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Statement by Ms. Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner - Protection, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 36th Meeting of the Standing Committee (Geneva, 26 June 2006)

Speeches and statements

Statement by Ms. Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner - Protection, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 36th Meeting of the Standing Committee (Geneva, 26 June 2006)

26 June 2006

26 June 2006

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

It is a pleasure for me to participate in this, my first protection-focused Standing Committee, in my new capacity as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. You have asked to be periodically updated about progress in consolidating this new position within UNHCR's senior management structure and operations delivery. This meeting is an appropriate occasion for some brief words in this regard.

I believe that developments over the past months have proved the value of elevating the protection responsibility to the most senior levels of management and policy formulation in UNHCR. A protection dialogue has been systematized with the Bureaux directors on cross-cutting issues calling for greater consistency in UNHCR's performance globally. The first steps have also been taken to set up a Protection Reference Group, which will more systematically associate colleagues in different field locations to Headquarters' development of protection policy, guidelines and tools. The group will, in the first instance, serve as a sounding board on a discrete set of issues identified by senior management as being among the most important for the future directions of UNHCR's protection activities. They range from the scope of protection in the IDP context, through the proper application of cessation, to issues relating to implementation of voluntary repatriation in African operations and beyond, as well as UNHCR's role in secondary movement situations. The Protection Reference Group should ensure that the concerns and perspectives of field managers inform policy development and decisions on how best to operationalise protection. At another level, participation in UNHCR's management Troika - which is now, in effect, a "Quartet" - is also contributing to convergence between protection and operations delivery. Since I know that this was a question some of you have raised, please let me reassure you that this arrangement certainly facilitates a good working relationship between the two Assistant High Commissioner positions.

I also have an oversight and monitoring role to play. Hence we have put a lot of effort into developing what I hope and predict will become a key protection monitoring tool for UNHCR and my office in particular. I am referring to a document we now have in draft and should be able to finalize and release in October, entitled "Protection in Numbers". Protection is a multifaceted responsibility, the performance of which is not always measurable by quantitative indicators. Outcomes are as much qualitative as quantitative. Protection can be measured as much in the non-occurrence of an event, as in the occurrence. However, statistics are one valuable indication of impact, emerging trends and developments over time with operationalising protection. In this sense they play an important part in improving results-based management and accountability within the organization. There are many interesting facts that Protection in Numbers, even in draft, is starting to reveal. It is reassuring that 100 per cent of identified victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have been able to receive support in a very large percentage of our operations, even while it is disturbing that there is a way to go in preventing and responding to sexual violence against children. It is interesting to note that gender parity is coming into UNHCR significantly through the protection channel, with women protection staff statistically higher in numbers than women overall in the organization. The figure for mandate status determination by UNHCR, to take another random example, draws out the thought-provoking conclusion that the Office is called upon to play this role in too many States Parties.

As for the external dimension of my responsibilities, I have noticed a greater preparedness on the part of interlocutors to engage with UNHCR on protection issues at more senior political levels. To date I have divided my time between policy and advisory work at Headquarters, advocacy activities, and field missions. The latter have included missions to Colombia and Ecuador, Viet Nam and Cambodia, and to Mauritania and the Canary Islands. My mission to Colombia enabled me to become directly familiar with what is a quintessential and, hence, rather unique protection operation on behalf of IDPs. Colombia has been a testing ground for some interesting new approaches to realizing protection for IDPs and I found the mission to be a valuable learning experience in this regard. Looking at the challenges and dilemmas Ecuador is confronting as host to Colombian refugees confirmed the utility of managing related operations (in this case, Colombia and Ecuador) within a situational approach. During my trip to Viet Nam I visited the Central Highlands, not least because UNHCR is cooperating with the governments of Viet Nam and Cambodia in the context of a not uncontroversial memorandum of understanding. The mission gave me the opportunity to reassure myself of the value and continued viability of the MOU, while also allowing me to pursue discussions with both governments on issues of statelessness. My trip to Mauritania and subsequently to the Canary Islands centred on the phenomenon of irregular boat arrivals of migrants and asylum-seekers in Mediterranean locations. My visit to the Canaries was a reality check for the UNHCR regional discussion on refugee protection and migration management which I chaired in Nouakchott.

Better management of issues connected to the nexus where migration and asylum movements meet is a key global priority for the High Commissioner, and hence for myself. Almost four years ago, the Executive Committee encouraged UNHCR, through the Agenda for Protection, to promote better understanding and management of the interface between asylum and migration "so that people in need of protection find it, people who wish to migrate have options other than through resort to the asylum channel and unscrupulous smugglers cannot benefit through wrongful manipulation of available entry possibilities." Events in North Africa, in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere only underline the urgency of this ambition. I have been working with offices in the field and the Bureaux at Headquarters, to articulate UNHCR's main entry points into this problem and the interventions we can promote or assist with as a contribution to States' better overall management of the dilemmas here. One outcome of the meeting in Mauritania was the formulation of a 10-point action plan for UNHCR, which we hope to be able to discuss shortly with the most directly affected States.

Other aspects of the AHC's portfolio include preparations for the September 2006 General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, together with facilitating UNHCR's involvement with the new Global Migration Group. The High-Level Dialogue will focus predominately on the migration and development nexus, so the acknowledgement in the Secretary-General's report that it is not intended to deal directly with forced migration or the protection of refugees is, from our perspective, an important corrective.

This is not the place for a policy statement on migration. The issues are far too complex and time is not sufficient. However, allow me to flag in general terms certain of the matters we believe the High-Level Dialogue could cover. We have suggested that the Dialogue should constructively engage with the rights questions at issue, by taking a more expansive view of the notion of development, it being more than simply a question of economic growth. Secondly, the presence of large numbers of refugees in host countries, or large-scale repatriation, present specific challenges in development terms. We hope that the Dialogue will underpin our advocacy for inclusion of refugees and other displaced groups in broader development strategies both in countries of asylum and in countries of origin, after return. That refugees can be significant agents of development, as long as the potential here is understood and capitalized upon, is often underestimated. The High-Level Dialogue will also look closely at issues such as the development impact of remittances and the phenomenon of brain drain. In reflecting upon ways to ease the flow of remittances and better utilize human capital, we hope that States will not neglect the refugee part of the equation. As a founding member of the Global Migration Group, UNHCR is ready to collaborate in whatever follow-up arrangements are set in place and to play an active role in support of them.

The office of the AHC for Protection is also the home currently for the Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming Accountability Framework. This is UNHCR's innovative new methodology to create an enabling organizational and operational environment, conducive to achieving gender quality, rights protection and equitable outcomes for all persons of concern, regardless of gender, age and background. The framework lays down clear commitments, responsibilities and accountabilities for the mainstreaming of age, gender and diversity concerns into all UNHCR activities. The methodology will be tested in 23 field locations and with senior managers at Headquarters over the next six months. Then, with the assistance of a Canadian-funded consultancy, for which we are very grateful, the methodology will be evaluated and further refined with a view to its global launch next year. I will provide you with a further update in March 2007.

I look forward to continuing a dialogue with this Committee on these and other matters on my agenda as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. At some point, for example, I believe it would be interesting to have further discussion on the way protection is managed within the Standing Committee, including through the ExCom Conclusions process and this June Standing Committee. It could prove instructive, in this regard, to follow developments such as how the new Human Rights Council manages the pledging process and its evolving methodology for universal review. There may be lessons here for how, together, we approach the upcoming five-year review of implementation of the Agenda for Protection.

Mr. Chairman, in closing my remarks today, I would like to extend a word of warm thanks to my colleague, Mr. Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, for so ably serving as Acting Director of the Division of International Protection Services during this complex transition period. He has been a valuable and much appreciated member of the DIPS management team. As some of you already know, the High Commissioner recently announced the appointment of Mr. George Okoth-Obbo, currently UNHCR's representative in Kenya, as the new incoming Director of the Division of International Protection Services. I know that you will join me in extending to Mr. Mbaidjol our appreciation for his fine work and our wishes for much success in his new responsibilities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.