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Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Parliamentary League, Tokyo, 25 October 2005

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Parliamentary League, Tokyo, 25 October 2005

25 October 2005
Parliamentary League's S-G to visit Kakuma camp (Kenya) soonRecommends more parliamentarians to visit UNHCR's operations on the ground, "the best way to learn about the work UNHCR does"Thanks Human Security Trust Fund Japan for its continued financial supportHowever, also wants Japan to consider becoming a resettlement country

It is an honour for me to be here with you today. I would like to thank first of all Mr. Aisawa for inviting me to the UNHCR Parliamentary League's General Assembly on my first official visit to Japan. I am looking forward to a lively and thoughtful exchange with you today.

The Parliamentary League has played a very significant role since it was established after the departure of Mrs. Sadako Ogata in 2001. Its existence demonstrates a pledge of continued support from the legislative arm of the government of Japan to UNHCR and the humanitarian work we do.

Credit for this goes in large part to the leadership Mr. Aisawa, as Secretary-General of the League, and President Mr. Mori. Over four years ago, Mr. Mori visited the camp we run for Sudanese refugees in Kakuma, Kenya. I visited Kakuma myself in August and can appreciate the high level of interest and commitment that such a trip represents. All the more because he made the trip while Prime Minister - the only Japanese Prime Minister to have visited sub-Saharan Africa.

I am pleased that Mr. Aisawa will visit Kakuma this week and hope that his trip is equally worthwhile. Field missions are an excellent initiative - in my opinion it is the best way to learn about the work UNHCR does - and I would encourage you, Parliamentarians to visit our operations around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the time we have together this morning, I would like to draw your attention to some of the challenges UNHCR faces today.

As the organization mandated to protect and care for refugees and other displaced populations around the world, UNHCR operates in a complex environment. Today, the problems that we and other humanitarian agencies work to address - persecution, flight, life-threatening conditions - are increasingly confused with issues like migration, terrorism and insecurity.

"the problems that we and other humanitarian agencies work to address - persecution, flight, life-threatening conditions - are increasingly confused with issues like migration, terrorism and insecurity."

One of the most important issues we confront is how to preserve the institution of asylum when those in genuine need of protection are concealed by complex migration flows. Migration movements are often mixed and are growing, requiring more attention from the international community in the years ahead. Our role is to be vigilant of its effects on the right to asylum. I believe though that adequate procedures regarding asylum are compatible with responsible management of borders and the implementation of migration policies by modern states.

A second challenge represents a major problem for the international community. The lack of an effective link between relief and development remains as great a handicap for our work today as it was during the tenure of High Commissioner Ogata, who referred to it simply as 'the gap'.

The absence of a transition from short- to longer-term assistance reduces the durability of solutions. Large-scale repatriation is difficult to sustain if development stalls and instability grows again.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The only conceptual framework that addresses the range of displacement-related problems is the human security approach. It maintains the focus on people and builds safeguards into post-conflict recovery programmes, filling gaps that often arise as aid moves towards development.

Roughly half of all post-conflict situations slide back into violence within five years. Without adequate resources for development, institution-building and reconciliation, societies can unravel again, dormant conflicts can reignite, and civilians can be forcibly displaced once more.

We are pleased, therefore, by the agreement reached at the 2005 UN Summit to create a Peacebuilding Commission, which we feel is a step towards human security. I know Japan has long advocated for the human security approach and peacebuilding, and UNHCR supports that policy.

My sincere hope is that the Commission will create a bridge between the relief assistance and support from development actors. We intend to play an active role in the Support Office of the Commission because the consolidation of peace necessarily includes durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons.

An excellent example of what my Office can do in the area of human security is our work in the North Caucasus. At the height of the humanitarian crisis in the region there were as many as 240,000 internally displaced people from Chechnya in Ingushetia. That figure is now approximately 30,000, but there are still 200,000 persons displaced inside the Chechen Republic itself. Many others have returned to a life without shelter, without education, and without access to health care.

UNHCR is working in the areas of employment, education, and health using the human security approach to enhance people's material, physical and legal rights. These actions are funded by the Human Security Trust Fund Japan.

We are grateful for this important financial support. But let me say that we look to Japan for more. We want Japan to be an engaged, strategic partner. Ambassador Fujisaki was named the Chairman of our Executive Committee earlier this month, and we look forward to a constructive year of work with him.

I would also encourage Japan to consider resettlement as a contribution to refugee protection, and as part of the refinement of Japan's asylum programme.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to close with a word on internal displacement, another issue of relevance to our work where there have recently been important developments.

Last month, the UN decided in principle on a clear delineation of responsibilities within the collaborative approach to situations of internal displacement. UNHCR was tasked to lead the response in the areas of protection, camp coordination and management, and emergency shelter. Our involvement with internally displaced persons will depend on two conditions, namely that affected populations maintain the right to seek and enjoy asylum, and that funds for internally displaced are not diverted from our core refugee activities.

UNHCR is fully committed to supporting the new arrangement, which is being used in response to this month's earthquake in Pakistan and will be implemented in all new crises from the beginning of 2006. By general consensus, the inability to address internal displacement had become one of the biggest failures in the humanitarian action of the international community. Addressing it in a consistent, predictable way will put an end to this.

Thank you.