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Annual UNHCR-NGO talks open this week

Annual UNHCR-NGO talks open this week

Some 250 participants from over 150 non-governmental, UN and international organisations are set to attend this year's Pre-ExCom consultations with the UN refugee agency in Geneva. They will discuss wide-ranging issues on refugee protection.
22 September 2003
Working with UNHCR, Médecins Sans Frontierès staff assist Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees at a clinic in Massakoundou camp, Guinea.

GENEVA, Sept 22 (UNHCR) - Livelier, broader debates are expected when the UN refugee agency meets its non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners this week in Geneva for its annual NGO consultations, which will see formal plenary sessions giving way to more open roundtable discussions on a wide range of issues on refugee protection.

From September 24-26, some 250 participants from over 150 NGOs will gather in Geneva's Palais des Nations for the event, known as Pre-ExCom. High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers will open the consultations by speaking on the current challenges facing refugees around the world and his ambitions for the agency, including strengthened collaboration with NGO partners.

The event will then shift to a series of roundtable panel discussions which cover a wide-ranging set of issues, including human rights, registration, education, camp security and self-reliance of refugees. The Convention Plus initiative, NGO sustainability, developing investigation mechanisms and protection of internally displaced persons will also feature in discussions.

The Directors of UNHCR's five regional Bureaux will also hold roundtable discussions with NGOs on the issues of refugee protection facing their particular regions. The Pre-ExCom will wrap up on Friday with a report by the Pre-ExCom rapporteur, Elisabeth Rasmusson of the Norwegian Refugee Council, followed by addresses by UNHCR's Inspector General, the Director of the Department of International Protection, and the Assistant High Commissioner.

The roundtable concept is a relatively new one, having been introduced last year to encourage more open, broader and livelier debate between the participants, and at the same time build a stronger link between the Pre-ExCom and UNHCR's governing body, the Executive Committee (ExCom).

"Within such a forum and within such a short time, it will always be a challenge to do adequate justice to the varied and often complex issues of refugee protection," said Craig Sanders, the head of UNHCR's NGO Liaison Unit. "However, I am encouraged at Pre-ExCom not just by the large turnout, but also by the quality of the interactions among the NGOs and UNHCR."

He added, "It's reassuring to see the continued commitment of many of our long-standing partners from among the advocacy and operational NGOs, and also to see the growing participation of our colleagues from among the national NGOs - many of whom play vital roles in refugee protection."

These consultations take place the week before UNHCR's annual week-long Executive Committee meeting, providing all NGO and UN participants with an opportunity to network and for non-governmental organisations to prepare their positions for the Executive Committee. Since 1997, NGOs have participated in the Executive and Standing Committees as Observers, permitting them to intervene in the proceedings alongside States.

The NGO network, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), plays an important role in facilitating NGO contributions to the Executive Committee. ICVA is made up some 80 non-governmental organisations. NGO participation in UNHCR's governance structure is widely acknowledged by UNHCR and a number of member States as a means to bring valuable perspectives to the debate on refugee protection.

The UN refugee agency works extensively with well over 500 NGOs worldwide, many of them national or local organisations.