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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 24 January 1985

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 24 January 1985

24 January 1985

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Executive Committee,

I am happy to welcome you to this meeting, which I trust will be both informal and informative, in line with our well-established tradition of periodic encounters between regular sessions of our Committee. I know we have some unfinished business from the 35th session, and I will come back to that in a moment. First, however, I should like to bring you up to date on major developments in the past three months.

Without any doubt, the period since we last met has been dominated by the dramatic emergency situation in Africa. Shortly after our meeting in October 1984 I went to New York to present my annual report to the United Nations General Assembly, and I am sure you are all aware that this crisis affecting the lives of so many millions of human beings was the dominant topic of the 39th session. During the debate on my report in the Third Committee, I was very encouraged by the many expressions of confidence in the work of our Office and I am happy to note that, as I expected, humanitarian considerations prevailed in the adoption of a most supportive and balanced resolution - without a vote. I was also pleased that the General Assembly endorsed your decision in October to introduce three additional languages as official languages of the Executive Committee. At our annual Pledging Conference this continued confidence on the part of Governments in the very necessary humanitarian programmes of UNHCR was once again manifested in the level of pledges, which was again on a par with that of previous years. UNHCR's financial situation remains extremely difficult, however, and in a moment, Mr. Chairman, I shall review our current position in more detail. In New York, I also met with the Secretary-General, who had just returned from visiting drought-stricken Africa. I was able to apprise him of UNHCR's efforts there as well as latest developments in other parts of the world, and to consult him on administrative matters, as we had agreed in October.

While I was in New York we were already receiving more and more alarming reports of new movements of refugees and drought victims across borders in Africa. Particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Sudan, they were pouring into areas where earlier groups of refugees and returnees, already receiving assistance aimed at bringing them to self-sufficiency, were also increasingly hard-hit by a disastrous crop failure. It was becoming evident from all available information that this new developing emergency could not be dealt with within currently approved programmes or with already available resources. On 8 November I issued a first appeal for $ 8.9 million in emergency aid to refugees and returnees in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Sudan and the Central African Republic. Subsequent appeals, the most recent of which is dated 11 January 1985, have brought the total estimated requirements up to $ 27.2 million - three times as much, in the space of two months. Nor do we have any illusions that this amount will suffice, for there is every indication that this already dramatic situation may escalate even further in the coming weeks and months. In the Eastern Sudan, to take the most critical of these emergencies, the estimated total of new arrivals when we issued our fourth appeal on 11 January was 170,000. Today it is more than 210,000, and there is no sign that the influx, averaging 3,000 a day, is abating.

Mr. Chairman, there is no need for me to go into great detail. Our 11 January appeal letter and accompanying documents are in the hands of the Committee with the facts as they stood two weeks ago. There are two things I should like to stress today. The first is that UNHCR is doing all in its power to bring relief to these hundreds of thousands of people in distress. The second is that, faced with a human drama of such proportions, it would be pointless to engage in debate over the status of the persons concerned. In certain cases, such as in the Central African Republic, it is clear that we are dealing with a classic refugee situation, particularly bearing in mind the so-called "extended mandate" or, if you prefer, as I do, the OAU definition. Over the years the United Nations have developed a terminology to define our action and make it flexible, speaking of "externally displaced persons in a refugee-like situation". Yet it is also clear that UNHCR has its limitations. It is clear, for instance, that drought victims within their own country must be, and are being, assisted by other entities of the United Nations system. It is equally clear that, in responding to emergencies, it is difficult to plan far beyond already existing needs. Could we have appealed on 8 November 1984, when there were some 35,000 newcomers in Eastern Sudan, for relief supplies for 200,000 persons? Would the international community have responded favourably to such an appeal? Would we not have been accused, as we are in some quarters even today, of getting involved in politics, even of creating a "pull-factor"? Yet there were already clear indications that a massive movement of human beings in dire distress towards the Sudanese border was underway. Was this movement a result of a political situation or was it also touched off by hunger? Be that as it may, the essential consideration today is that UNHCR being the only United Nations agency present in Eastern Sudan where there are a number of existing refugee settlements, had to do what it could to succour these suffering human beings once they had crossed the border. But another limitation, Mr. Chairman, is the resources put at our disposal to do the job. I am obliged to point out that contributions pledged for our African Emergency Appeals only reached the $ 8.9 million target of the first appeal of 8 November 1984 at the time the fourth, 11 January 1985 appeal was being launched. Today contributions stand at $ 18 million all of which have been spent as fast as we got them. Meanwhile, as I have already said, the needs have tripled. Here there is no zero growth. The foremost need is food. Despite what I said a moment ago about UNHCR's difficulty in projecting needs for a probable future caseload, we must plan ahead; and we are doing so, in close consultation with the World Food Programme, in order to take into account the inevitable time-lag in food deliveries.

To do this, we must take into account the very clear indications we have that many more tens of thousands of persons are on their way to the Sudan; that even if the forthcoming rainy season lives up to the most optimistic expectations, it will be at least ten months before locally grown food becomes available; and that there is no way of knowing at this stage what proportion of the people who have crossed into the Sudan might eventually choose voluntary repatriation when and if food becomes available to them in their homeland. We are therefore studying with our partners in the United Nations system (especially the World Food Programme and FAO), the longer-term implications of the current situation. One should not forget that the Sudan, like Ethiopia and many other African countries, is itself facing a disastrous drought, and President Nimeiry has recently appealed to the international community for assistance. I have discussed all these aspects with the Secretary-General's Director for Fmergency operations in Africa, Mr. Bradford Morse, who, as you know, was in Geneva last week, and have pledged UNHCR's full cooperation in his efforts. He, for his part, has urged me to continue to pursue the specific objectives outlined in UNHCR's appeals.

Mr. Chairman, the situation in the Eastern Sudan is critical; the death rate amongst children and adults is alarmingly high and very grave malnutrition is affecting the vast majority of the children. Faced with this almost indescribable suffering, what more can the international community do to help? UNHCR the Sudanese Commissioner for Refugees, who is our operational partner, and a number of voluntary agencies are working together day and night to save as many lives as possible, and to provide all the essential supplies needed to care for this massive influx of people. To do so we have substantially strengthened our presence in the region through the temporary detachment of additional staff, the use of consultants and other human resources. Shortly before Christmas, the Deputy High Commissioner went to Khartoum and Gedaref to assess the situation and his report led to the issuance of our 20 December appeal. Throughout the year-end holiday period a team at our Headquarters was working full-time, Christmas and New Year included, to procure desperately needed tents, blankets, medicaments, supplementary foods, water supply equipment, vehicles and so forth and to arrange for airlifting them to the Sudan. They continue on the same round-the-clock footing today. Governments, particularly those of the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany and others, have been specially helpful during this period. The United States alone provided five out of the dozen-odd flights needed during the holiday period. While awaiting the arrival at Port Sudan of World Food Programme supplies, we have been trying to purchase basic food supplies in the Sudan, but they are scarce due to the general food shortage in the country. We have therefore had to organize further emergency airlifts of food and other supplies in the past three weeks.

Mr. Chairman, we should not forget, when speaking of the Sudan, that there has also been a major influx, of some 60,000 persons, from Chad into Western Sudan - another emergency with which we have had to deal simultaneously. We have taken steps similar to those I have just described in that situation as well. But I repeat, the resources pledged to us so far for the Sudan are insufficient to meet present needs. I therefore appeal to all Governments represented here today to urgently review their possibilities of making additional contributions, a question to which I shall return in a moment when I review our current financial situation.

Mr. Chairman, we are all painfully aware of the famine which has stricken Ethiopia. It has also struck the regions where UNHCR, in cooperation with the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission of the Ethiopian Government, has been carrying out an emergency programme for returnees. Details of this Special Programme are available in the 11 January appeal document. It is closely coordinated with the United Nations system's efforts, and we are in constant contact with the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Special Emergency Operations in Addis Ababa, Mr. Kurt Janssen. Bearing in mind that assistance to returnees must be limited in time and scope, we are also looking into rehabilitation measures that could be taken in cooperation with other agencies, both within and outside the UN system, and with bilateral donors, to bring these returnees to self-sufficiency as soon as possible.

With an increase to 60,000 new refugees in Somalia and the 40,000 refugees in the Central African Republic, as well as an influx of 8,000 refugees from Chad into Cameroon, UNHCR is facing a difficult combination of new situations. At the same time, ongoing programmes in several drought-stricken countries have suffered severe setbacks in their attempts to bring refugees to self-sufficiency. Many of these programmes will have to be revised in the course of the year to take these setbacks into account.

Last year's second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa - ICARA II - was a demonstration of the international community's readiness to rally around a humanitarian cause and agree, in a climate devoid of politics, on a strategy for tackling Africa's daunting refugee problem. Let me recall that two of the most important objectives of ICARA II were to strengthen the infrastructures of African host countries to enable them to cope with the burden of refugees, and to establish the link between refugee aid and development aid.

Recent dramatic events in Africa 'nave amply demonstrated the importance of the goals outlined at ICARA II. Inadequate or non-existent infrastructures not only hamper relief efforts but further aggravate an already critical situation. An early realisation of the projects presented to ICARA II will not only help to alleviate the burden being borne by African countries generously receiving refugees, but will help refugees in place now. In turn these projects would strengthen the hands of governments in anticipating and even preventing future emergency situations.

The administrative set-up for implementing the ICARA Programme of Action exists. UNHCR will remain actively involved principally through our Regional Bureau for Africa; UNDP has established an ICARA follow-up unit in order to monitor the implementation of the projects presented to the Conference under paragraph 5 (c) of General Assembly resolution 37/197. ICVA has nominated an ICARA consultant to ensure an active, co-ordinated NGO involvement in the follow-up process. A few ICARA projects are already being implemented; others are under active study. Thus, the process initiated at the Conference continues. UNHCR will, as it has done so far, play its full role in seeing it through to a successful conclusion. In the current emergency, ICARA should not be forgotten.

Turning very briefly to some other developments in recent months, I should mention that we have followed with concern the situation on the Thai-Kampuchean border which has led to the evacuation by the Thai military authorities of large numbers of persons from the border area. I have instructed my Representative in Bangkok to maintain very close contact with the Thai authorities and keep me fully informed of developments in this situation. In Thailand, there has also been an encouraging, if modest, resumption of voluntary repatriation to the Lao People's Democratic Republic. It has unfortunately been offset by a considerable increase in the numbers of border-crossers from that country into Thailand, a situation we are also following closely pending determination of the status of the persons concerned.

As regards the anti-piracy arrangement, Mr. Chairman, I am happy to announce that we have now received a report from the technical experts, which has been shared with the Thai authorities and the donor countries, and action is being taken to implement its recommendations. We were pleased to see that the report confirms the effectiveness of the operations and the optimum utilization of equipment supplied under the current arrangement. This has, I must add, been borne out by a number of arrests and convictions.

Mr. Chairman, to complete this review of highlights of the past three months, I should mention some developments in Latin America. Immediately after our Pledging Conference in New York, it was my pleasure to visit Cartagena, Colombia, where along with President Belisario Betancur, I took part in the opening ceremony of the very successful Colloquium on Protection Issues in Central America, Mexico and Panama, which brought together government representatives from ten countries as well as other Latin American experts and UNHCR officials. The Colloquium agreed on a number of fundamental principles for the treatment of refugees, and it is our hope that its conclusions will contribute to improving the legal status of refugees and their protection in the area. I should like to say a special word of appreciation for the personal support of President Betancur which contributed much to the successful conclusion of this Colloquium. Immediately after Cartagena, I went to Buenos Aires for an official visit as the guest of the Argentine authorities. It was indeed rewarding to visit a country which, in the course of rebuilding a democratic system, is welcoming home returning exiles and fully supporting the work of our office, as testified to by the announcement during my visit of the lifting of the geographical limitation to the 1951 Convention. I am happy that in a small way we have been able to assist some of these returning refugees, thanks to contributions received following my appeal last year.

As regards Central America, we were pleased to welcome to Geneva just two weeks ago a high-level delegation from Honduras, led by the Minister of the Interior and Justice. I have no doubt that our very fruitful discussions will lead to an improvement in the situation of the refugees in that country. I should also mention in passing the progress that has been made in Mexico in relocating Guatemalan refugees away from border areas to the provinces of Campeche and Quintana Roo. So far 18,000 have agreed to move, and rural settlements are being created which should fairly quickly bring them to a large measure of self-sufficiency. We have enjoyed very close cooperation in this operation with the Mexican authorities, and I hope to familiarize myself directly with the situation next month when I travel to Mexico at the invitation of the Government.

Mr. Chairman, a few points regarding the international protection of refugees: when situations call for it, UNHCR should always be ready to act as a forum for dialogue and an instrument for coordinating the pursuit of solutions. In Europe today, asylum-seekers and Governments are faced with problems of such complexity that a more coordinated response would seem to be required. At the last meeting of the Executive Committee I expressed my serious concern at certain restrictive trends in the treatment of large numbers of asylum-seekers arriving in European countries from other continents. Established asylum practices have been put under severe strain. On the basis of contacts with interested Governments I have therefore decided to follow up the proposal I made at our last meeting to hold consultations with concerned Governments and agencies here in Geneva from 28 to 31 May. Invitations will be issued shortly. These consultations will focus on practical solutions and arrangements, but they will also consider wider aspects of the problem, notably the volume and changing composition of refugee influxes in Europe. In view of the importance of these issues, I do hope that participation will be at an appropriately high level. Mr. Chairman, on a related issue, I wish to inform you that in line with a wish expressed by the Executive Committee at the 35th session, I have arranged for a study to be carried out on the question of irregular movements of refugees. I am also arranging for the preliminary text of this study to be considered by a working group which is expected to hold its first meeting some time in April. The final outcome of this study will be submitted to the Sub-Committee on International Protection.

While speaking of Europe, I should not neglect to say a word of thanks and appreciation to two member countries of the Executive Committee, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia, for having so warmly received me for official visits in December. These visits certainly served to reaffirm the staunch support of these two countries for the cause of refugees and the work of our office.

To return for a moment to Africa and another matter which has been causing us concern, I should like to recall the various problems which have resulted from the displacement of refugees and other populations due to the events which occurred in Southern Uganda in late 1982. A third tripartite meeting among the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda and UNHCR was held last December in Gabiro, Rwanda, tinder the chairmanship of my Director of International Protection. Although the meeting was not able to reach a consensus on all points, I am happy to report that my Director of International Protection has just been received both by President Obote of Uganda and President Habyarimana of Rwanda. I trust that as a result of these meetings and the keen desire of both Heads of State to maintain a spirit of good neighbourliness between the two sister countries, there is now a real possibility of moving towards a humanitarian solution of these various problems. It is indeed gratifying that the President of Uganda is determined to pursue his policy of national reconciliation and to receive back in their homeland all Ugandans from neighbouring countries who wish to return to Uganda. It is equally gratifying that the President of Rwanda has agreed that his authorities will respond quickly to individual requests for voluntary repatriation by Rwandese refugees in Uganda, requests submitted under a procedure established between my Office and the two Governments concerned.

I should like to turn now to the financial problems facing UNHCR in 1985. At the Executive Committee meeting in October 1984, we estimated that financial requirements in 1985 would be $ 384 million for the General Programmes and some $ 46 million for Special Programmes. The figure for the General Programmes is still $ 384 million, but the Special Programmes estimate was made before the current emergency in Africa. The emergency requirements in Africa are in addition to the $ 46 million dollars estimated last October.

You will have received the various updated appeals and programme reports which have been issued by UNHCR on the emergency situation in Africa. A further report will be sent to you in mid-February which will include new budgetary estimates for the programmes concerned up to November 1985, when it is hoped that a new harvest will be available and that we shall be able to see more clearly what the future holds for the new arrivals, particularly in Somalia and the Sudan.

While our emergency efforts seem to be making progress in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Somalia, the situation in Eastern Sudan is, as I have already mentioned, extremely critical. It is vitally important that sufficient stocks of food and relief supplies be delivered to the Sudan before the rains come in late May. That means that the food and relief goods must be supplied in the next few months and procurement must therefore begin now for what is required during the rainy season.

At present, we do not have the funds needed for the immediate requirements of today, leaving aside funds to carry out such forward planning and delivery. Due to the limited response to the Special Appeals, we have not only spent all the contributions received but have also exhausted the Emergency Fund. I would therefore ask Governments to make contributions to the emergency programmes in Africa, particularly Eastern Sudan, as soon as possible so that we can purchase and deliver the goods required both before additional new arrivals exhaust current stocks and before the rainy season makes regular delivery of assistance impossible.

This means that the emergency programmes in Africa demand very considerable financial requirements on a rapidly increasing scale. I hope, however, that such contributions will not be at the cost of contributions to the 1985 General Programmes which are still of primary concern and in regard to which, as I explained to you at the October 1984 Executive Committee, we face particularly difficult financial problems in 1985.

For the 1985 General Programmes, the Executive Committee approved a requirement of some $ 384 million. At the present time, taking into account 1985 contributions already pledged or paid, plus funds carried over from 1984, we have some $ 141 million in total. We therefore need a further $ 243 million in 1985 to fund the vitally important General Programmes.

Let me say immediately that, on our side, we are continuing to make every effort to make our programmes and budgets more economical and cost-effective. Where the strong US dollar produces more local currency for our programme expenditures, we are already in many cases reducing the US dollar budget levels. We hope in this way to keep expenditure down to the minimum required to do our job properly.

I realize the difficulties Governments face in producing the considerable amounts of money refugee assistance requires. The strength of the US dollar continues to be a major factor in this equation. Nevertheless, I would urge you to give immediate consideration to the very serious funding problems we face in 1985. If sufficient funds for the General Programmes are not available, the programmes will have to be scaled down. The pursuit of durable solutions for refugees - an aim which I know is considered vital by members of this Committee - will be made much more difficult. I am sure that no member of the Executive Committee would wish refugee assistance and durable solution programmes to be disrupted because of a lack of basic financial resources.

With this in mind, and to encourage Governments to begin the consideration of additional contributions as soon as possible, we shall issue a Special Appeal for the 1985 General Programmes on 29 January. The Appeal will give full details of UNHCR's financial situation.

I strongly hope that by our combined efforts it will be possible to achieve full funding of the 1985 General Programmes, and it is my conviction that the Executive Committee agrees that this is our common responsibility.

Mr. Chairman, at its last session in October 1984, the Executive Committee decided to conclude its consideration of agenda item 10 Administrative and Financial matters - at its meeting in January 1985. The two points left in abeyance were the recommendations on professional job classification, and the creation of 11 additional posts. The present meeting of the Executive Committee is empowered to take decisions on these two items.

We have reconsidered each item very carefully in the light of the Executive Committee's proceedings in October, and, in December 1984, we issued two new documents, A/AC.96/654 on the professional job classification exercise and A/AC.96/655 on developments affecting staff levels. These documents are, we hope, self-explanatory but if I may, Mr. Chairman, I should like to add a few comments.

First, the professional job classification exercise. You will recall that the reclassification of the posts in UNHCR was undertaken following a request made by the Administrative Management Service, strongly supported afterwards by the Executive Committee. It was a very reasonable request, taking into account that such a systematic classification had never been carried out in the more than three decades of UNHCR's existence and that the staff of UNHCR has increased by two or three times during the last decade, while our programmes, in money terms, have increased ten times. We prepared the job-classification exercise very carefully. We asked other UN agencies to help with their expertise and experience. The classification system used was not specific to UNHCR but the one in force in the United Nations since 1981, to ensure that we remained fully within the norms of the United Nations system. Both the Classification Section of the Office of Personnel Services in New York and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) expressed appreciation, and ACABQ recommended approval of the results with respect to voluntary funds.

The result of the classification exercise shows that as much as two thirds - or 265 - of the post levels are considered accurate and should remain unchanged. Of the rest, 33 are recommended for downgrading and 103 for upgrading.

You will remember, Mr. Chairman, that the upgrading of nine high-level posts at Headquarters was referred to in paragraph 27 of document A/AC.96/639/Add.1 presented to the Executive Committee last October. When I was in New York in November, I conveyed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as agreed, the gist of the debate concerning the job classification in its entirety and more particularly regarding paragraph 27. The Secretary General made it clear that he was not prepared to approve the classification of these posts now. That is the reason why I have decided not to request the support of the Executive Committee for paragraph 27. We shall come back to that part of the classification at a more appropriate time. As for the rest of the classification, the Secretary-General and his budgetary advisers had no problems. There they gave us the green light. That is why I now seek the definitive green light from my Executive Committee.

It is important to remember that we talk of posts and not of persons. That means that, if the classification is approved, the implementation will only take place gradually. That goes both for posts upgraded and for those downgraded. In other words, the financial consequences this year will be absorbed within, the target for the 1985 General Programmes approved by the Executive Committee in October which will thus remain unchanged. Even over the years, the costs will in any event be very modest in totality, estimated to be roughly one thousandth of our budget (as far as voluntary funds are concerned) when the whole exercise is implemented

But I attach very great importance to this classification, which I consider to be of much value to our work and an act of fairness to our staff; and the new grade structure, when implemented, will still appear modest compared with other organizations of the United Nations system, especially with respect to the highest grades. Moreover, as explained in the document, important side-benefits should derive from the implementation of the results of the exercise, in terms of general management, staff rotation at all levels, career planning, and delegation of authority. I do hope that in view of all these considerations, the Executive Committee will now find its way clear to approving the results as far as voluntary funds are concerned, thus also paving the way for an approval later this year of the regular budget part by the United Nations General Assembly.

With regard to the additional posts, I am fully aware that in many Governments there is a strong hesitation to approve additional posts. I am very conscious of the need for restraint and for tightening our belts. I understand the importance of the principle of zero growth. But the refugees are not under a rule of zero growth. We have large influxes again and again. Even during the hours we meet here today, perhaps three thousand new persons in need of our help will arrive in Eastern Sudan alone, not to speak of other recent influxes, since we met in October, into the Central African Republic, Western Sudan, and many other places. We have often, in the history of UNHCR, been able to close offices and discontinue posts. But not now.

The new offices we are opening have been opened at the request of the Executive Committee. Our proposal is extremely modest: only two professionals and one secretary in each office. But we must staff them at a level that will permit them to function effectively. Let me again say that we are not in the next minute going to ask you to approve an increased target. The target approved last October will not be changed. When we meet in October 1985, we shall, as usual, present the final accounts for 1984, a revised budget - perhaps reduced, perhaps increased - for 1985 and a General Programmes target for 1986.

In October we asked for 11 additional posts. We have covered some of the needs by temporary arrangements. Such arrangements are never fully satisfactory, and in any case they cannot be applied to provide the core staff of Branch Offices. That is why we come to you with this set of six posts, which we consider a bare minimum, in order to continue to face our basic responsibilities.

Let me conclude by saying how encouraging it is that the Executive Committee shares with us our responsibilities. It is only in this spirit of working together that it is possible to bring succour to the uprooted people who have been placed in situations of distress by such tragic events. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.