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End of Year Message from the High Commissioner, 30 December 2009

Speeches and statements

End of Year Message from the High Commissioner, 30 December 2009

30 December 2009

Dear colleagues,

The year has not been free of tragedy. In a six month space, we lost three colleagues in our operation in Pakistan. Syed Hashim was shot and killed in Quetta on 2 February, at the same time as John Solecki was abducted and held for 63 days before being released. Aleksandar Vorkapic, on mission in Peshawar, was killed in the bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel on 9 June. Zill-e Usman, who was also head of UNHCR's staff council in Pakistan, was murdered by gunmen at an IDP camp near Peshawar on 16 July.

Elsewhere, colleagues from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa faced insecure conditions and daily threats to their safety simply to reach people in need.

Enhancing staff security remains my top priority. The Security Steering Committee which I chair has already twice reviewed the security situation of our most complex operations: Afghanistan, Chad, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen, as well as those in Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Russian Federation, Somalia and Venezuela. The Budget Committee approved from the Operational Reserve every request made for additional allocations to enhance security in the field.

Together with Local Security Steering Committees at country level, more emphasis is being put on information-sharing, network-building, analytical capabilities and participation in security risk management processes. Increased training will be provided for field security personnel, particularly those destined to high risk environments.

Around the world, UNHCR operations have responded impressively to the increasing interaction of the world's megatrends and the challenges that shrinking humanitarian and asylum space, including a resurgence of refoulement, the declining availability of solutions and an increasingly urban-based population of concern present for our work. With a spate of involuntary returns characterizing the end of the year in the Mediterranean, Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia, it is imperative not to allow bad practice to overshadow good.

In Pakistan, UNHCR came promptly and effectively to the assistance of many of the two million people estimated at the peak of the crisis to have been internally displaced. We did so while managing to preserve protection space for Afghan refugees in both Pakistan and Iran. In Sri Lanka, our firm stance on the standards for safe and dignified return together with constructive assistance for achieving such standards, contributed to the Government's adoption of a more protection-sensitive approach. More than 21,000 Bhutanese refugees were referred for resettlement from Nepal during the year, bringing to over 52,000 the number of people submitted since the effort began. In Central Asia, a series of national consultations and a regional conference helped UNHCR reinforce States' willingness to address longstanding issues of statelessness.

In October, the assembled Heads of State and Government in Africa adopted in Kampala the groundbreaking AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. I was honoured to address the summit both as head of UNHCR and on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. With its explicit recognition of UNHCR's protection expertise and role, the Kampala Convention will, when ratified, significantly assist us in responding to the needs of the nearly half of the world's internally displaced people residing in Africa. Many of the conflicts on the continent seem intractable but others appear to promise resolution. We are establishing roadmaps for cessation for refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Liberia. For the Burundian refugees of 1972, the generosity of the people and Government of Tanzania this year has already translated into the naturalization of more than 155,000 people.

Our effort to generate a better understanding of the natural compatibility of concepts of protection in international refugee law and Islamic Shari'a was enhanced by the launch of the book commissioned on this subject from Professor Ahmed Abu Al-Wafa by UNHCR, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Prince Naif University. The momentum created by the book was reinforced by a wide range of activities organized under the Ramadan Solidarity Initiative. Donations from countries of the Gulf, particularly for our efforts in Pakistan, increased significantly in 2009. UNHCR scaled up quickly in response to the rapidly evolving and multi-faceted crisis in Yemen. With a temporary processing facility established in Slovakia, nearly 3,500 Palestinian refugees formerly in Iraq have been submitted for resettlement. The total number of Iraqi refugees referred for resettlement meanwhile is now approaching 90,000.

In the Americas, Colombia and Costa Rica both adopted new refugee legislation during the year while new laws are imminent in Chile and well advanced in Mexico and Ecuador. The implementation of registration and profiling in the northern border region of Ecuador brought to light 19,000 individuals who until now had been invisible. An operational strategy for responding to mixed migratory movements under the 10 Point Plan of Action was achieved at the regional conference in Costa Rica in November.

In Europe, while the overall climate remained challenging, UNHCR fought hard to preserve protection space. Preliminary indications from the new Greek Government are very encouraging. With our seat on the management board of the European Asylum Support Office, to be established in Malta, we will be better positioned to assist governments in improving the quality of asylum procedures and decision-making. In Eastern Europe, our efforts to bring together civil society groups to report and denounce hate crimes provided an important counter-force to the worrying increase of xenophobic sentiment.

With the global financial and economic crisis which was roiling markets and threatening aid budgets at this time last year, UNHCR was concerned about 2009. For a number of reasons but mainly because of the efforts of all of you, our gravest concerns did not come about. International support for our activities was unprecedented.

Our senior management team has been nearly completely renewed. Ms. Janet Lim took over as Assistant High Commissioner for Operations in July. A new Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. T. Alexander Aleinikoff, will take up his functions early in the new year. Of the 13 Bureau or Division Directors in the Senior Management Committee, 10 are either new to the SMC or in new positions. A new spokesperson and a new Inspector General have also been put in place.

Twenty three staff at the D1 and D2 level retired in 2009. Collectively this represents a loss of nearly six hundred years of refugee expertise. To many organizations, that order of loss would be catastrophic. UNHCR's smooth transition to a new generation of leadership underscores the exceptional nature of our organization's continually renewed talent. With enhanced training and career management among our top human resources priorities going forward, this can only get better.

The new leadership reflects a renewed UNHCR, equipped with the tools to meet a new decade of challenges. Key among these tools is the Global Needs Assessment. A budget of just in excess of USD 3 billion was approved by Excom without dissent. This does not mean the full amount will be funded but we will no longer require separate and additional permission to spend up to that amount. Funding pledges for 2010 maintain the momentum achieved in 2009, promising at least the stability needed to allow us to avoid capping programmes despite the still difficult financial environment.

Convinced of the utility of our reforms - for instance, the reduction of the proportion of total expenditure on headquarters to about 10% from more than 14% in 2006 - donors have continued to fund us generously. Our global activity in 2009, still of course to be finalized, will be the highest ever, at approximately USD 1.7 billion in expenditure. This represents 50% more than in 2006 with more or less the same level of staff worldwide. I am very grateful to all UNHCR personnel for achieving this most significant increase in productivity of any international organization of which I am aware.

While our efforts to improve our performance are ongoing, the majority of the reforms initiated in 2006 are now almost complete. Consolidation and continuous improvement will be our orientation though a number of strands remain still to be tied up. The full integration of FOCUS and MSRP is a major challenge and I am highly appreciative of the continuing efforts of staff at headquarters and in the field to meet it. There is a shared sense of purpose between management and staff in the crafting of a more professional and fair appointments and promotions process and in addressing other outstanding human resources issues, including conversions of staff from the general to the professional category, recruitment, contracts, and the reinforcement of our gender policy. Design and implementation of the reforms of the Division of Information Systems and Telecoms will take place in 2010.

Having become more cost effective, our goal going forward must be to become more effective overall. For 2010, we have two main objectives:

First, we need to enhance our emergency preparedness and response capability. This means reinforcing and integrating both our supply chain management and logistics and our emergency response. We want more and more to be known for the timely and reliable provision of shelter and relief items worldwide.

Second, in light of our new policy on urban refugees, the growing complexity of responding to the asylum-migration nexus and our expanded activities for internally displaced people, we need to increase our protection capacity. I have asked the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Ms. Erika Feller, to lead a Working Group which will develop a plan of action for the strengthening UNHCR's protection capacity in terms of training, recruitment and cooperation with partners. We need to enhance the ability of all UNHCR staff to contribute to the achievement of the organization's protection objectives.

Next year will also see us gear up for the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 2011. I encourage all staff to reflect upon and share their ideas for appropriate commemorative activities.

I extend to all staff my warmest wishes for a prosperous and gratifying New Year. I count on all of you to make 2010 another successful year for UNHCR, to the benefit of the people we care for.

António Guterres