UN agency chiefs outline new approach to provide better care for internally displaced people
GENEVA, October 4 (UNHCR) - Senior UN officials on Monday provided details of a proposed framework to better respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of the world's millions of internally displaced people.
Addressing representatives of 68 nations attending the UN refugee agency's annual Executive Committee session, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres agreed that the international response for the internally displaced had been too ad hoc and too unpredictable.
The two agency chiefs were taking part in a special panel discussion on the issue. The third member of the panel was Theophile Mbemba Fundu, Interior Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country which currently has at least 1.5 million internally displaced people (although some estimates run much higher).
In all, there are an estimated 20-25 million internally displaced people worldwide who - unlike refugees who have crossed international borders and are protected by an international convention - receive little or no help from the outside.
Egeland told the meeting that a "barrier-breaking proposal" was being put forward by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of humanitarian organisations that would allow for a more effective, cost-efficient and predictable response using a strengthened collaborative approach.
The proposed approach includes assigning clearer responsibility and accountability to individual UN humanitarian agencies that have specific experience in certain sectors. UNHCR, for example, would lead a "cluster" of agencies in the provision of protection, camp management and coordination, and emergency shelter.
Egeland noted that this strengthened collaborative approach would also allow for more predictable and timely funding of operational UN agencies and their NGO partners, in part through a Central Emergency Response Fund to support rapid deployment in emergencies. Coordination will also be strengthened between UN headquarters and the field.
"Human lives are worth saving whether they've crossed borders or not," said Egeland, referring to the legal distinction between refugees and the internally displaced.
DRC Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba Fundu said that first and foremost it was up to the local authorities to provide protection and assistance, and urged the humanitarian team to support local structures, as well as to "avoid red tape."
Earlier, in his opening address to the main UN agency's Executive Committee meeting, High Commissioner Guterres said that UNHCR would be a fully engaged partner in the strengthened collaborative approach for the internally displaced.
"There are two clear conditions to allow UNHCR's involvement with internally displaced persons at the request of the Humanitarian Coordinator, with the consent of the country itself: that we preserve the right of affected populations to seek and enjoy asylum, and the additionality of funding," said Guterres. "Recognizing our role in mobilizing resources for internally displaced persons, we cannot divert funding intended for our work with refugees."
During the panel discussion later in the day, Guterres said UNHCR's more than 50 years of expertise and experience in helping the world's refugees - in protection and in repatriation, for example - could also be of enormous benefit to the internally displaced, who face many of the same problems as refugees.
Egeland welcomed UNHCR's renewed commitment to the joint UN humanitarian effort to aid the internally displaced and noted that any funding for the agency's work with the internally displaced would have to be "additional" to its mandated responsibilities for helping the world's refugees.
"I commend UNHCR for taking this desperately needed role," Egeland said, adding that he also knew that the agency "won't yield even an inch from your role as the mandated agency for refugees."