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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)

23 July 1985


1. In evaluating current developments in the field of international protection, the most positive aspect is the continuing willingness of many States in all regions of the world - even when faced with serious economic difficulties - to grant asylum to refugees and to ensure that they are treated in accordance with internationally-recognized standards. Also encouraging is the fact that 97 States are now parties to the basic international refugee instruments, the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. As a result, of the some 10 million refugees in the world today, more than two-thirds have found protection in countries which are parties to these instruments. Further accessions to these basic instruments - and the adoption by States of corresponding implementing national and municipal legislation - will undoubtedly help to strengthen the international and national legal framework which is the indispensable cornerstone of international action on behalf of refugees.

2. Nevertheless, the period since the last session of the Executive Committee was no different from previous years in that the basic rights and interests of refugees and asylum-seekers have continued to be disregarded in different areas of the world. In various refugee situations, sometimes involving large numbers of individuals, States have sought to adopt restrictive practices with regard to the granting of asylum. It will be seen that such practices have sometimes involved the unjustified detention of refugees and asylum-seekers. Several thousand persons in all areas of the world have found themselves in detention, often kept in the most deplorable conditions together with common criminals. The principal justification for their detention was that of illegal entry or of having overstayed the validity of their entry visa; irrespective of the fact that such irregular entry or presence was due exclusively to the need to find refuse from persecution or to avoid dangers resulting from severe internal upheaval or armed conflict. In other instances, sizeable numbers of bona fide refugees and asylum-seekers have been detained in holding centres or closed camps where no durable solution by way of voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement is offered to them. Such lengthy confinement with no solution in sight undermines the physical and psychological well-being of refugees. The fact that several tens of thousands have been waiting in such centres or camps over a number of years speaks of the human suffering involved.

3. Even though the majority of States scrupulously adhere to the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, there are nevertheless continuing serious instances of violation of this principle in different parts of the world involving both individual refugees as well as large groups. Nor is the physical safety of refugees assured in any larger measure than during previous years. Military and armed attacks continued on refugee camps, settlements and even on individual refugees living in urban centres. Scores of refugees were killed in such attacks while many others suffered grave bodily injury. Deplorable acts of piracy continued to be committed against asylum-seekers in the South China Sea although, according to available statistics, on a slightly decreasing scale as compared with previous years.

4. A review of the protection activities of UNHCR thus shows that serious problems involving denial of asylum, refoulement, absence of physical safety and unjustified detention of refugees and asylum-seekers have over the last years regrettably become constant features of the refugee situation. In a search for solutions to these problems, several fundamental aspects should be highlighted.

5. Firstly, UNHCR cannot substitute for the will and determination of States to provide solutions to refugee problems. In instances where the political interests of States take precedence over humanitarian concerns, the effective international protection of refugees cannot be achieved. In other words, in situations where durable solutions are not offered by States, the international protection of refugees will suffer. In such circumstances, it is more than ever necessary to approach the search for solutions to refugee problems in a global context and in a humanitarian spirit involving not only UNHCR and countries of first asylum, but also countries of origin and other interested States as well as competent organizations both within and outside the United Nations system. In a number of forums, including at the recently-held Consultations on the Arrivals of Asylum-seekers and Refugees in Europe, the need for such a global approach was clearly recognized. No effort should be spared by the international community to seek solutions in this manner to the refugee problems that confront the world today.

6. Secondly, it should be recognized that refugees include not only persons who are outside their country due to an individual fear of persecution but also persons who have fled their home country due to armed conflicts, internal turmoil and situations involving gross and systematic violations of human rights. Even though the majority of today's refugees are persons who do not fall within the "classic" refugee definition in the UNHCR Statute, they have, as helpless victims of man-made disasters without the possibility of safe return, come to be recognized as persons of concern to the High Commissioner. This has been confirmed by successive resolutions of the General Assembly. While there is general recognition that such persons qualify for UNHCR protection and assistance in those regions of the world in which they originate, problems increasingly arise when they move individually to other regions where, due to the application of the "classic" refugee definition, they are not regarded as refugees. A search for solutions to the international protection problems raised in this Note must address the increasingly urgent need to ensure that persons in this category are provided with an appropriate legal status corresponding to their particular situation and needs.

7. Thirdly, UNHCR is increasing its effectiveness in the field of international protection. A number of measures are currently being implemented to this effect including a reaffirmation of the principle that all field staff, irrespective of their functional title, have a fundamental protection role to fulfill. Other measures envisaged are a better and more intensive training of personnel with regard to international protection and improvements in the flow of information on protection matters within UNHCR. The effective exercise of the international protection function also calls for the provision of field personnel in adequate numbers. The latter consideration is of overwhelming importance as it is becoming increasingly evident in all areas of the world where refugee problems exist that a UNHCR presence is often the most effective, and sometimes the only, means of ensuring that the principles of international protection are observed.

8. It cannot be overlooked, when reviewing the evolution of refugee situations since the establishment of UNHCR, that the emphasis of protection problems in the 1980s has increasingly shifted to such fundamental issues as the physical safety of refugees and even their very survival. Many of these problems are the consequence of negative practices adopted by certain States in regard to refugees and asylum-seekers. They represent one of the most serious challenges confronting the international community at the present time in the area of international protection.

9. In pursuance of the High Commissioner's task of identifying particular problems in the area of international protection, the following paragraphs attempt to provide a comprehensive account of the principal issues confronting the Office with respect to asylum, non-refoulement, physical safety and detention. The Note also provides information in separate paragraphs on other developments relating to the international protection of refugees on matters such as voluntary repatriation, the refugee definition and the determination of refugee status, the international refugee instruments and promotion of refugee law.


10. Despite the substantial and sometimes dramatic increases in the number of asylum-seekers in different areas of the world over the last 12 months, it is most encouraging to note that many countries have continued to maintain fair and generous asylum practices. Of particular significance is the fact that many of these countries are amongst the poorest in the world; some of them have nevertheless provided asylum to several hundred thousand refugees or more. This continued willingness on the part of many States to grant asylum to persons fleeing from persecution or danger has unquestionably served to reinforce the institution of asylum.

11. Although this trend may give cause for some optimism, there are a number of problems which continue to arise and which are of a sufficiently serious nature to warrant special attention.

12. As stated in previous Notes on International Protection, a number of countries confronted with the arrival of large numbers of asylum-seekers have in recent years resorted to restrictive practices with regard to the granting of asylum or aimed at discouraging the further arrival of asylum-seekers. There was no sign during the reporting period that countries which had adopted such restrictive measures were contemplating their withdrawal or relaxation; indeed, there were indications that certain other countries were in the process of adopting similar measures.

13. These restrictive practices included a variety of measures such as prolonged detention of asylum-seekers and the adoption of summary procedures - sometimes not accompanied by adequate legal guarantees - for dealing with "abusive" or "manifestly unfounded" claims; the refusal to examine asylum requests based on a strict application of the notion of "country of first asylum" which has led to an increased incidence of rejections at borders and attempts to return refugees to countries which they have merely transited; the unduly strict interpretation of the term "refugee" as defined in the relevant international instruments coupled with the requirement that the asylum-seeker discharge an unduly heavy burden of proof; and the continued tendency of certain States to treat asylum as purely temporary. In so far as restrictive tendencies in Europe are concerned, these were discussed by States in the context of the Consultations on arrivals of refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe, organized by UNHCR in May 1985 and commented upon later in this Note.

14. Restrictive measures adopted by some States were, as in previous years, sometimes motivated by a fear of compromising bilateral relations with the refugees' country of origin, particularly if the latter is a neighbouring country. Such concern should not, however, be of decisive importance in view of the universally-accepted principle that the granting of asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act and that, as such, it should not be regarded as unfriendly by any other State. In other instances, States have taken unduly restrictive measures against refugees by invoking considerations of national security. In a number of cases, refugees have also been exposed to restrictive measures due to the desire of Governments to exploit them for political purposes.

15. A further motivation for such restrictive practices by States could be found in the increased "irregular" movements of refugees and asylum-seekers. Thus, a number of countries were increasingly faced with unprecedented numbers of persons arriving in an unco-ordinated manner as part of what sometimes appeared to be commercially organized groups. It was this aspect, coupled with the unfortunate fact that many of these persons travelled on forged documents or with no documents at all, which prompted certain States to adopt further restrictive measures. As a result of requests made by several members of the Executive Committee at its thirty-fifth session, UNHCR has arranged for a study of the "irregular movements" of refugees which will be submitted to the tenth meeting of the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection.

16. Mention should also be made of a developing problem which, in some parts of the world, could have serious implications for asylum. This is the steady build-up in the number of persons in holding centres in various countries for whom no durable solution by way of voluntary repatriation, local integration or third country resettlement has yet been found. Some of these "long-stayers" who number several tens of thousands, have been waiting in camps for a number of years. Unless appropriate solutions are found in accordance with the principle of international solidarity and burden-sharing, this situation may have adverse consequences for asylum, not to mention the suffering of the human beings concerned.


17. The fundamental principle of non-refoulement has found expression in a number of universal and regional international instruments as well as in the national legislation of a number of countries and has come to be characterized as a peremptory norm of international law. Since the thirty-fifth session of the Executive Committee, the principle received strong endorsement at the regional level at the Colloquium on International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Panama and Mexico, which met in Cartagena, Colombia in November 1984. The Colloquium adopted the "Cartagena Declaration on Refugees" in which the participating States unanimously concluded, inter alia, that the principle of non-refoulement is an overriding legal principle having a normative character independent of international instruments.

18. In practice, although the majority of States have scrupulously adhered to the principle of non-refoulement, there have nevertheless again been instances of violation in different parts of the world. The victims of these violations were individual refugees as well as large groups. Some of the persons affected were recognized refugees, but the vast majority were persons whose refugee status had not yet been determined. Such occurrences, as observed in previous Notes, once again underline the importance of establishing procedures or arrangements for identifying refugees and of taking appropriate measures to ensure that these are available to all persons claiming to be refugees, as recommended by the Executive Committee at its twenty-eight session.

19. Of major significance in regard to the principle of non-refoulement was the general agreement reached amongst States which participated in the Consultations on the Arrivals of Asylum-seekers and Refugees in Europe that persons who cross international boundaries to escape from severe internal upheavals and armed conflicts should not be returned against their will to areas where they may be exposed to danger.

Physical safety

20. The serious and intractable problem of the physical safety of refugees and asylum-seekers has continued to be a major preoccupation of the Office. Foremost amongst its various manifestations are the continued military and armed attacks on refugee camps, settlements and even individual refugees living in urban centres.

21. A report on the subject was prepared by a former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ambassador Felix Schnyder, and the Executive Committee has studied various aspects of the problem including the respective responsibilities of the country of asylum, the country of origin, the international community and the refugees themselves in avoiding such attacks. It is hoped that continued negotiations will make it possible to identify practical modalities to respond to the humanitarian aspects of this problem. The issue is being proposed for further consideration within the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection. It is a positive development that the General Assembly, at its thirty-ninth session, unanimously adopted a resolution which, inter alia, condemned such attacks.

22. The need for a response has become increasingly urgent as such armed attacks continue. Over the last 12 months, refugees in camps and settlements were the object of military or armed attacks not only from across but also from within national borders. In a few countries, armed elements were routinely allowed access to refugee camps with the object of maintaining security, but on a number of occasions they resorted to serious acts of violence against refugees and robbed them of their possessions. In one country, heavily-armed groups continued an earlier practice of illegally entering a refugee camp in order to harass refugees, some of whom were killed, raped or robbed.

23. While deplorable acts of piracy continued to be committed against asylum-seekers in the South China Sea, according to available statistics, 1984 witnessed a decline in the percentage of boats attacked. Of the total number of boats arriving in both Thailand and Malaysia, 34 per cent were attacked in 1984 as compared with 43 per cent in 1983. The level of violence associated with such attacks, however, has remained high. During 1984, the number of known deaths attributed to piracy was 59, while 130 abductions were reported and 110 women were known to have been sexually assaulted. Under the Anti-Piracy Arrangement established by the Royal Thai Government which, through the co-operation of a number of donor Governments, has now been extended for a third year, efforts have continued to combat the problem. Measures currently undertaken under this Arrangement include preventive sea and air patrols, the follow-up investigation and prosecution of suspects on land and the nationwide registration of fishing boats. UNHCR notes that compared to previous years, there was a marked increase in the number of individual suspects brought to trial and sentenced during 1984 and the first quarter of 1985.

24. Another aspect of ensuring the physical safety of asylum-seekers to which UNHCR has continued to devote attention is the rescue of asylum-seekers in distress at sea. It may be recalled that the Executive Committee at its thirty-fifth session noted with concern that the rescues of asylum-seekers in distress at sea had decreased significantly in 1983 and again in 1984 and strongly recommended that the proposed Rescue at Sea Resettlement Offers (RASRO) scheme be implemented on a trial basis as soon as possible and that additional resettlement places for this purpose be provided as a matter of urgency. The objective of this scheme is to encourage more rescues by facilitating the disembarkation of asylum-seekers. By setting an annual maximum resettlement intake for each participating country, the scheme provide for an equitable sharing of the burden of resettlement arising from rescue. The RASRO scheme came into operation in May 1985 and almost 3,000 places have been pledged by 15 subscribing countries.

25. The Office also updated and distributed to all shipmasters a booklet entitled "Guidelines for Disembarkation of Refugees" which contains detailed information regarding disembarkation procedures. UNHCR further continued a scheme for the reimbursement of expenses incurred by shipmasters for the care and maintenance of rescued asylum-seekers on board and is currently looking into the possibility of improving this scheme further. The Office has also maintained contact with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) with regard to the rescue of asylum-seekers in distress at sea and the question of piracy. The High Commissioner greatly welcomes the recent designation by the IMO of an expert to study the general problem of piracy in South-East Asian waters.


26. Detention of refugees and asylum-seekers remained a major problem in the area of international protection. It is of course a basic principle of human rights that a person should not be subject to unjustified measures of detention or imprisonment. Such measures, when taken in respect of refugees, may be at variance with article 31 of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention which provides for non-penalization of refugees on the sole ground of their illegal entry or presence and which calls upon contracting States not to apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary.

27. Over the last 12 months, thousands of refugees in all areas of the world found themselves in detention for no reason other than that of illegal entry or of having overstayed the validity of their entry visa, without regard to the circumstance that such irregular entry or presence was due exclusively to the need to find refuge from persecution or to avoid the dangers resulting from severe internal upheavals or armed conflicts. While it may be unavoidable in certain cases to detain individual asylum-seekers during an initial period after entry in order to establish their identity and the bona fide character of their asylum claim, the indeterminate deprivation of liberty beyond such an initial period is unjustifiable, except for serious reasons of national security or public order, a criminal record, or the likelihood that the asylum-seeker may abscond before his claim to refugee status can be adjudicated. UNHCR therefore sought to stress the importance of asylum countries refraining from applying measures of detention to persons of its concern, save as an exceptional and temporary measure. The treatment of refugees with particular reference to the problem of detention was the subject of a Round Table discussion held in San Remo, Italy, in September 1984, under the auspices of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law. The Round Table adopted a number of important conclusions on the subject for the consideration of Governments.

28. Some countries adopted or maintained a blanket detention policy under which all "illegal" or "excludable" entrants were automatically detained, even if their identity and the bona fide character of their asylum claim had been established. A few countries kept asylum-seekers in detention as part of a series of measures aimed at deterring further arrivals. Thus in some countries refugees, whose status as such was not in question, were detained for irregular entry and/or in connection with intended measures of expulsion or deportation to a third country, where they were supposed to have found protection. In some of these cases, however, expulsion measures could not be implemented because the so-called "countries of first asylum" were not willing to readmit such refugees. Since they could not be returned to their country of origin, where it was recognized they had reason to fear persecution, they had to face the prospect of being kept in detention for an indeterminate period.

29. A major problem which UNHCR encountered in a number of countries was lack of access to asylum-seekers in detention, who, in the main, were not informed of UNHCR's availability to assist them. In many other countries, however, UNHCR was regularly apprised of the detention of persons claiming to be refugees and was given access to such persons.

Voluntary repatriation

30. While it is generally accepted that voluntary repatriation, whenever feasible, is the most desirable durable solution to any given refugee situation, it is equally evident that it is not necessarily an easy solution to attain. It normally presupposes the elimination or at least the substantial removal of the cause of fear or danger which had led to the departure of refugees from their home country and, in many situations, the willingness of the country of origin to readmit its nationals and to co-operate with the country of asylum in arranging for their safe return. In many situations of large-scale influx, voluntary repatriation would nevertheless appear to be the only appropriate solution, provided of course that the necessary conditions are established in the country of origin.

31. The importance of voluntary repatriation as the ideal solution to current refugee problems has recently been reaffirmed in a number of forums including the Cartagena Colloquium on the International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama, the second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA II), inter-governmental seminars held in Addis Ababa and Yaoundé by way of follow-up to the recommendations of the 1979 Pan-African (Arusha) Conference on the Situation of Refugees in Africa and within the context of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC). It was further made the subject of an extensive study undertaken at the request of UNHCR and debated with government experts at a meeting arranged jointly by UNHCR and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law at San Remo in July 1985. The item is also proposed for further discussion by the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection at its tenth meeting.

32. In facilitating the voluntary repatriation of refugees role of UNHCR is to ensure, as a corollary to the principle of non-refoulement, that the voluntary character of repatriation is respected in all cases and that no refugee is repatriated against his will. The Office also seeks to ensure, preferably through direct access to areas where recently-repatriated refugees are located in their country of origin, that the safety guarantees which may have been offered prior to repatriation are being fully respected.

33. It is encouraging to note that since the last session of the Executive Committee, refugees have continued to avail themselves of the possibility of repatriation, either on an individual basis or within the framework Of large-scale repatriation programmes. As in previous years, the most significant large-scale repatriation programmes took Place in Africa. The principal repatriation programme was that involving Ethiopian refugees from Djibouti, which was initiated in 1983 and completed at the end of 1984. This programme, it will be recalled, was conducted under the auspices of a Tripartite Commission composed of representatives of the two Governments concerned and those of UNHCR. Under the programme, a total of some 32,000 refugees repatriated from Djibouti, some 13,000 of them being considered as having returned in an organized manner and the balance as having returned spontaneously. In a separate development, a registration exercise was carried out in Ethiopia by the League of Red Cross Societies. According to that exercise, it was determined that some 317,000 persons had returned spontaneously during the course of 1983 and 1984.

34. Other major repatriation operations in Africa involved the spontaneous return of some 300,000 Guinean exiles following the events which took place in that country in April 1984. The organized repatriation of Ugandan refugees continued, with a total of some 27,000 having repatriated from Zaire and nearly 6,000 from the Sudan. It is also estimated that several thousand Ugandans returned spontaneously, mainly from Zaire, outside the organized repatriation programme.

35. The repatriation of Latin American refugees, both from within and outside the region, to Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Chile, following political changes in the first three countries and a declaration of amnesty in the last, continued steadily during the reporting period. The most significant repatriation operation involving Latin American refugees from outside the region occurred when some 1,200 persons in Spain were repatriated with UNHCR assistance to their countries of origin, with the largest number returning to Argentina. The question of the possible large-scale repatriation of Salvadorian refugees in Honduras was the subject of discussion between UNHCR and the two Governments concerned. Some 2,000 Salvadorian refugees repatriated from Honduras on an individual basis during the reporting period. The voluntary repatriation to the Lao People's Democratic Republic of Lao refugees in Thailand continued, albeit in reduced numbers.

The refugee-definition and determination of refugee status

36. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - the modern-day Magna Carta - embodies the principle that one has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Underlying this basic humanitarian principle is the universal conviction that every person is entitled to freedom from persecution. The vast majority of those seeking asylum today are however not persons fleeing from direct persecution or because of fear of persecution, but rather persons who have been displaced from their countries owing to severe internal upheavals or armed conflicts. Through a series of General Assembly resolutions, UNHCR's competence has been extended also to this latter category of persons.

37. In accordance with his mandate, the High Commissioner is thus required to extend international protection to all refugees and to promote durable solutions to their problems. Although these tasks are not controversial in so far as they relate to refugees who have suffered persecution or who are fleeing because of a fear of persecution, they are not so readily accepted in the case of persons who have been displaced for reasons of severe internal upheavals or armed conflict. Although there is a growing recognition by States that persons in this latter category should be protected from danger through the granting of at least temporary asylum and not subjected to refoulement until conditions in their country of origin permit their return, there is nevertheless at times an absence of agreement as to the form of protection measures to which they should be entitled. There is at present a steadily growing number of such refugees and asylum-seekers who leave their region of origin and travel in search of protection and assistance to other areas of the world where, due to the application of the narrower definition, they are not regarded as refugees. The difficulty which has arisen for persons in this situation is that of defining their legal status, which should at least include protection against refoulement and permission to remain in the territory until an appropriate solution is found for them. There is a growing and increasingly acute need for this particular problem to be addressed.

38. As regards the determination of refugee status, it would appear that States increasingly recognize the importance of adopting appropriate procedures or arrangements enabling refugees to avail themselves of the various rights and standards of treatment accorded them by the international community and to take advantage of the international protection extended to refugees by UNHCR.

39. It is therefore encouraging to note that since the last session of the Executive Committee a further three States have joined the 40 States which had already adopted refugee status determination procedures. This, however, represents less than half the number of States at present party to the international refugee instruments. It is hoped, therefore, that more States parties will see their way to establishing such procedures in due course.

40. It is also important that procedures for the determination of refugee status, once established, should function effectively. This is a matter which needs to be kept under constant review. It is therefore encouraging to note that some 10 countries have adopted or are considering the adoption of measures aimed at making their procedures more effective.

The international refugee instruments

41. Since the basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees are defined and elaborated in various international instruments, notably the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, it is one of the essential functions of UNHCR to promote accession to these instruments. Following the last session of the Executive Committee, one further State has acceded to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol bringing to 97 the number of States parties to these basic international refugee instruments. The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol cannot, however, be regarded as having acquired a truly universal effect until all or most of the Member States of the United Nations have become party to them.

42. In Central America, one of the regions where large-scale refugee situations exist but where not all States have so far acceded to the basic international refugee instruments, the recently-adopted Cartagena Declaration on Refugees calls on the States in the region that have not already done so to accede to both instruments, without making any reservations limiting their application. The Declaration also calls on those States parties which have made reservations to consider the possibility of withdrawing them. Recommendations for further accessions to the Convention and Protocol were also made by the two seminars of government experts from the central and southern African regions which took place in Addis Ababa and Yaoundé in January and February 1985. These seminars were a follow-up to the recommendations of the 1979 Arusha Conference, which similarly called for accession to the international refugee instruments. Recommendations for accession were also made by the Commission on Human Rights of the League of Arab States in September and the Arab Lawyers' Union in November 1984.

43. The Office continued its efforts to encourage, where appropriate, the withdrawal of reservations introduced by States in respect of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. The Office also sought to encourage the withdrawal of the geographical limitation by which contracting States may limit their obligations under the Convention to persons who had become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe before 1 January 1951. If the limitation is applied, the provisions contained in the 1951 Convention would not be extended to refugees coming from outside Europe. The limitation, unless withdrawn, also applies in respect of a State's obligations under the 1967 Protocol. The High Commissioner is pleased to note that since the last session of the Executive Committee the geographical limitation was withdrawn by one country1 with the result that it is now maintained only by seven States.2 It is hoped that those States still maintaining the geographical limitation will see their way to withdrawing it in the near future.

Promotion of refugee law

44. The High Commissioner has continued his activities in the field of the promotion, advancement and dissemination of the principles of refugee law. These activities form an integral part of his protection function and are aimed not only at advancing the acceptance of and adherence to existing principles but also at promoting the development of international refugee law to meet the demands of contemporary refugee situations.

45. At the international level, the High Commissioner has followed closely the work of various United Nations bodies dealing with topics relevant to the protection activities of his Office. The High Commissioner has also continued to maintain close contact with regional intergovernmental organizations, with a view to promoting the development of refugee law at the regional level. For this purpose the High Commissioner has maintained close contact with, inter alia, the Council of Europe, the League of Arab States, the Islamic Conference, the Organization of African Unity, the Organization of American States and the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee.

46. The Council of Europe continues to provide an effective framework for constructive co-operation in favour of refugees, a long-standing tradition of Western Europe. As in past years, UNHCR actively co-operated with the Council of Europe, both at the intergovernmental and parliamentary levels, in areas of mutual concern. In co-operation with the Organization of American States the High Commissioner has organized a number of seminars of government experts by way of follow-up to the 1979 Arusha Conference. It is hoped that the conclusions of these seminars will be of value for the international protection of refugees in Africa. The second of a three-phase co-operative venture between the Organization of American States and UNHCR, to examine the concept of asylum and refugee status as well as relevant naturalization regulations, has now been completed.

47. At its fourth session in September 1984, the Commission on Human Rights of the League of Arab States adopted a resolution requesting member States to accede to the international refugee instruments and to prepare a supplementary Regional Refugee Convention. It should also be mentioned that in November 1984, the Arab Lawyers' Union endorsed a similar request and drew the attention of Governments to the need for the issuance and renewal of travel documents for refugees.

48. The Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee, at its twenty-fourth session held in Kathmandu, Nepal in February 1985, considered the topic of voluntary repatriation and decided to undertake a study on this question together with UNHCR with a view to the possible adoption of an addendum to the principles concerning treatment of refugees adopted by the AALCC at its eighth session held in Bangkok in 1966.

49. In July 1985, the Office, in close collaboration with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law at San Remo, organized a meeting of government experts to discuss voluntary repatriation. A comprehensive study on this subject was presented as a background paper. In September 1985, the Office will co-operate in the organization of the annual Round Table on Current Problems of Humanitarian Law. Moreover, the Office will participate in a seminar of a "Group of Experts on Humanitarian Issues in Socialist Countries (Europe Region)" in September 1985, organized in Budapest under the auspices of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law and the Hungarian Red Cross.

50. The third course on Refugee Law and Protection intended for national authorities, organized jointly by the High Commissioner and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, was held in San Remo in December 1984. So far, participants from over 60 Governments have participated in these courses. In addition, the High Commissioner's representatives in various countries organized meetings and seminars for government authorities at the national level to advance understanding of the principles of refugee law.

51. The High Commissioner also attended a number of meetings where questions concerning refugee law in general and particular refugee problems were discussed. Of particular importance was the Colloquium on International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Panama and Mexico which was held under the auspices of His Excellency President Betancourt of Colombia at Cartagena in November 1984. The Colloquium, which was sponsored jointly by UNHCR, the University of Cartagena and the Centre for Third World Studies, was attended by senior government leaders from 10 countries. The conclusions adopted by the Colloquium, embodied in the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, will undoubtedly contribute to the further development of refugee law in Latin America. The Office was also represented at the December 1984 session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers. In addition, the Office was represented at a number of meetings held under the auspices of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, including a Round Table on the Detention of Refugees, held in Florence, Italy, in June 1984.

52. The activities of the High Commissioner in the field of the dissemination of the principles of refugee law have included translations of the refugee instruments in various languages and the publication and wide distribution of several documents on refugee law. The High Commissioner is in the process of streamlining his activities in the field of documentation by consolidating a number of publications and information materials on all aspects of the refugee problem in a Refugee Documentation Centre at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.


53. The shared interest of States in ensuring that refugees are treated according to accepted humanitarian standards provides the foundation for the High Commissioner's action in the field of International Protection. In promoting the protection of refugees, the High Commissioner may at times be required to call into question measures taken or contemplated by government authorities with regard to refugees. In the final analysis, however, the High Commissioner's fundamental role in extending international protection is to co-operate with States in their efforts to implement the legal and humanitarian standards established by the world community for the benefit of refugees. The full support and understanding of States is therefore a sine qua non for the successful accomplishment of the High Commissioner's international protection function.

54. The problems outlined in the present Note are international in scope and can only be solved through international co-operation. Such efforts have to be based on the principle of international solidarity and burden-sharing. Only in this manner can it be assured that accepted principles of international protection are not undermined, that countries of asylum continue to respect the principle of non-refoulement, that they follow liberal practices with regard to the admission of asylum-seekers, that they provide for the physical safety of asylum-seekers and treat them in accordance with internationally-recognized humanitarian standards. The High Commissioner trusts that he can continue to rely on the co-operation of Governments in his efforts to achieve these important objectives.

1 Argentina

2 Brazil, Italy, Madagascar, Malta, Monaco, Paraguay and Turkey.