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Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Ceremony of Closure of the Guatemalan Repatriation and Reintegration Programme, Santo Domingo Kesté, Campeche, Mexico, 28 July 1999

Speeches and statements

Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Ceremony of Closure of the Guatemalan Repatriation and Reintegration Programme, Santo Domingo Kesté, Campeche, Mexico, 28 July 1999

28 July 1999

Mr President of the Republic of Mexico,
Mr President of the Republic of Guatemala,
Madam Secretary of Foreign Affairs,
Mr Secretary of the Interior,
Mr Governor of the State of Campeche,
Mr Governor of the State of Quintana Roo
Mr Vásquez Colmenares,
Refugees and recently naturalized Mexicans,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Being with you today is of great significance to my Office and myself - I have been dealing with the situation of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico since I became United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1991. Over the years, I have witnessed the progress achieved in finding lasting solutions for Guatemalan refugee women and men.

Until 1996, the only choice available to them was voluntary repatriation to Guatemala. Many have made this choice and have returned home. I visited some of them when I was in Guatemala, almost two years ago. Today we will be bidding farewell to a last small group of refugees who have chosen to go back to their homeland. The governments of Mexico and Guatemala have worked closely with UNHCR, and with the representatives of the refugees, to enable the safe and dignified return of Guatemalan refugees, and to create basic conditions for them to rebuild their lives at home. The sustained efforts of the Guatemalan government to make land available to landless refugees through a revolving credit fund deserve special mention.

Since 1996, however, refugees have been able to opt for a different future, and to choose to remain in Mexico, the country that had generously hosted them for 15 years. It was here, in Santo Domingo Kesté, almost three years ago, on 14 August 1996, that the government of Mexico officially launched the Migratory Stabilization Plan. This plan has paved the way for thousands of Guatemalan refugees not wishing to go back to their homeland, to eventually become permanent residents or naturalized Mexicans. Many present here, who benefited from accelerated procedures, are already naturalized Mexicans. Some, in fact, have been naturalized today. The adoption of the Migratory Stabilization Plan was the culmination of Mexico's constructive approach to resolving a long standing refugee situation - the last major such situation dating from the years of civil conflicts in Central America.

I pay tribute again to the Governments of Mexico and Guatemala for having pursued, in a concerted fashion, during these last three years, a two-pronged approach of voluntary repatriation and local integration, in order to put an end to years of exile and an uncertain future for thousands of Guatemalan refugees.

I pay tribute to all those actors, governmental, non-governmental, national and international, and to the people of Mexico and Guatemala who have spared no effort to alleviate the plight of the refugees.

I pay tribute to you, the refugees, for your own efforts and for your contributions, through hard work, to the country that has given you hospitality and such opportunities. I am told that refugees in Campeche, for example, have contributed in recent years to no less than nine per cent of the agricultural production of this State. Please keep up the hard work and dedication!

The experiences and memories of the refugees and of all those individuals who have worked with them, a description of their rights and obligations as refugees, and of their rights and obligations as residents of Mexico or as naturalized Mexicans, have been included in the collection of documents which have been presented to us here today. It is a worthy collection indeed, and one that bears witness to a complex, but extraordinary history of suffering, generosity and hope.

Before concluding, let me raise one more important point. In my visits to Mexico and in my contacts with the Mexican government, I have frequently expressed the hope that Mexico could strengthen its partnership with UNHCR and provide a solid legal framework to its generous refugee policy, by adhering to the main international refugee protection instruments - the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol. I have now been made aware that Mexico may be close to taking this important step. I am extremely happy of this crucial development and hope it will soon become a reality.

I am proud and happy to have travelled to Campeche to witness the positive end of this programme. UNHCR will turn fifty in the year 2000. I hope that in the near future other refugees, in other parts of the world, will be able to share the positive fate of those who came from Guatemala to Mexico - there will be no better way for UNHCR to celebrate its anniversary.

Muchas gracias.