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Update on Regional Developments in the Americas

Executive Committee Meetings

Update on Regional Developments in the Americas

15 August 1997



1. This document consists of two parts: Part I, a regional overview, and Part II, individual country and sub-regional overviews. The Special Programme for the repatriation to Guatemala is covered under the country reviews for Guatemala and Mexico. Relevant budget and post tables, as well as selected maps, are provided in the annexes.


2. By early 1997, there were an estimated 889,000 refugees, returnees and persons of concern to UNHCR in the Americas and the Caribbean. Of this total, only about 86,200 continued to receive material support from UNHCR, with an estimated 52,800 being assisted as refugees and some 33,400 returnees benefiting from personal documentation and community-based projects.

3. Two positive developments occurring in 1996 paved the way for definitive solutions for the Guatemalan refugees who remain in camps and settlements in Mexico. Most significant was the successful conclusion of peace negotiations in Guatemala, culminating in the signing of a global peace agreement in December 1996. The settlement marks the end of thirty-six years of internal conflict and signals the completion of the peace process in Central America. For UNHCR, the peace agreement provides a new framework for consolidating the repatriation and reintegration process in Guatemala. The second important development has been the implementation of the Mexican Government's migratory stabilization plan for Guatemalan refugees, which was first announced at one of the refugee settlements in August 1996.

4. While developments in Central America and Mexico provide a cause for optimism, continuing instability in other areas of Latin America and the Caribbean hold the potential for significant refugee movements. UNHCR is particularly concerned by the resurgence of armed activities in certain South American countries and, particularly, by the escalation of violence in Colombia. UNHCR's objectives are to assist countries already facing new refugee flows, to ensure adequate planning and preparation for emergency response and, where possible, to undertake solutions-oriented preventive action.

5. In the Americas, UNHCR has also placed increasing emphasis on enhanced public awareness and community outreach activities, with the objective of building and maintaining a strong public constituency of support for refugees and the Office's humanitarian programmes. While the major donor and resettlement countries of North America continue to be a focus of such efforts, UNHCR considers the countries of Latin American to be an important source of both political and, potentially, financial support. Many of these countries have recently passed through difficult periods as countries of asylum, countries producing refugees, or both. Drawing from these historical experiences, the Latin American countries have an important and positive perspective to offer in the global dialogue concerning current refugee situations.

6. Throughout the region, UNHCR continues to concentrate upon strengthening the framework of international protection by reinforcing national protection mechanisms and further consolidating durable solutions. During 1997 and 1998, UNHCR will make concerted and systematic efforts to promote the adoption or improvement of national legislation concerning refugees and asylum-seekers. The arrival of asylum-seekers originating from outside of the Americas is an increasing phenomenon throughout the region, particularly in South America. These asylum-seekers from distant countries pose a challenge to Governments in the region, as they often lack personal documentation and may have difficulties communicating due to language barriers. UNHCR seeks to provide Governments with the information, advice and training necessary to determine the eligibility of individual claimants for refugee status, with the objective of ensuring that asylum-seekers receive equal treatment under universally applicable principles of international protection, irrespective of their country or region of origin.

7. UNHCR participates actively in the regional dialogue in the Americas on migration issues. This dialogue, which has developed over the past few years, arose from a recognition among States of their strong common interests in cooperation and coordinated approaches to migration. UNHCR views these emerging regional processes as constructive mechanisms for promoting the institution of asylum and broadly reinforcing the fundamental distinction between refugees, as persons in need of international protection, and other migrants. UNHCR participated as an observer in the Second Regional Conference on Migration held in Panama City in March 1997, and will be represented at the forthcoming technical session in San José, Costa Rica, and the Third Regional Conference to be held in Ottawa in early 1998.

8. UNHCR has also encouraged the existing regional institutions to promote the protection of refugees and others of concern to the High Commissioner. The Conference on Asylum held in Montevideo, Uruguay, in November 1996, as a preparatory meeting to the sixth Ibero-American Summit, focused on refugee status as a universal institution, governed by the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and on the Latin American institution of asylum, as defined by regional instruments and the practice of States. At the twenty-seventh annual session of the Organization of American States (OAS), held in Lima in June 1997, the OAS General Assembly adopted a resolution advocated by UNHCR, which encourages Governments, inter alia, to "safeguard the life and security" of persons fleeing conflict in their home countries "according to the applicable international norms, in particular those related to the international protection of refugees".

9. During 1997, UNHCR's main policy objective related to refugee women in the region is to mainstream a gender perspective within all operations and activities. In these efforts, UNHCR in the Americas is guided by the Beijing Platform of Action and the conclusions and recommendations of the report on the role of the Office of the UNHCR Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women issued in 1996. A regional gender issues team was established, with the participation of representatives from fifteen offices. The team developed a regional programme addressing gender issues and produced a number of practical tools, notably a monthly reporting system and a quarterly newsletter. A regional "lessons learnt" database is under development which will assemble in a systematic manner the collective experience gained in projects targeting women with a view to incorporating a gender perspective into the broader range of programmes and activities. The database is expected to be available to refugee women's organizations, relevant Government agencies, interested non-governmental organizations and UNHCR staff in the region by the end of 1997.

10. During 1997, UNHCR has further consolidated its presence in the Americas around regional offices. The Regional Office in Mexico City has assumed responsibility for operations in Central America, permitting the reduction of UNHCR's presence in San José, Costa Rica, to a Liaison Office. As of January 1997, the Regional Office in Washington became responsible for the western Caribbean, which will allow the closure of the Liaison Office in the Dominican Republic at the end of the year. In view of the evolving situation in South America, the Regional Office in Argentina will be maintained for the time being, albeit with a reduced staffing level. UNHCR will continue to build partnerships with government and non-governmental partners, such as the Offices of the Ombudsmen in Central America, to ensure that standards of international protection in the region are preserved and enhanced even through the Office's presence is reduced.


1. Canada

(a) Beneficiaries

11. During 1996, 26,120 persons sought asylum in Canada. Statistics provided by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) indicate that 21,680 refugee claims were heard to completion by the Board's Convention Refugee Determination Division (CRDD). A total of 9,541 persons were recognized, 7,037 were rejected and the claims of 5,225 persons were withdrawn or otherwise closed.

12. The five main countries of origin of asylum-seekers were Sri Lanka (2,946), Chile (2,824), the Islamic Republic of Iran (1,728), India (1,367) and Israel (1,270). The CRDD determined that a substantial proportion of the applications made by Chilean, Israeli and Indian nationals were unfounded, which contributed to the decrease in the overall acceptance rate from 70 per cent in 1995 to 58 per cent in 1996.

13. Canada was the second leading destination for refugees resettled through UNHCR, with 2,368 arrivals during 1996. Canada's target for overseas refugee admissions in 1997 is between 10,100 and 11,300 (7,300 government-assisted and 2,800 to 4,000 privately-sponsored). The Canadian Government's Annual Immigration Plan for 1997 also provides for the "landing" (permanent resident status) of 14,800 to 18,000 refugees in Canada and 2,000 to 3,000 of their dependants from abroad.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

14. The Canadian Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has appointed an Advisory Group to conduct an independent review of Canada's Immigration Act. The three-member Advisory Group is expected to submit recommendations for the Minister's consideration by the end of 1997. UNHCR has consulted with the Advisory Group and has provided its views regarding refugee-related aspects of the Immigration Act.

15. In December 1996, the IRB issued an important update of its March 1993 Guidelines on Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution. The updated guidelines take account of the significant jurisprudence that developed in Canada following the issuance of the original precedent-setting guidelines in 1993. Between 1993 and September 1996, the CRDD finalized 1,134 gender-related claims, with 632 having been accepted by the Board.

16. The country programme for Canada in 1997 and 1998 remains focused upon UNHCR's core functions of protection and durable solutions. UNHCR closely tracks legislative and policy developments affecting refugees, the operation of Canada's decentralized refugee status determination procedures and the evolution of policies concerning the resettlement and integration of refugees from abroad. During the past year, the Branch Office has been more active in monitoring immigration procedures at ports of entry. The Office maintains a constructive dialogue with the Canadian Government, refugee advocates, concerned non-governmental organizations and the refugee and asylum-seeker communities.

17. In 1998, the Branch Office will further develop its public information and awareness activities with a view toward developing and preserving public support for refugees and UNHCR in Canada.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

18. CARE Canada continues to be UNHCR's implementing partner for legal and resettlement counselling in Canada.

(d) Budget

19. No major changes are projected for the revised 1997 and initial 1998 budgets as compared to the initial 1997 budget.

(e) Post situation

20. One professional post was discontinued at the end of 1996. No further changes in the staffing level are anticipated during 1997 and 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

21. UNHCR has encouraged the IRB's efforts to develop guidelines for claims of women fearing gender-related persecution and children seeking asylum. In addition to the updated guidelines for gender persecution claims, the IRB issued Guidelines on Child Refugee Claimants in August 1996. UNHCR also works closely with the Canadian Government on its implementation of the "Women at Risk" resettlement programme.

22. UNHCR promotes the human rights of women and children in Canada through the dissemination of public information, as well as through briefing sessions and training seminars for IRB members, Post-Claim Determination Officers and other relevant government officials.

(g) Oversight reports

23. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

2. Guatemala

(a) Beneficiaries

24. As of 1 January 1997, UNHCR in Guatemala assisted 1,564 refugees, 15,542 returnees and 1,110 internally displaced persons. The main countries of origin for the refugee population are Nicaragua (1,067) and El Salvador (423). It is estimated that 40 per cent of the refugee caseload are women and 25 per cent are children.

25. Between 1 January and 15 July 1997, 1,190 refugees repatriated to Guatemala with UNHCR assistance. Most arrived from Mexico (1,163), with only 27 coming from other countries. Returnees tend to arrive in family groups, with nearly equal numbers of men and women. It is estimated that 21 per cent of the returnees are below the age of four.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

26. After thirty-six years of internal conflict and six years of difficult negotiations, a final and comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the Guatemalan Government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG) on 29 December 1996. Subsequently, a Consultative Group Meeting was held in Brussels where the Guatemalan Government presented its Peace Programme to multilateral and bilateral donors. Pledges were often conditioned upon implementation of a series of socio-economic reforms, and development agencies are gradually becoming involved in conflict-affected areas of Guatemala.

27. Against this background, UNHCR is reorienting its activities in Guatemala to complement the implementation of the peace accords and facilitate post-conflict transition. The Office is necessarily giving priority attention to promoting the inclusion of returnee communities in conflict-affected areas into government planning for social and other services. UNHCR continues to be concerned about the complex pattern of social conflict that affects much of rural Guatemala. The tendency is especially evident in the more remote areas of return where the presence of the Guatemalan Government is limited, such as in the department of Ixcán where half of the returnees reside. The overall improvement in the human rights situation resulting from the peace accord has been somewhat offset by the emergence of tensions between different war-affected groups, including returnees. This problem became particularly serious in 1997 in the Ixcán Grande Cooperative, where returnees illegally detained presumed delinquents, carried out summary justice and tried to prevent demobilized former URNG members from returning to their land. The premises of the women's organization "Mama Maquín" were deliberately destroyed in the process.

28. Despite the signing of the peace agreement, UNHCR projects that the number of refugees coming back from Mexico will continue to decrease. By April, only 457 refugees had returned from Mexico this year, mainly for reasons related to delays in the purchase of land in Guatemala. To address this problem, UNHCR promoted the convening of a tripartite meeting with representatives of the Mexican and Guatemalan Governments and UNHCR, in which representatives of the refugees were also invited to participate. An initial session was held in April, and a second meeting took place in June. As a result of these joint efforts, UNHCR now projects that nearly 2,800 persons will return during the months of July and August.

29. UNHCR presently estimates that a total of 4,000 refugees will return from Mexico to Guatemala in 1997, with the number decreasing further to 2,000 during 1998. UNHCR was requested by the Guatemalan Government, through the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, to assist with the documentation of 3,000 former URNG combatants during the demobilization phase, which ended in May 1997. UNHCR has also been requested to facilitate the repatriation of approximately 500 URNG members living abroad. These repatriations are expected to take place during the second half of 1997. UNDP Guatemala will bear the costs of the operation. In July 1997, UNHCR and UNDP concluded a Memorandum of Understanding governing the modalities and outlining the responsibilities of all parties involved in the repatriation, as well as the coordination mechanisms for the operation. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) will arrange for the international air transport of repatriating URNG members under a separate agreement with UNHCR.

30. Against this background, UNHCR's principle objectives in Guatemala for 1997 and 1998. First, UNHCR will complete the repatriation and related reintegration activities for the Guatemalan refugees wishing to return from Mexico. Second, the Office will encourage implementation of the peace agreements by promoting community reconciliation, particularly by supporting the competent national institutions and strengthening the institutional framework for conflict resolution, especially at the local level. UNHCR's primary emphasis with respect to the reintegration process will be upon promoting access to personal documentation, which will also involve the strengthening of municipal and other local structures for this purpose. Personal documentation is essential for enjoyment of the most basic civil, social and political rights. UNHCR's efforts to provide traditionally marginalized groups with access to documentation thus represents a lasting contribution to the reintegration process and a preventive measure against recurring forced displacement in the future. For this endeavour, UNHCR has established operational linkages with a wide variety of partners supporting implementation of the peace agreements, including the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), UNDP, the European Commission and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

31. Because the stability of return and reintegration ultimately depends upon longer-term socio-economic investment, UNHCR is elaborating detailed area-specific strategies to ensure appropriate complementarity and continuity with bilateral and multilateral development agencies, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, which are currently at different stages of initiating their activities in Guatemala.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

32. UNHCR's main implementing partner in Guatemala for activities targeting refugees is the Comisión Nacional para la Atención de Repatriados, Refugiados y Desplazados (CEAR). OTARDE-Pastoral Social, a development agency of the Catholic Church, procures and distributes housing materials for the basic housing structure and the construction of collective shelters during large return movements. The Canadian NGO, Centre Canadien d'Etudes et de Coopération Internationale (CECI), administers the quick-impact projects (QIPs) programme, which is implemented by a wide range of NGOs and organized community groups. The personal documentation project is implemented through the support of church-related NGOs, including CONFREGUA, SERVIR, OTARDE, and local governments. Bufete Profesional Vives Scheel y Asociados provides legal assistance and material support to refugees.

(d) Budget

33. The budgetary requirements under General Programmes will be slightly reduced in 1998. The budget for the Guatemala Repatriation programme will decline in 1998 as compared to 1997.

(e) Post situation

34. Based on the current assumption that significant repatriation movements will have been completed by mid-1998, a substantial reduction of staff will be effected after end-1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

35. Systematic mainstreaming of gender issues into all aspects of the Guatemala programme is ensured through the specialist services of the Associate Programme Officer for Gender Issues based in Guatemala City, working in close cooperation with the Senior Regional Adviser for Refugee Women based in Mexico City.

36. In June 1997, the Guatemala programme was included in an evaluation on protection and assistance activities for children and adolescents undertaken by UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service, with the objective of making global proposals for improvements in UNHCR's response to these needs.

37. An environment study jointly sponsored by UNHCR and USAID has become a working tool for several government institutions, including the National Land Commission created under the Peace Agreements. The findings of the study were also used in a symposium organized by the National Commission for Protected Areas at the beginning of 1997.

(g) Oversight reports

38. The Norwegian and Swedish national development agencies, NORAD and SIDA, undertook an evaluation of UNHCR's repatriation programme for Guatemalan refugees from Mexico, to which these two agencies have contributed generously for a number of years. The purpose of the review was to assess the degree to which the programme had fulfilled its objectives and to contribute to the "lessons learnt" process. The field work was undertaken in April and early May. The final report is to be released by mid-August.

3. Mexico

(a) Beneficiaries

39. As at 1 January 1997, Mexico hosted some 34,600 refugees. This number included 3,066 urban refugees of various nationalities (mainly from El Salvador and Guatemala) living in Mexico City and other urban centres and 29,993 Guatemalan refugees living in camps and settlements in the States of Chiapas, Campeche and Quintana Roo. An additional 1,500 persons are dispersed in Chiapas. Among the Guatemalans living in these three south-eastern States, some 50 per cent were women, and the average family size was five. After some 15 years in exile, some 48 per cent of this refugee population are entitled to Mexican citizenship by birth. The natural population growth is 4.6 per cent.

40. Between the beginning of January and mid-July 1997, a total of 1,169 refugees were repatriated from Mexico with UNHCR assistance. Of this total, 1,163 returned to Guatemala, five to El Salvador and one to Honduras.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

41. Despite recent improvements in the Mexican economy and Government efforts to create jobs, employment possibilities for urban refugees, many of whom are long-stayers, continue to be very scarce. The situation of refugees originating from outside of the Americas (eighty-one persons as of January 1997) continues to be particularly difficult in terms of living conditions and integration into Mexican society. UNHCR has achieved some progress regarding their legal status in Mexico during the reporting period.

42. In August 1996, the Mexican Government announced a migratory stabilization plan for Guatemalan refugees. The plan offers legal documentation to the Guatemalan refugees in the States of Campeche, Quintana Roo and Chiapas. In Campeche and Quintana Roo, where one third of the Guatemalan refugees live, the Government is granting legal immigrant status to refugees who do not opt for voluntary repatriation. Those refugees having Mexican spouses or children are also afforded access to accelerated naturalization procedures. In Chiapas State, which is home to two-thirds of the remaining Guatemalan rural caseload, refugees are receiving legal visitor status, which entitles them to freedom of movement and the right to seek employment. The documentation process is being carried out jointly by the National Institute of Migration (INM) and the Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (COMAR). By June 1997, the process had been virtually completed in Campeche and Quintana Roo. Only ten per cent of the refugees in these states did not opt for legal immigrant status. In Chiapas, the documentation process was delayed and started only in March 1997. By the end of June however, 78 per cent of the refugees had been granted the identification card issued to legal visitors in Mexico.

43. The naturalization process is administered jointly by COMAR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In December 1996, the President of Mexico personally presented 46 Guatemalan refugees living in the seven settlements in Campeche and Quintana Roo with their citizenship papers. A total of 404 applications for accelerated naturalization are currently being processed, and an additional 2,159 requests submitted by refugees living in these two states of the Yucatán Peninsula are to be examined through normal procedures.

44. UNHCR's overall objective for the Guatemalan refugees in Campeche and Quintana Roo will be to continue to facilitate the process of voluntary repatriation, while at the same time supporting the Government's documentation and naturalization programme and all other measures directed at promoting self-sufficiency among the residual population. In this regard, UNHCR and COMAR have jointly taken several actions aimed at resolving the complex question of land ownership, including the promotion of co-ownership by spouses. At the end of 1996, UNHCR and COMAR hired a legal consultancy firm to carry out an exhaustive study of all legal issues related to the different types of land upon which the refugee settlements are located (for example, land held in trust, federal land and land owned by the states). The Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía e Informática (INEGI) has commissioned a survey of the land. A survey of the water and electricity infrastructure in the refugee settlements has been completed in order to determine what work must be done in order to facilitate the transfer of responsibility for basic services to the State and municipal authorities. Tenders for these projects have been invited, and contracts are expected to be awarded before the end of July or shortly thereafter. UNHCR anticipates that the Ministry of Education will assume full responsibility for the schools in the settlements of Campeche and Quintana Roo in September 1997. In April 1997, COMAR signed an agreement with the European Commission for the implementation of a two-year micro-regional sustainable development project targeting the refugee settlements and the surrounding Mexican communities. Once implementation of the project is under way, UNHCR will gradually hand over responsibility for agricultural and livestock production, income-generating activities, job-related training and credit schemes to the European Commission. These activities are currently part of the UNHCR-funded local settlement project.

45. COMAR conducted a survey in May 1997 in Chiapas to ascertain the future intentions of the refugees. The survey indicated that only 28 per cent wish to repatriate to Guatemala, while 53 per cent hope to remain in Mexico. Very few among them wish to relocate to Campeche and Quintana Roo (only 364 have so far been relocated). The remainder are undecided. The situation remains tense in Chiapas and the issue of finding a viable long-term solution remains complex, as the Mexican Government has thus far authorized only legal visitor status for the Guatemalan refugees in Chiapas. UNHCR will direct its efforts towards securing birth certificates for children born in Mexico, assisting in the settlement of land disputes between refugees and their Mexican neighbours, and enhancing training and activities aimed at promoting self-reliance, with the objective of enabling the refugees to remain in their present location. The Mexican Government carried out a survey of all camps in Chiapas with the objective of assessing the current conditions and formulating appropriate recommendations for each settlement. UNHCR and COMAR are analyzing the report, which was presented in May 1997, with a view toward developing a solution-oriented strategy. For the remainder of 1997, and probably for most of 1998, refugees in Chiapas will remain largely dependent upon care and maintenance assistance.

46. In April 1997, UNHCR, COMAR, the INM and the National Commission for Human Rights launched a joint training programme for migration officials throughout the country on human rights, the protection of refugees and asylum. The objective of the programme is to train some 2,500 migration officials by the end of 1998.

47. UNHCR will continue a systematic assessment of the long-standing urban caseload and, together with its implementing partner, will work to identify appropriate durable solutions for these refugees.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

48. COMAR continues to be UNHCR's main implementing partner for the programmes in the three south-eastern States. In Chiapas, UNHCR has also entered into formal agreements with three Mexican NGOs in the health and income-generation sectors, with particular emphasis on training and activities targeting women. UNHCR's non-governmental partners are Capacitación, Asesoría, Medio Ambiente y Defensa del Derecho a la Salud AC (CAMADDS), Promoción de Servicios Comunitarios AC (PROSECO) and Investigación y Desarrollo Femenino AC (IDEFEM). Counselling and assistance to urban refugees will continue to be provided by Sin Fronteras IAP, which became UNHCR's implementing partner for these programmes at the beginning of 1996.

(d) Budget

49. The 1997 General Programmes and Special Programmes budgets were increased by sixteen per cent as compared with the initial estimates, primarily due to the expansion of the local settlement project for Campeche and Quintana Roo. The increase was necessary to meet the cost of documentation and to upgrade the infrastructure in the settlements in order to facilitate the projected permanent handover of responsibility to the line ministries of the state and federal Governments. The increase in the Programme Delivery budget for the period 1997 and 1998, as compared to the initial estimate for 1997, resulted from the consolidation of UNHCR's presence in the sub-region into a single Regional Office in Mexico City.

(e) Post situation

50. The merger of the Regional Offices in Costa Rica and Mexico, effective 1 January 1997, has led to the redeployment of several posts, the creation of one National Officer and two general service posts and the reclassification of a number of other posts, primarily in the general service category, in Mexico City. The currently anticipated post level is 38, as at 1 January 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

51. In Chiapas, UNHCR is developing programme design methodologies aimed at ensuring that production projects are appropriate to the needs of women and facilitate the measurement of their impact. UNHCR has implemented a capacity-building programme for local judicial and municipal authorities, as well as male and female refugee representatives. In particular, the programme is designed to raise their awareness and ability to respond to cases involving sexual and domestic violence. In Campeche, refugee women community workers have been trained to respond to domestic violence situations. In both Campeche and Chiapas, UNHCR supports numerous initiatives carried out by women's organizations, and insists upon equal representation of refugee women in such matters as camp meetings, food distribution, land visits for repatriation purposes and repatriation grants. In Campeche, UNHCR has supported the production of a training manual on gender awareness for refugee men and women.

(g) Oversight reports

52. External auditors undertook an audit in Mexico for the year ended 31 December 1996. A response to the auditors' observations has been prepared and their recommendations are being implemented.

4. United States of America

(a) Beneficiaries

53. During fiscal year 1996 (1 October 1995 to 30 September 1996), a total of 195,617 asylum applications were filed in the United States. Over the same period, asylum status was granted to 16,605 persons and 24,699 claims were rejected, giving an overall recognition rate of 40 per cent. At the end of fiscal year 1996, the United States had a backlog of pending asylum claims totalling 482,219 persons.

54. The United States admitted 75,682 persons as refugees during fiscal year 1996, against an authorized ceiling of 90,000 persons. The United States continues to be the leading destination for refugees resettled through UNHCR, with 13,080 departures for the United States in 1996.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

55. The United States enacted major changes to its immigration legislation in 1996. The "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996" (IIRIRA), which came into force on 1 April 1997, established significant new restrictions on access to asylum procedures. UNHCR has engaged in close consultations with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) during the subsequent regulatory process with the aim of ensuring that the new legislation is implemented with appropriate safeguards for the rights of refugees and others of concern to the High Commissioner.

56. During its current session, the United States Congress is expected to consider proposals to modify and soften the impact of certain provisions in the new immigration legislation. For example, under the IIRIRA, the eligibility of refugees for most public welfare benefits was limited to five years after their admission to the United States or the receipt of asylum. In July 1997, Congress passed additional legislation extending the period of eligibility to seven years for some benefits, notably Social Security Insurance and Medicaid, after which time such individuals must be naturalized as United States citizens if they are to retain their eligibility.

57. The United States Commission on Immigration Reform, a bipartisan panel established by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, issued its third report entitled, "U. S. Refugee Policy: Taking Leadership", which makes far reaching recommendations concerning the future direction of United States international and domestic refugee programmes. UNHCR facilitated the Commission's field visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany and Kenya.

58. A primary objective of UNHCR in the United States remains the advocacy of international standards of refugee protection and the promotion of resettlement as a durable solution. UNHCR will continue efforts to monitor and influence developments in United States law and policy that affect refugees and other persons of concern to the High Commissioner. On the individual level, the Washington Regional Office's Legal and Resettlement Counselling programmes are accessible to refugee advocates and individual asylum-seekers across the country.

59. During 1997 and 1998, UNHCR will also expand activities aimed at building sustained public support for refugees and the Office's humanitarian programmes. The Regional Office's public information and external relations capacity has been strengthened, and the USA for UNHCR public awareness project has undergone a significant expansion.

60. The new strategic direction of the USA for UNHCR project aims at raising the visibility of UNHCR across the United States. The organization has opened an office for the midwest region in Chicago and has retained consultants in New York and Los Angeles to support its public awareness and educational activities on the east and west coasts. USA for UNHCR has developed its institutional capacity through the expansion of its Board of Directors, the establishment of a National Advisory Council composed of prominent individuals and the creation of a Business Leadership Council for corporate sponsors. The Ford Foundation recently awarded USA for UNHCR a $ 75,000 grant for resource development and strategic planning.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

61. Church World Services continues to be UNHCR's implementing partner for legal and resettlement counselling in the United States. As noted above, UNHCR's implementing partner for public awareness is USA for UNHCR.

(d) Budget

62. No major changes in General Programmes expenditures are foreseen for 1998. The budget increase in 1997 related primarily to the Washington office's assumption of regional responsibilities for the western Caribbean and the strengthening of UNHCR's core functions in the United States (protection, resettlement and public information). The Special Programmes budget was increased to support expansion of the USA for UNHCR public awareness project.

(e) Post situation

63. One professional post was redeployed from the Dominican Republic to the United States in connection with the assumption of regional responsibilities by the Washington office. A professional post and a secretarial post were also created in the Washington Regional Office to strengthen the public information section and to provide necessary clerical support. A post of Senior External Relations Officer was created in New York. For 1998, the number of posts is expected to remain at the same level as in 1997 (23 posts).

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

64. The Regional Office sensitizes participants in all external refugee law training activities to the special needs of vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers, introducing UNHCR's guidelines for the protection of refugee women and children, victims of sexual violence and unaccompanied children seeking asylum. UNHCR has prepared advisory opinions on behalf of women asylum-seekers advancing gender-related persecution claims and unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

65. In its interventions with the INS regarding implementation of the new United States immigration legislation, UNHCR highlighted concern as to the possible impact of certain provisions on children and adolescents seeking asylum. The INS recently announced that children under eighteen years of age would not be subject to the new "expedited exclusion" procedures.

(g) Oversight reports

66. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

5. Other Countries in Central America

67. This chapter covers UNHCR activities in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

(a) Beneficiaries

68. As at 1 January 1997, the refugee population in this sub-region consisted of 23,190 persons in Costa Rica, 8,534 in Belize, 867 in Panama, 591 in Nicaragua, 125 in El Salvador and 63 in Honduras. In addition, some 10,000 to 20,000 undocumented Central Americans in refugee-like situations reside in Belize. The vast majority of the refugees in these six countries are of Central American origin. Most are Nicaraguans, Salvadorians and Guatemalans who have been in the countries of asylum for long periods of time and whose integration is at an advanced stage. The Central American sub-region also hosts some refugees from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. Approximately two hundred asylum-seekers originating from outside the sub-region undergo refugee status eligibility determination procedures each year. An emerging trend observed during the last twelve months has been the increase in the arrival of Colombian asylum-seekers, mainly, but not exclusively, in Panama and Costa Rica. Most of the refugees of Central American origin are farmers living in rural and semi-urban areas. Approximately 45 per cent of the refugees in these countries are women and over ten per cent are children under five years of age.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

69. The most significant development during the period under review has been the flight of several hundred Colombian civilians, mostly women and children, from the violence in the Urabá region in north-western Colombia to the neighbouring jungle area of the Darién in Panama. In October 1996 and in April 1997, two such groups, consisting of 88 and 293 persons respectively, were involuntarily returned to Colombia. UNHCR is presently engaged in a constructive dialogue with the Government of Panama aimed at identifying modalities for affording protection and basic assistance to Colombian nationals arriving on Panamanian territory and identifying appropriate durable solutions. In this connection, UNHCR is currently working together with the Government of Panama to develop a contingency plan and to improve the country's capacity for responding to humanitarian emergencies. An increasing number of Colombians fleeing individual persecution have also sought asylum in Costa Rica during the same period.

70. UNHCR's strategy in this sub-region will continue to have two basic objectives. The first is the consolidation of durable solutions for the residual refugee caseload in the sub-region, which consists primarily of Central Americans. Secondly, UNHCR will undertake activities aimed at enhancing national institutional capacities to protect and assist asylum-seekers and refugees on a sustainable basis, intensifying efforts to promote the adoption of appropriate legislation implementing the international refugee law instruments and establishing national refugee determination procedures in countries still lacking them. The Office will continue to support the offices of the human rights ombudspersons in the relevant countries, as part of the follow-up to the Regional Forum on Human Rights, Refugees and Migration in Central America held in San José, Costa Rica, in October 1996. UNHCR is also discussing cooperative arrangements with the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights in the field of education and promotion, conflict-mediation and resolution, prevention and research.

71. The consolidation of durable solutions will continue to involve both voluntary repatriation and efforts to facilitate the definitive local settlement of refugees who have already achieved de facto socio-economic integration in their country of asylum. In the latter case, UNHCR will assist refugees in obtaining permanent residence permits or in applying for naturalization. Between May 1996 and June 1997, a total of 327 refugees in the sub-region were repatriated with UNHCR assistance and some 600 refugees became permanent residents or citizens in their country of asylum. Notably, the last 43 Salvadoran refugees remaining at the Mesa Grande camp in Honduras repatriated in April 1997. In Belize, implementation of the QIPs programme continued, but at a reduced level. In El Salvador, UNHCR is working with the Government in order to legalize the situation of some 120 undocumented Nicaraguan refugees who had settled in the country in the early 1980s. In November 1996, an inter-agency agreement was concluded with the Government of El Salvador that establishes a Sustainable Human Development Programme for the departments of Cabañas, Cuscatlán, Chalatenango and Morazán, which were the areas worst affected by the internal conflict. The majority of returnee communities are also located in these areas. UNHCR is co-signatory to the agreement and participates in the implementation of the human rights component.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

72. In Costa Rica, Consultores y Asesores Internacionales implements project activities related to the local integration of refugees, the protection and assistance of new asylum-seekers, and legal counselling and assistance with proceedings related to the residence status of refugees.

73. In Panama, UNHCR's programme is implemented through an arrangement with the Ministry of Government and Justice, which in turn has delegated operational responsibility to the National Office for Refugees (ONPAR).

74. In El Salvador, Fundación Salvadoreña de Apoyo Integral (FUSAI), through the Ministry of Interior, continues to coordinate activities for the legal integration of refugees.

75. In Honduras, UNHCR has established a close collaboration with the Centro de Investigaciones para la Promoción de los Derechos Humanos for the implementation of UNHCR activities in the country, following the closure of the Liaison Office in June 1996.

76. In Belize, UNHCR implements the QIPs programme through Help for Progress, a local NGO. UNHCR also provides support to Government Departments in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Human Resources who carry out status determination and naturalization. The Belize Council of Churches implements material assistance and economic integration activities aimed at promoting self-sufficiency. The Human Rights Commission of Belize provides human rights training to refugees, undocumented aliens and Belize nationals.

(d) Budget

77. The downward trend in the budget will continue in 1997 and 1998, with moderate reductions in most projects and the progressive downsizing of UNHCR's presence in the sub-region.

(e) Post situation

78. Effective 1 January 1997, the Regional Office in Costa Rica and the Office of the Chargé de Mission in Belize were converted to Liaison Offices, permitting the discontinuation of several international professional posts and support staff posts at the end of 1996. Further discontinuations are planned for end-1997, leaving an anticipated post level of 25 as at 1 January 1998. The Liaison Office in Belize will close at the end of 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

79. A number of UNHCR and agency staff received training aimed at ensuring the incorporation of a gender-oriented approach in all UNHCR activities. In Nicaragua, UNHCR provided training in civil and political rights to Nicaraguan returnee and internally displaced women as well as to the staff of NGOs. The Liaison Office in Belize is also providing direct support to a shelter for victims of sexual violence and for ten workshops on domestic violence and sexual abuse. These projects provide for the participation of refugee women and form part of a national strategy aimed at reducing violence against women. UNHCR efforts to promote the harmonization of refugee-related legislation in the Central American sub-region include an important gender component. In Panama, UNHCR provided support to a programme providing training on local family law to refugee men and women.

(g) Oversight reports

80. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

6. Northern South America

81. This chapter covers UNHCR activities in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana.

(a) Beneficiaries

82. Countries in northern South America host some 32,000 refugees and returnees, of whom 2,000 benefit from UNHCR assistance. Most asylum-seekers come from other regions of the world. Present indicators show that 61 per cent of asylum-seekers in northern South America originate from outside the Americas; they represent some 25 per cent of the assisted population.

83. UNHCR's statistics do not reflect the significant number of persons present in northern South America who might be eligible for, but who have chosen not to seek, international protection or assistance. A great number of these individuals come from within the region, particularly from Colombia and Peru.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

84. A prime focus of concern for UNHCR during the past months has been the worsening phenomenon of internal displacement and the flight of refugees as a result of the internal conflict in Colombia. Rising violence between the different armed groups and the deliberate targeting of civilians and social structures since 1994 has caused a sharp increase in the overall level of displacement. Authoritative reports estimate the total number of displaced persons to be approximately one million, with some 150,000 persons having been displaced since mid-1996. More than 70 per cent of the internally displaced population consists of women and children, with many being of indigenous or Afro-Colombian origin. While a range of national institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, are engaged in efforts on behalf of the internally displaced population, their basic protection and assistance needs remain largely unmet. United Nations agencies and other international and non-governmental organizations are showing an increased interest in the plight of Colombia's sizeable internally displaced population.

85. Displacement is now a country-wide phenomenon in Colombia, although UNHCR's particular concern is with the evolving situation in the departments bordering three of Colombia's five neighbours, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. Displacement caused by the conflict holds the potential for increased cross-border flows and aggravated regional tensions. Intensified fighting in the Urabá along the Panamanian border has resulted in repeated attempts by Colombians in the area of Riosucio in the department of Chocó to flee across the Darién jungle into Panama. Renewed fighting around Riosucio in March 1997 resulted in larger-scale displacement, with several thousand people taking refuge in temporary reception centres in Turbo and Pavarandó in the department of Antioquia. UNHCR anticipates that Colombians will continue trying to escape violence by entering Panama, despite the heavy presence of security forces on both sides of the border

86. Over the past several months, UNHCR has monitored the evolving situation in Colombia through extended missions from the Regional Office in Caracas. The Colombian Government has initiated contacts with the High Commissioner, and discussions are underway to determine how UNHCR can respond to the Colombian situation in the most appropriate and integrated manner. UNHCR will determine its objectives in Colombia for the remainder of 1997 and 1998 on the basis of these discussions. In the meantime, UNHCR is carrying out a limited programme of training and research activities under a Letter of Intent concluded between the Office and the Government of Colombia in October 1996.

87. Elsewhere in the region, UNHCR's activities in countries of asylum (Ecuador, Suriname and Venezuela) are aimed at strengthening the legal and institutional framework for protection by providing advice and support for the development of refugee-related legislation and by reinforcing the capacity of national institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, concerned with refugees and asylum-seekers. These activities also contribute to preparedness for any possible refugee emergency in the sub-region.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

88. UNHCR's main implementing partners in the region are the Conferencia Episcopal Venezolana, the Secretariado Nacional de Pastoral Social (SNPS) in Colombia, the Comité pro-Refugiados of the Conferencia Episcopal Ecuatoriana (CPR) and the Pater Ahlbrinck Stichting (PAS) in Suriname.

89. The UNHCR Regional Office in Caracas also benefits from the valuable support provided by the UNDP Resident Representatives in the region, particularly those based in Colombia, Ecuador and Guyana. In Suriname, the UNHCR Regional Office collaborates closely with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), whose representative is the United Nations Resident Coordinator.

(d) Budget

90. A reallocation within the regional budget was undertaken to permit adequate monitoring and assistance of Colombian asylum-seekers in neighbouring countries in 1997. Additional requirements have been approved for programme activities and related administrative costs for 1998.

(e) Post situation

91. No major changes will occur in 1997 and 1998 in the staffing level of Regional Office Caracas. However, some posts will be proposed for reclassification in order to enhance the capacity of the office to discharge its protection and field monitoring responsibilities within the sub-region.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

92. In April 1997, UNHCR participated in a two-week fact finding mission to Colombia at the invitation of the Permanent Consultative Group on Internally Displaced Persons in Latin America. The mission was undertaken to assess the situation of the internally displaced and human rights conditions, bearing in mind that the majority of the internally displaced population consists of women and children.

(g) Oversight reports

93. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

7. Southern South America

94. This chapter covers UNHCR activities in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

(a) Beneficiaries

95. The estimated number of refugees in southern South America as of January 1997 was some 15,000 persons, of whom 3,000 were assisted by UNHCR. Asylum-seekers and refugees in the sub-region originate from Latin America, the Caribbean and, increasingly, from outside the Americas.

96. Asylum-seekers from other continents originate mainly from Africa and Central Europe. The largest group comes from Africa (Angolans and Liberians), the majority of whom have found asylum in Brazil where asylum-seekers from outside the Western Hemisphere represent 77 per cent of the total caseload. However, the caseload in Brazil stabilized somewhat during the reporting period, with a decrease in the number of new arrivals.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

97. The main focus of UNHCR activities in the region continues to be the strengthening of the legal and institutional framework for the protection of refugees in the interest of promoting both prevention and solutions. Despite overall positive trends towards democratization and the rule of law in the Southern Cone, the prevailing instability in Peru gives cause for concern and is being closely monitored by the Regional Office in Argentina. Some areas of the country remain under a "state of emergency", and the activities of irregular armed groups continue to cause internal displacement and the flight of asylum-seekers, mainly to other Latin American countries.

98. The Regional Office in Argentina has developed a large number of refugee law training and promotion activities aimed at various sectors, including the military. The office continues to provide training in international refugee law and emergency management as part of the regular military curricula and as preparation for service in United Nations peace-keeping operations.

99. The Governments in southern South America have shown growing interest in being involved in global refugee issues. The Regional Office in Argentina and the Argentinean "White Helmet" Commission launched a joint fund raising campaign to assist refugees in the former eastern Zaire in November 1996. The campaign, called " Give a Hand", was widely covered by the media.

100. In a major positive development, the President of Brazil signed refugee legislation into law, following its passage by Congress. In addition, agreements with private enterprises have been concluded to facilitate the integration of refugees into the Brazilian labour market.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

101. In close collaboration with the Governments in the sub-region and through a network of non-governmental partners, UNHCR implements programmes focused on primary assistance, durable solutions and counselling. Its implementing partners are the Comisión Católica Argentina de Migraciones (CCAM) in Argentina, the Centro de Estudios y Servicios Especializados para Migraciones Involuntarias (CESEM) in Bolivia, Caritas Arquidiocesana in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, the Centro Italo Brasileño Asistencia e Instrucciones de Migraciones (CIBAI) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the Instituto Católico de Migración (INCAM) in Chile, the Comisión Católica Peruana de Migración (CCPM) in Peru, the Organización para el Programa de Protección y Asistencia a Refugiados (OPR) in Uruguay, and the Comité de Iglesias para Ayudas de Emergencias (CIPAE) in Paraguay.

102. Non-governmental partners also collaborate in eligibility determination procedures by undertaking preliminary interviews of asylum-seekers. In countries where there is no UNHCR permanent presence, the implementing partner assumes important responsibilities for the coordination of refugee issues with the Regional Office.

(d) Budget

103. The level of budgets is expected to be broadly the same in 1998 as in 1997, with some decreases foreseen, notably due to exchange rate variations in some of the countries concerned.

(e) Post situation

104. The Regional Office in Buenos Aires will be maintained for the time being and the Office of the Chargé de Mission in Brasilia will be downgraded to a Liaison Office. The Governments of Argentina and Brazil have in principle agreed to provide office premises to UNHCR. As at 1 January 1998, there will remain ten posts in Argentina and four in Brazil.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

105. As part of efforts to mainstream gender issues, a workshop on gender concerns in the context of UNHCR's mandate was held in Bolivia with the participation of Governments and non-governmental partners from Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, as well as UNHCR staff in the region. This regional workshop will enable the Regional Office to pursue gender issues in a comprehensive manner, while taking into consideration the different situation in each country concerned. Preliminary sub-regional meetings were held in Buenos Aires and Caracas with the purpose of planning PARinAC activities for 1997 and preparing for the regional meeting to be held in Brazil at the end of August.

(g) Oversight reports

106. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

8. The Caribbean

(a) Beneficiaries

107. At the end of 1996, the largest refugee populations in the Caribbean were concentrated in Jamaica (2,000 persons), Cuba (1,703 persons), the Dominican Republic (640 persons) and the Bahamas (48 persons). The remaining Caribbean nations host only very small numbers of refugees.

108. UNHCR assists a small and decreasing portion of the refugee caseload in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. Refugees in these countries originate predominantly from within the Caribbean, notably from Cuba and Haiti, and Latin America, although the arrival of asylum-seekers from outside of the Americas is an increasingly common phenomenon.

109. The vast majority of the refugees in Cuba came from Africa as scholarship students and became refugees while there due to changes in their country of origin. Most benefit from UNHCR assistance.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

110. The Caribbean region has experienced a period of relative calm since the resolution of the 1994 Haitian refugee emergency. The situation in the Caribbean, however, remains potentially volatile and the possibility of renewed large-scale refugee movements persists. Recent signs of political instability in Haiti are a particular cause for concern. The mandate of the joint Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) was set to expire at the end of July 1997, but the Security Council has modified and extended the mandate of the United Nations component for an additional four months.

111. In late 1996, the Governments of the United States and Cuba concluded an agreement providing for the return of Cuban nationals who succeed in reaching the territory of the United States illegally. In announcing the agreement, the United States stated that persons advancing bona fide asylum claims would not be returned to Cuba as a matter of policy and international obligation. UNHCR is monitoring implementation of the agreement.

112. UNHCR considers that the current period of relative calm in the Caribbean provides a "window of opportunity" for the strengthening of national protection mechanisms. In 1997 and 1998, the Office will focus upon promoting accession to the relevant international instruments, the development of national asylum procedures and the promulgation of laws safeguarding the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. UNHCR will seek the cooperation and support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in these efforts.

113. UNHCR will also encourage the development of a comprehensive regional approach to any future refugee emergency through multilateral fora, such as the OAS and CARICOM, and with the active engagement of key Governments.

114. With a reduced presence in the Caribbean, UNHCR must also develop new strategies and institutional relationships to achieve these objectives. During 1997 and 1998, UNHCR will work to establish linkages among government actors, refugee advocates, academics and relevant non-governmental partners in the Caribbean nations. These "protection networks" will provide a mechanism for information sharing, allowing UNHCR to follow developments in law and policy, emerging trends in refugee movements, and individual cases.

115. UNHCR will continue to seek durable solutions for the existing refugee caseload in the Caribbean, with the objective of steadily reducing the number of persons dependent upon direct assistance. Whether local integration, resettlement or repatriation is the appropriate durable solution depends upon the individual's particular situation, the circumstances in the country of asylum and the situation in his/her country of origin.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

116. The Regional Office in Washington assumed responsibility for four nations in the western Caribbean (Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the Bahamas) in January 1997. The Regional Office is presently reviewing the options for new implementing arrangements in these countries.

117. UNHCR's implementing partner in the Dominican Republic is the Centro de Trabajo Social Dominicano (CTSD). UNHCR's relationship with CTSD is expected to continue following closure of the Liaison Office in Santo Domingo at the end of 1997.

118. The repatriation of African refugees from Cuba will be implemented directly by UNHCR. The Cuban Ministry of Higher Education administers assistance to students, while UNHCR provides assistance to other refugees and asylum-seekers with the cooperation of UNDP in Havana.

(d) Budget

119. The level of the budgets in the Caribbean is expected to remain broadly the same in 1997 and 1998, with some decreases foreseen due to the closure of the Liaison Office in the Dominican Republic.

(e) Post situation

120. The planned closure of the Liaison Office for the Dominican Republic will result in the discontinuation of one professional and five support staff posts by the end of 1997. As of 1 January 1998, UNHCR's activities in the Caribbean will be overseen by staff on mission from the respective regional offices. No UNHCR staff will be deployed in the Caribbean on a permanent basis after that date.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

121. UNHCR will ensure that a gender-focus and due regard for the particular needs of refugee children inform and guide its activities in the Caribbean.

(g) Oversight reports

122. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

(Note: Statistical and financial tables not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)