Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Talking points for Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for the World Economic Forum, Davos, 1 February 1992

Speeches and statements

Talking points for Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for the World Economic Forum, Davos, 1 February 1992

1 February 1992
I. Scale of movementsII. IssuesConclusion

I. Scale of movements

Today more and more people on the move for a whole host of reasons: greater demands for migrant labour, improvements in technology and travel, impact of the international media, disparity between rich and poor nations, severity of regional and internal conflicts, ethnic strife. 17 million refugees under UNHCR's care, an estimated equal number of internally displaced - many without international protection or assistance.

End of Cold War has intensified political and economic factors which cause displacement, but at the same time has removed the basis of many conflicts which previously prevented people from returning home. Thus, in the eleven months since I became High Commissioner, I have faced emergencies in the Persian Gulf area and the Horn of Africa, exodus from Albania, displacement in Yugoslavia, boat people from Haiti, but have also to prepare for return to Cambodia, Angola, South Africa, Afghanistan, to name a few.

II. Issues

At this challenging juncture in UNHCR's history, would like to draw attention to three issues:

First - increased movements of refugees and migrants from the developing to the industrialised world. Many refugees but also many economic migrants using asylum procedures as the back-door to enter Europe. Vivid pictures of disorderly and large boatloads of Albanians arriving in Italy last year. Prohibitive cost of processing, yet only a small percentage are deported and most allowed to remain on humanitarian grounds. Negative public opinion, incidents of xenophobia and racism, pressures for stricter control. Problem of Haitian boat people illustrates the dilemma of the West between maintaining humanitarian principles and immigration control.

  • pressure on asylum procedures can be relieved only if concerted immigration policies can be established in western Europe and viable alternatives created for economic migrants. Lesson of Albanian exodus: political and legal reform not enough to keep people at home if they have no economic prospects. New and fragaile democracies need to be consolidated through economic development. Lot more needs to be done in terms of trade expansion, foreign direct investment, official development assistance and other forms of assistance if migratory pressure from poorer countries is to be reduced.

Second - displacement, especially within national frontiers, as a result of ethnic rivalry and fragementation of States. Violence in the Horn of Africa and Yugoslavia could be the tip of the iceberg. How can individuals be protected when States disintegrate?

  • as internally displaced persons become key concern, we cannot focus only on country of asylum but must look at the country of origin and find ways to prevent displacement and help the internally displaced. Eg. Yugoslavia. UNHCR designated as lead UN agency for assistance to displaced persons, working in conjunction with UNICEF, WHO and ICRC, assisting, monitoring events, seeking ways to build confidence, defuse tensions and facilitate intercommunal contacts and dialogue.
  • raises thorny question of national sovereignty. Notion of sovereignty can not be absolute, but at a pragmatic level sovereignty cannot be ignored. Middle road: move towards acquiescence rather than express consent for international protection and assistance of internally displaced, e.g. GA resolution on humanitarian assistance.
  • generally notions of national sovereignty undergoing change as international community more willing to engage in peace-keeping, peace-building and peace-making within (as opposed to between) member States: SC resolutions on Yugoslavia, Somalia, El Salvador. Supervision of elections in Nicaragua, Haiti. UNTAC in Cambodia. SC resolution 688 on Iraq. Recognised link between human rights and security. Respect for human rights, democratisation, peace integral to solving displacement. UN must play a crucial role in this through preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution.

Third - voluntary repatriation opportunities must be made into lasting solutions for refugees. Conditions for return far from ideal. Security problems as in northern Iraq or Eastern Ethiopia. Problem of mines in Cambodia, Angola, Afghanistan - raised with Security Council members, need a focal point at UN HQs on "humanitarian demining". Finally, reintegration problems in countries devastated by war. What economic prospects for returning refugees, displaced persons and demobilised soldiers? Unless there is national reconstruction and the returnees are made part of it, we could face new kinds of humanitarian emergencies.


Thus in conclusion:

Causes of movement diverse and complex, require comprehensive and integrated response simultaneously at three levels: - political level through multilateral action to resolve conflicts and promote, support and defend representative forms of governments and respect for human rights; humanitarian level through more effective and coordinated assistance and protection focusing not only on country of asylum but also on country of origin; and economic level where the links between displacement and lack of development and the continuum from emergency assistance to development must be recognised and acted upon.