Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Opening Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 60th Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 28 September 2009

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 60th Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 28 September 2009

28 September 2009
Language versions:

Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Geneva for this 60th session of the Executive Committee. I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to our newest Excom members, Djibouti and Moldova.

Let me begin by thanking our Chair for most of the past year, Ambassador Laura Thompson Chacón, of Costa Rica, who left us to take up new responsibilities at IOM. I would also like to thank our current Chair, Ambassador Alberto Dumont, of Argentina, for agreeing to step into the breach.

In June 2005, I was honoured to be elected by the General Assembly to lead UNHCR for the following five years. I believe it is my obligation in the fifth year of that mandate to report to you on the readiness of UNHCR to meet the challenges it faces.

In 2005, UNHCR was confronted with a rapidly evolving landscape, requiring a rethinking of how to deliver protection and solutions most effectively. The UN was engaged in humanitarian reform that led to the creation of the so-called cluster approach, to achieve a more effective response to internal displacement.

In UNHCR, staff and Headquarters costs were consuming an ever greater proportion of total expenditure, endangering the sustainability the Office. We knew that we needed deep, structural reform. We knew as well that any changes would have to respect the integrity of our mandate, help us respond better to the needs of a growing number of beneficiaries, and reinforce the legitimate rights and interests of our staff, the most important asset of the office.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Comprehensive reform was undertaken, including reviews of Headquarters and the field, decentralization and regionalization, management and human resources. Most of the key reform decisions have been taken and the reforms themselves implemented. I can report on the early results.

In 2006, our total expenditure was US$ 1.1 billion. In 2009, we anticipate that it will be approximately US$ 1.7 billion. We have increased our activities by more than 50 percent while maintaining the same number of staff worldwide and actually reducing our personnel in Geneva by 30 percent. This allowed us to close in July our office premises known as VNG, which at one time housed as many as 350 staff and cost 3 million Swiss Francs annually in rent. For the first time since 1982, all UNHCR's Geneva-based staff are together in a single building, with a small annex across the street for the emergency team.

The proportion of total expenditure dedicated to Headquarters, including the Global Service Centre in Budapest, has been reduced from nearly 14 percent in 2006 to approximately 10 percent in 2008. In 2010, it would cost approximately US$ 13 million more in salaries and rent alone to do in Geneva everything that the organization will do in Budapest.

In the same period, staff costs have been reduced from 41 percent of UNHCR's total expenditure to 34 percent. Even taken together with administrative costs, the ratio of staff and administrative budget to operations once again strongly favours operations.

Reform for UNHCR is not a technocratic, abstract concept. Reform means finding the resources to protect more people, rescue more lives and bring home more refugees in safety and dignity.

UNHCR's delivery capacity and operational flexibility is strongly dependent on the role of our implementing partners, especially in the NGO community. UNHCR has increased the implementing partner contribution to our global activities from 31.5 percent of total expenditure in 2006 to 35.2 percent in 2008.

The savings generated through reform have allowed significant additional resources to be freed up for the people we care for.

Initially, the benefits were in the form of what came to be called the High Commissioner's special projects. These allowed us to address critical gaps in the areas of malaria, malnutrition, reproductive health and sexual and gender-based violence and to initiate new programs for anemia and water and sanitation. These investments have now been mainstreamed.

In particular, the focus in the special projects on responding to sexual and gender-based violence has been progressively incorporated into UNHCR's operational activities in health, education, livelihoods and security, as well legal and judicial support.

The reforms have also significantly enhanced UNHCR's emergency response. The speed with which UNHCR deployed staff and assistance in response to the crises in Pakistan and Sri Lanka testifies to the greater efficiencies in supply chain management. In Pakistan, the framework agreements put in place allowed us to combine supply from Dubai and local procurement to get relief items into the impacted areas with unprecedented speed.

We are currently introducing a new and systematic approach to assessing beneficiary needs and an ambitious results-based framework. UNHCR's transition to needs-based budgeting through the Global Needs Assessment (GNA) was piloted in 2008 and rolled out worldwide in early 2009. With the introduction of needs-based budgeting, UNHCR will for the first time be able to project the full scale of our beneficiaries' needs.

The GNA is supported by FOCUS, a custom designed results-based management software, which is presently in the critical phase of its introduction, with the expected teething difficulties. I have repeatedly emphasized that this is a transitional period and am sure that with the lessons we are learning we will fully mainstream the revised processes in the future budget cycles.

The organization's Global Strategic Priorities were finalized in August this year and the Global Accountability Framework, which maps accountabilities, responsibilities and authorities across the organization, is being tested through dedicated groups at Headquarters and in the field.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I will not enter into the details of all aspects of the reform. I do wish to say, however, how grateful I am for your interest, commitment and support of the reform process. That support was particularly important for the creation of the Global Service Centre in Budapest, now including an enhanced supply chain management system integrating procurement and logistics, and the new Global Learning Centre.

The process of decentralization and regionalization is ongoing, with 67 of the countries in which UNHCR is present covered by 16 regional offices, and new approaches being tested in the Regional Bureaux for Europe and the Americas. The authority for decisions has been moved as close as possible to the point of delivery, empowering the field to manage operations directly, with less intervention by Headquarters.

The first phase of the human resources reform was concluded with the establishment of an Ethics Office, a Whistleblowers Policy, a Staff-Management Consultative Council, a Career Management Services Section, improved procedures for fast-track deployments in emergencies, a new policy on short-term assignments to reduce the number of staff-in-between-assignments, currently numbering about 60, and the introduction of a new performance appraisal system, which promises to increase objectivity and fairness.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The change process is moving now into a phase of necessary consolidation. Our focus will be on oversight and continuous improvement, building on the gains that have already been made. A number of reforms, however, remain works in progress.

In Headquarters, the reconfiguration of the support services has been decided and is being implemented. A new Division for Programme Support and Management has been created to integrate programme management, analysis and support functions previously scattered across the organization.

The new Division will ensure that the Global Needs Assessment and results-based management are grounded in the operational side of the house. In parallel, an enhanced programme evaluation capacity will be created in the Policy Development and Evaluation Service. This combination will provide us with the analytical expertise necessary to identify needs, determine priorities, measure results and quality, and ensure effective accountability and oversight.

At the same time, the capacity of the Division of International Protection Services will be enhanced by assuming responsibility for education, registration and a strategic approach to solutions.

The recommendations made by the European Union's Anti-Fraud Office to augment the independence and integrity of the Office of the Inspector General, the Fritz Institute assessment of the end-to-end supply chain and the external review of the UNHCR Division responsible for information and communications technology services are all either implemented or in an advanced phase of implementation.

Key aspects of the human resources reform are entering a critical stage. A shared vision between staff and management is evident in the desire for a more streamlined and professional assignments and promotions process, which at the same time maintains significant staff representation. There is broad agreement already in the Joint Advisory Committee on the new Rules of Procedure for assignments and promotions. Discussions are still to be held on how UNHCR can best align itself with new UN system-wide changes to contracts policy, including the conversion of local staff to international status, and to the administration of justice regime. How to enhance UNHCR's recruitment procedures is also still being discussed - the last outstanding element in our comprehensive change process.

I have frequently said that in the context of the UN these are the most difficult of all the reforms undertaken. But they are absolutely essential for UNHCR to be the agile and effective organization our beneficiaries require and which our staff deserve.

While not part of the reform per se, UNHCR has introduced new internal and external websites and, with an extraordinarily generous donation of time and talent by the communications and advertising company, WPP, is finalizing a comprehensive new branding and communications strategy.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

UNHCR is no longer the organization it was. It is also not yet the organization we want it to be. But we are getting there, knowing that reform is not an objective in itself but only an instrument by which to achieve our vision. For UNHCR, that vision never wavers from the commitment to improve our capacity to deliver protection, assistance and solutions for those we care for. This is the only true measure of the effectiveness of our reforms.

By that measure, I believe many of our reforms have already been effective. We have embraced our wider responsibilities for conflict-generated internally displaced people, including leadership of the protection, shelter and camp coordination and management clusters, and done so in a way that also generated a positive effect on the resources available to refugees and the stateless.

In fact, with our global structural costs contained, the additional revenues targeted to programmes for the internally displaced contributed to meeting these costs, creating a cross-benefit for refugees and the stateless.

In terms of natural disasters, most clusters, including shelter and camp coordination and management, have clear leads. There is still a gap, however, with respect to protection at the field level. UNHCR, already in charge of coordination at the global level, has the demonstrated ability and willingness to fill that gap and, in the context of the IASC and in consultation with UNICEF and OHCHR, I believe the time is right for it to do so.

Natural disasters carry less risk of controversy than other aspects of our protection work. Essentially, we would be extending the scope - and reliability - of our support to governments, at their request, in matters where we already have significant experience, such as registration, documentation and response to sexual and gender-based violence.

With our deep experience of protecting people, extensive worldwide presence and improved integration of emergency preparedness, UNHCR can bring to the protection cluster for persons displaced by natural disaster the predictable leadership and proven results required. As with our leadership of the protection cluster for those displaced forcibly by conflict, I view such leadership in natural disasters as a logical extension of our responsibilities and I hope I can count on your support in this regard.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn now to the main challenges facing UNHCR.

There has been much discussion of the global financial, economic - and, increasingly, social - crisis. In developed countries, billions, even trillions of dollars, have been spent seeking to dampen its worst consequences.

The impact of the crisis on the developing world has received comparatively little attention. Nobody knows precisely but the impact is predicted to be very bad. Millions of lost jobs. A dramatic rise in unemployment. Reduced remittances. Lower investment levels. Less development assistance. More poverty, and more extreme poverty.

The crisis could reverse years of poverty reduction efforts and undermine achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. But even this understates the risks it represents. The full significance of the crisis can only be appreciated when it is viewed in conjunction with the adverse impact of the world's mega-trends, which are themselves increasingly interconnected.

I will touch on five of these.

First, population growth. At present, there are approximately 6.7 billion people on earth. By 2050, we are expected to surpass nine billion. Almost all of the population growth will come in the developing world. In 1950, there were two Europeans for every African. By 2050, on present trends, the ratio will be reversed.

Second, urbanization. Already, a majority of all the people in the world live in cities. By 2050, the proportion is expected to reach 70 percent. Services and jobs are already failing to keep pace. Displaced populations, like others, will increasingly be urban. UNHCR is paying particular attention to the implications of urbanization and I will return to it later in my remarks.

Third, climate change. Global warming threatens to contribute to massive displacement. The increase in extreme weather events also make natural disasters approximately twice as likely today as they were two decades ago. Most displacement from climate change will be internal and the primary obligation to protection will belong to states. But instruments will also have to be found for populations that cross international borders and who cannot return to their countries.

Fourth, food, water and energy insecurity. By the end of this year, more than a billion people are likely to suffer from hunger and malnutrition. World food prices have dropped from their peaks but the food crisis has not ended in many poor countries. In Africa, one out of every three people is chronically hungry. An even greater number of people, approximately 1.4 billion, lack safe water. Severe water shortages will threaten 250 million people in Africa by 2020. Meanwhile, energy demand is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next 20 years, most of it likely in the form of fossil fuels, which will contribute to global warming. Competition over these and other resources will necessarily intensify.

Fifth, migration. The world has more than 200 million migrants. The principal factors driving migration, as noted recently in a speech by the Director General of IOM, are demographics and economics, both of which are likely to grow in their complexity and unlikely to ebb. Environmental degradation is also an increasingly relevant push factor.

All these megatrends are more and more interlinked, reinforcing each other and driving insecurity and displacement. To try to deal with them individually would doom the effort to failure. They are a global reality and need a global response. Unfortunately, this has not been the most common approach of the international community, whose analytical and policy tools have been essentially fragmented.

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,

The world's mega-trends, in conjunction with the global recession, are causing crises to multiply and deepen. Including Palestinian refugees, two thirds of all the refugees in the world are situated in an arc of crisis stretching from southwest Asia through the Middle East to the Horn and Great Lakes of Africa. This is also an area in which populations are growing and urbanizing quickly and where the impact of climate change is forecast to be severe.

Of the nearly 14.5 million internally displaced people to benefit from UNHCR's protection and assistance activities in 2008, approximately 74 percent resided in countries in this arc. Moreover, almost all the significant new internal displacement in 2009 has been there, particularly in Pakistan, Somalia and DRC.

Reflecting the impact of the mega-trends, contemporary forms of displacement are becoming more complex. Conflict, climate change, extreme poverty, poor governance, food and energy crises will increasingly strengthen each other as causes of displacement.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In this contemporary environment, I believe UNHCR faces four principal challenges.

The first of these is the shrinking of humanitarian space. This is due to the changing nature of conflict, the tougher line taken by some states on national sovereignty and a blurring of traditional distinctions between civilian and military spheres.

Today's conflicts have a multiplicity of actors, many of whom have no respect for humanitarian principles or the safety of humanitarian staff. In theatres of conflict today, one may find national and possibly foreign armies, ethnic- or religious-based militias, insurgent groups and bandits. All of these actors have been responsible for serious human rights violations. Providing humanitarian relief in such an environment is both difficult and dangerous.

At the same time, a few governments, for political reasons, have refused to allow humanitarian agencies in. Others have expelled them, despite the adverse impact of such expulsions on the protection and assistance available to their citizens.

Finally, lines that used to clearly separate the civilian and the military are increasingly becoming blurred. There are peacekeepers where there is no peace to keep becoming parties to the conflict, while militaries are more and more undertaking "humanitarian" work in an effort to win hearts and minds. The resulting confusion is cynically and brutally exploited by some belligerents to target humanitarian workers. These actions undermine not only the operations in question but the very foundations of humanitarian action.

In a period of just six months and just in Pakistan, UNHCR lost three staff members. Syed Hashim was shot and killed on 2 February, when armed men abducted John Solecki, UNHCR's Head of Office in Quetta, who was held for 63 days before being released. Aleksandar Vorkapic, on mission in Peshawar on 9 June, was killed in the bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel. Zill-e Usman, a Field Assistant who also headed UNHCR's staff council in Pakistan, was murdered by gunmen on 16 July. Another colleague, Ishfaq Ahmed, was injured in that attack but fortunately, not seriously.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

There is obviously no matter more important to UNHCR than the safety of its staff. In response to the worsening security environment, UNHCR has created a permanent Security Steering Committee, which I chair myself. The Committee has examined the security situation and needs of key UNHCR operations and, together with the field, decided on a range of enhanced security measures.

Despite the difficult financial environment, I have repeatedly advised that cost will never be allowed to trump safety. We will take every measure we can to secure the physical well-being of our staff.

At the same time, local security steering committees are being established headed by UNHCR's country Representatives. We are intensifying our efforts to increase security on the ground by enhancing our information-gathering capacity, reinforcing staff training and revising rules of engagement, with special emphasis on the needs of national and implementing partner staff.

We must pursue confidence-building initiatives with local communities and communicate proactively with all relevant actors, to address false perceptions about the nature of our presence and work.

While enhancing our own security management capacities, we are also re-evaluating and strengthening the mechanisms of our cooperation with the UN system, in particular with the Department of Safety and Security, for risk assessment, training and the sharing of expertise.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The second challenge is shrinking asylum space.

Just as shrinking humanitarian space represents our major challenge in operational theatres in the developing world, I am gravely concerned by the shrinking asylum space, mostly but not exclusively in the developed world.

While there have been some positive developments, such as the new asylum law in Mauritania and the alternatives to jail proposed for asylum-seekers in the comprehensive immigration detention reform in the United States, the trend is broadly towards greater restrictions and fewer rights.

Some developed countries are limiting access to their territories in ways that do not respect the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees under international and regional law. Pushing asylum-seekers back to where protection is not available or further burdening developing countries who already host the vast majority of the world's refugees is not acceptable.

In situations where asylum-seekers do enjoy access to a territory, that access can be rendered meaningless by the unfair treatment of their claims. Some systems have effectively a zero recognition rate, even for asylum seekers from war-torn countries.

This is obviously unfair and adds to the problem of onward secondary movements, as asylum-seekers are tempted to search out states where they have some hope of having their protection needs recognized. A common approach would undoubtedly be better. That is why, in this context, a truly European asylum space is a must.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The third challenge is the increasing difficulty of achieving durable solutions. This is directly related to the increasing complexity and intractability of contemporary forms of conflict.

While more than 600,000 refugees voluntarily repatriated in 2008, this was 17 percent fewer people than the year before and with the exception of one year, the lowest number in the last 15 years. Massive repatriation movements are decelerating as the situations in Afghanistan, southern Sudan or DRC are less conducive to return and reintegration.

In terms of local integration, there are a few bright spots. Tanzania has approved the citizenship applications of more than 3,500 of the approximately 170,000 Burundian refugees of 1972 for whom it has agreed to consider naturalization.

The Economic Community of West African States has clarified that refugees from a member state are entitled to the work, residency and other rights available to community citizens in any other member state under the regional free movement protocols. Several thousand former Sierra Leonean refugees in The Gambia have recently been helped by UNHCR to access these entitlements, with the model now being replicated in Senegal, Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

Overall, however, with fewer refugees returning to their countries of origin and the economic crisis beginning to bite deeply in host states, the increased receptivity to local integration evident just a short time ago is already being eroded.

In the absence of more meaningful international solidarity and burden-sharing, a smaller and smaller proportion of the 80 percent of the world's refugees who reside in developing countries can expect to integrate.

With voluntary repatriation and local integration opportunities declining, there is correspondingly greater demand for resettlement. UNHCR submitted more than 121,000 refugees for resettlement consideration in 2008. That is twice as many people as in 2006 and nearly four times the average number of referrals in the decade preceding it.

This is already a larger number than there are places available for.

The importance of resettlement as a solution will only increase. With the generous cooperation of Romania, UNHCR and IOM opened an evacuation transit facility for refugees needing a safe site to await their resettlement processing. An agreement to create a similar facility in the Philippines has recently been signed. And a temporary facility, for the processing of Palestinian refugees, has been established in Slovakia. These are important developments but additional resettlement places must be found.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

An inevitable outcome of fewer solutions is more protracted refugee situations. Addressing these situations was the focus of UNHCR's Dialogue on Protection Challenges in December last year.

Participants at the Dialogue concluded that while a common approach to protracted situations was needed, there was no "one size fits all" solution. Each situation needs a comprehensive set of solutions, with increased international solidarity and burden-sharing.

UNHCR has developed a Global Plan of Action on protracted refugee situations, supported by a multi-functional support team at headquarters. The Plan contains six key elements.

  • enhanced support to voluntary repatriation as the preferred solution.
  • a revised education strategy, with an enrolment target of 95 percent for primary education by the end of 2012 and significantly enhanced opportunities for secondary education and vocational training.
  • multi-year strategies for self-reliance, currently developed for operations in Bangladesh, East Sudan, Malaysia and Yemen.
  • significantly enhanced support to refugee affected and hosting areas, conducted under the acronym RAHA in Pakistan, and mobilizing the whole of the UN system, such as in northern Tanzania and Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.
  • priority attention to protracted situations in the use of resettlement, as is the case in Nepal.
  • and an increased emphasis on partnerships, with the World Bank, ILO, UNDP and others.

The same risk of protractedness and need for a comprehensive approach to solutions animate our efforts on statelessness. In recent years we have had some major breakthroughs. Most recently, the Urdu-speaking Biharis in Bangladesh were enfranchised in time for national elections held in December 2008. The Russian Federation is granting nationality to an increasing number of those left stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Hungary, earlier this year, acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In Kyrgystan and Vietnam, UNHCR is working simultaneously with governments and civil society to survey and register stateless populations as a first step towards solutions. We are also making adequate information on nationality and documentation available, such as in Côte d'Ivoire, and providing legal counseling, in the Western Balkans, Iraq and Nepal.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Urban refugees are our fourth challenge.

I use "urban refugees" as a shorthand. Our focus is in fact broader and includes all persons of concern to UNHCR in urban settings: refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, the internally displaced and the stateless.

Those we are mandated to protect and assist are increasingly residing in and migrating to cities.

This will be the subject of this year's Dialogue on Protection Challenges on 9 and 10 December. A useful exchange of views on displacement in urban settings took place during the Annual NGO Consultations and a half-day meeting is planned of Mayors organized in conjunction with the Mayor and City Council of Geneva and The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration.

UNHCR has undertaken a thorough review of its urban operations for Iraqis in Amman, Beirut and Damascus. In recognition of the strong links between displacement, urban planning and poverty reduction, we are conducting a scoping study on urban displacement together with the Cities Alliance, a global coalition of municipal authorities and development partners. UNHCR is also introducing a new urban refugee policy, which differs significantly from the previous one.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

A few words about partnership. Our main partners are states. I have repeatedly expressed and would like again to express UNHCR's particular gratitude to developing countries hosting large numbers of refugees. In response to current crises, Chad, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, Syria, Tanzania and Venezuela all hosted more than 200,000 refugees or persons in refugee-like situations.

Many other states, such as Cameroon, DRC, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia in Africa, Egypt and Yemen in the Middle East, Ecuador in South America, and Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Thailand in Asia, also host significant numbers of refugees and continue to welcome asylum seekers despite the simultaneous challenges of the worldwide recession and, in some cases, large numbers of internally displaced people.

The contributions made by host states in the developing world are not reflected in our funding documents. But without them, four-fifths of our work would be impossible. In this context, the Somali refugee influx into Kenya is the most compelling emergency with which UNHCR is faced today. In the last 21 months, more than 100,000 Somalis have arrived in Dadaab camp fleeing the fighting in their country. More are continuing to come at a monthly average exceeding 5,000. The three Dadaab camps are now teeming with a total of over 280,000 refugees, more than three times their intended capacity. The congestion in the camp is extreme. Services for refugees, including shelter, health care, water and sanitation cannot be delivered properly, causing acute suffering in the camp. With the rains due in the next few weeks, we could witness a terrible human tragedy.

When I visited Kenya just over two months ago, I proposed to the Government a five-pronged strategy of which allocation of land for the establishment of a fourth camp was a central and vital component. To the Kenyan Minister of Immigration and Registration of Persons, who is with us today, I would like to express again my deep appreciation to the Government and people of Kenya for the support we have and continue to receive in responding to this complex emergency, and to renew my appeal to make the additional land available as soon as possible so as to enable the successful implementation of all aspects of the plan.

Regional organizations are also important partners. This is an especially notable time for the Africa Union. Next month, at the AU's Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons in Kampala, Uganda, it is expected that African Heads of State will sign the world's first binding continental legal instrument on internal displacement.

Forty years ago, in 1969, African states adopted an expanded definition of refugee to better reflect the specificities of the situation on the continent. Today, nearly one out of every two of the 26 million people estimated to be forcibly displaced by conflict, violence or human rights abuse, resides in Africa. African states are accordingly again ensuring that they are at the forefront of the response to the phenomenon.

Our effectiveness depends too on the efficacy of our strategic partnership with NGOs. Our commitment to increasing the proportion of funds implemented through partners translated into US $100 million more for NGOs in 2008, nearly half of them national NGOs. Discussions are well-advanced for the next Global Humanitarian Platform meeting in early February. At the same time, UNHCR is planning to implement the recommendations of the Peer Review on accountability to beneficiaries in disaster-affected populations undertaken by the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response.

Our private sector partnerships are generating very important benefits for our beneficiaries and staff. Initiatives providing refugee communities with access to technology and renewable energy are underway. At the same time, UNHCR is studying the feasibility of allowing staff in remote locations to communicate over the internet at little or no cost with friends and family while initiatives to improve management communication have also been undertaken.

UNHCR also continues to strengthen its partnership with UN and other key agencies. High level retreats have been held with OCHA, IOM and ICRC. Given the centrality of the issue to UNHCR's work, we have participated actively in the preparations by UN agencies for the global conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Everything UNHCR needs and wants to do has to be undertaken in a highly challenging economic environment.

UNHCR's donors have remained remarkably generous. The vast majority have maintained or increased their contributions to the organization in local currency. Exchange rates losses were significant in the first half of the year but donors' efforts have allowed us to overcome them. Through our reforms and response capacity, we intend to demonstrate we remain worthy of such support.

It can be unfair to single out an individual for particular mention where an entire organization has committed to reform, but I have to do so.

Our Deputy High Commissioner, Craig Johnstone, joined UNHCR in June 2007. Very shortly afterwards, he agreed to spearhead UNHCR's structural reform efforts.

From the first evidence of the worldwide economic downturn, which he was quick to detect, he has also provided invaluable advice in responding to the global financial crisis. I know I speak on behalf of all of us in thanking Craig for his foresight, frankness, resolve and decency. Craig, you have set a superb example for your successor. Thank you.

I should like to recall that earlier this year, following a competitive process, Ms. Janet Lim was chosen as the new Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, replacing Judy Cheng-Hopkins, now Assistant Secretary General for Peacebuilding Support. I have enjoyed very much my first few months working with Janet and believe that together with the new Deputy High Commissioner being selected, and Ms. Erika Feller, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, we are well-positioned in the Executive Office to face the many challenges confronting us.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The year after next will be the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

We must solemnly commemorate these instruments but do so committing ourselves to find better ways to bring protection and solutions to the people we care for. I encourage you to share your ideas of specific initiatives and activities we could undertake together to achieve that end.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention and look forward to engaging together in a constructive dialogue.