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Statement of Commendation by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Chairman of the Nansen Committee, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Medal for 1988 to Syed Munir Husain

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Statement of Commendation by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Chairman of the Nansen Committee, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Medal for 1988 to Syed Munir Husain

1 October 1988
Nansen Medal Award Ceremony 1988
Language versions:

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a particular honour for me, on behalf of the Nansen Committee, to welcome among us Syed Munir Husain, currently Chairman of the Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan and a former Secretary to the Government of Pakistan in the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions. We are delighted that he has kindly agreed to come to Geneva to receive the Nansen Medal today.

It strikes me as a significant coincidence that a man who, through his spirit and action, has made such an outstanding effort to mitigate the suffering of the Afghan refugees should be honoured in the year which brought real hope of a settlement to more than five million Afghans who have been obliged to seek refuge in other countries. The Bilateral Agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan signed on 14 April 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations marked an important step in the creation of conditions that will allow the Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return to their country of origin. We must all hope that conditions in their home areas will soon encourage the refugees to return in safety and dignity.

The international community recognizes, and is indeed most grateful for, the fine example which the Government of Pakistan has set by providing asylum to Afghans pending their repatriation. Although the precise number of refugees in Pakistan remains difficult to determine, the Government estimates that more than three million Afghans were registered in officially established villages at the end of 1987. Over 75 per cent of the caseload are women and children.

As many of us in this room will remember, UNHCR began its collaboration with the Government of Pakistan in providing succour to these refugees in 1979. In the early years of the programme, the principal objective was to meet the immediate needs of recent arrivals, particularly with respect to health, water and shelter. By the end of 1981, the programme had expanded to include additional services and emphasis was placed on consolidating infrastructure within established refugee villages. By the end of 1984, most districts affected by the presence of refugees had adequate health facilities, a primary school system, sufficient shelter and an acceptable water supply. Since the outset the enormous quantities of commodities required to provide the refugees with a basic food basket has been provided by the World Food Programme, supplemented by the Government of Pakistan and UNHCR.

During the last few years, and particularly during Syed Munir Husain's tenure at the head of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, increased efforts have been made to expand activities which encouraged self-reliance among the refugee population. These activities included education at the primary and secondary levels, veterinary services for Afghan-owned livestock, vocational training and income-generating projects. In order to establish these schemes many voluntary agencies and non-governmental organizations were invited to bring their specialized skills and experiences to the humanitarian effort as implementing partners. Syed Munir Husain was aware of the valuable contribution the NGOs could make, and did much to encourage them to participate, indeed, thanks to his efforts, more than thirty NGOs are now actively involved in the assistance programme.

The world's largest single refugee population soon began to take its toll on the environment and way of life of the local people in the effected regions of Pakistan. Syed Munir Husain was quick to realise this and consequently he played a key role in the establishment of UNHCR's first major "Refugee Aid and Development Programme". Since 1984, the World Bank had administered, on behalf of UNHCR, a pilot project which combines development objectives and income-generating opportunities for both refugees and local people. Phase one of the "Income-generating Project for Refugee Areas" included 40 labour-intensive schemes in the sectors of afforestation, watershed management, irrigation and road building. The project fully met its objectives and even exceeded targets; it generated 5.5 million man-days of employment (80 per cent of which was for Afghan refugees) and proved to be cost-effective. A second three-year phase, this time involving 91 sub-projects in three provinces, began in October 1987. The remaining sub-projects under Phase Two, including those specially designed to provide income opportunities for refugee and local women, will begin shortly.

The costs of the two phases of this programme will amount to some US$ 60 million. This has been generously made available by the donor community which has been impressed by the success of these activities. Syed Munir Husain has played a key role in this additional fund-raising effort, particularly through his active participation at meetings organized by the World Bank. His dedication to the concept of "Refugee Aid and Development" and enthusiasm for this new approach to assist the governments of least-developed countries which host most of the world's refugees has not failed to captivate the imagination of others. Thanks to his sterling achievements in this field, UNHCR has not only been able to secure sufficient funds for the project in Pakistan, but take this new approach to other continents, for instance in Africa and Central America. Indeed the success of this innovative approach to solving refugee problems in Pakistan through a developmental strategy contributed in no small measure to the enthusiasm for such an approach so clearly expressed during the recently concluded session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme.

Syed Munir Husain has had a distinguished career as a civil servant. His dedication to the service of his country and the exceptional skills he has demonstrated have been recognized by the high number of senior appointments which he ahs held. He is also a man of compassion for those in need - a compassion which he translates into action. I was privileged to see this for myself soon after I became High Commissioner in 1986 when we spent ten arduous days travelling together throughout the three provinces of Pakistan hosting most of the Afghan refugees: North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and the Punjab. His mastery of regional languages enabled him to communicate with the refugees themselves and quickly to get to the root of their problems having analyzed the situation and considered the available solutions his administrative, managerial and political skills enabled him to initiate immediate action to mitigate human suffering. As a result of our extensive fact-finding mission, improvements in sanitation, health services and primary education were soon put in train. The efficient management of the world's largest refugee assistance programme between 1982 and 1987 was a remarkable personal achievement which has been acknowledged by many. The Afghan refugees, the people of Pakistan and the international community are most grateful for what he accomplished as Secretary to the Government of Pakistan, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions during that period.

As a man and colleague, he was also much appreciated by the senior UNHCR staff who were fortunate to work him. A man of principles who inspires confidence in others, he never shied away form problems no matter how insurmountable they appeared at the time. He was always most helpful and straightforward in his dealings with UNHCR staff who benefited from his respect for, and knowledge of Pakistan's civil service.

The role which you, Syed Munir Husain played in the Government of Pakistan's outstanding contribution to the cause of refugees remains a shining example to us all. You have not only revealed an immense service to refugees but also to the community of nations. Syed Munir Husain will, I trust, have many further opportunities to contribute towards the solutions, - perhaps even the prevention of humanitarian problems such as refugees, and to continue to put into practice the motto of Fridtjof Nansen, which is engraved on the medal and reads: "LOVE OF MAN IS A PRACTICAL POLICY."

On behalf of all of us, I should like to express our deep-felt gratitude to you for all that you have done to support our work and to wish you well-deserved success in the accomplishment of your future tasks.

I will now read out the Nansen Medal Certificate:

"THE NANSEN MEDAL AWARD COMMITTEE, instituted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

CONSCIOUS of the unprecedented influx of refugees into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the hospitality and interest with which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has received them,

RECOGNIZING the exceptional services rendered to the cause of these refugees by Syed Munir Husain in his capacity as Secretary to the Government of Pakistan in the Ministry of the States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON),

APPRECIATING the major contributions by Syed Munir Husain to refugees and his profound concern for their plight,

WISHING TO PAY A WELL-DESERVED TRIBUTE to Syed Munir Husain for the motivation and effectiveness which characterize his work,