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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Second Regular Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 11 July 1983

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Second Regular Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 11 July 1983

11 July 1983

Mr. President, I am very pleased to have again the opportunity of addressing the Economic and Social Council, and highly value the fact that our discussions will take place under your able guidance.

As you know, I report to you today in the name of, or in co-ordination with, the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the framework of four General Assembly resolutions geared towards specific situations in Africa of concern to my Office.

First, I 'refer to resolution 37/174 on "Assistance to Refugees in Somalia". Refugees in Somalia are concentrated in 35 established camps in the four regions of Gedo, Hiran, Lower Shebelli and the North West. Activities are based on a figure of 700,000 refugees, adopted for planning purposes, agreed upon between the Somali Government and the United Nations Inter-Agency Mission which visited Somalia last year. We now have, as requested in the resolution, sent a mission to carry out a review "of the overall needs of the refugees, including those aspects relating to their settlement and rehabilitation". Thus, I would like to report briefly on a number of programme aspects as they stand at present, and as they are developing according to the results and recommendations of the review undertaken. In line with the far-sighted approach of the Somali Government in aiming at durable solutions where these are possible, the review mission examined notably how we can move further away from the present predominance of relief assistance to the encouragement of some measure of self-sufficiency. This shift of emphasis represents. a new hope for a number of refugees; an opening, to a future beyond the day-to-day survival on the internationally-donated food ration.

The review mission visited 27 of the 35 camps; an almost comprehensive exercise which I hope will permit the consolidation and improvement of the programme at all levels.

Food assistance has continued, with basic food rations provided by the World Food programme while UNHCR supplemented the refugees' diet with a view to minimizing the incidence of diseases caused by protein deficiency and undernourishment. Distribution of food aid - and other relief supplies - improved in all camps, under the responsibility of an Emergency Logistics Unit, managed by an American voluntary agency - CARE, created in the Office of the Extraordinary Commissioner of the National Refugee Commission of Somalia. The review mission made recommendations on overall co-ordination of food aid, its volume and balance, its storage and distribution. Close attention has been given to the question of increasing the provision of potable water, and advisory services to this effect were made available under UNHCR programmes to the Water Development Agency of the Government of Somalia. Proper operation and maintenance of water facilities, up-grading of existing installations, are among the concrete measures recommended and being taken in this field. In the health sector, UNHCR's policy has been to integrate its health programme into an infrastructure oriented towards Primary Health Care, under the responsibility of refugees and national staff. Morbidity and mortality rates in camps continued to decline, while preventive health measures and improved sanitation are becoming important components of the health programme. As far as education is concerned, teacher training for primary schools, scholarships for secondary schooling, vocational training, are among the main measures pursued.

While all attention is given to each aspect of the programmes I have briefly reviewed, we bear in mind that another option is offered to refugees, that is voluntary repatriation to Ethiopia. It is in this context that I wish to turn to the second resolution I am to discuss today. I refer to Resolution 37/175 concerning "Assistance to displaced persons in Ethiopia". This resolution, "recognizing the number of voluntary returnees in Ethiopia", requests me to intensify my efforts in "mobilizing humanitarian assistance for the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of the number of voluntary returnees, as well as for displaced persons".

As you know, UNHCR launched last year a special programme for returnees budgeted at 20 million US dollars. I think we are well under way in terms of meeting the resolution's request for mobilizing international assistance. Contributions amount to almost 10 million dollars. In addition, the Government of Australia made a food contribution which has a value of 6 million dollars. Therefore, our total programme resources now amount to some 16 million dollars.

The main objective of the programme is to provide basic relief and rehabilitation assistance for returnees to Ethiopia and thus create a material context conducive to further voluntary repatriation. This programme is conceived as part of a regional approach to solving refugee problems in the Horn of Africa. It is designed to assist spontaneous returnees already in Ethiopia, and provide the necessary infrastructure and incentive for refugees who live outside Ethiopia and who may wish to repatriate voluntarily. Overall responsibility for the programme rests with the Government of Ethiopia. The League of Red Cross Societies has, since January 1982, been UNHCR's implementing partner. We, ourselves, have expanded our presence in Ethiopia as required in order to provide technical assistance and on-site monitoring of programme implementation: we have established a sub-office in Asmara in the Eritrea region, and another at Dire-Dawa, in the Hararghe region. In addition, we have strengthened our Regional Liaison Office in Addis Ababa.

In general, assistance is made available through a network of Registration and Resettlement Centres. Returnees arriving at the various centres receive immediate primary health care, basic relief items such as food and blankets. After an initial period spent in the Centres, the refugees are given an option as to where they wish to go for the rehabilitation phase. They may return to their original homes or begin new homesteads. In either case they are provided with agricultural or pastoral self-sufficiency kits. They may also opt for joining agricultural rehabilitation projects which have been created at Aliguider in Eritrea, or Kelafo/Mustahil in Hararghe. Numerous item have been procured under UNHCR programmes, such as food, blankets health kits, refrigerators for health clinics, generators, bulldozers, water or fuel tanks and fertilizers.

The completion date of the programme, originally scheduled for 30 June 1983, has been extended to 31 December of this year.

Concerning resolution 37/176 on "Humanitarian assistance to refugees in Djibouti", I should like to make the following observations. Under our programmes, we have continued to assist some 35,000 refugees, the majority of whom - some 32,500 - come from a rural background and are located in camps in the districts of Ali Sabieh and Dikhil. For a few years, no longer-term solution was in sight for the refugees, living on care and maintenance in a country with scarce arable land and resources. Assistance measures, kept constantly under review have consisted in food distribution, construction of communal facilities, improvements in the supply and storage of potable water as well as sanitary conditions. As far as possible, small handicraft projects of a self-sufficiency nature were launched and they benefit today about 500 families. Rural settlement as such has not proved feasible, except for some garden plots on identified arable land with available underground water - a project involving refugees and nationals equally.

For the majority of the refugees, voluntary repatriation would be the only durable solution. To study and bring about this possibility, a Tripartite Commission was constituted by the Governments of Djibouti and Ethiopia and UNHCR. The Commission met in Djibouti on 31 January and 1 February 1983, and in Addis Ababa on 13 and 16 April. The appropriate relief three parties concerned have, in these tripartite meetings, agreed on it being absolutely essential that this programme is totally voluntary in nature. The commission emphasized this point, and adopted specific conclusions to promote organized repatriation and to provide appropriate relief and rehabilitation assistance to the returnees.

Voluntary repatriation will entail new financial requirements. My Office has circulated an appeal to potential donors for a programme estimated at 8,142,694 dollars, of which over two million are for basic food which the World Food Programme has been requested to provide. This special programme is planned to run from 15 August 1983 to 15 August 1984. It covers immediate relief, and both town and village reintegration as well as the rehabilitation of pastoralists.

I should point out that this programme does not overlap with the previous special programme for Ethiopian returnees which I have just discussed. The first programme covers a different geographical area. Of the fourteen transit centres located along the Dire-Dawa/Dewele railroad for this. Djibouti voluntary repatriation operation, only two are included in the other programme. I should also point out that no drought problem presently exist in this area of Ethiopia.

The last resolution on which I wish to speak today is 37/177, and concerns "Assistance to student refugees in Southern Africa". I must start by recalling a sad event. Over forty persons died as a result of South Africa's attack on Maseru during the night of 8-9 December 1982. Some of them were our student refugees. It is a tragic reminder that assistance, be it education or any other kind, is not enough to enable the refugees to build their future.

I need hardly say that assistance to refugee students in Southern Africa has remained a major preoccupation of my Office. At lower secondary level, we have been helping a total of 350 South African students in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia. As the same level, 2,700 Namibian students are receiving assistance, mainly in Zambia, with smaller numbers in Botswana. At the higher secondary level and above, 613 South Africans and 135 Namibians are pursuing studies at university or other institutes of higher education: they are studying in a large number Of countries in Africa, Europe, and North America, under the sponsorship of the United Nations Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa.

These programmes for Southern African refugee students have now been in operation for six years. In countries where education facilities are not sufficient to face refugee needs, assistance must go beyond financing individual refugee students. One must aim at creating extra capacity in the national education systems, to respond to these additional requirements. Much ground has been covered in terms of expansion of educational facilities at secondary and university level, as well as construction of schools and various facilities for students. A series of projects which had been drawn up to assist countries in expanding educational infrastructure are well under way towards completion in Botswana and Lesotho. In Swaziland, we are assisting the Government to expand its facilities at the University, in response to the Government decision to establish a quota of 10-15% refugee admissions. I do hope the International community will continue to support generously the endeavours of these countries. We must ensure that these young people are not deprived of education, a solid basis for building up their future.

Obviously my remarks today have not touched on many African refugee situations. They are covered in the report I have submitted to ECOSOC (E/1983/47). You will see in paragraph 102 that, in 1982, UNHCR obligated a total of 134.7 million U.S. dollars for assistance in Africa. The scale of African refugee problem remains overwhelming; the fact that tragedy does not often follow exodus, is a measure of Africa's own generosity to her refugees. We, the international community, must humbly recognize the limits of what we can do when faced with these refugee problems of such massive dimensions and appreciate how reliant the refugees remain on the generosity of the African states themselves. However, the theme that I have emphasized today, solutions, is one I mean to pursue more strongly than ever through our programmes in Africa. In this context I must of course, mention next year's Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa, ICARA II, which is central to this approach.

Assistance is never enough in any sense. The only help that lasts is a solution; we must in Africa, as elsewhere in the world, continue to seek solutions with all the energy and imagination at our command.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, I thank you for your attention.