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Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 28 January 1994

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Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 28 January 1994

28 January 1994
Africa: emergency response and the fragility of solutionsCentral and South-West Asia: crisis and the challenge of preventionEurope: the search for a comprehensive strategyAsia and Oceania: progressing towards solutionsAmericas and the Caribbean: moving to the post-CIREFCA phaseBuilding partnerships: PARinACThe question of resourcesThinking ahead

Mr. Chairman, distinguished representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you at the first informal meeting of the Executive Committee in 1994. This is the first time I address the Committee since my re-election by the General Assembly for a new five-year term as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank you for the confidence you have shown in me and in the work of my Office. As you are aware, I have appointed Mr. Gerald Walzer as my Deputy. I know that we can both count on your continued support as we face the many challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead. I, for my part, commit the Office to a strategy of emergency response, solutions and prevention in order to respond effectively to the crises of human displacement that have become such a tragic hallmark of the post-cold war world.

Africa: emergency response and the fragility of solutions

Nowhere more than Africa, Mr. Chairman, has that strategy been put more severely to the test. Following the attempted coup in Burundi on 21 October 1993 and its bloody aftermath, an estimated 580,000 Burundi nationals have fled to neighbouring countries. It is extremely gratifying that the major asylum countries, namely Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zaire, have generously given refuge. Despite the early deployment of UNHCR emergency teams to coordinate relief and protection efforts, the rapidity of the exodus and the logistics problems were daunting.

The regional implications of the events in Burundi and their potential impact on the situation of Rwandese refugees which had been moving progressively towards a solution are of considerable concern. No crisis better illustrates, Mr. Chairman, the need to pursue solutions from the earliest possible moment. Therefore, I have appointed Mr. Michel Moussalli, UNHCR's former Director of International Protection, as my Special Envoy to the area. He is working in close cooperation with the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and of the OAU in order to ensure that humanitarian and political initiatives are fully coordinated.

The Deputy High Commissioner will be visiting the region next week to pursue prospects for solutions as well as examine the effectiveness of our operations.

There are some signs of return of refugees to Burundi, mainly from Tanzania. To take advantage of the momentum, we are fielding an emergency mobile team to the areas of return to establish presence, obtain further information and provide assistance.

Much of the rest of Africa, Mr. Chairman, remains a patchwork of crisis and fragile hope. In Angola, a terrible civil war continues to cause untold suffering in a country which little over a year ago appeared to be on the brink of a political solution. In Somalia, the exodus of refugees has declined but the situation is not yet conducive to massive repatriation. More positively, the return of refugees has gathered momentum in Mozambique as the peace agreement continues to hold. Following the signature of an agreement with the South African government in October 1993, UNHCR is strengthening its operational capacity in South Africa to assist the repatriation of Mozambican refugees, as well as to consolidate the structures for refugee protection. I plan to visit the region next month to obtain a first-hand view of the repatriation operation to Mozambique.

A Memorandum of Understanding has been concluded also with the Liberian government to provide the framework for repatriation and reintegration. However, security remains a matter of deep concern, with serious incidents in the Vahun area in late December again cutting off some 175,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced Liberians from all humanitarian assistance. Such are the volatile situations in which we have to implement voluntary repatriation in many parts of Africa - as, indeed, in other areas of the world.

Central and South-West Asia: crisis and the challenge of prevention

In Central Asia, I have, as you know, espoused a preventive and solution-oriented approach, in collaboration with other agencies and in close coordination with international and regional conflict resolution initiatives.

Sadly, however, I find my capacity to act effectively in Central Asia seriously constrained by lack of funds. In Tajikistan, where the rapid return and reintegration of hundreds of thousands of displaced people have been central to our strategy, important projects have had to be shelved. I may soon be forced to reconsider the continuation of our operations in this area, unless the necessary financial support is forthcoming.

This would be a major setback at a time of renewed fighting in Afghanistan, which has implications for the entire region. Within Afghanistan, it has generated new displacement. While my Office is making every effort to assist those displaced inside Afghanistan, pending their return to Kabul and other areas, I strongly appeal to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for those who may have no choice other than to seek asylum.

As in the case with Central Asia, financial support is desperately needed to ensure our continued presence in Afghanistan. While I understand the reluctance to fund reconstruction efforts in situations of extreme volatility, there are areas in Afghanistan to which refugees are willing to return. It is my hope that international community will continue to support this return.

Europe: the search for a comprehensive strategy

Turning now to Europe, Mr. Chairman, let me begin by announcing the sad news of the death of a British ODA truck driver and injury of two others in Zenica, in an incident where they were deliberately stopped, robbed and shot. I know this Committee joins me in expressing our deepest condolences to the bereaved family and to the UK government. This incident underlines yet again the difficult conditions under which we are operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I remain preoccupied by the situation of civilians who are being deprived of basic humanitarian assistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite repeated assurances by all sides that aid will not be blocked. Even as political solutions appear to become ever more elusive, the interagency emergency winterization programme launched by my Office is keeping hundreds of thousands of people alive through their second Balkan winter. But the warring parties continue to obstruct the delivering of aid, putting over 2.7 million people at serious risk. After a meeting which I convened with the leaders in November, we were able to meet about fifty per cent of the humanitarian needs in December. In certain areas of central and eastern Bosnia, however, the figure was much lower. At the recent talks in Geneva, I reiterated my grave concern to representatives of the parties to the conflict to honour their commitments to allow unhindered access. I appeal to Governments represented here today to lend their full support to our efforts to obtain access for humanitarian aid to all those in need. At the same time, I am concerned about the continuing ethnic persecution in Bosnia and Herzegovina and recent instances of mobilization into the military of refugees in neighbouring countries. I call upon all governments to continue to admit refugees to safety.

The conflicts in the Caucasus serve as a stern reminder of the dangers of spreading inter-ethnic conflict and the need for effective preventive and solution-oriented initiatives. Recent negotiations held under United Nations auspices have opened up some prospects for peace and for the return of displaced persons to Abkhazia. UNHCR has participated in the process and is ready to assist with returns, when security conditions permit. A draft quadripartite agreement between UNHCR, the Russian Federation and the Georgian Government and the Abkhaz authorities is currently under discussion. While a solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh may be more distant, my Office continues to provide assistance in Armenia and Azerbaijan to refugees and increasing numbers of internally displaced.

Despite these crises in Europe, Mr. Chairman, it is important to note that for the first time in a number of years, western Europe saw, in 1993, a fall in the number of asylum-seekers. From over 700,000 in 1992, the figure dropped to 580,000 in 1993. Most of those arriving were from other parts of Europe, with smaller numbers coming from further afield.

The formulation of a comprehensive refugee strategy for Europe remains central to the preoccupations of my Office. We continue to participate actively in consultations with Governments and inter-governmental organizations on questions of asylum, harmonization of practices and procedures, and innovative and flexible approaches that guarantee protection for those in need.

We are also increasingly involved in Central and Eastern Europe in training and supporting legislative and administrative structures for the determination of refugee status and protection of refugees. We need greater financial support if we are to be able to operate more effectively in this part of the world.

Asia and Oceania: progressing towards solutions

Turning to Asia, Mr. Chairman, I am happy to report that the situation has been rather encouraging.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Government of Myanmar and my Office on 5 November 1993, thus establishing a framework for the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of the quarter million Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh in collaboration with WFP. My Office is currently deploying personnel, establishing a logistics infrastructure and procuring relief materials for returnees in the Rakhine State. A very significant step has thus been taken towards the resolution of one of the region's major refugee problems.

Progress also continues in solving the problem of Indo-Chinese refugees within the framework of the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA). Since the inception of the CPA in 1989, the population of Vietnamese boat people in the region has been brought down to about 60,000. The credit is due to all parties - countries of origin, of first asylum and of resettlement, as well as donors, who have lived up to their commitments under the CPA. I look forward to the fifth meeting of the Steering Committee in Geneva on 14 February. I hope that the meeting will reaffirm the basic principles of the Plan and adopt a target date for the successful conclusion of the CPA by the end of 1995.

In Cambodia, where we successfully concluded the voluntary repatriation of over 360,000 Cambodian refugees last year, we have greatly scaled down our presence, while continuing to monitor the safety of returnees. However, I remain concerned at the upsurge in crime and the continuation of sporadic fighting.

The suspension of UNHCR activities in northern Sri Lanka, following a serious security incident endangering the safety of UNHCR staff, is also cause for concern, again illustrating the complexity of promoting solutions in areas affected by internal conflict.

Americas and the Caribbean: moving to the post-CIREFCA phase

In Central America, Mr. Chairman, progress continues towards the consolidation of solutions. In May 1994, CIREFCA will formally come to an end. CIREFCA has been a key formative experience in many respects, breaking new ground in the pursuit of humanitarian solutions and demonstrating the important linkages between solutions, the consolidation of peace and development.

It has also set a precedent in terms of institutional collaboration between UNHCR and UNDP. My Office, together with UNDP, will hold an informal technical meeting in San Jose on 15 and 16 February 1994 to consolidate the achievements of CIREFCA, reaffirm international support and ensure consensus on a strategy in the post-CIREFCA phase. If stability is to be ensured, countries in the region continue to need support in bringing economic development to areas of extreme poverty, which are often precisely those with high concentrations of returnees or uprooted populations.

Despite the recent disturbances in Chiapas close to Guatemalan refugee sites, the voluntary repatriation of Guatemalan refugees from Mexico is progressing, with a group of 862 refugees having returned to Guatemala on 12 January 1994. Some 10,000 returnees are expected to go home this year, even though insecurity continues in some areas of return.

In Haiti, my Office remains deeply concerned at the failure to implement the political solution endorsed by the international community, and at the continuing lack of asylum options for those who are forced to flee.

Building partnerships: PARinAC

Mr. Chairman the multiplicity of crises and the complexity of prevention and solutions makes me acutely conscious of the need to build effective partnerships. PARinAC or Partnership in Action, which we have launched in collaboration with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, is one of the most important initiatives of my Office in this context. As I informed members of the Executive Committee at the forty-fourth session, the objective of the exercise is to lay the basis for enhanced collaboration between UNHCR and NGOs in meeting the humanitarian challenges of the 1990s.

Three of the planned six PARinAC Regional Conferences have now taken place: in Caracas, Kathmandu, and last week in Tunis. From these consultations a series of specific proposals are emerging which will form the basis for the global PARinAC Conference and Plan of Action in Oslo next June. Several hundred NGOs from all regions are participating in the process, which I am convinced will result in a comprehensive agenda for our collaboration in the years ahead.

The question of resources

Our governmental partners are invaluable to our work. Mr. Chairman, let me thank our donors for their generous support, which exceeded one billion dollars for the second consecutive year in 1993. In all some $1.044 billion were received in total contributions, including some $310 million for General Programmes. These results, however, do not mitigate my concern for full funding of our activities in 1994, particularly the General Programmes which have, in recent years, been subject to declining contributions. Total UNHCR requirements for the current year, including both General and Special programmes will be at least $1.1 billion. Our 1994 General Programmes target, which funds the core of UNHCR's activities, is $418 million and I appeal to all of our donors to do their utmost to help us meet this target. I must also stress the importance of our Special Programmes for which requirements at this moment stand at over $720 million.

Thinking ahead

Mr. Chairman, as I have often said before, external partnership must be matched by internal performance and accountability. My Office must constantly work to improve its capacity to face the demands that lie ahead.

As part of that process of preparation and planning, my senior management and I recently engaged in a process of reflection. We were able to identify principal areas of strategic thinking and management concern, which need to be addressed, both internally and in consultation with the Executive Committee. I would like, Mr. Chairman, very briefly to share some of those conclusions with you on the understanding that we will be returning to the Executive Committee for more extensive consultation in the future.

Firstly, in an era characterized by intra-state conflicts and a related trend towards local solutions inside countries of origin, my Office finds itself increasingly called upon to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons in a wide range of situations. We must be prepared to continue this involvement, keeping in mind the constraints imposed by our capacity and resources, and further elaborating the standards and mechanisms for protection and assistance.

Secondly, our growing involvement with internally displaced has reinforced our conviction of the need to adopt a preventive and solution-oriented approach. Prevention necessitates increasing collaboration with the political mechanisms and processes of the United Nations. We need to reflect together with the Executive Committee on how such linkages can best be achieved, while preserving the impartiality and neutrality of our humanitarian mandate.

Thirdly, the changing nature of displacement today, in which return rapidly follows exodus, requires us to aggressively promote conditions for voluntary repatriation from the very beginning of an operation, in conjunction with emergency response.

Fourthly, we need to further enhance our emergency response capacity, externally by broadening our range of partners and standby arrangements, and internally by strengthening the capacity of our regional bureaux to support field operations.

Achievement of these objectives, Mr. Chairman, involves a number of adjustments in the management of my Office, including more flexible field structures with greater focus on countries of origin. While containing staffing levels and costs at Headquarters, we are looking at ways of improving our performance and thereby our support of the field. Moreover, as many of my staff are increasingly being called upon to work in stressful and indeed often dangerous circumstances, I attach high priority to continuing our efforts to reform UNHCR's human resources management, not least in so far as it relates to conditions of service in the field.

The years ahead, Mr. Chairman, undoubtedly hold many challenges. There are as yet no signs of a new world order emerging from the volatile transition following the end of the cold war. As I begin my new five-year mandate, I am convinced that we must be innovative in our thinking, dynamic in our performance and meticulous in our accountability. With your support, I know we can achieve our goals.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.