Lubbers outlines vision for multilateral UNHCR
GENEVA, September 30 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency needs to become a truly multilateral institution in order to meet current and future challenges, said its chief, Ruud Lubbers, as he opened the 53rd session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme in Geneva today.
Addressing the annual gathering of UNHCR's 61-member-state Executive Committee (ExCom) at the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva, Lubbers called for more durable solutions for refugees through closer partnerships with governments, humanitarian and development agencies.
He outlined recent achievements, including UNHCR's phasing out of activities in the Balkans, and the encouraging work of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). But he also warned of new problems caused by the post-September 11 climate, human trafficking and misuse of asylum systems, leading to non-admission, denial of access to asylum procedures, detention of asylum seekers, even incidents of refoulement.
The blueprint for the future, said the High Commissioner, lies in the Agenda for Protection, which is expected to be endorsed at the meeting after an 18-month Global Consultation process that began in 2001.
"I see the Agenda as a synthesis of UNHCR's protection mandate, carefully defined in relation to the specific challenges of today's world," said Lubbers, adding that three themes stand out - the need for better protection, more durable solutions and improved burden-sharing.
"The time has come for action," he urged. "It has become clear that on its own, the [1951 Refugee] Convention does not suffice.... What is needed is a new approach, which I call the 'Convention Plus'. By that I mean supplementing the Convention in areas that it does not adequately cover."
According to Lubbers, this involves special agreements for improved burden-sharing, with countries in the North and South working together to find durable solutions for refugees. It also includes comprehensive plans of action in cases of massive outflows, as well as agreements on "secondary movements" to define the roles and responsibilities of countries of origin, transit and potential destination, with regards to asylum seekers.
"It concerns better targeting of development assistance in regions of origin, helping refugee-hosting countries to facilitate local integration. It concerns enhancing post-conflict reintegration. And last but not least, it concerns multilateral commitments for resettlement," he added.
By developing credible special agreements on burden-sharing and durable solutions, said the High Commissioner, more and more countries could be persuaded to accede to the Convention.
"Refugee movements have become a global phenomenon, and therefore states from all regions should participate in addressing the issue," he noted. "If successful, today's limited 'coalition of the willing' can grow into a real World Refugee Assembly."
Pointing to UNHCR's current budget shortfall of $80 million, Lubbers said, "To be a truly multilateral institution, UNHCR also needs a broader financial basis, so that it can respond effectively to the demands being placed on it by the international community."
He described plans to broaden the agency's funding base through complementary sources of funding for 2003. "Together with UNDP [UN Development Programme], the World Bank and other partners, we will continue to look into ways of gaining greater access to development funds for reintegration activities and programmes aimed at promoting self-reliance among refugees."
During his opening speech, Lubbers also thanked the outgoing ExCom Chairman, Ambassador Johan Molander of Sweden, and welcomed the incoming Chairman, Ambassador Fisseha Yimer of Ethiopia, as well as four new members - Ecuador, Guinea, New Zealand and Yugoslavia.
Also present on the panel of the opening session were Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). The meeting will run from September 30 to October 4.