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Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Programme of Action of the Cis Conference

Executive Committee Meetings

Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Programme of Action of the Cis Conference

30 May 1997


1. The Conference process provided the CIS countries, other interested countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with an opportunity to devise an integrated strategy for addressing migration and displacement problems in the CIS countries. The overall aim of the strategy, as laid out in the Programme of Action, is to enable the CIS countries to cope better with population displacement taking place on their territories, to prevent situations leading to displacement, and to manage and regulate other types of migratory movements.

2. A year after the Conference, the organizations involved are assessing its impact thus far and taking stock of the progress made in implementing the Programme of Action. The Steering Group will meet on 2 July 1997 in Geneva. A report to the Group has been prepared jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and sent to all participants. The report provides a country by country review of the migration and refugee situation in the CIS countries, and the initiatives underway to implement the Programme of Action. The focus is on UNHCR and IOM activities in cooperation with the Governments and national organizations concerned.

3. There are some concerns, at this stage, among participants of the Conference. While UNHCR is very active in most CIS countries in the implementation of programmes and has undertaken a number of new initiatives to more fully reflect the priorities and directions for action indicated in the Programme of Action, financial support for this work has been slow in coming. The Joint Appeal made by UNHCR and IOM in November 1996 for this year's programmes has found a very limited response. Another concern is that, while great efforts have been made in several CIS countries to implement the Programme of Action, in a few of these countries, refugee and migration issues appear not to be a top priority on their political agendas. Further, in one or two other countries, general uncertainty and repeated reorganization of government structures hamper progress in capacity-building for migration management.

4. The Conference process and the Conference itself involved a balance of commitments and interests between CIS and non-CIS participants. In endorsing the Programme of Action, the CIS Governments expressed their commitment to the internationally recognized principles on which action with regard to displacement is to be based. In adhering to the programme, CIS countries expect some support from the international community, including of a financial nature. These Governments realize that funding is limited by budgetary constraints and diverse priorities of donor counties. Nonetheless both political and financial support are needed. The CIS countries do not have the economic capacity yet to cope with displacement problems on their own. They show commitment in a number of ways (for example in introducing new legislation), but to ensure the success of a preventive strategy and to build up the corresponding institutions and frameworks, the international community, which expressed its strong conviction that this was necessary both throughout the Conference process and by endorsing the Programme, needs to demonstrate active support.

5. At present, the balance of interest and commitment is in danger of being lost and the Conference process risks a serious loss of credibility. Some CIS Governments have indeed made great efforts, while some others have made less. A few western Governments have provided financial support and several continue to be genuinely interested, while others appear to be losing interest. Despite the constraints, the international community needs to find ways to support this process to assist the Governments of CIS countries and their societies in the implementation of the Programme of Action. This is a long term exercise, achievable only with the mutual support and cooperation of the international community.

6. One of the challenges of the implementation phase is precisely how to draw together all the actors, make their activities visible to all and, hence, ensure that they are complementary and avoid duplication. In some areas UNHCR and IOM have sought to catalyze action from others. Thus, UNHCR and IOM have sought closer contact with each other, with UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, Technical Assistance to CIS Countries (TACIS), the Council of Europe, ILO, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and several others. Cooperation with the various OSCE missions in CIS countries and with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has been fruitful and is growing. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), one of the three organizations in the Conference secretariat, has expressed its full commitment to the process, with a clear endorsement of the OSCE Permanent Council at its Lisbon summit in December 1996. An informal meeting of the OSCE was briefed by UNHCR and IOM in May 1997, to give further impetus to an active OSCE role.

7. The major impact in the field of cooperation with others has probably been with NGOs, both national and international. There has been marked progress in both the networking and cooperation among NGOs in the field and in the increasingly positive perceptions by Governments of CIS countries of the important role of NGOs in addressing migration and refugee issues. In the year since the Conference, UNHCR has launched a number of NGO support initiatives in the CIS countries to facilitate their involvement in the legal sector, with assistance activities and in research relating to persons and issues of concern to the Conference, helping them establish better linkages with Governments, with international organizations and with each other.

UNHCR's work in the CIS region

8. UNHCR's primary objectives in the region are to ensure the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, to provide adequate assistance to them and to seek durable solutions to their problems. UNHCR's broader goals are to strengthen the rule of law in the newly democratic societies, assist countries in the CIS to appropriately manage population movements, including refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons and prevent situations, including conflict situations, that lead to involuntary population movements.

9. UNHCR assists in developing legal systems and procedures to handle population movements effectively, paying particular attention to refugee law, asylum policies, refugee status determination and citizenship laws, and in ensuring that national policies and legislation are consistent with international refugee and human rights instruments. These objectives are achieved through the provision of technical advice to Governments and through capacity building activities, such as training workshops and seminars.

10. The Office is involved in material assistance programmes, including shelter, health care and income-generation activities, for populations in need of integration or temporary integration. Wherever possible, activities are developed to promote self-sufficiency and long-term durable solutions for the displaced. When requested, UNHCR assists Governments in the CIS countries to deal with humanitarian emergencies and to implement programmes to address the most urgent needs of the affected populations. UNHCR has provided emergency assistance on a large scale, needed as a result of the conflict in Chechnya (the Russian Federation), and provides direct assistance to internally displaced persons in the northern Caucasus.

11. The voluntary and safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their former places of residence is another prime concern and, as in other regions of the world, is the preferred long-term solution. UNHCR tries, wherever possible, to bring the relevant parties together to ensure that repatriation or return can take place safely and carries out activities designed to improve conditions in the location of return. In the countries of the Trans-Caucasus, spontaneous return is being assisted and it is hoped that more substantial return movements will be possible as soon as the political obstacles begin to be resolved.

12. The CIS Conference recognized a number of categories of persons of concern in CIS countries, beyond the definitions of refugee, internal, and illegal and transit migration. UNHCR has already taken steps to assist Governments of CIS countries with their most pressing needs in respect to these categories of persons and is advising on the development of legislation to deal with new issues. In Crimea, UNHCR is providing legal assistance with regard to the problems of citizenship and statelessness of formerly deported peoples returning to the peninsula, and is promoting coordination with Central Asian States on the problems of Crimean Tatars, particularly Uzbekistan, from where many more people may return. In the Russian Federation, UNHCR is assisting the authorities in specific aspects with the integration of ethnic Russians from other CIS countries, referred to as involuntarily relocating persons in the terminology of the CIS Conference.

13. Expanding on aspects of "prevention" and in an attempt to mitigate the tensions which might cause further involuntary movements, UNHCR is developing further its strategies to sensitize public opinion concerning refugee and internally displaced persons issues and to promote ethnic tolerance. Work in Public Information is being strengthened across the region. Mass information strategies are being developed in Central Asia and in the Russian Federation. In Armenia, a new information campaign is being launched to deter Armenians from leaving the country for reasons not related to refugee status, to seek asylum in Western Europe, where their claims are mostly rejected, putting pressure on host countries' public tolerance and on the status of asylum in general. An education project in Kyrgyzstan, promoting ethnic tolerance in schools, is to be replicated in some other CIS Countries.

14. In conflict situations, UNHCR encourages the parties to a conflict to consider the humanitarian dimension of the conflict resolution process in tandem with political issues, and to agree on conditions guaranteeing the security of affected populations and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. UNHCR has worked, for example, with the OSCE's Minsk Group on the issues arising from the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

15. UNHCR's work and its preventive strategy, endorsed by the international community, contribute to stability in the countries of the CIS and to security in the region. Furthermore, UNHCR operations address the protection and assistance needs of the several thousands of persons of concern in these countries and help to alleviate their plight. The support of the international community is vital for the continuation of this work and to ensure that these objectives are achieved.

1 In this paper, "CIS Conference" refers to the regional conference to address the problems of refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and returnees in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and relevant neighbouring States.