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Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fiftieth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 4 October 1999

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Fiftieth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 4 October 1999

4 October 1999
Fresh refugee crises as a result of new conflictsTwo critical regionsAdapting management to external changesHumanitarian action and international responses to crisesRefugee protection: a unique, irreplaceable mandate
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Mr Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ms Bellamy,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this session - the fiftieth - of the Executive Committee - to all of you, and especially to Mozambique, its latest member. Mozambique received and reintegrated in an exemplary manner 1.7 million returnees who had fled during the civil war. Its membership is therefore very significant.

I congratulate the new Bureau, and its Chairman, Ambassador Pérez-Hernández y Torra of Spain. This year, as the Deputy Chairman, Ambassador Pérez-Hernández accompanied me both to Kosovo, and to his country. I am sure that under his leadership this Committee will work closely with us in defending and promoting the cause of refugees. My heartfelt thanks go to Ambassador Rodriguez Cedeño of Venezuela, under whose chairmanship the Committee has supported us through a difficult year.

I also have great pleasure in welcoming a good friend of UNHCR, a UN colleague whose partnership is important to us, whose thoughts are always provoking and refreshing, and whose opinion I value - the respected leader of one of the agencies we are most closely associated with: Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. There could not be more fitting manner to mark the "strengthening partnerships to ensure protection", the theme you chose to emphasize. Carol and I have often joined voices in calling for more attention on issues of mutual concern. I am happy and proud that she is addressing the Committee this morning.

Fresh refugee crises as a result of new conflicts

It has been a year charged with fresh conflicts and refugee crises, in which civilians have been particularly targeted. At the last session of this Committee I spoke about an increase in conflicts. The trend has not reversed - it may even be advancing. Very often, the root causes of conflict and displacement lie in the failure to give due recognition to the aspirations and rights of ethnic minorities, or various social groups. This fuels separatist claims, especially in areas with a history of strong autonomy, and, in turn, it exacerbates tribalism, nationalism, and ethnocentrism. In many cases separatist trends are violently repressed. Minorities are particularly targeted by this repression. The success of separatism, on the other hand, leads to retaliations. The outcome are polarized societies and communities, and crystallized refugee crises.

In this context, categorizations between groups of displaced people have become increasingly blurred. In certain areas, the growing role of criminal gangs and mafia-like power structures in internal conflicts further complicates the picture. Highly complex emergency situations have tested UNHCR's response capacity. Refugee movements have also become a major source of instability and conflict: hence a demand for rapid solutions, sometimes at the expense of humanitarian and refugee protection principles, and sometimes requiring UNHCR and its partners to work rapidly and simultaneously in countries of asylum and of return. Both our mandate and our traditional operational responses are thus affected.

Let me start with two crises that have particularly challenged the international community, the United Nations, and UNHCR: Kosovo and East Timor.

In Kosovo, masses of people moved over a period of just a few weeks, against a backdrop of violence, military action, failed political negotiations and international tension. I will not dwell on well known events, but just mention a few elements indicating the complexity of the humanitarian and protection tasks, a complexity that is indeed becoming a standard feature everywhere. The outflow of people was staggering. They did not simply flee, they were expelled from their homes. To address this huge, abrupt, unpredictable exodus, we had to resort to services that only the military could provide. Return, when it occurred, only ten weeks after the outflow had started, was an even faster exodus in reverse. Managing these situations was tremendously challenging for all of us. Serious problems included logistics in Albania and securing admission for refugees in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Despite the obstacles, the response to the crisis did meet immediate needs of safety and survival. To examine lessons learned in the Kosovo crisis, I have commissioned an independent evaluation of the humanitarian response, the results of which I hope to share with you soon.

I wish to pay tribute here to the refuge offered by Albania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Montenegro; to the generous hospitality of the host families; to the military for the professionalism of their support; and to the hard work of my colleagues in UNHCR and other agencies. I also wish to thank the many countries that cooperated in the unique humanitarian evacuation programme that proved vital to keep the door to safety open to so many refugees - a fine example of partnership in ensuring protection.

But the Kosovo crisis is not over. Almost a million people have had their houses destroyed or damaged. One priority of the Humanitarian Pillar of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, which is headed by my Special Envoy, is to help these people through the winter - we are working hard, together with major governmental partners - such as the United States, the European Union and Japan - and many NGOs, to meet this deadline. But more intractable problems remain unresolved. Forced displacement continues to be a reality for the Serb and Roma minorities of Kosovo. Although KFOR has been indispensable in curbing the violence, the firing of rocket-propelled grenades on a Serb market place last week, killing and injuring many, provided a dramatic reminder that attacks continue on a daily basis. The number of Serbs and Roma remaining in Kosovo has dwindled to less than half of the original population as a result of unacceptable revenge attacks. Ethnic Albanian leaders must be persuaded that the suffering of the Albanian people is no justification for renewed ethnic cleansing, that violence exhorts violence and that any failure to speak out and to act will lessen the international community's sympathy and support.

Most minority people fleeing Kosovo are displaced in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, where there are now some 700,000 refugees and displaced people from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Their plight is dire in a country crippled by war, economic crisis and international isolation. I appeal to governments to help them with humanitarian aid. They face a harsh winter. It would be very wrong to let these people down.

More broadly speaking, the Kosovo crisis has made it even clearer that only through a comprehensive international effort - at the political, economic and social levels - will the Balkans be able to move from chronic conflict to stability, development and progressive integration in Europe. I therefore welcome the launching of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe and trust that its swift implementation will also give new impetus to the search for lasting solutions for those still uprooted.

This is now very urgent. I regret to repeat, once again, that 1.5 million people from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia have not yet returned home, four years after the Dayton peace accords. Some minority returns have occurred. These movements, however, must be accelerated. While isolated violence continues, security is no longer the primary concern. Property issues, poor economic conditions, unemployment and infrastructure needs - along with political obstacles - are now the main factors influencing decisions among potential minority returnees. Economic development and job creation are therefore important for resolving the problem of displacement in this area.

This year's other major refugee crisis has been East Timor. A fortnight ago, I travelled to Indonesia. The displacement situation, in both East and West Timor, and in particular the problems of protection for refugees and displaced people, are of extreme concern to UNHCR. UNHCR has operated in East Timor since March - and I wish to pay tribute here to my colleagues, and those of UNAMET and other humanitarian agencies, for maintaining a UN presence in spite of the extraordinary risks involved. Since the arrival of the InterFET multinational force, UNHCR has worked in East Timor as part of an inter-agency team in bringing protection and assistance to displaced people.

Some 200,000 people have fled to West Timor, and are thus of direct concern to my Office. While in Indonesia, I negotiated the establishment of a UNHCR presence there, and discussed with the government the conditions under which an operation would be feasible and effective. A UNHCR emergency team is now in Kupang, but access to refugees continues to be difficult and sporadic. Although material conditions are not dramatic, many are outdoors, with scarce food, in crowded places, and poor hygienic conditions. Many are hosted in families. The rainy season will begin in a few weeks' time. It is therefore very urgent to start organized assistance for refugees in West Timor before conditions deteriorate.

However, it is the protection and security situation that is of more serious concern. There are many reports of people having been forced by militias to leave East Timor. There are reports of people who may be forcibly kept, hostage-like, in West Timor, under their control. There are reports of refugees having been taken to other islands against their will. Such reports are matched by the visible presence of armed militia elements among the displaced population.

There are two priorities in addressing the situation in West Timor: first, the Indonesian government must provide all necessary security measures to secure both refugees and humanitarian agencies, maintain the civilian character of refugee sites, and facilitate humanitarian activities; second, whatever option refugees will choose - return, remain or go elsewhere in Indonesia - it will have to be free and informed, impartially ascertained, respected and fulfilled. I hope in particular that safe return to East Timor will be possible soon. To meet these goals, UNHCR must - I repeat: must - be present in West Timor, and its access to refugees must be free and secure. The Indonesian government has accepted our proposals, and there are positive indications on the ground. The proof of its engagement will be in swift and safe implementation.

Two critical regions

My Office has been called upon to address new forced population movements also in other parts of the world, for example in Colombia, where the situation of internally displaced people has deteriorated: for the first time, about 3,500 of them crossed the border and fled to Venezuela in July. In a few countries, some voluntary repatriation has occurred. In many places, however, refugee situations have stagnated, reflecting the worsening of on-going conflicts or lack of progress in political negotiations - for example in Sri Lanka, where fresh fighting has caused added concern; or in Nepal, where I regret to report little progress on the search for solutions for 97,000 Bhutanese refugees. In Bangladesh, at least interim solutions for refugees unwilling or unable to return to Myanmar need to be promoted and accelerated.

There are two regions, however, in which refugee problems have been particularly critical, and to which I would like to draw your attention. In Africa, on the one hand, bold efforts have been made to bring peace to the most troubled areas. The Lomé and Lusaka ceasefire agreements bear witness to Africa's strong desire for peace. I would like to pay tribute to those courageous, visionary African leaders who have largely inspired these efforts. I have spoken of the extraordinary sense of hope and determination felt at the OAU Summit in Algiers. That this should occur in the year in which we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the forward-looking OAU Convention on Refugees, is more than a happy coincidence.

On the other hand, the implementation of the agreements has not progressed, and old refugee crises have not been resolved. Further advances in UNHCR's preparations for repatriation to the Western Sahara territory depend on the progress of political negotiations. Sudanese refugees have continued to arrive in Uganda and Kenya, and people displaced by the Ethiopian/ Eritrean conflict await the implementation of the agreement based on the OAU framework for peace.

I travelled to West Africa in February, and to Central Africa in June. In July, I briefed the Security Council about the refugee situation in these regions. Peace continues to be a mirage for people on the ground. Half a million Sierra Leoneans still live in camps - some of them very insecure - in Guinea and Liberia. I am very worried about the situation in Liberia, where there have been attacks by rebel groups in areas to which Liberian refugees have been returning, and where Sierra Leonean refugees are hosted. True, more than 330,000 Liberians have returned home, but recent outbreaks of fighting are discouraging the remaining refugees from returning home, and - worse - may force Liberians to flee again. There have been worrying cross-border rebel attacks into Guinea - a country which should not be paying such a price for continuing to generously bear an enormous refugee burden.

In Central Africa, conflicts continue to be connected and interlinked, not only due to their geographical proximity, but also through "coalitions" of defeated or disbanded armed groups, often complicating our protection task by moving along with refugees. Inflows into Gabon and the Central African Republic mark a progressive widening of the spiral of refugee crises. In spite of the Lusaka Agreement, the extremely complex pattern of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a fertile environment for the outbreak of smaller, violent sub-conflicts, likely to cause further population movements. I have recently expressed to the UN Secretary-General my concern at the potential for fresh and sudden refugee crises. Fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of Congo, have already forced people to criss-cross these countries' borders. The situation in Burundi is very fragile, as shown by fresh episodes of violence. Repatriation from camps in Tanzania - still hosting 260,000 Burundian refugees - has virtually ceased. Conflict in Angola has pushed more refugees into neighbouring countries, and worsened the catastrophic situation of internally displaced people - perhaps the single worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.

Another area - of lower profile but much concern to my Office - is the vast region stretching from the Black Sea to Central Asia. Growing problems linked to population movements - from the North Caucasus to Kyrgyzstan - prove the wisdom of the approach that we adopted through the CIS Conference process, and the need to pursue our efforts in that direction.

I am especially worried by the situation on the southern border of the Russian Federation. Fighting in Daghestan has displaced about 33,000 people. Tens of thousands have fled Chechnya to neighbouring Ingushetia. This conflict may cause further displacement in an already very fragile region. The Russian federal government and the Ingush authorities have requested assistance from UNHCR. Criminal gangs threatening humanitarian agencies throughout this region, however, make our operations very risky and difficult. As you know, in December the former head of our Vladikavkaz office was freed after spending almost a year as a hostage. We shall therefore provide such assistance through local networks from our base in Stavropol.

In the South Caucasus, which I visited at the beginning of September, impasses in peace processes have resulted in "frozen" situations in which people are prevented from returning home. I hesitate to call them "post-conflict" situations, because conflicts have not actually been resolved, even if wars are not being actively fought any longer. The size of human displacement is staggering. Well over one million people are refugees or internally displaced in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. I regret that addressing these situations has ceased to be a priority for the international community, at a time of other, more pressing crises.

Refugees and displaced people may not be directly targeted any longer in the South Caucasus, but genuine support for their undeniable right to return home is sometimes mixed with the wish to make political capital of their situation. Their plight serves this purpose better if it is unresolved. I would like to ask governments in the region to address with greater consistency and sense of urgency the immediate problems of the displaced, particularly housing. I also urge all concerned governments to support bilateral talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which show signs of progress; and encourage more actively peace negotiations in Georgia.

Further east, in Afghanistan, the situation of population displacement is becoming increasingly complicated. Renewed fighting has caused fresh movements. More than 150,000 people are now estimated to be internally displaced as a result, with very little assistance reaching them. At the same time, repatriation of refugees continues from Iran and Pakistan, which after almost 20 years still bear the burden of 2.6 million refugees. Two points must be stressed: first, humanitarian agencies have little access to areas of either internal displacement or refugee return, and this is of the utmost concern; second, the Afghan refugee problem, one of the oldest and largest in the world, continues to receive far too little attention.

Adapting management to external changes

Mr Chairman,

The situations I have described underline the importance of remaining constantly sensitive to the need to improve the management of our refugee protection mandate, particularly in emergency situations. Since 1996, we have embarked on a major change process, focusing on delegation and decentralization, approaching refugee situations comprehensively, and further improving emergency functions. Throughout the past year we have continued to work on elements of this process. Other needs for change and improvement have become evident. Let me highlight five areas which deserve your attention.

First, in 1999 we have had one of the highest rates of deployment of emergency staff since our response system was established in 1992. More than one hundred people - including staff from UNHCR's partner agencies - were deployed between March and June to the southern Balkans alone. At the same time, we continued to send staff to respond to other emergencies. This stretched our capacity, since we did not resort to external recruitment. But we have learned some lessons. Given the coordinating role that we play in refugee emergencies, we must strengthen our emergency stand-by capacity at the senior and middle management level, including in areas such as protection management. We must improve mechanisms triggering the early emergency deployment of staff and the hand-over to longer-term personnel. We must expand and strengthen training of staff in all regions. Incidentally, I am pleased to report that the long awaited second edition of the UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, updating the 1982 edition, was published this year.

Second, we have completed a reorganization which streamlines the overall management of the Office. Two Departments are now responsible for international protection and operations respectively. I wish to stress, in particular, that one of the goals of restructuring was to ensure a proper role for the Department of International Protection in contributing to the overall decision-making process. A division dealing with communication and information regroups key functions previously working autonomously. The management of all resources - human, financial and material - is placed under another division. Closely connected with the reorganization of headquarters was the restructuring of operations in Africa, with the creation of three field-based regional directorates. A fourth Director, based at headquarters, is responsible for policy, coordination and information.

Third, we have continued to develop a comprehensive Operations Management System. A new framework has been devised for planning and financial management, which gives added emphasis to protection and solutions in our field strategies. A new software system will be introduced in support of this framework.

Fourth, the budget for the year 2000, which you have before you for approval, has been consolidated in a unified structure, which abolishes the separation between General and Special Programmes. This reflects your own wish to see a more streamlined organisation of the budget. We took a bold step but the new structure is a much clearer presentation of our requirements, and allows for more transparent reporting on the use of resources. I hope this will encourage governments to allocate adequate funding in a flexible and timely manner.

Fifth, on 1 January we shall also launch a new human resources management package. It will be based on a new approach which aims at ensuring a better link between skills, job requirements and the posting system, as well as a more transparent and merit-based promotion policy. In support of these improvements, we have initiated an ambitious staff development strategy based on five core learning programmes, thereby responding to recommendations made by various training evaluations and the Executive Committee in past years.

Humanitarian action and international responses to crises

Mr Chairman,

New conflicts have erupted while old ones remain unresolved. The international community is in search of quicker, more effective responses. The renewed debate over "humanitarian intervention" proves the interest in identifying the most adequate mode of international response to conflicts as in Kosovo or East Timor.

The prevailing type of "new wars" - simultaneously linking internal and international fronts - affects regional security. Countries react quickly when they perceive that security and stability are threatened in their region. Results are mixed, and deserve careful examination. In Kosovo, NATO action eventually reversed the cleansing of ethnic Albanians and allowed their return, but the exodus of Serbs and other minorities has made the achievement of their task incomplete. In Sierra Leone, the ECOMOG effort to enforce peace took time, came after many civilians had been killed, maimed or displaced, and was less thorough than it could have been, mainly due to lack of resources; but it managed to contain the conflict. In Central Africa there has been no military intervention to restore peace. However, both the Lomé and Lusaka agreements may open up possibilities for peace if they are given proper and swift support by the United Nations and the international community. Both, I wish to stress, would not have been possible without regional efforts. In East Timor, InterFET, led by regional forces, is bringing the territory back to the rule of law - a first necessary attempt to stop widespread atrocities, but still a long way from reconstruction and the establishment of an organized administration.

I welcome regional initiatives to bring peace to troubled areas. From a UNHCR perspective, however, there are new, complex aspects of these interventions that we must address - two in particular. First, the role of the military in humanitarian operations. Second, the overcrowding of the humanitarian space in high profile emergencies.

As I said before, services provided by the military - especially those for which they can offer added value in terms of technical and extensive organizational capacity - are most useful in large-scale humanitarian emergencies. In Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, for example, we agreed with military forces that their tasks would be limited to a number of well defined services: air and port logistics, transport of refugees and goods, camp construction, and road repairs.

There are some risks, though. In the Kosovo crisis, there were instances in which assistance was provided directly by the military, sometimes to gain legitimacy and visibility. These episodes undermined coordination and deprived civilian humanitarian agencies of effectiveness and clout. More broadly speaking, the involvement of the military in humanitarian operations can - in certain situations - expose refugees to a conflict, or even make them party to it, jeopardizing their security. For this reason it is essential to maintain clear distinctions: the military can support but should not substitute agencies with humanitarian mandates. These agencies alone have the necessary, principled independence from political considerations. The experience and expertise to deal with the human dimension of crises - the suffering of civilians, their traumas, the terror of flight, the pain and uncertainty of exile - are with us, the civilian humanitarian agencies. The military should ensure the respect of a previously agreed division of labour and endeavour to ensure the correct public perception of such a division.

Kosovo also showed that in a high-profile emergency, the operating space of humanitarian agencies has become unbearably overcrowded. "Being there", and being seen as dealing directly with refugees, became almost a necessity for many different actors. Humanitarian resources were often used by governments directly, bilaterally. These trends, too, diminished the ability of humanitarian agencies to operate.

I understand the pressure of outraged public opinion on governments to act swiftly to relieve suffering. I also agree that coordination among humanitarian agencies is important, and by coordination I mean a clear division of labour, according to respective mandates and capacities. However, governments should help humanitarian agencies organize their operating space, rather than weakening their action by bypassing or overloading it. Much has been said about the very obvious disproportion between aid pouring into the southern Balkans during the Kosovo crisis, and the modest resources made available by governments to respond to other, equally grave crises, especially in Africa. I agree with this criticism. I believe that channelling resources through multilateral agencies can help redress at least part of the imbalance. I wish therefore to ask this Committee to reconfirm its support for multilateral action, avoiding as much as possible any temptation of both humanitarian micromanagement, and humanitarian bilateralism.

Refugee protection: a unique, irreplaceable mandate

To go even further, I wish to touch on the very essence of the mandate of my Office. UNHCR's work is of course humanitarian - saving and bringing basic support to people's lives. But its core mandate is much more specific, since it concerns the protection of refugees and the search for solutions to their problems.

Protection is above all the granting of asylum to those fleeing persecution or conflict. Protection is primarily identifying, defining, standing for and advocating refugees' rights - Kosovo has shown once more the absolute necessity of asylum as a key, life-saving instrument of refugee protection. A very important opportunity to reaffirm this idea will be the upcoming Special European Council Summit in Tampere, which will adopt the European Union's asylum and migration policy. I wish to call upon heads of state and government who will attend the Summit to ensure that such policy be firmly rooted in the proper and inclusive application of the 1951 refugee Convention. The example and precedent which is about to be set in Tampere is of capital importance not only for the future of refugee protection in the European Union, but also in countries that are candidate to the enlargement of the Union, in the rest of Europe, and of the world. As such, I hope that it will be visionary and forward-looking, and not simply based on minimum common denominators.

But asylum, indispensable as it is to protection, is only its first step. Implementing protection entails a broad spectrum of activities. UNHCR's role is not only to advocate refugees' rights. Realizing them often requires difficult discussions - not over principles, that cannot be negotiated, but over the modalities of their application. Protection also takes the form of relieving the refugees' plight: ensuring that their material needs are met, counselling and alleviating their traumas, helping them become self-sufficient, making sure that communities hosting them do not become hostile, creating awareness worldwide. It means paying special attention to the most vulnerable, like women and children, and also the elderly, a group which is often forgotten, in spite of its growing presence.

In carrying out this essential aspect of our mandate, we shall of course continue to collaborate with our closest partners: the UN operational agencies, UNICEF and the World Food Programme; non-governmental organizations, that give crucial support to our direct interface with refugees; the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; the International Committee of the Red Cross; the International Organization for Migration; and, increasingly, especially during the critical phase which follows emergencies, the UN Development Programme and the World Bank.

Asylum gives safety to refugees. But this literally vital action demands that the search for solutions to their plight begins as early as possible. And this search is about carving out, from very difficult situations, realistic choices to offer to refugees, and finding ways to make them fully informed of these choices. An essential pre-condition for the success of this work - the point, so to speak, in which all our efforts converge - is to be present on the ground with refugees, which requires that we have full and free access to them. This is why refugee protection is the raison d'être of UNHCR's presence in West Timor. This is why situations where we have little or no presence, such as Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or certain areas of Liberia and Sierra Leone, are so worrying. Sometimes choices are very limited, but some other times, thanks to the good cooperation of governments, they are rich and varied. The ideal objective for any refugee situation is to foster conditions for refugees to make a free and informed choice about their future. There is no better way to restore dignity to a refugee's life than to offer her or him the possibility to make this choice.

UNHCR's mandate has therefore a very precise identity, which - I wish to stress - cannot be substituted by other, more generic forms of humanitarianism. Whenever international crises have a refugee component, the mode of response must be based on the principles of refugee protection. UNHCR's mandate as custodian of these principles, and as the Office charged by the international community with seeking solutions to refugee problems, must be respected.

All the activities I have described - from defending asylum to helping refugees in exile and searching for solutions - require specific expertise. They are not simply "humanitarian". Rather they are rooted in the protection nature of refugee work. Today, the operating space of UNHCR and of its partners in ensuring protection is at times threatened. Not on our behalf, since we are here to serve, but on behalf of the millions of people of our concern, I would like to ask you to help us better define and defend it.

Let me conclude with an example that I consider very appropriate to this discussion. In July, I visited Mexico. Together with President Zedillo of Mexico and President Arzu of Guatemala, I participated in a ceremony marking the end of the Guatemalan repatriation programme. Some refugees opted to return, some chose to be naturalized, others to be allowed to remain in Mexico as immigrants. Mexico's acceptance of refugees, Guatemala's on-going and still difficult progress towards peace and reconciliation, and many years of creative and courageous work by committed staff of UNHCR, other UN agencies and NGOs, have been of invaluable support to the efforts made by refugees themselves to rebuild their lives. This, I believe, is a truly exemplary case of partnership in granting safety, assisting and providing choices to a group of refugees - of partnership in protection. To make it even more complete, the government of Mexico announced its intention to accede to the 1951 refugee Convention. This will constitute an important example to which I would like to draw the attention of all States, and which I hope will be followed by members of this Committee that have not yet signed this key refugee protection instrument.

In the year 2000, UNHCR will observe its 50th anniversary. We do not want to celebrate its birthday - our Office was created to resolve a problem, and its longevity is thus a bad sign. But refugees - yes, I think we should celebrate refugees! We should celebrate their courage, resilience and determination. And there is something of our own work that we should be especially proud of as this important anniversary approaches. It is our renewed ability to offer them opportunities, and means to achieve these opportunities. This will help them not to be a burden, and not to be seen as one. It will help them make positive contributions, during the hard period of exile, to the communities giving them asylum. And once their plight is solved, back home, or in a new country, it will help them be fully part of their own communities. Thanks also to the joint efforts of all of us, it will make them hope, and feel, that they own a future.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.