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High Commissioner convenes second "Convention Plus" Forum

Briefing notes

High Commissioner convenes second "Convention Plus" Forum

12 March 2004

The High Commissioner is today convening the second Forum devoted to the so-called "Convention Plus" initiative here in Geneva. The 64 member states of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee, as well as observers and NGOs are invited.

The Convention Plus initiative, which the High Commissioner launched last year, aims both to improve refugee protection worldwide and provide a more systematic and structured approach to finding lasting solutions to refugee situations - in particular protracted refugee situations. UNHCR estimates that more than 9 million of today's refugees - or around 70 percent of the total - have already been in exile for more than five years.

At present, the Convention Plus initiative is following two distinct but linked tracks: the first is devoted to developing generic multilateral agreements covering three major themes: namely resettlement; the targeting of development assistance to achieve durable solutions for refugees; and clarification of the responsibilities of states with regard to so-called "secondary movements" (when refugees and asylum-seekers move from one country of refuge to another).

The work on these proposed generic agreements is being facilitated by five states: Canada on resettlement; Denmark and Japan on the targeting of development assistance - the major theme of today's meeting of the Forum; and Switzerland and South Africa on secondary movements. Core groups of other states have been formed around each theme and have been meeting separately over the past two weeks.

The second track of the Convention Plus initiative is devoted to identifying specific situations that would benefit from a carefully tailored special agreement, which might include some or all of the elements proposed under the three generic issues. While complex special agreements geared to finding solutions to a particular refugee situation have taken place on an ad-hoc basis in the past - one of the best-known examples being the Comprehensive Plan of Action that solved the Vietnamese boat-people crisis - there has never before been an attempt to systematically and proactively search for such solutions.

At another meeting earlier this week, the High Commissioner outlined the prospects that are opening up, to various degrees, for solutions to nine refugee situations in Africa. Potentially these could involve the voluntary return and reintegration of up to 2 million refugees and millions more internally displaced people over the next few years. The likelihood of successful voluntary repatriation and durable reintegration of these people may be greatly enhanced as the Convention Plus approach is translated into action.

Convention Plus initiatives are already being explored in connection with Somali refugees, and in and around Afghanistan. The potential also exists in other regions: the Nepal/Bhutan situation is being discussed, as is the situation of refugees from Colombia.