Mr Chairman, these principles cannot be negotiated. Refugee conventions, bilateral or multilateral repatriation agreements, and other instruments, include practical measures designed to ensure the respect of principles, at the same time taking into account the legitimate concerns of States. In certain parts of the world these measures have been insufficiently applied, and sometimes they have been completely disregarded. I wish to stress again that my Office is ready to discuss with Governments ways and means to make such measures more effective in the ever changing environment in which we operate.

Many Delegations, particularly from the South, have asked for greater material support to be provided to countries hosting refugees. I appreciate and fully support their plea. If we request States to respect basic refugee rights, they must also be given the means to fulfil this responsibility. It is essential that adequate assistance be provided not only to refugees, but also to their host communities, particularly in situations of mass influx, when refugees sometimes outnumber nationals in the areas where influxes occur. It is also essential that problems caused by the massive presence of refugees - for example to the environment or to the social infrastructure - be addressed in a comprehensive manner. The same applies to returnees, and to their reintegration in areas of origin, often in post-conflict situations. For this reason I have insisted, and wish to insist again on the need to evolve from the 'relief to development' cycle to a more integrated approach including the involvement of developmental actors at the onset of humanitarian crises.

I concur with those Delegations which have emphasized the growing importance of regional organizations in addressing humanitarian problems. Their member States have a shared interest in seeking solutions to these problems, and can tackle them from a closer, more knowledgeable perspective. ECOWAS played such a role in bringing to an end the Liberian conflict, and opening up prospects for the repatriation of Liberian refugees. We are ourselves working more frequently and closely with the OAU and the OSCE, among others. Cooperation with some regional organizations, for example the IGAD in the Horn of Africa, or the SADC in Southern Africa, can contribute to resolve some long standing refugee situations in the respective areas. In other regions, such as the CIS and the countries of Central and South-West Asia, we have adopted a comprehensive regional approach not only in seeking solutions to refugee crises, but also in our efforts to prevent them.

Some Delegations have mentioned that the time has come to deal with the consequences of yet another internal conflict: fighting has ended in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), and we can now indeed help refugees and displaced return home. This recent, sudden conflict indicates, however, that we must expect further crises of human displacement in the years ahead. At the same time, we must live up to the challenges of repatriation and reintegration in the Great Lakes region, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and elsewhere. Your statements have confirmed that I can count on your support for our work and for the extension of the mandate of my Office beyond its current term, which ends in December 1998.

Mr Chairman, UNHCR is a humanitarian, non-political organisation operating in a politically charged context. We shall continue in our efforts to save lives and to attempt to diminish the suffering caused by the forced displacement of men, women and children. As many of you have stated, however, we shall only be able to do so if we are provided with adequate resources. More importantly, effective political initiatives must be conducted in parallel to humanitarian action. UNHCR cannot be left alone to face intractable dilemmas and security risks. I hope that your expressions of sympathy and appreciation - for which I am very grateful - can be translated into the political and financial support required to prevent and resolve refugee crises.