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Report on UNHCR's Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations (PARinAC), 15 August 1997

Executive Committee Meetings

Report on UNHCR's Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations (PARinAC), 15 August 1997

15 August 1997


1. In June 1994, the Partnership in Action (PARinAC) Global Conference was held in Oslo, Norway, resulting in the Oslo Declaration and Plan of Action. In June 1995, the High Commissioner reported to the thirty-fourth meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters on progress made in the PARinAC process at the Headquarters level and in the field during the intervening 12 months (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.20). The present report provides a general review of UNHCR-NGO partnership and activities since that time.

2. UNHCR, together with NGOs, has continued to pursue the recommendations contained in the PARinAC Plan of Action, including follow-up through PARinAC regional meetings, maintenance of contact through a network of UNHCR and NGO PARinAC focal points at the country and regional levels, as well as between the International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and UNHCR Headquarters. At Headquarters, UNHCR's NGO Coordination Unit became a part of the Division of Operational Support (DOS) as of November 1996, where it remains as the focal point for all general policy issues concerning NGOs, working in close collaboration and consultation with operational and support units at Headquarters and in the field.

3. UNHCR has an operational partnership with some 500 NGOs who have project agreements with UNHCR and a collaborative partnership with a similar number who undertake, amongst other things, resettlement, research, advocacy and public awareness activities in respect to refugees. There is virtually no area of UNHCR's work which does not involve collaboration with NGOs. NGOs continue to be of the utmost importance to the success of the tasks carried out by UNHCR.

4. UNHCR staff are involved directly or as observers in a number of NGO fora working on different aspects of coordination, cooperation, standards, operational issues, protection and human rights. This type of interaction, at the initiative of NGOs, is providing UNHCR with a wealth of experienced views and inputs into its own internal debates and policy discussions. UNHCR welcomes the opportunity to participate in these fora.

5. Working closely with Headquarters Divisions and Operations, as well as country offices, the NGO Unit organized and facilitated regional PARinAC meetings in Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Jordan and Brazil over the last two years, with additional meetings planned in West Africa and Japan. The latter meeting is at the invitation of and funded by the Japanese Government. Regular briefings and meetings were organized on protection, regional reviews, and specific situations, as well as the dissemination of information to NGOs on general and specific refugee related issues. In April 1997, the High Commissioner hosted a meeting for over 20 major operational partners of UNHCR to review challenges and constraints. A review of progress and achievements within PARinAC was also undertaken during the first months of 1997, so that priority activities and direction could be reconsidered.

II. 1995-1997 ACTIVITIES

A. Protection

6. In 1995 and 1996, the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme encouraged UNHCR to engage in consultations and discussions on the provision of international protection to all those who need it, with a view to develop guiding principles. The Office has organized three informal meetings, bringing together a limited number of Government and NGO experts, for informal exchanges of views on different aspects of this subject. Briefings for interested NGOs on protection issues have also been held on a quarterly basis.

7. The Division of International Protection (DIP) has, through its Resettlement Section, actively sought the involvement and input of NGOs in the annual Formal Resettlement Consultations at Headquarters, as well as at regional meetings. Apart from the value of these meetings in addressing resettlement issues, the NGOs involved have had the opportunity to meet with each other. It has been agreed that a meeting comprised entirely of NGOs will be held during the annual Resettlement Consultations in Geneva and will be facilitated by UNHCR. In addition, NGOs were actively involved in the drafting and finalization of the Resettlement Handbook. Action has also been initiated to identify NGO staff to be deployed to UNHCR offices to work with resettlement caseloads.

B. Operational Support

8. In view of its coordination, technical, and operational support functions, DOS collaborates closely with NGOs at all levels, including on technical issues as well as with regard to complex emergency support issues. In order to improve emergency response through partnerships with NGOs, DOS maintains rosters of technical specialists, as well as standby arrangements with specialist NGOs, who can be rapidly deployed as part of the staffing of UNHCR's Emergency Response Teams. Close contact and collaboration is maintained with NGOs who have such emergency response capacity. UNHCR is involved in the training staff under standby arrangements, as well as the wider training of NGO field staff and managers through it's Emergency Management Training Programme. This preparedness training is being further extended with a new Procurement and Logistics training to meet the needs of NGO staff who work in emergency situations with UNHCR.

9. UNHCR technical specialists in the Programme and Technical Services Section and Senior Coordinators for Women, Children and the Environment, cooperate closely with technical and specialist NGOs, often through technical networks, both in the elaboration of policies and norms, and to ensure the wide dissemination of UNHCR guidelines, as well as on the development of training programmes and participation in joint workshops. The very close cooperation in the field of reproductive health, from policy formulation through implementation to "lessons learnt", is a good example of such cooperation.

10. As agreed at the PARinAC Global Conference, UNHCR, through its Programme Coordination Section (PCS), in consultation with NGOs, produced a Programme Management Handbook for UNHCR Implementing Partners, which was published in early 1996. This Handbook has received wide circulation and has been welcomed by NGO operational partners.

C. Inspection and Evaluation

11. UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service (IES) undertook a review of UNHCR's implementing arrangements in 1996 and 1997. This review analysed and compared the various implementing arrangements used by UNHCR over the past several decades and proposed strengthening of present arrangements. The recommendations contained in that report are being followed-up by the NGO Coordination Unit, as well as appropriate sections within UNHCR. IES, UNHCR's Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children and members of the International Save the Children Alliance (ISCA) have recently undertaken a joint evaluation of UNHCR assistance and protection to refugee children and adolescents.1 It is anticipated that this collaborative effort will provide a common vision for improvements of management, programme, staff and training over the next years. IES also conducted a Review of Capacity-Building in Central and Eastern Europe, which included national NGOs. IES now includes a review of the relationship between UNHCR, NGOs and Governments in its regular inspection missions.

D. Public Information

12. The Public Information Section of UNHCR collaborates with and provides support to NGOs undertaking public awareness campaigns on general and specific refugee issues. The introduction of public information materials, press releases and other documents in Arabic has been extremely useful for and appreciated by NGOs in the Arabic speaking region.

E. CIS Conference Follow-up

13. In responding to the May 1996 Regional Conference to address the problems of refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and returnees in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and relevant neighbouring States, UNHCR, through it's Regional Bureau for Europe, initiated activities aimed at supporting emerging NGOs in the region and enhancing cooperation with local and international NGOs in the implementation of the Programme of Action adopted by the Conference. In the countries of the former Soviet Union, NGOs as an independent sector are a recent phenomenon and local NGOs are few and inexperienced. Most of UNHCR's operational partners in the countries of the CIS are international NGOs.

14. The CIS Conference called upon the High Commissioner to enhance cooperation with NGOs and to ensure that they are fully involved in the implementation of the Conference outcome and in monitoring progress made. Initially, the focus of the work was to identify relevant NGOs and to establish a dialogue between UNHCR and NGOs through regular consultation at the national and international levels. These consultations are aimed at further developing operational collaboration, in particular with local NGOs, by raising the awareness among NGOs of UNHCR and its work, as well as by identifying areas of cooperation. Efforts were made to promote NGO networking and coalition-building at the national, sub-regional and international levels. The production of an NGO Manual on International and Regional Standards on Refugees and Human Rights is underway. This is being done in collaboration with international and local NGOs, a number of United Nations agencies and the Council of Europe. It aims to provide a practical guide on the use of such international and regional instruments in the CIS. The Manual will be finalized shortly in English and Russian, and distributed through country-level workshops. A directory of NGOs involved in the CIS is under preparation.

15. The challenge is to translate established contacts into working relationships. This requires specific measures to build the capacities of local NGOs, which include ensuring that the experience and expertise of UNHCR's international NGO partners is transmitted to local organizations; providing financial assistance to the emerging NGOs (a fund for local NGOs has been set up under the auspices of the CIS Conference unit); continued promotion of Government and NGO cooperation and the development of a legislative basis for NGOs in the CIS.

16. In building the organizational capacity of local NGOs, UNHCR is engaged at the field level in providing on-the-job training, workshops and small-scale financial support. Programmes are being set up to provide small grants for basic equipment and programme support to newly-established organizations and groups. A workshop was organized for UNHCR Programme and Protection Officers from the CIS on NGO capacity-building in April 1997. By way of follow-up, four sub-regional workshops on capacity-building are planned in 1998 for NGOs, government representatives and UNHCR staff. UNHCR is developing cooperation with the Council of Europe, the Open Society Institute, the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the International Center on Not-for-Profit Law on NGO legislation in the CIS, which includes training sessions on fiscal and legal provisions.

17. To enhance NGO networking and facilitate inputs, a proposal for the establishment of an NGO Committee on the Follow-up to the CIS Conference is being considered. The Committee would help to structure NGO involvement in the implementation of the Conference through four working groups composed of international and local NGOs concerned with the broad issues of the Programme of Action. The working groups would serve as a forum for exchange and coordination amongst NGOs, facilitate inputs to the annual meeting of the Steering Group of the CIS Conference, support coalition-building and the transfer of skills and experience.


18. During 1995 and 1996, some 8,000 NGO staff members in 128 countries benefited directly from training with UNHCR. Some 50 per cent of this was protection training in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe and the CIS, while 25 per cent was protection training outside Europe. The remainder covered management aspects of programmes, food, and emergencies, as well as People Oriented Planning (POP); different types of technical training; refugee registration techniques; resettlement; computerized databases; security; logistics; and the environment. A number of UNHCR training events, in which NGOs were involved, used a "train the trainers" approach. Through such an approach, additional NGO staff have also benefited. UNHCR staff have participated as trainers and resource persons in preparing NGO training modules, as well as in NGO training courses relevant to the work of UNHCR. UNHCR's own training has benefited from courses and materials developed by NGOs.

19. In November 1996, UNHCR adopted a new training policy which included the training of operational partners. This policy was further elaborated upon in the Training Strategy adopted by UNHCR's Senior Management Committee in July 1997. The strategy states that operational partners must be provided with appropriate training. This represents an important capacity building tool. Training will, by increasing the effectiveness of partners, increase the efficiency of UNHCR itself. It is recognized that operational partners represent an important resource for the implementation of training. In the coming months, UNHCR will prepare detailed guidelines on the training of operational partners, expand collaborative efforts, whereby the training capacity of larger operational partners is used to train both UNHCR staff and local partners, improve mechanisms to ensure monitoring and introduce an evaluation of the training of its partners. These guidelines will take account of the concerns expressed by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that UNHCR investments into the training of operational partners should provide a continuing benefit to refugees.

20. Modern information technology has also enhanced UNHCR's capacity to provide information to NGOs. UNHCR's Refworld CD-ROM is an important information and training tool for use by NGOs, as is the UNHCR internet website, which provides a fast and cost-effective way of making information, including Standing Committee and Executive Committee documentation, available to NGO partners.


21. In order to review progress made through PARinAC and to assess priority areas for action, UNHCR undertook a survey amongst all UNHCR offices, 30 major international NGO operational partners, national NGOs through ICVA's network and through a series of meetings with NGOs. The response to the survey highlighted a clear difference in the areas in which national NGOs preferred priority action and those which were of immediate interest to international NGOs. It was also noted that there are a significant number of countries in which there are either UNHCR-NGO coordinating committees or NGO fora, often both, but that this is by no means universal. Priority areas identified by national NGOs and UNHCR field offices are very clearly defined as training, capacity building, networking and information sharing, as well as security, promotion of dialogue between NGOs and United Nations agencies, public awareness and fund-raising.

22. In most instances, as reflected in both UNHCR and NGO responses, the relationship between UNHCR and national NGOs is good. This relationship, however, is often frustrated by the lack of time and resources for capacity building and training. The relationship with national NGOs could be significantly improved by targeting those areas of concern listed in the preceding paragraph.

23. Nearly all the international NGOs contacted directly by UNHCR felt that PARinAC had had a positive impact on the partnership between NGOs and UNHCR, even if the relationship was not perfect. Virtually all NGOs felt that information sharing had improved and that there was generally more cooperation and coordination between UNHCR and NGOs at the field level. Most expressed the view that PARinAC had also led to a closer collaboration and cooperation between NGOs themselves. International NGO priority areas tended towards operations planning and project agreement issues, although a number did cite training, including joint training, as a priority area.


24. UNHCR's NGO Coordination Unit has developed a Plan of Action to guide its work in the coming year, based on the clearly defined priorities of national and international NGOs, UNHCR Field Offices and Headquarters. These priority actions will encompass improved support to NGO country and regional fora, and PARinAC NGO focal points; an Operational Partnership Agreement to set out a common framework to meet operational needs; development of a clear strategy on meeting the needs of national NGOs; and the development of an NGO database, which will consolidate the information needs of individual NGOs.

25. The main issues raised by NGOs on operations planning and project agreements are being dealt with through the proposed Operational Partnership Agreement and within the framework of Project Delphi. A Working Group is reviewing all programme procedures.

26. In addition to its priority Plan of Action, the NGO Coordination Unit will continue to provide the services it does at present, in close collaboration with UNHCR in the field and at Headquarters, and ensure that these services remain responsive to the needs of NGOs. Brief details of activities in hand, or planned, under the priority Plan of Action provided below.

A. Coordination and Meetings

27. Whilst regular meetings between UNHCR and NGOs are being conducted in the majority of countries where UNHCR has operations, and frequently there are already existing NGO fora, it is a priority to ensure that UNHCR-NGO coordinating committees and NGO fora are set up in all countries, where appropriate, at the field level, as well as in the capital city.

28. There will be elections for new country and regional NGO PARinAC focal points in the course of the next 12 months and efforts will be made to strengthen this network. It is anticipated that the NGO Regional Focal Points will attend, as appropriate, Standing Committee meetings, and initially are likely to require considerable support. PARinAC regional meetings will focus on national NGOs, the needs of refugees in the region, assist national NGOs to strengthen their national and regional fora, and expand their interaction with other United Nations and bilateral agencies. Where appropriate, PARinAC regional meetings will be coupled with training programmes.

B. Operational Partnership Agreement

29. A positive and tangible step forward in the PARinAC process is the agreement by UNHCR and NGOs on the concept of, and need for, an Operational Partnership Agreement. This Agreement, to be signed between UNHCR and NGOs, is intended to assist all concerned to set out a basic common understanding on the choice of implementing partners, standards of conduct, field coordination, including security, as well as the technical and assistance standards at which both partners aim, and the guidelines which will be used in planning and implementation of refugee operations. UNHCR wishes to sign such an agreement with NGO operational partners, as well as other NGOs that work on refugee and refugee related issues.

30. The concept of an Operational Partnership Agreement has been discussed with a wide range of international NGOs, from all regions. Additionally, UNHCR will hold a general NGO meeting on this issue during the 1997 Pre-Executive Committee Meeting with NGOs, so that as many agencies as possible can provide comments on the concept and possible content. Thereafter, it is proposed to set up a small joint UNHCR-NGO Working Group to draft the Agreement.

C. National NGOs

31. UNHCR has a general policy of working with national NGOs whenever possible. Of the NGOs with which UNHCR has project agreements, seven out of ten are from the country in which they work and implement two thirds of UNHCR's project agreements. Some 70 per cent of the funds expended under project agreements with NGOs in 1996, however, were through contracts with international NGOs. This reflects a number of factors, including the cost benefits of national NGOs, and the fact that international NGOs often have more a readily available capacity and, thus, can undertake larger programmes and projects than national agencies, most notably for emergency and immediate post-emergency programmes.

32. UNHCR does not, at present, have a sufficiently clear strategy as to when and how national NGOs can become involved in refugee and related operations, nor for the training and capacity-building of national NGOs. UNHCR has prepared an internal discussion paper on this subject and intends to use a consultant to assist in the development of a clear, practical, and, above all implementable strategy, which includes NGO input.

D. Database

33. In the past, information on NGO's capacity and relations with UNHCR has been held on several different databases. A single new UNHCR NGO database and related questionnaire has been developed. The questionnaire includes a section on general information for any NGO that wishes to register it's interest in refugee work. All NGOs who have project agreements must complete the two additional sections of the questionnaire covering financial questions, as well as provide information on operational and emergency capacity. It is anticipated that the NGO database will be functional before mid-1998. The database will serve both UNHCR's and NGO's needs, and help UNHCR respond to oversight and audit demands for greater accountability and transparency in its implementing arrangements.


34. The partnership between UNHCR and NGOs has made considerable progress since the 1994 PARinAC Global Conference in Oslo. It is clear that PARinAC encompasses all of UNHCR's relations with NGOs and cannot be separated from what is going on in a refugee camp in Africa, a resettlement centre in North America or a refugee protection/human rights study published by an NGO. The direction of UNHCR-NGO partnerships should increasingly focus on meeting local and region-specific needs with global support activities tailored accordingly.

35. At its eighth meeting, the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme received a Report on the Informal Consultations on Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observer Participation in the Work of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme and its Standing Committee (EC/47/SC/CRP.39). The Standing Committee decided that NGOs registered at the plenary will also be invited to Standing Committee meetings upon written request from individual NGOs concerned. This decision has been welcomed by all NGOs. The NGO Coordination Unit is working with NGO consortia to ensure adequate and appropriate participation by NGOs, including those from developing countries.

36. Current activities, together with the new initiatives under-way, particularly those relating to improving coordination at the country level, development of a strategy for working with national NGOs, the finalization of the Operational Partnership Agreement and UNHCR access to and involvement in the NGO-generated debate on conduct, standards and lessons learnt, are expected to further enhance partnership with NGOs generally. At the same time, UNHCR will be better able to monitor, evaluate and strengthen its relationship with individual NGOs within that partnership.

1 See EC/47/SC/CRP.50