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Chairman's Concluding Remarks on the General Debate at the Fifty-fourth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

Executive Committee Meetings

Chairman's Concluding Remarks on the General Debate at the Fifty-fourth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme

1 October 2003

Wednesday, 1 October 2003

The supportive and constructive nature of your interventions this week has already begun to fulfil one of the goals I mentioned for ExCom in my opening remarks - a substantial and high quality debate. I hope we can maintain this level throughout the coming year.

We all suffer from a sense of deep shock and loss as a result of the tragic events in Baghdad last August. In paying tribute to our dear friend, Sergio Vierra de Mello, and other colleagues, you have emphasized the vital importance of ensuring the safety and security of all humanitarian personnel, something one delegation termed "a solemn obligation of the international community", a community which, without doubt, is confronted by a new test requiring thought and action on our part.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You have expressed strong appreciation for the many achievements of the past year under the leadership of the High Commissioner. One example is the outstanding work UNHCR and other agencies have carried out in their efforts to repatriate and reintegrate refugees and internally displaced persons in Afghanistan. However, you have noted that a great deal remains to be done there in the areas of rehabilitation and reconstruction as well as for those refugees still living in neighbouring countries.

You also expressed appreciation for the pivotal role UNHCR played in the contingency and preparedness efforts in Iraq, and the need to address the protection of returning refugees in the transition period. Other areas cited as having seen positive developments during the last year include Angola, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Somalia, Sri Lanka and the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A number of you also referred to new initiatives being undertaken in your own countries, while calling for the full and speedy implementation of tripartite agreements already concluded.

Despite the decline in the number of refugees, the overall figures for all persons of concern, including internally displaced persons, has actually increased. Several protracted refugee situations remain to be addressed, and many of you highlighted specific situations in your own countries or regions that call for further resources and assistance.

Many delegations noted the continuing burden borne by developing countries hosting refugees. They underlined the impact of large influxes on local communities, especially in the social, economic and environmental spheres. One delegation suggested that humanitarian action should not only rely on central governments, but also seek cooperation with local authorities. Another speaker suggested that signs of host country fatigue must be taken seriously by the donor community, which counts on host countries to provide protection for the bulk of the world's refugees because they have no choice.

Turning to thematic issues, you focused much of your attention on the new and continuing initiatives referred to by the High Commissioner in his opening remarks. These include such topics as the 2004 process, Convention Plus, the Forum, the Agenda for Protection, the Framework for Durable Solutions, the asylum/migration nexus, partnerships, funding and related issues.

Many of you welcomed the 2004 process and indicated support for a number of the High Commissioner's proposed actions. The extensive consultations process has been welcomed as an opportunity to compare various positions and points of view. Some of you pointed out that these proposals as well as other initiatives must be built on the foundations of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol. In lifting the time limitation on the mandate of the Office, we were reminded that this does not mean that the international community should abandon its efforts to resolve refugee problems. At the same time, it was emphasized that UNHCR should maintain its humanitarian and non - political character.

The High Commissioner was commended for his efforts to establish closer linkages with the UN system and other partners of UNHCR. As one State highlighted, "Coordination and partnership are of paramount importance because of the growing interconnection between conflict management, humanitarian action, human rights and development policies." Indeed, the importance of partnerships was mentioned in a variety of contexts. Many of you supported the efforts to strengthen UNHCR's engagement with the peace and security pillars of the UN as well as development actors, including UNHCR's membership in the UN Development Group. In addition, you expressed support for the High Commissioner's intention to strengthen his cooperation with the rest of the UN system, the ICRC and NGOs. Several of you gave emphasis to the crucial importance of UNHCR's collaboration with OCHA and the IASC, as well as commending the High Commissioner's decision to seek co-sponsorship in UNAIDS.

The decision to convene a Ministerial Meeting every five years was also welcomed by many as a means to place refugees higher on the international agenda and reaffirm the multilateral character of the Office.

The debate highlighted a wide range of protection issues of global relevance. You welcomed the progress in implementation of the Agenda for Protection, noting that it should guide the international community with regard to asylum and protection and that there is a need to make it even more operational. Others commented on the importance of protecting women and children from exploitation and expressed appreciation for the Guidelines on preventing and responding to Sexual and Gender - based Violence. One delegate underlined that everyone working in the refugee field is involved with protection ("Every UNHCR staffer is a protection officer; every NGO or other humanitarian worker has protection responsibilities"), and suggested that these responsibilities encompass not only legal, but growing physical protection needs. Others echoed the remarks of the Emergency Relief Coordinator regarding the importance of access to refugees and internally displaced persons.

Many delegations welcomed the High Commissioner's Convention Plus initiative as a promising avenue to promote comprehensive solutions to refugee problems while reinforcing international solidarity and burden sharing. A number of delegations felt that the Convention Plus framework could serve to complement the international framework for refugee protection without substituting for the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol. Many pledged to cooperate with the Office in giving content to Convention Plus through the development of special agreements and other actions. In this regard, the Forum was recognized as providing a useful vehicle for developing special agreements, but some emphasized that the initiative should be closely linked to UNHCR's governance structures.

Several delegations saw a close link between Convention Plus and the High Commissioner's Framework for Durable Solutions, including DAR, the 4Rs and DLI. The relevance of the Human Security concept was also mentioned in this context, one delegation stating that it looked forward to mutual cooperation with UNHCR that would enhance each partner's visibility in the field of human security. Some delegations expressed caution about the capacity of developing states to integrate refugees and noted that DLI could not be a solution in protracted situations where there are large numbers of refugees. Others cited the positive example of the Zambia Initiative in promoting refugee self - sufficiency. Several delegations highlighted that the Framework and its components were flexible in nature and offered interesting avenues for action through joint strategic planning with development actors, bilateral aid providers and host governments. While voluntary repatriation remains the solution preferred by most, I was pleased to note the continuing commitment of some states to resettlement both as a durable solution and as a protection tool.

With regard to the asylum/migration nexus, many of you called for a multilateral approach that recognizes that asylum and migration are closely related, maintains the distinction between them in order to help prevent asylum abuse. You showed interest in the establishment of the Geneva Migration Group and other efforts to promote cooperation with IOM, ILO, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other organisations involved with migration issues.

Let me now refer to the numerous comments on issues relating to funding. It was gratifying to hear so many of you indicate that you will equal or exceed your contributions from last year. At the heart of your discussion was the recognition on all sides that international solidarity and burden sharing is a must.

There was general recognition that UNHCR suffers from inadequate funding, that funding needs to be predictable and sustainable, and that donors need to accept collective responsibility for UNHCR's budget. At the same time, UNHCR was urged to employ more rigorous financial management to enhance credibility and to make the most effective use of the resources it has available. Support was also expressed by many for using a needs - based budget approach. Some of you welcomed new initiatives regarding the Annual Programme Budget and most speakers agreed with the aims of broadening the donor base and expanding private sector funding. Many emphasized that the voluntary nature of UNHCR's budget should be retained. Some expressed support for the 30% Base Level model, and encouraged the High Commissioner to engage in bilateral negotiations with donors in this regard.

Finally, I would like to welcome the comments made by delegations reiterating the Committee's desire to review its working methods in the coming year in order to identify more efficient and effective working methods.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of your comments have contributed to a very constructive discussion that I'm sure will be well - received by UNHCR. The comments should help us move forward in our common endeavour to provide protection and seek durable solutions for refugees. And I must emphasize here that it is a common endeavour. As one delegate noted in his remarks yesterday, "Creating an environment for refugees, conducive to a dignified life, whether in a host country or upon return to the country of origin, is of utmost importance".