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Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Second Regular Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 7 July 1989

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Second Regular Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 7 July 1989

7 July 1989

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a singular honour for me to address the Economic and Social Council on progress made in the implementation of a number of resolutions on humanitarian assistance adopted by the General Assembly at its forty-third session. This opportunity to appear before you is especially important as it comes in the wake of many global developments affecting the needs and well-being of refugees and asylum-seekers. This unique period has meant ever-increasing challenges for my Office and indeed the complexity and scope of our work has grown in an unprecedented manner. As such, the question of the financial resources required by my Office to effectively carry out these tasks has become a crucial one, a matter I will refer to in greater detail at the end of my remarks. It is against this background of heightened political, diplomatic and humanitarian undertakings that I have the pleasure to apprise the Council of the implementation of these General Assembly resolutions and I will do so in the order of their appearance on your agenda.

Mr. President, Resolution 43/118 dealt with the International Conference on Central American Refugees and requested the High Commissioner to organize the Conference in co-operation and co-ordination with the parties concerned. As the Council is aware, the Conference did indeed take place in Guatemala City from 29 to 31 May 1989. Some fifty-five States, twenty-eight intergovernmental organizations and sixty-three non-governmental organizations took part in the gathering. The Conference was inaugurated by the Secretary-General and the President of the Republic of Guatemala and chaired by the Foreign Minister of the host country. The Conference adopted a Declaration and Concerted Plan of Action in favour of Central American Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons. The Declaration reaffirms the commitment of the international community to re-establish peace in the region while the Concerted Plan of Action describes the present situation of the three humanitarian categories of affected persons in Central America, Belize and Mexico. It sets as its basic objectives the identification of durable solutions to overcome the problems of Central American refugees, returnees and displaced persons, bearing in mind the realities of the affected countries. To this end, the Plan also describes the commitments of governments to respect the rights of refugees to return voluntarily to their countries of origin. Linked to this is the fact that the Plan foresees support to communities in countries of origin in order to create favourable conditions of return. Where voluntary repatriation is not possible, the Plan proposes measures to help refugees to play a greater socio-economic role in the countries of first asylum. Accordingly, the document contains a three-year regional programme in favour of refugees, returnees and displaced persons and calls for the establishment of mechanisms for its follow-up and promotion at the national and international levels. In this regard, due note was also taken of the complementarily which is required between the Plan of Action and the chapter on refugees and displaced persons as contained in the Special Programme of Economic Co-operation for Central America.

Mr. Chairman, I cannot emphasize enough my satisfaction over the excellent outcome of the conference in the light of the objectives contained in the San Salvador Communiqué which originally called for the convening of this Conference. The Conference is a turning point in United Nations efforts in favour of victims of conflicts in Central America. Not only is there now a greater perception within the international community of the dimensions and seriousness of the problems created by persons uprooted by conflicts in that region, but a fresh and comprehensive approach has been agreed to in order to solve these problems. Yet however challenging the preparations were for the Conference, the essential work remains before us, namely tangible and timely follow-up by all concerned. My Office, for its part, will continue to make its proper contribution within the framework of the Concerted Plan of Action and its ongoing programmes in the region. To this end, the concerted co-operation and co-ordination between UNHCR, UNDP and the affected countries in the follow-up process, in a manner similar to the Conference's preparations, will be indispensible to ensuring a truly successful outcome to the Conference.

Mr. President, only two weeks after the Conference on Central American refugees concluded, another important international Conference was organized by my Office, namely the International Conference on Indochinese Refugees which was held in Geneva on 13 and 14 June. You will recall that the General Assembly, through Resolution 43/119, welcomed the call by the Association of South-East Asian Nations for the convening of this Conference and, inter alia, appealed for the necessary support and resources needed by my Office for the preparation and the holding of the Conference. The Council may also recall the almost exactly a decade ago, a similar international Conference was held in Geneva to address a crisis caused by the massive influx of Indo-Chinese asylum-seekers into the South-East Asian region. While the achievements of the international community since that first meeting have been nothing short of historic, changed realities and different needs made it incumbent on this Conference to forge a new international consensus on the complex Indo-Chinese refugee problem.

Indeed the preparations undertaken by UNHCR for this Conference were intense and at times extremely difficult, given the intertwined political, diplomatic, social and humanitarian issues at stake. Accordingly, the International Conference was able to adopt by consensus a Declaration and Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Plan of Action contains eight inter-related components, which are to be implemented simultaneously in an effort to find lasting solutions to the ongoing problem of refugees and asylum-seekers from Viet-Nam and Laos. The Conference also took note of a series of documents prepared by UNHCR on modalities for the implementation of the various components of the Plan. I should mention that seventy-six States, many at the ministerial level, and numerous non-governmental organizations attended the conference, which was opened by the Secretary-General and presided over by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia.

As I indicated earlier, the fundamental basis of the Plan of Action is that it requires simultaneous action by all the parties concerned. As such, governments are called upon not to take unilateral action that could jeopardize the delicate balance of the Plan. In my statement to the Conference, I expressed a firm belief that a partisan and adversarial approach to the long-standing problem of Indo-Chinese refugees and asylum-seekers should be avoided. I also expressed my hope that the same spirit of humanitarianism and burden-sharing which was so apparent in 1979 would continue to prevail for the purposes of the Conference as well.

When seen against the backdrop of increased arrivals of Vietnamese boat people throughout the South-East Asian region - where their numbers in first asylum camps had reached 90,000 by the time the Conference opened - the careful multilateral follow-up to the various inter-linked components of the Plan of Action becomes even more crucial. A Steering Committee has been appointed by the Conference for this purpose. My Office will continue to work closely with all the parties in ensuring effective follow-up to the Plan of Action and I trust that the additional resources required to make this involvement viable will be forthcoming. Our involvement will, of course, be marked by an over-riding concern for the safety and dignity of refugees and asylum-seekers, a desire to seek lasting solutions for them and that this be achieved on the basis of long-standing humanitarian traditions and principles.

Mr. President, allow me to move to another region, namely the African Continent, in order to report to you pursuant to six General Assembly resolutions that deal with refugees in that part of the world. As I stated in my address to the Council last year, this Continent, which has many years hosted a considerable portion of the world's total refugee population, deserves to have its concerns and needs properly addressed. Despite some progress in the search for durable solutions, the overall refugee population in Africa has continued to grown. African States, therefore, look to UNHCR to do still more, and still more effectively, to help relieve their burden.

The situation of refugees in the Sudan is the subject of General Assembly resolution 43/141 wherein the High Commissioner is called upon to continue co-ordination with the specialized agencies in order to consolidate and ensure the continuation of essential services to refugees in that country. As of mid-1989, UNHCR was assisting close to 380,000 refugees of the more than 745,000 refugees estimated to be in the Sudan; some 350,000 of the assisted refugees were from Ethiopia, with 33,000 new arrivals from Ethiopia in the last half of 1988.

The last year or so was happily marked by an important success in our voluntary repatriation efforts. Over 83,500 Ugandan refugees returned voluntarily to their country of origin. The completion of the returnee operation for Ugandan refugees in the South and the consolidation of assistance, pending their repatriation, to a reduced caseload of Chadian refugees in the West, has enabled UNHCR to focus more closely on eastern Sudan with its large Ethiopian refugee population.

While the essential needs of refugees at the settlements and reception centres are being met, additional measures were taken, in conjunction with other international organizations, to promote their self-reliance and enhance their economic independence. At the same time, with over half the Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan self-settled in urban and rural areas and without assistance, UNHCR has responded to this by funding projects in 1988-1989 under our general programmes with a view to strengthening infrastructure in location where large concentrations of these refugees live. In addition, my Office has worked very closely with the World Bank in the preparation of an agricultural development project in South Kassala which will benefit small farms, refugees in the settlements, unassisted refugees and nationals. The multi-sector programme was ready for implementation in April and will be carried out over a five-year period at a total cost of $ 36 million, to which UNHCR will contribute $ 10 million in five annual instalments. The co-financing venture is the first of its kind in Africa.

Moreover, as part of our ongoing efforts to link refugee assistance to national development, and to reduce in the long term refugees' dependence on direct assistance, UNHCR has been closely associated with the four UNDP-led technical missions to formulate viable projects for the refugee affected areas for submission to donors.

Mr. President, General Assembly Resolution 43/142 urged the High Commissioner to intensify his efforts to mobilize the necessary resources to implement lasting solutions in respect of refugees and displaced persons in Djibouti. I am pleased to inform the Council that significant progress in finding lasting solutions for refugees and displaced persons in Djibouti has been made over the course of the past year. You may recall that I informed the Council last year that as of early 1988, there were some 13,000 refugees in Djibouti. With the full co-operation of the Government of Djibouti, a durable solution for most of the refugee population has been found. Following a survey, some 6,500 persons, mosthly in the Dikhil refugee camp, were granted by the Government the right and freedom to settle in Djibouti. These persons left the Dikhil refugee camp by the last quarter of 1988 for locations of their choice in Djibouti.

Meanwhile, the registration of refugees who had expressed the wish to repatriate voluntarily to Ethiopia started in September 1988. By mid-February this year, nearly 5,700 persons had voluntarily repatriated to the Hararghe region of Ethiopia, allowing Dikhil Camp, the only refugee camp in Djibouti, to be closed at the end of March 1989.

For the remaining 1,500 refugees in Djibouti, UNHCR will continue to furnish them with the necessary assistance and to promote their voluntary repatriation whenever possible.

Mr. President, may I turn to General Assembly Resolution 43/147 which deals with assistance to refugees in Somalia. In Somalia, too, real prospects for a durable solution to the problem of Ethiopian refugees have improved. It should be recalled that for a number of years now, following the earlier emergency phase, the direction of our assistance programmes has been shaped by a policy framework agreed upon jointly between the government and UNHCR which placed particular emphasis on voluntary repatriation as the most appropriate long-term solution for refugees. It has also been acknowledged that a programme of local settlement could be formulated for those who did not wish to return and who could not attain self-sufficiency in the centres where they were residing. While some degree of success was achieved over the past few years, certain real and discernable constraints affecting such durable solutions became increasingly evident. These related to availability of land, water and economic opportunities which ruled out large-scale organized local integration and, to a certain extent, to the disincentive provided by the continuation of care and maintenance support. The need for a reassement of the programme was also highlighted by the agreement reached between Ethiopia and Somalia in April 1988 and the fact that ongoing voluntary movements of refugees between the two countries indicate peaceful conditions prevail in the home areas of refugees, which should allow the great majority to repatriate voluntarily.

Accordingly, UNHCR and the government entered into discussions on the future of the Office's assistance programmes and prospects for lasting solutions for refugees in that country. A common approach has been agreed to whereby the promotion of voluntary repatriation would be redirected away from continued relief assistance. Part of this agreement is the establishment of a UNHCR-proposed tripartite commission which would discuss modalities for future voluntary repatriation operations. The tripartite commission will hold its first meeting in a few weeks' time in Geneva.

Before I conclude my remarks on this resolution, I must report that the UNHCR assistance programme in north-west Somalia was seriously disrupted following the outbreak of conflict at the end of May 1988. A number of refugees repatriated spontaneously, some fled the camps and others became a party to the conflict, and thereby no longer eligible for UNHCR humanitarian assistance. Conditions still prevented the proper monitoring of the use of humanitarian assistance for refugees in mid-1989 and this assistance had perforce been greatly reduced.

Mr. President, may I now turn to Resolution 43/144 on assistance to refugees and returnees in Ethiopia. I should say at the outset that our programmes in Ethiopia have been among the most difficult and challenging we have faced in many years. On the African continent, the largest increase in the number of refugees over the past year occurred in Ethiopia. Between mid-1988 and mid-1989, the number of Sudanese refugees in the four camps in South-West Ethiopia increased by nearly 70,000 to some 365,000. In the south-east, over 300,000 Somali refugees entered the Jijiga and Aware districts form mid-1988 onwards.

In the case of the Sudanese refugees, concerted action by the government and the international community resulted in improved assistance to these persons, the majority of whom are women and children. The health and nutrition sectors as well as a number of logistical aspects of our assistance witnessed a marked improvement. Yet the remote location of the camps and the seriously malnourished state of some new arrivals demanded a continuing high level of financial, material and infrastructural support for the operation. As a result, in 1988 more than $ 22 million were obligated for the Sudanese caseload.

In the south-east, the sudden and renewed influx of the huge number of Somali refugees posed great problems for the provision of timely emergency assistance. As I mentioned earlier, this operation has been one of the most challenging we have ever faced given the inherent practical, physical and social constraints that have prevailed. These realities have rendered the provision of even minimum levels of basic relief extremely difficult. While a number of pressing problems have been successfully overcome, the situation of the refugees remain pre-occupying. Appropriate measures are being taken to reorganize the camps, to re-register the refugees and to establish an equitable food distribution system. We are hopeful that these improvements, in addition to ones undertaken earlier, such as in the water and sanitation sectors, will allow the situation to be brought fully under control.

Mr. President, may I now address Resolution 43/148 on assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Malawi. You will recall that it has been nearly two years since the influx of Mozambicans into Malawi started to gather momentum. Fortunately, while the size of the monthly influx has varied considerably, the recent underlying trend has shown a reduction. This has allowed some consolidation of the emergency programme, though the caseload of Mozambicans currently in Malawi stands at a staggering 680,000 persons.

While it is clear that the only long-term solutions for the refugees is their voluntary return to Mozambique when conditions permit, it is equally evident that the international community must continue to provide, in the meantime, adequate assistance to these people. I should add that the Government and people of Malawi have played a exemplary role in extending assistance and generosity to Mozambicans fleeing insecurity at home. This, assistance was rendered, at least initially, from the country's own limited resources and at considerable cost to the environment and national infrastructures and facilities. My Office will continue to do its utmost in ensuring and co-ordinating international assistance as we embark on the post-emergency phase of the operation.

At the same time, I am pleased to report that the Tripartite Commission which was established in December 1988 to provide a formal framework for the voluntary repatriation of Mozambicans, met for the first time in April of this year in Blantyre. The Tripartite Commission, which comprises the Government of Malawi and Mozambique as well as UNHCR, agreed to the opening of additional crossing points for organized voluntary repatriation. Border procedures were also agreed to, as were measures for assessing spontaneous return. May I take this opportunity to refer to the appeal launched by the Secretary-General on 14 April 1989 for emergency assistance to Mozambique and more specifically its $ 5.8 million component for returnees, and to request donors to contribute urgently to this important appeal.

Mr. President, the last resolution I must report to you on concerns resolutions 43/149 on assistance to student refugees in Southern Africa. As you know, the provision of basic education is one of the main forms of assistance we provide refugees. The overall aim is to equip young refugees with basic knowledge and skills which would allow them to become productive and self-reliant in countries of asylum. It is also intended to prepare them for their eventual reintegration in their countries of origin. During the past year, my Office has maintained its educational assistance programmes for student refugees form South Africa and Namibia who have been granted asylum in countries of the region. Refugees are directly assisted by UNHCR in their studies at the primary and secondary levels. At the higher levels, including vocational training, arrangements continue to be in place for funding by the United Nations Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa. Student refugees of other nationalities studying at the higher education levels continue to receive financial assistance from UNHCR. In addition, a number of South African and Namibian refugee students are assisted by UNHCR to study in schools in other regions, mainly in West Africa. Whereas in 1988 over 700 South African and Namibian students were directly assisted by UNHCR in and outside the region, the figure for this academic year is expected to decrease on account of the anticipated voluntary return of many Namibians in conjunction with the Namibian independence process.

Mr. Chairman, before I conclude may I take this opportunity to refer to a matter of utmost urgency and concern to my Office, and that is the financial situation of UNHCR. As illustrated by my statement before you today, UNHCR's humanitarian work extends throughout the world and the tasks we are called upon to perform are often complex and difficult. A time when the reduction of tensions in many regions has meant new hope for millions of refugees to regain their dignity and to start new lives, it is particularly important that the international community continues to provide UNHCR with the necessary financial resources to carry out the tasks expected of my Office.

The financial challenge presented by UNHCR's 1989 programmes is formidable indeed, amounting to a total of some $ 650 million. Voluntary contributions received by the Office at the end of June came to just $ 300 million, while projections based on close consultation with representatives of donor governments indicate that according to present planned contributions my Office will be faced by a shortfall of some $ 100 million for General Programmes and $ 50 million for Special Programmes. I should emphasize that UNHCR has remained within the programme level approved last year by our Executive Committee, notwithstanding the inclusion of a number of new operations which could not be budgeted when the level was initially approved. As over seventy percent of operational programmes are directly life-sustaining such a shortfall applied to the last months of 1989 would result in severe suffering for refugees this year while the long-term implication donors urgently undertake to increase their contributions substantially this year.

Mr. Chairman, as this decade draws to a close, I believe we can all take considerable satisfaction in our collective efforts to alleviate the suffering of the millions of refugees and displaced persons who have been the unfortunate victims of our times. Yet, the task before us in the months and years to come remains formidable. For the future, I am confident that the international community will continue to show the same generosity and compassion towards the world's thirteen million refugees it has demonstrated in the past.

I thank you Mr. President.