Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Board of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), New York, 15 June 1992
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the UNICEF Executive Board. It was at UNICEF that I received my initiation into the humanitarian activities of the United Nations. It is therefore a great personal pleasure for me to be back, particularly to this forum which I know well, having participated on the Board from 1976 to 1979, and having had the privilege of chairing it in i.e. the year of the Child. I am particularly delighted to be here with my old friend and now colleague, Jim Grant.
My presence today underlines the close cooperation which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees enjoys with UNICEF, and our appreciation for the contribution which UNICEF makes to our efforts to protect and assist refugees around the world today. it also attests to the common aspiration of the two organizations to serve human beings in need.
UNICEF's support for our work is particularly important now when we are being confronted with refugee problems of unprecedented magnitude and complexity. Today there are more than 17 million refugees around the world. Every day more than 10,000 refugees are being forced to flee their homes, whether in Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia or Myanmar. On a brighter note, every day more than 5,000 refugees are returning home, with our help, to South Africa, Cambodia and Afghanistan. We hope that return movements can begin in the near future also to Angola, Eritrea and other parts of Africa. At the same time, we are keenly aware of new threats of refugee flows, elsewhere in the world.
These uncertainties as well as emergencies serve to highlight the importance of close cooperation among the UN agencies, particularly UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR. From the vantage point of my close association with both UNICEF and UNHCR, I can see that the growing commonality of our interests make the tow organizations natural partners in a number of ways.
Firstly, we share a common concern for the welfare of children and their mothers. About 80% of the refugees under UNHCR's care are women and children. We deeply appreciate the contribution which UNICEF makes to their welfare by providing vaccines and cold-chains in all our refugee programmes, and supporting health and training activities as well as the provision of safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and educational materials in many refugee camps. We hope that UNICEF can become the automatic supplier of water to refugees just as WFP is the automatic supplier of food. On the occasion of my visit to Cambodia in January to examine the state of preparation for repatriation of refugees, I had the joy of being at the construction site of the processing centre in Battambang, where UNICEF Drill equipment hit a large underground water source. All over Cambodia, it is UNICEF that has provided water to the population at large and to the returnees.
The issue of refugee children is an important one for UNHCR. I have recently appointed in my Office, at a senior level, a Coordinator for Refugee Children to help us to increase awareness of the special needs of refugee children and to develop an appropriate policy framework and guidelines for action. In particular, I hope that greater stress can be placed on developing their educational opportunities, so that refugee children are equipped with the right tools, not only to cope with the trauma of exile but also to face the future when they return home. Needless to say, I hope the Coordinator for Refugee Children will serve as the focal point for cooperation with UNICEF.
Secondly, I notice that the evolution in the activities of our respective organizations over the last four decades or so is drawing us closer together in our work. UNICEF started as an emergency organization but gradually moved into development activities and recently into the protection of the rights of the child. UNHCR, on the other hand, was born as an agency to protect the rights of refugees, but soon found itself having to respond to emergencies. The commonality in our respective areas of concern, draws us together on many fronts. Here I wish to concentrate on two areas - coping with humanitarian emergencies and linking relief with development. Today in the wake of the end of Cold War, we are faced with emergencies on a scale and complexity unknown before. It was little over a year ago that the emergencies in the Persian Gulf area and the Horn of Africa brought together governments, UN agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a common effort to forge a well-coordinated international emergency response system. UNHCR drew many useful lessons from those experiences. We strengthened our internal emergency preparedness and response capacity by building up five UNHCR emergency teams, stockpiling relief goods, and entering into agreements with several government disaster forces and non-governmental personnel. At the same time, realizing that large and complex humanitarian emergencies require concerted action going beyond the capacity of any single agency, we have reinforced our work in particular with UNICEF and WFP to develop more effective and efficient coordination of our operations as well as appeals for funds.
The need for such cooperation has never been greater than now as we grapple with emergencies on a scale unknown before. It was little over a year ago that the emergencies in the Persian Gulf area and the Horn of Africa brought together governments, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations in a common effort to forge a well-coordinated international emergency response system. UNHCR drew many useful lessons from those experiences. We strengthened our internal emergency preparedness and response mechanism, building up five UNHCR emergency teams, stockpiling relief goods, and entering into agreements with several Government Disaster Forces and non-governmental personnel. However, realizing that large and complex humanitarian emergencies require concerted action going beyond the capacity of any single agency, we have worked together with UNICEF and WFP to develop appropriate mechanisms for more effective and efficient coordination of our operations as well as appeals for funds.
The fruits of that cooperation are being daily tested in the field. In what was formerly known as Yugoslavia, UNHCR and UNICEF have joined together with WHO, as a complement to the activities of ICRC, to provide relief assistance to 1.5 million refugees and displaced persons in the largest refugee crisis that Europe has faced since the end of the Second World War. Another major emergency where we continue to work closely together is the Horn of Africa. Continued insecurity, conflict and lack of food have caused more than 260,000 persons to flee from Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia to Kenya. The humanitarian needs in parts of the Horn of Africa are critical for all categories of persons, whether refugees, internally displaced or nationals. Increasingly, we are developing a "cross-mandate" type of operation, calling for an enormous coordinated and concerted effort by the international organizations and indeed the international community as a whole. These operations, however, reveal the challenges, sometimes perils, that we face.
Our response to emergencies must be rapid yet adjusted to particularities of each situation. UNICEF has been a pioneer in devising means securing access to the victims through corridors of peace or zones of tranquillity. The recent humanitarian summit in the Horn of Africa acknowledged the need for governments to grant humanitarian access. But events there, and most recently in former Yugoslavia, have demonstrated a new dimension of the problem. We are increasingly operating in situations where effective central power do not extend to all regions of the country. In such situations, consent for passage of relief convoys from local militia or warlords becomes essential. There is no doubt that we have constantly to devise new and pragmatic means to reach those who need our help, and principally women and children.
One of the more recent phenomena affecting our response to emergencies is the introduction of sanctions. I realize, of course, that sanctions are an important weapon for containing aggression and repression in the post Cold-War period. I do wish to caution, however, that seen from a vantage point of a humanitarian organization, as a weapon it may be a double-edged sword. Unless clear provisions are made for exceptions for humanitarian activities, allowing for food and medicines to reach those in need, we risk to punish those who are already the weakest, and notably the women and children. Furthermore, by worsening the economic and material base, we may lay the ground work for added tension and instability causing new exodus of people seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Our goal must be that sanctions can serve their purpose without making the disadvantaged even more disadvantaged.
Humanitarian emergencies - and returnee operations - increasingly take place in areas of conflict. In these situations, special measures are needed not only for the protection of the victims of the conflict, but also for our own staff. During recent months, both UNICEF and UNHCR colleagues have lost their lives in the performance of their duties. I wish to take the opportunity today to pay tribute to those colleagues and to honour their memory by redoubling our efforts to do everything in our power to protect our own colleagues. Efforts are already underway in this direction. The life of a staff member must always remain as precious as that of a refugee.
I wish to address another are of common concern, the need to link emergency and development. I speak now of situations where the emergency has been overcome and the needs lie more in bridging the gap between relief and development. One current example is northern Iraq, where UNHCR has met the emergency requirements of the population, and is phasing out so that those engaged in on-going development-type assistance, such as UNICEF, can play a greater role. The issue is particularly critical in the context of voluntary repatriation of refugees. While - as I mentioned earlier - there are increasing opportunities for refugees to return home, most of the countries to which they are returning, whether El Salvador, Cambodia, or Afghanistan have been devastated by many years of conflict, and will need comprehensive national rehabilitation and reconstruction. The efforts currently being made by the international community for strengthening the humanitarian emergency response will be just a temporary palliative, if parallel efforts are not made to encourage and pursue development opportunities. Returning refugees must be made a part of that development. However, in looking at this problem more closely, it is evident that there are institutional gaps on roles and responsibilities of the various organizations in the continuum from relief to development. I believe greater inter-agency cooperation and coordination would be helpful in allowing relief and development agencies to better dovetail their efforts. I look to UNICEF, with its experience in both emergency work as well as development, to play an important role in creating this kind of bridge.
Mr. Chairman, UNHCR greatly values inter-agency cooperation in our difficult task of protecting and assisting refugees. I welcome the recent establishment of the inter-agency standing committee on emergencies, under the auspices of the coordinator for emergencies, which should help to reinforce the already existing close relationship which UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR developed in the course of many difficult and complex emergencies, as well as to widen it to include other agencies. Last year I had the pleasure of being invited to address WFP's Committee on Food Aid Policies and Programmes, and my visit was reciprocated by the WFP executive director's to the UNHCR Executive Committee last October. I am extremely pleased this year to be given the privilege to speak to the UNICEF board. I hope that UNICEF's Executive Director will be able to address the UNHCR Executive Committee this fall. Such exchanges are a symbolic gesture to the close team spirit among our organizations. Perhaps I could also express the hope that the kind of exchanges which UNICEF and UNHCR have at the organizational level might be duplicated at the policy level through some kind of meetings of the respective Executive Board and Executive Committee of the two organizations. It may be worth exploring some formula such as joint bureaux meetings.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude my remarks by reiterating my strong belief in humanitarian partnership and my full commitment to continue to strengthen it.