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Note on International Protection (submitted by the High Commissioner)

Executive Committee Meetings

Note on International Protection (submitted by the High Commissioner)

5 July 1986


A description of the developments in 1985 in the field of international protection of refugees is contained in the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the Economic and Social Council (Document E/1986/55). The present Note on International Protection provides an analysis of the current state of international protection of refugees together with additional data on events during the first five months of 1986.

In separate chapters of the Note, information is provided on action taken by UNHCR on three issues extensively discussed at the thirty-sixth session of the Executive Committee and for which follow-up was required. These are the movements of refugees and asylum-seekers, military and armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements and the protection of refugee women.


1. The aim of international protection is to provide a remedy in situations where persons have been obliged to leave their home country to seek asylum due, in particular, to disregard of human rights, including their right to life, liberty and security of person. It is founded on the precept that all men and women have the right to belong as free individuals to a society in which they are protected by the State. The lack, or denial, of this protection is at the core of being a refugee. To compensate for this the Office of the High Commissioner is vested with responsibility to provide refugees with international protection.

2. International protection involves first of all legal protection, i.e. seeking to ensure that refugees are treated in accordance with internationally accepted standards including protection against refoulement, freedom from discrimination and the enjoyment of economic and social rights. Secondly, it entails action to promote the development of standards for the treatment of refugees through the adoption of appropriate legal provisions on the international level and/or in national legislation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it also involves a search for durable solutions, the availability of which is an essential precondition for the effective exercise of the High Commissioner's international protection function.

3. The intrinsic relationship between protection and solutions is reflected clearly in the UNHCR Statute. Paragraph 1 states that UNHCR "shall assume the function of providing international protection... and of seeking permanent solutions for the problem of refugees..". That the search for solutions is an important component of protection is clear from paragraph 8 of the Statute, which stipulates that the High Commissioner shall provide for the protection of refugees by undertaking a series of measures, including "assisting governmental and private efforts to promote voluntary repatriation or assimilation within new national communities".

4. Central to the experience of refugees is enforced separation from their community. This entails a severance of ties not only with family and friends, but also with a society and a land from which they spring and to which they belong and which has formed them and given them an identity. A basic purpose and ultimate goal of the work of UNHCR is therefore to fill this lacuna. It is the return of refugees to their own community or their integration in a new one which constitutes a permanent or durable solution.

5. Viewed in this manner, international protection is of an essentially temporary nature and is the sum of all action which seeks to achieve the admission of a refugee into, and his secure stay in, a country where he or she is not in danger of refoulement and can enjoy basic rights and humane treatment until the above objective is achieved - that of renewed belonging in a community.

6. The legal tools available to provide international protection to refugees include the Statute of UNHCR, the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, multilateral and regional treaties on human rights or specific refugee problems, general or customary international law, and the provisions of domestic legal systems. The protection work of the Office, however, has both a legal and doctrinal as well as a practical dimension.

7. Action on the ground creates the conditions for the exercise of the protection function, and also structures the search for solutions. simply intervening on behalf of refugees, while it may achieve immediate goals such as the prevention of refoulement or the identification of those in need of and entitled to assistance, is insufficient in itself. To be effective in the long term, 'refugee law' must remain linked to its objective - the re-establishment of the refugee within a community. Any action taken in the context of refugee law must therefore be comprehended and pursued with due regard to its implications in the wider, political, cultural and sociological context in which solutions are to be sought.

8. The interdependence of protection and assistance and of protection and solutions is clearly demonstrated at grass roots level, in the interaction among UNHCR, States and refugees in seeking to reconcile their respective interests and concerns. The unifying objective of humanitarian, durable solutions may sometimes be lost sight of in the process of meeting immediate protection objectives. For example, the non-refoulement of refugees, their admission to camps and the provision of assistance can meet immediate material and physical needs; but living as well as life itself requires attention. It is no great success, save in the short term, to have refugees confined in a state of dependence, in a jurisdictional limbo far removed from a true community, where education and employment are lacking, where civil status is denied through the non-recognition of births, deaths and marriages, or where the natural processes of interaction and exchange with host communities are not permitted.

9. The reverse is also, however, true. Just as providing immediate protection without identifying durable solutions should not be regarded as an end in itself, so solutions, whether permanent or temporary, cannot be divorced from the immediate needs of protection. There can of course be no effective solution if protection concerns are not taken fully into account. Accommodating refugees in areas immediately bordering their country of origin or in a hostile environment may, for example, lead to military or armed attacks and to other problems of physical security. Again, to seek to provide solutions of a more or less durable nature in countries where full protection cannot be ensured may well serve to encourage onward refugee movements with their concomitant protection problems.

10. Action to ensure protection and provide solutions must be dictated by principles which have evolved over the years for the guidance of States and international organizations in dealing with refugee problems. Such action, however, may also generate further principles required to meet the needs of new refugee situations. This points to the need always to be fully aware of the relevant legal rules and principles which already exist while at the same time allowing for their progressive development. These rules and principles and their interpretation, application and development to meet the specific requirements of evolving refugee situations, constitute the body of refugee law and doctrine.

11. Related to the international protection of refugees is UNHCR's capacity as an organization to accomplish its mandate. In recognition of the inter-relationship between protection and solutions and refugee law and action, a process of reorganization of UNHCR was initiated in the early part of 1986. In its first phase, the Headquarters was restructured around five Regional Bureaux, which, assisted by several support services, are responsible for directing, co-ordinating and facilitating field action relating to both protection and assistance. The previous Division of International Protection was, at the same time, considerably strengthened in the form of a Division of Refugee Law and Doctrine. That Division has been given added capacity to provide advice on matters relating to refugee law and international protection, to undertake extensive research in these areas and to identify and develop doctrine in order fully to support UNHCR's action in the field. It is also charged with the important, task of providing support to the Regional Bureaux in their international protection activities.


12. A description of developments in the field of international protection in 1985 is contained in the High Commissioner's report to the second regular session in 1986 of the Economic and Social Council (Document E/1986155). The present chapter therefore only deals with events which occurred during the first five months of 1986.

13. During that period, taking increases and decreases into account, the world refugee population remained stable. Close to 275,000 persons were reported as having fled their homes and sought asylum in other countries. The majority of these asylum-seekers arrived in African (150,000) and European (60,000) countries with lesser numbers seeking asylum in American and Asian States. These statistics should, however, be treated with some caution since refugee movements sometimes lead to double registration. In addition, statistical data on numbers of refugees are frequently inaccurate, particularly in large-scale influx situations. It is therefore reasonable to assume that overall numbers of new arrivals are significantly lower than reported.

14. Some 150,000 refugees returned to their countries of origin, most of them spontaneously. The vast majority returned to countries on the African continent (140,000). Numerically less significant movements of return took place primarily to Latin American States.

15. Other decreases in the refugee population occurred as a result of cessation of refugee status. In some situations, for example, large numbers of refugees became naturalized citizens of their State of refuge. While no accurate statistical data exist, it is estimated that as a result of naturalization many thousands of persons have ceased to be refugees.

16. Following the accession of Equatorial Guinea and the succession of Tuvalu to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol in the early part of 1986, a total of ninety-nine States were party to one or both of these two basic international refugee instruments by the end of May 1986. Ratifications by Gabon and Zimbabwe were also recorded to the OAU Convention of 1969 Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. This brought the total number of African States which were party to this important regional instrument to thirty-three. An up-to-date list of States party to these various refugee instruments is attached as Annex I to this Note. In view of the fundamental importance of accession to refugee instruments, UNHCR is proposing that this subject be discussed at the eleventh meeting of the Sub-Committee of the Whole of International Protection.

17. Continuing to promote the elaboration and acceptance of universal and regional standards for protecting refugees, UNHCR maintained close co-operation with several organizations involved in the development of refugee law, such as the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC), the Council of Europe, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Office also followed with great interest the efforts undertaken by the League of Arab States to prepare a draft convention on refugees in Arab countries.

18. The achievement of the Office's aims in providing international protection also calls for a better understanding for the special situation and needs of refugees among those called upon to deal with refugee problems at the governmental and non-governmental level and by the public at large. In January 1986, a Refugee Documentation Centre was finally incorporated into UNHCR. It contains public information materials and documents relating to assistance and integration, protection and solutions and external affairs. The Office is also working closely with voluntary agencies in an effort to establish an international network of refugee documentation centres. The distribution of "Refugees" magazine has been further enlarged. By May 1986 it had reached an estimated readership of well over half a million persons monthly, spread over 150 countries. Other means of enhancing general and specific knowledge of the international protection of refugees are currently being explored.

19. No new trends were observed in the early part of 1986 with respect to the protection of the basic rights of refugees. As in the past, States generally followed liberal practices of admission and in most instances asylum-seekers found a safe haven. Exceptions, nevertheless, continued to occur in a limited number of States where, as a matter of policy and practice, asylum-seekers were denied entry and the lives of several hundreds of persons were endangered as a result.

20. The great majority of States, irrespective of whether they have acceded to any of the main international refugee instruments, also observe the fundamental principle of non-refoulement. Exceptions continue to exist, however, and in the early part of 1986 several individual refugees were forcibly returned to their countries of origin.

21. The political situation of the world today is characterized by what are possibly unprecedented levels of violence. Wars, other forms of armed conflict and violations of human rights take place in most parts of the globe, with the result that the personal safety and very survival of refugees and asylum-seekers are increasingly at stake. Their physical safety is threatened or violated not only during the course of flight but also in transit centres and in refugee camps and settlements. It is estimated that several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers have lost their lives during the first five months of 1986 as a result of such violence, while scores of others suffered injuries in various forms. Large numbers of women and girls were also abducted and subjected to sexual abuse. The particular problems of military and armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements and the protection of refugee women are dealt with in more detail in paragraphs 34-58 below.

22. The phenomenon of unjustified detention of refugees and asylum-seekers continued to manifest itself. Thus, in the early part of 1986, several hundred individual refugees and asylum-seekers were automatically detained in a number of countries for no other reason. than that of illegal entry or for having overstayed the validity of their entry visa. Such detention disregarded the fact that their irregular entry or presence was due exclusively to the need to find asylum. A related problem encountered by UNHCR in some countries has been the lack of access to refugees and asylum-seekers in detention. In various situations, States continued to accommodate asylum-seekers and refugees in camps in conditions equivalent to detention. Several tens of thousands of individuals are now confined in refugee camps in different parts of the world where they must live for an indefinite period in closely-guarded locations and which they are not free to leave on pain of reprisal. In view of the very serious nature of the problem of detention as a whole, UNHCR is proposing that it be examined in the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection at its eleventh meeting.

23. UNHCR has continued to promote the voluntary return of refugees to their countries of origin. In so doing, it has applied Executive Committee Conclusions No. 18 (XXXI) and No. 40 (XXXVI). During the first five months of 1986, one tripartite commission was established; elsewhere the creation of such commissions was under active consideration by States and UNHCR. In a few refugee situations further concrete steps were taken in an effort to promote and facilitate voluntary return including assistance with transport and transit and with the rehabilitation, reintegration and security of returnees. In one instance the High Commissioner also appealed to the international community for funds to establish a large-scale programme for the reception of returning refugees to their country of origin.

24. As indicated in paragraph 14 above, some 150,000 refugees are reported as having returned to their countries of origin during the first five months of 1986. The vast majority of these returned on their own in a spontaneous manner. More than 60,000 returned because of armed attacks against their settlements and the resulting fear and insecurity.

25. In many instances, the solution of voluntary repatriation call for action to meet the causes of the given refugee problem. In two parts of the world - Central America and South-West Asia - the international community continued its earlier efforts to arrive at a political solution to the upheavals in those regions so as to permit a voluntary return of large numbers of refugees in safety and dignity. So far, however, these efforts have not been crowned with success. In other refugee situations, it has not proved possible for the international community to take any effective action to achieve this end.


26. Recent years have seen a change in the characteristics of some refugee flows and recent developments in this regard were discussed during the last two sessions of the Executive Committee. At the thirty-sixth session efforts were made to adopt conclusions on "irregular movements of refugees and asylum seekers". These are considered to be movements of refugees and asylum-seekers who have already found protection in one country to another country without first seeking prior authorization from the authorities of that other country. Such movements do not include direct movement from a country origin to a country of asylum, nor do they encompass the movement of persons who have merely passed through an intermediate country without having obtained protection there.

27. The draft Conclusions under debate attempted to strike a balance between the interests of refugees, countries of so-called first asylum and countries which refugees subsequently move. They state the principle that if refugees have found protection in one country, they should normally seek a durable solution there (which can also include taking advantage of possibilities) and should not travel onwards to seek a solution in another country without the agreement of its authorities. If they nevertheless do so, they may be returned to the original country provided that they are protected there against refoulement, are permitted to remain and are in accordance with recognized basic human standards until a durable solution is found for them.

28. During the discussions in the Executive Committee it was not, however, possible too reach a consensus. As a result, the Executive Committee "requested the High Commissioner to continue his consultations with a view to reaching agreement on the matter in a spirit of international co-operation and burden-sharing between States". The High Commissioner has since then continued his consultations without, however, so far obtaining a consensus on the draft Conclusions.

29. In order to assess the magnitude of the phenomenon of so-called irregular movements of refugees and asylum-seekers, it is not enough to look at raw statistical data concerning refugee movements in general. The vast majority of the 275,000 new asylum-seekers recorded during the first five months of 1986, for example, moved directly from their country of origin to neighbouring countries of first asylum. By definition they therefore fall outside the scope of "irregular movements".

30. Amongst the lesser numbers who moved indirectly, an assessment has to be made as to the nature of the protection they may or may not have received in an intermediate country. Such an assessment has not been made on a global basis. Out of the 41 Member States of the Executive Committee, only three can distinguish in their statistical data between direct and indirect arrivals and none reflects a distinction between refugees who have or who have not already found protection elsewhere. The High Commissioner is therefore encouraging these States to adapt their systems for data collection in order to gain a clearer picture of the characteristics of refugee movements.

31. The High Commissioner has also worked closely with those States which feel most affected by these movements, in an effort to identify appropriate and humane practical responses. He participated in the consultations convened in the Hague in April 1986 to examine the movement of refugees and asylum-seekers to European States. At this meeting, the High Commissioner expressed the view that the absence of formally adopted conclusions should not deter States from seeking appropriate solutions. He reaffirmed the leadership role of his Office in this context and has subsequently invited concerned States to examine jointly specific refugee situations.

32. The aim of these discussions is, first of all, to promote a better understanding of the factors which motivate movements of refugees and asylum-seekers and their special situation and needs; secondly, to identify appropriate and humane solutions; and thirdly, to achieve the broadest possible co-operation between States based on the concept of international solidarity and sharing in solutions.

33. To date, concerned States have generally responded to the changing characteristics of refugee movements on an individual basis. Through his démarches, the High Commissioner seeks to promote co-operation and co-ordination amongst States. Based on the experience gained in dealing with specific refugee movements, it is hoped that a humane doctrine can be developed which can be embodied in the adoption of a set of Conclusions. These Conclusions should entail recognition of the conditions which generate or perpetuate refugee flows and the need to provide durable solutions based on the principle of international solidarity.


34. Having only occurred sporadically during previous years, by the end of the 1970s military and armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements became a distressingly common occurrence. As a result, the problem was discussed for the first time at the thirty-second session of the Executive Committee in 1981. Subsequently it has been the subject of studies and debate both in the Executive Committee and in a number of other international forums.

35. The efforts undertaken in the Executive Committee have been aimed at identifying a set of principles that can be adopted by States to deal effectively with military and armed attacks. After more than five years, however, they have not borne fruit. At its thirty-sixth session the Executive Committee "stressed the importance of the question being kept under constant review and requested its Chairman to continue consultations on the matter." These consultations are still proceeding as this Note is being prepared.

36. It is generally agreed that refugee camps and settlements must be used exclusively for civilian and humanitarian purposes and that countries of asylum or refuge, concerned United Nations bodies and refugees themselves should spare no effort to ensure their exclusively civilian and humanitarian character. According to one view, the maintenance of their civilian character is a pre-condition for the condemnation of military and armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements. Other States, while recognizing that refugee camps and settlements should be used exclusively for civilian and humanitarian purposes, are reluctant to agree that this should be made a pre-condition. In their view, all military and armed attacks should be condemned in unequivocal and unqualified terms.

37. Since the last session of the Executive Committee, several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers have been killed in military and armed attacks and even larger numbers injured. The material damage has also been considerable. Nor should it be forgotten that in most of these incidents deaths, injuries and material damage were also inflicted upon the civilian population of the country of asylum, refugee workers and civilian property.

38. Even as delegates were starting their deliberations in Geneva. at the thirty-sixth session, a new armed attack was taking place against a refugee settlement in Africa. Sixteen refugees lost their lives and several others were wounded. Since then, a number of military or armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements have taken again place. In 1986, as yet unidentified assailants undertook a series of armed attacks against several settlements in another country on the African continent, in which at least 15 refugees died and many more received injuries. As a result, a sense of panic gripped the refugee population in that part of the country and tens of thousands of refugees went into hiding in search of relative security outside established camps and settlements.

39. Shortly afterwards, again in Africa, the armed forces of one country bombed a reception centre for refugees and asylum-seekers in another State. on this occasion 11 refugees lost their lives and several others were injured. In addition, considerable material damage was inflicted upon this centre which was financed by UNHCR.

40. Elsewhere, during the same period, refugees were the victims of armed attacks in their respective countries of residence. Although these attacks did not appear to be directed at particular camps and settlements established for refugees, they nevertheless took many lives among the refugee population. In other instances attacks were directed at the homes of refugees in urban centres.

41. In the course of military and armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements, not only the lives of refugees in general but also the physical integrity of refugee women and girls are threatened. In a number of instances, refugee women are subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. During a series of such attacks which took place as this Note was drafted in early June 1986, several dozen refugee women were raped.

42. When the perpetrator of a military or armed attack was clearly identified, the High Commissioner protested in the strongest terms and requested assurances of non-recurrence. In all instances of military or armed attacks, the office expressed its grave concern and worked closely with national authorities and agencies to provide adequate care and treatment for the victims. Finally, no effort was spared in finding More secure accommodation for the affected refugees.

43. As part of its protection activities, UNHCR alerts governments to the danger to which refugee camps and settlements may be exposed and in a number of cases such camps and settlements have been relocated to safer areas. In these instances, UNHCR co-operated closely with the national authorities in order to facilitate relocation. Whenever warranted, the Office intervened to promote respect for the fundamental principle that refugee camps and settlements should only be used for purely civilian and humanitarian purposes. Close co-operation was also maintained with the political organs of the United Nations system.

44. Humanitarian action to assist and protect refugees will go some way towards alleviating hardships suffered by the victims. Humanitarian action unaccompanied by effective efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict is not, however, likely to achieve its overall objective. Too many refugee situations today have degenerated because of a failure to address their causes. Indeed, refugees are increasingly exploited for political purposes, which also exposes them to military or armed attacks.

45. The High Commissioner remains seriously concerned by the problem of military and armed attacks affecting the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers. He will continue to work with States in an effort to prevent further attacks by taking appropriate preventive measures, such as the relocation of camps and settlements to safer areas and to ensure their civilian and humanitarian character. His Office will, of course, assist the victims of such attacks.

46. It remains for States, however, at the highest level, to support concrete efforts to deal with this serious humanitarian problem. They must, in particular, address the underlying causes of refugee situations and ensure that the humanitarian problems of refugees do not become caught up in political confrontations and that the physical integrity of the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers are fully respected.


47. Programmes for the protection and assistance of refugees cannot be properly designed and implemented without a clear understanding of their particular characteristics and needs. While a global approach must be taken in developing such programmes this requires an analysis of the component groups of the refugee population. With this perspective, UNHCR has in recent years paid special attention to the needs of refugee women and girls.

48. At its thirty-sixth session, the Executive Committee "noted that refugee women and girls constitute the majority of the world refugee population and that many of them are exposed to special problems in the field of International Protection". The Committee "recognized that these problems result from their vulnerable situation which frequently exposes them to physical violence, sexual abuse and discrimination". In its Conclusion No. 39 (XXXVI), the Executive Committee "stressed that such problems should receive the urgent attention of governments and UNHCR and that all appropriate measures be taken to guarantee refugee women and girls' protection against violence or threats to their physical safety, sexual abuse or harassment".

49. The Executive Committee also requested the High Commissioner to report regularly to its members on the needs of refugee women, and on existing and proposed programmes for their benefit. The following paragraphs deal with such needs in so far as they refer to the protection of refugee women, and with action being proposed or already undertaken by UNHCR.

50. In overall terms, the situation regarding the protection of refugee women is relatively unchanged from last year. Physical violence, including rape and sexual abuse, against refugee women continues to occur in many parts of the world. During flight along overland routes, women asylum-seekers have been raped, abducted or otherwise sexually abused in a number of instances, particularly in border areas which are sparsely populated or where national authorities exercise limited control. They have also taken place in areas which are controlled by military rather than civilian authorities. It is not possible to form an accurate picture of the magnitude of the problem since UNHCR is not necessarily advised of such incidents. In some instances, efforts are in fact made by some to shield the offenders. In South-East Asia, elaborate systems for reporting on violence against refugee women at sea permit a more accurate assessment of the situation. During the first four months of 1986, 62 women asylum-seekers were abducted, of whom only nine were recovered and a further 54 raped or subjected to other forms of sexual abuse.

51. Women refugees continue to suffer physical violations and sexual abuse once in reception centres, camps and settlements. Such infringements upon their physical integrity are not limited to any particular set of countries or any one continent. A less evident form of sexual exploitation is also prevalent in some parts of the world, where women may feel compelled to enter into relationships, for example, in order to receive food. As with incidents during flight, it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of how widespread such abuse is, since refugee women are often inhibited from reporting their victimisation out of guilt and shame or for fear of reprisals and ostracism. Physical violence within marriage and abandonment by husbands have also occurred when refugees are forced to live for extended periods in camps with no freedom of movement and no hope for the future.

52. Similar problems of sexual abuse, exploitation and prostitution exist with respect to women refugees living outside camps and settlements, especially in urban areas. Women in rural settings usually have a family structure to fall back on for support. In urban settings, however, refugees may also be more exposed and more vulnerable to abuse. In the absence of suitable assistance programmes for their benefit, they depend to a larger degree on their own resources and may, therefore, be particularly vulnerable to exploitation and/or have no alternative to prostitution.

53. A variety of measures have already been undertaken or can be envisaged to counter the risk of physical violence and sexual abuse facing refugee women. In South-East Asia the most notable effort so far has been the Anti-Piracy Programme, established by the Royal Thai Government, which was further strengthened in early 1986. During the first three months of this year, 15% of women arriving in Thailand were the victims of rape or abduction, as opposed to 25% for the first three months of last year. In contrast, statistics for the region as a whole show no marked improvement over previous years. Where refugees flee overland, UNHCR has sought to strengthen its physical presence along escape-routes in an effort to curtail abduction, physical violence and sexual abuse. It also encourages co-operation by the authorities in the adoption of preventive measures, as well as the reporting of incidents and the identification and prosecution of those involved.

54. UNHCR has furthermore sought to strengthen its presence and that of agency personnel in refugee camps and settlements. A particularly successful method of protection in some situations has been to provide single women, widows and households headed by a woman with separate accommodation. Where necessary, UNHCR has also encouraged stricter surveillance of camp limits by national authorities. As a result of incidents in certain camps, UNHCR has arranged for the provision of extra lighting, when needed, to facilitate surveillance at night. As with situations arising during flight, UNHCR has sought co-operation by national authorities in the identification and prosecution of offenders and the prevention of reprisals; on several occasions perpetrators have been brought to trial, convicted and sentenced.

55. Specially qualified social counsellors, employed either directly by UNHCR or indirectly through voluntary agencies, have been assigned to work with vulnerable groups of refugee women. Their task is twofold: first, they encourage women to report incidents where their physical has been threatened or violated and they work with victims to mitigate the consequences of such abuse. Secondly, they encourage women to take part in communal activities, to participate in educational and vocational programmes and to avail themselves of existing health services.

56. When setting up such programmes UNHCR attempts to provide aid without infringing upon cultural habits. Methods or personnel used must be understandable to or familiar with the beneficiaries of assistance. Health services are most effective when training is provided for members of the refugee community or those traditionally responsible for health problems. In particular, refugee women of a rural background are less hesitant to go to female medical personnel with health problems or for information. UNHCR has also promoted the establishment of appropriate self-help and income-generating programmes which provide an independent source of income, thereby increasing the earnings of refugee women and their families. Such programmes help remove the pressures that may lead to prostitution.

57. A more general problem facing women in reception centres, camps and settlements has been loosely defined as "discrimination". Since, almost always women alone perform domestic tasks, the well-being of the family unit and thus of refugee camp life, depends on their good health. The provision of basic necessities and of health, educational and vocational training services on a gender-neutral basis may in certain situations result in discrimination. To minimize discriminatory effects, UNHCR has continued to promote women's participation in the establishment and implementation of assistance programmes. This has permitted the identification of women's special needs as well as t e design of appropriate responses. UNHCR counsellors have also encouraged refugee women and girls to participate in educational and other vocational training programmes and in some countries such projects have met with considerable success.

58. As indicated above, providing international protection to refugees requires a clear understanding of the situations and needs of the total refugee population, including those of refugee women and girls. Guidelines have recently been issued to UNHCR field staff setting out the objectives of such protection and describing possible means of achieving them. UNHCR will continue its efforts to strengthen the protection of refugee women and girls. In this, as with other protection problems, the active support of States and voluntary agencies remains essential.


59. Half a decade ago, the High Commissioner informed the Executive Committee of the presence in the world of some ten million refugees in need of international protection. The overwhelming majority of the refugee situations which had arisen at that time remain because effective durable solutions have so far not been found.

60. In general, the international community as a whole has been unable to mitigate the causes which give rise to refugee movements and large numbers of persons continue to feel compelled to leave their countries of origin in search of refuge. In some refugee situation's, flows have now lasted for over a decade.

61. Refugee situations are an integral part of political, social and economic developments in the world and of upheavals and divisions within the international community; as such they cannot be understood or treated in isolation. Humanitarian action for the benefit of refugees can never be entirely successful, without at the same time treating the underlying causes of refugee movements. The full accomplishment of international protection durable solutions - can only be achieved through such action.

62. Nevertheless, there has been a tendency in recent years to believe that as long as humanitarian intervention takes care of the victims, the underlying political situation can be disregarded. Worse still, refugees are now frequently viewed as legitimate tools for the advancement of State policies, thereby becoming victims twice. In these circumstances, the humanitarian problems of refugees are condemned to remain an integral part of the political confrontations which cause them.

63. Four fundamental principles should guide the international community in providing international protection to refugees. First, it is imperative to continue efforts to ensure that refugees are asylum, protected against refoulement and treated in accordance with recognized humane standards. Second, international protection must operate in the context of efforts to find durable solutions. Third, no durable or temporary solution should be conceived without full account being taken of fundamental protection concerns. Finally, the root causes of refugee movements must now be addressed in their own right and whenever the political issues which attend refugee flows are discussed between States. This approach is long overdue with respect to the multitude of refugee situations which have been allowed to perpetrate themselves but is equally valid when examining responses to emerging refugee situations.

64. Specific actions must be accompanied by efforts to reaffirm the spirit of international solidarity. Policies adopted by States in one part of the world can have profound effects on refugee situations in other parts and there is hardly any refugee situation in the world today whose effects are limited to one country, one region or one continent. Interdependence and interaction between States entail joint responsibility for identifying and implementing durable solutions for refugees, be they voluntary repatriation, whenever feasible, or integration into a new community. It is the task of the High Commissioner to try to achieve the broadest possible participation and sharing between States in implementing such solutions.

65. In carrying out his purely humanitarian mandate, it is essential that the High Commissioner maintains a position of impartiality and independence. He is also required to fulfil the function of catalyst by encouraging and facilitating examination and analysis of refugee problems through a constructive dialogue between all parties - refugees, countries of origin, countries of asylum and other concerned States.

66. While being a refugee should be a temporary state of affairs, there is a real danger of refugee situations and the problems of refugees becoming institutionalized and of people remaining refugees forever. The foremost challenge facing the international community today is to reverse this trend. In this joint endeavour, the High Commissioner appeals to States for continued support for his efforts to extend international protection and, in particular, for a clear and constructive commitment to provide humane and permanent solutions for refugees leading to their renewed belonging in a community.

(Note: Statistical and financial tables not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)