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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 24 January 1984

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 24 January 1984

24 January 1984
Language versions:

Mr. Chairman,

First of all, let me extend a warm welcome to the distinguished delegates present here today. As you know, we plan to spend two days together at this informal meeting. Today we shall review some essential developments in the refugee field and UNHCR's main activities since our formal session in October 1983. Tomorrow, as requested in October, we shall spend the day on what I would. call an informal seminar on refugee aid and development - a subject to which I attach considerable importance as I have already mentioned on previous occasions.

In my opening statement today, Mr. Chairman, I intend to share with you the main developments in the refugee field since we last met, while tomorrow I shall introduce our specific item. The common factor of our preoccupations today and tomorrow remains the search for durable solutions to refugee problems, which I tried to emphasize in October and which found strong support among the Executive Committee members. So, let me inform you today of our renewed efforts in this direction, of the progress achieved, of the difficulties encountered.

Shortly after the end of our October session I went, as every year, to New York, in order to attend the Administrative Committee on Co-ordination (ACC), the Third Committee of the General Assembly, and the Pledging Conference.

The ACC, chaired by the Secretary - General of the United Nations, is always an excellent opportunity not only to discuss specific agenda items of concern to the whole UN system, but also to meet the Executive Heads of other UN agencies and discuss with them interagency co-operation, a factor of ever-increasing importance on the road to proper and lasting settlement of refugees.

The Third Committee offers, for a few days each year, a world-wide forum where refugee problems can be evoked and the purely humanitarian and non-political character of UNHCR activities reaffirmed. Here again, I made it a point to convey the vital need for durable solutions for refugees awaiting such solutions all over the world.

In the resolution on the "Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees" adopted - I am happy to say as usual - without a vote by the Third Committee and subsequently by the General Assembly, some operative paragraphs urged all States to support the High Commissioner in his efforts to achieve durable solutions to refugee problems, and called upon all States to promote such solutions.

Another major preoccupation of the Third Committee was the Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa, ICARA II.

Many of you attended the meetings with the ICARA Steering Committee which were held here in Geneva last month. I believe that these meetings afforded a welcome opportunity for a very useful exchange of views, we plan to continue such exchanges. A further important step towards ICARA II will be taken this week when the Secretary-General issues a brief document, prepared in co-operation with OAU, UNDP and UNHCR, that will give the state of progress and a summary of needs to be presented to the Conference. The ICARA Steering Committee hopes that the information contained therein will enable governments to plan further their participation in ICARA II.

We realize that any current request for support made to the international community comes at a time of financial stringency. But I am sure that there is general agreement that African refugees and returnees, as well as those countries carrying the burden of receiving them, have genuine and legitimate claims on substantial international assistance. The assistance proposals being presented to ICARA II are based on a careful balance between established needs and the capacity for financing and implementation.

UNHCR's total expenditures in Africa for 1984 are presently projected at some US$ 155 million which, compared with last year, includes a net increase in the General Programmes because of substantial additional efforts in the area of durable solutions. It is to be expected, with every reservation in case of unforeseen events, that the order of magnitude will be the same in 1985 and 1986. In further direct response to paragraph 5(b) of the General Assembly resolution on ICARA II, UNHCR has identified additional assistance needs, valued at about US$ 11 million to be proposed for 1984 or early 1985. I am informed, on a preliminary basis, that the proposals for infrastructural assistance being presented in response to paragraph 5(c) of the resolution will amount to some US$ 365 million over a period of three to five years. The main conference document, which will be available in the second half of March, will contain a detailed explanation and justification of these projects.

I know that ICARA II will be considered in the constructive spirit in which it is being prepared. Such a spirit will take us a great step forward in the process of attaining durable solutions to the refugee problems of Africa - the aim of ICARA II.

In our search for durable solutions in Africa, I would like to say a few words today about two specific situations. Firstly, the repatriation operation from Djibouti to Ethiopia. Out of an estimated total of more than 30,000 refugees in Djibouti, over 8,500 have repatriated to date, either spontaneously or in an orderly fashion. You may remember that the purely voluntary character of this repatriation had been questioned by various quarters, including in press articles. Our Office in Djibouti informs us that all repatriant heads of family have voluntarily signed a free-will declaration for repatriation. No claim of forcible repatriation has been registered, and the Ethiopian authorities are fully abiding by the terms of the amnesty law now extended until the end of 1984. The number of new registrations for repatriation has considerably dropped and we are at the moment proceeding with a detailed appraisal of the programme in order to determine whether and where additional efforts and improvements within our power are required. Should the present trend be confirmed, we will have to seek solutions for those comparatively large numbers who will not repatriate. We shall discuss this situation with the Djibouti authorities as soon as the facts are clearly established.

We are also paying close attention to the situation of refugees and returnees in Uganda. You will recall that, following internal disturbances in the country in October 1982, some 35,000 persons were internally displaced - while approximately the same number had crossed the border into Rwanda. As an important step towards an overall solution to the problem, a meeting was held in March 1983 in Kabale (Uganda), attended by senior officials from Uganda and Rwanda, and chaired by my Director of International Protection. During the meeting, it was agreed that all the displaced persons in both countries, would be interviewed, screened and registered. In Rwanda, the exercise has been completed and the files of those claiming to be Ugandan citizens are now being studied in Kampala. In Uganda, the 35,000 displaced inside the country - with 40,000 heads of cattle - had moved to existing refugee settlements which had, as a result, become dangerously overcrowded. Of these 35,000, 23,000 have been identified as refugees of Rwandese origin. The screening exercise continues as additional information is being sought to clarify pending cases.

My purpose in raising this matter today is to inform you that of the 23,000 persons identified as Rwandese refugees, 15,000 have now been transferred with their cattle to a site, Kyaka II, made available by the Ugandan authorities. Thus, we are now active in the first phase of establishing a new rural settlement. Because of recent internal disturbances at the end of 1983, another 10,000 persons have moved into existing refugee settlements. However, my Representative has been given assurances by the authorities at the highest level, that everything will be done to enable these displaced persons to return to their homes as soon as possible. Meanwhile, in another province of Uganda, the West Nile, we are studying the need for further assistance to Ugandan returnees, in the framework of a regional approach to the refugee problems in the area, which also involve Upper Zaire and Southern Sudan.

Changing continents, Mr. Chairman, I would like to say a few words on UNHCR assistance as a result of the situation in the Lebanon.

Following new and tragic events in Lebanon towards the end of 1983, I approved an allocation from the UNHCR Emergency Fund to help meet - within the framework of the United Nations Humanitarian Aid in the Lebanon - the most basic needs of displaced persons within that country, especially in the Chouf and Tripoli areas. I also approved an allocation in the form of a one-time assistance to cover the exceptional needs of Lebanese displaced or stranded in Cyprus and in a few countries in Europe. The total assistance approved amounted to US$ 500,000.

In addition, in December 1983, I approved an allocation of US$ 150,000 in response to a request from the Syrian Government for emergency assistance to displaced Lebanese in Syria. The corresponding project is implemented with the help of UNICEF.

This assistance from the Emergency Fund has included the purchase of urgently required relief items for persons who had fled their homes without possessions, food, spare clothing and the like.

As for our activities in Pakistan, I can report some substantial progress on the pilot project for income generation in refugee areas, administered by the World Bank, about which a number of delegations made encouraging comments last October. The legal instruments covering the project were signed by Pakistan, the World Bank and UNHCR at the beginning of this month. They will become effective as soon as the Government of Pakistan completes a certain number of formalities and administrative measures required for the implementation of the project. The initial funding requirements should be met in the near future. Meanwhile, the implementation of some aspects of the project started last autumn, thanks to Governments who paid cash contributions for the pre-financing of those project activities considered urgent by the Government of Pakistan and the World Bank if the next planting season were not to be missed.

As some distinguished delegates mentioned last October, this project is in fact a first test of a new approach to large refugee problems in low-income areas, which will be the subject of more detailed discussions tomorrow. I would like to add that, on the occasion of the signature of our overall annual agreement with the Government of Pakistan for UNHCR assistance to Afghan refugees, we have emphasized our desire to continue the programme of orientation towards self-reliance and away from care and maintenance.

The refugee situation in South East Asia continues to be of serious concern to my Office. I shall not describe a situation which is well known and towards the solution of which many countries represented here today have been helping for years. Now that we have established our statistics as at 31 December 1983, let me just give you a few figures. The number of refugees who arrived by boat in 1983 was 28,000. This represents a substantial decrease as against 75,000 in 1980 and 1981, and 44,000 in 1982. Against this figure of 28,000 arrivals, we note 31,400 departures for resettlement, i.e. 3,400 more departures than arrivals. We must, of course, be appreciative for this. However, the total number of boat people in camps in South East Asia remains over 40,000. May I, therefore, appeal once more to all those governments which can help, to join the efforts or to maintain and, if possible, intensify their response.

I am happy to report that progress under the Orderly Departure Programme from the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam shows every sign of consolidation. The total number of departures for the last quarter of 1983 exceeded 6,000, i.e. an approximate monthly average of 2,000.

In 1983, the population of Laotian and Kampuchean refugees in Thailand decreased by 20,000 persons, owing to resettlement efforts alone. While expressing deep gratitude for this result, may I also express the hope that this movement will continue. We shall, of course, continue to do our utmost to seek other solutions, especially voluntary repatriation.

Another area of concern remains the fate of refugees and asylum seekers in need of rescue on the high seas. Some 3,400 refugees were rescued during 1983. I should like to express our gratitude and thanks to the owners and masters of vessels who have rescued refugees in danger of losing their lives, and to reiterate our strong will to co-operate fully in helping to facilitate the subsequent disembarkation of the refugees. We appealed again, in November and December 1983, to some members of the Committee, either to contribute to the Disembarkation Resettlement Offers Scheme (DISERO), or to expand their existing contribution, this will facilitate rescue by ships flying flags of convenience or registered in States unable to provide the guarantee of resettlement required by certain countries of first asylum.

Mr. Chairman, in today's rapid review of the main refugee developments around the world since October 1983, I would like to mention two countries in Latin America. Firstly Argentina, where a change of circumstances has prompted thousands of refugees to request voluntary repatriation. The Argentine Government has sought our assistance to this effect and for those refugees who cannot bear the costs involved, we are making the necessary arrangements with the governments of asylum countries, with the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration and the voluntary agencies. For 1984 we have so far allocated US$ 1.2 million to assist repatriants in their voluntary return, mainly to Argentina, but also to other countries in Latin America. The Argentine Government has also asked our assistance to meet initial urgent requirements and rehabilitation needs upon return, a request which we are studying at this moment.

In Honduras, what could be viewed as positive news is fraught with difficulties. The authorities have now decided to relocate Salvadorian and Guatemalan refugees away from the border area, to new land settlements. Indeed, this should be a positive step, not only towards greater security, but also on the road to self-sufficiency. However, as we have often said, in the humanitarian field nothing is ever clear-cut. There is no totally right or totally wrong solution. In this case, quite a number of refugees and agencies working hard to assist them daily, are resisting the change: many refugees have, over the years, established roots - however precarious - in their present camps and do not wish to leave for somewhere far from their country and for what they fear is an uncertain future. We are discussing the situation with the authorities and hope that humane solutions, leading to greater security and self-sufficiency, can be achieved. I do not hide the fact that this is a most intricate situation in which diverging positions will be difficult to reconcile.

A few words now about Europe. In several countries in Europe the number of asylum-seekers from all parts of the world has increased considerably over the last few years, at a time of economic crisis when the weight of large numbers of foreign workers has been increasingly felt. A serious backlog has built up in the screening of asylum requests, while a number of measures have been taken in one country or another which have a deterrent effect on potential new arrivals. In the face of these situations, we are following up on the conclusions of the Seminar on the Integration of Refugees in Europe, which was held in Geneva in September 1983, and are emphasizing to governments the need to preserve and protect the rights of genuine asylum-seekers. This is done, of course, in full recognition of all positive and generous aspects of asylum policies, and of the support given by the countries concerned to the refugee cause in general and to specific refugee situations throughout the world. Against the background of all these factors, I was invited to visit Bonn in December and Bern earlier this month. On these occasions, a number of protection issues were raised and I am glad to report that they were discussed in a most co-operative and constructive spirit.

In the International Protection field more generally, the Office has continued to be faced with serious problems since the thirty-fourth session of the Executive Committee in October 1983. These problems have related to refoulement, threats to the personal safety of refugees, and the functioning of asylum procedures. In regard to these various problems, the Director of International Protection and senior members of his Division undertook missions to Kenya, Turkey, Tanzania, and Zambia.

One problem which continues to give rise to great concern is that of refugees who have already found refuge in a particular country, usually on a temporary basis, and who, due to the conditions prevailing there, move to another country in order to seek more durable asylum. Movements of this kind have assumed rather large proportions during recent months and call for concerted action by governments to meet the situation which gives rise to considerable hardship for the persons concerned.

With regard to the personal safety of refugees, I would like to mention that there are still instances of refugee camps being attacked. You will recall how much the Executive Committee discussed the problem in October. I know that you, Mr. Chairman, will be trying, together with other representatives of States members of the Executive Committee, to establish an agreed statement of principles. I should also like to express grave preoccupation at the continuing serious problem of pirate attacks on asylum-seekers. A meeting of governments concerned, specifically to review this whole issue, has been tentatively fixed for 24 February. May I also mention that we have been particularly concerned by continuing reports from one area regarding the towing out to sea of asylum seekers under circumstances exposing them to grave physical danger. As a result, a number of asylum seekers lost their lives or became the victims of pirate attacks of the most brutal kind. One incident of this nature occurred earlier this month and had most tragic consequences in terms of human lives.

Mr. Chairman, I would now like to recall the importance - which has repeatedly been recognized by the Executive Committee - of promoting a wider knowledge of the principles of international protection. Since the Committee's thirty-fourth session, the second Course on International Refugee Law was held in San Remo under the auspices of the San Remo Institute of Humanitarian Law and of my Office. The Course was attended by government officials from some 40 countries and at the closing session the Chairman of the Executive Committee, Ambassador Ewerlöf, gave an address which was very well received. The Course was considered very useful by all participants.

During this week I addressed a group of Arab Professors and legal experts who gathered in San Remo under the auspices of the Institute. I believe that this was the first time that problems of international protection and refugee law in Arab countries were examined by such an eminent group from the Arab world, and I hope that its conclusions will be a pointer in the right direction and will be of benefit to all refugees in the region.

Turning now to the funding of UNHCR's activities, I am very grateful for the fact that our 1983 programmes were fully funded and that, at the Pledging Conference in New York in November last year, a total of some US$ 122 million was pledged for our 1984 programmes.

The top priority in our funding concerns must be the basically important General Programmes of ongoing assistance to refugees. Using the funds and pledges available at the beginning of the year we have started the General Programmes for 1984 at a reasonable level. Some US$ 90 million have already been obligated. However, if the planned assistance programmes are not to be disrupted by lack of financial resources, we need to receive, in the near future, both payment of existing pledges and additional contributions. Against the pledges made in New York in November 1983, only very little has actually been paid. Therefore, unless payments are received in the near future, the Office will face severe cash-flow problems.

Our General programme expenditure in 1983 amounted to 96% of the approved target. While this is, of course, very satisfying in itself it leaves considerably less funds to carry over than in previous years. This will make it necessary to raise more funds in 1984 than previously. On present estimates, we might, in the next few months, face a very difficult situation due to shortage of pledges and funds.

Looking ahead, and in order to give you as much advance notice of the situation as possible, I intend to issue an Appeal for funding the 1984 General Programmes on 27 January. I realize the difficult economic situation many donors face today but I sincerely hope that you will be able to provide the resources UNHCR needs to continue assistance to refugees.

Mr. Chairman, regarding the management of the Office, I should like to inform you that, on 20 December 1983, I decided to create in my Executive Office the post of Director for Field Affairs. The purpose of this post is to strengthen and streamline policy aspects relating to UNHCR's field establishment. This was one important objective of the Administrative Management Service Report, and was very much underlined in the so-called consensus paper on "Proposals for strengthening UNHCR's management policy", dated 4 August 1983, submitted by the Executive Committee to the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters. In field matters, the Director will review policy issues relating to the effectiveness of our activities, pay special attention to the question of delegation of authority, and recommend appropriate measures to enhance field activities as well as to improve conditions of service. In a word, the Director will serve as my principal policy adviser on matters concerning UNHCR's field affairs. His recommendations will be handled through the normal channels in the Office. I have appointed Mr. Homann-Herimberg to this position. I am convinced that with his wealth of experience within UNHCR, where he has served in many important capacities, he is perfectly suited to take up this new challenge. May I be permitted, Mr. Chairman, to express my deep appreciation for his years of tenure as Director of Administration and Management, at a time when the Office witnessed many difficulties due to its unprecedented growth.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, on the basis of the recommendation of the AMS, we have agreed to carry out a job classification of all professional posts within UNHCR. We have already started this special exercise and, according to our time-table, we hope to finalize it in a few months. Following consultations with the Office of Personnel Services in New York, the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), UNICEF, the ILO, our staff representatives and others, it was decided to use the master standard for classification of professional posts as approved by the ICSC and adopted by the UN Secretariat. This master standard is a point factor classification methods: point values are assigned to various factors for classification, and a total point rating indicates the appropriate grade level of the post. The respective questionnaires have already been distributed throughout the Office for completion by the staff members concerned. In order to give guidance and to assist our staff members in the field with the completion of these questionnaires, classification specialists from UN organizations such as UNIDO, the Economic Commission for Africa, the Consultative Committee for Administrative Questions (CCAQ), the ICSC and the Office of Personnel Services of the United Nations in New York have been made available to UNHCR. Once these questionnaires have been returned to Headquarters, two special classification committees will examine them with a view to determining the appropriate grade. It is expected that these committees will complete their work towards the end of April. I shall certainly keep the Committee informed of further developments.

Mr. Chairman, three months only have elapsed since the end of our formal session, and I am sure that we all share the same feelings: it was time that we should meet again. Although the flow of information arrangements are now functioning - in a satisfactory form, I hope you will agree - the pace of refugee developments all over the world, the problems posed, and the constant need for creative thinking, make our periodic exchanges of views fully necessary - and productive. In seeking to improve our capacity of response in emergencies and in the longer term, and in strengthening our quest for durable solutions, we need not only the support of governments but also their advice and guidance. The continuity of our dialogue is a sine qua non condition for us to carry out our humanitarian task, and I am very glad for today's opportunity to share our preoccupations with you.

I welcome you all once again and am very much looking forward to our debate. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.