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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), 28 June 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), 28 June 1984

28 June 1984
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Mr. Chairman,

I am very happy to welcome all the distinguished members of our Executive Committee to this informal meeting which, in what has now become a well-established tradition, gives me an opportunity to inform you of events which have marked the life of our Office in the past five months. Since we last met on 24 January 1984 there have been a number of developments, some of which have been positive and therefore are a pleasure to report, others which give rise to concerns which I would like to share with you in the hope that you can give me the benefit of your individual and collective wisdom and counsel. I have no need to tell you, distinguished Representatives and friends, how highly we at UNHCR, here at Headquarters and in the field, value the advice and support of our Executive Commissioner on the other, our work on behalf of refugees would be both meaningless and fruitless.

Over the past few years we have made an effort to involve the Executive Committee more closely in this work in a number of wars - by holding these informal meetings between regular sessions of the Committee, by increasing the flow of written information to Members through regular communications such as the periodic letters sent to you by my Directors and through frequent personal contacts with the Chairman and members of the Bureau, and with individual Members. But there is nothing like first-hand experience on the spot to "flesh out", if I may use such an expression, the texts and statistics we can provide. That is why I was particularly happy when our distinguished Chairman, Ambassador Ewerlöf, was able, earlier this year, to travel to the Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia in company with my Director of Assistance. It has no doubt been very useful that he has familiarised himself with problems in this area, one of the most preoccupying for us all during the past few years. I have also done some travelling since we last met, and I would like to come back to my own experiences in a few moments. But first I would like to review briefly some of the major developments regarding refugee situations - ongoing and new - in this half a year.

Mr. Chairman, the first half of 1984 has been sadly marked by a number of events which have caused my colleagues and me very serious concern, particularly in the field of international protection, where in one or tow instances it has not been possible for me to carry out my mandate as it has been entrusted to me by the international community. There have been savage acts of piracy, armed attacks on refugee camps, acts of forcible return or rejection at the frontier, unjustifiable detention, manifestations of xenophobia towards refugees. Yet even in these sombre situations I have been encouraged by the support of the international community, of you, Members of the Executive Committee, for the actions of my Office. I have been heartened by the reactions of public opinion, of legislators, of our friends in the voluntary agencies. There have also been new influxes of refugees and displaced persons, some into countries which have hitherto not had to deal with this problem.

Mr. Chairman, perhaps the most encouraging refugee movements of the past six months have been those of refugees going home. Voluntary repatriation has continued in several situations, with some returning in an organised way, such as is the case between Djibouti and Ethiopia, and others spontaneously in situations where UNHCR is happy simply to say goodbye to former refugees, and if needed, assist them on their way, such as those now returning to Argentina.

In the case of Djibouti, I am happy to report that some 14,000 persons had repatriated as of 15 June 1984, more than half through the organised repatriation scheme, the others registered after having returned spontaneously. A census has just been conducted by the Government with UNHCR assistance in the camps in Djibouti, the results of which, when they have been analysed, should make it possible in the fairly near future to come up with an even more accurate picture. Meanwhile the organized movements have resumed after a suspension due to problems on the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway. I understand that the two Governments concerned have agreed to hold a new Tripartite Meeting in September. In the meantime, I feel confident in saying that from our perspective, it has been a success so far. Our assistance to the returnees, although limited in nature, has, I am sure, helped to cement the repatriation, although it is to a certain extent offset by the calamitous drought which has stricken their country of origin. Another encouraging development, although the number involved is still small, is the fact that several hundred refugees in Somalia have signified, through the completion of voluntary repatriation forms, their desire to repatriate. Meanwhile our Special Programme for Ethiopian Returnees is currently being reassessed following indications from the Ethiopian authorities that there are significantly increased numbers of persons, returnees and possibly refugees, in the Ogaden. Until more precise information is available, we are exploring ways of providing emergency assistance to registered returnees in this region which is also severely drought-stricken. We have also been informed by the Somali authorities of new arrivals from Ethiopia.

To continue on the subject of voluntary repatriation, there have also been significant movements in other parts of Africa, particularly from Haut-Zaire to the West Nile province of Uganda, where our most recent information indicates that while large numbers of Ugandan refugees have returned spontaneously, some 12,500 have repatriated under the auspices of UNHCR, including about 1,000 from the Sudan. Again a special programme of relief and rehabilitation has been set up and submitted to donors for funding. I should further mention the return home of large numbers to the Republic of Guinea. We are in contact with the new authorities there, who have requested our assistance, and a mission is about to visit the country to assess in what ways UNHCR might be helpful.

Turning to another continent, I am particularly pleased to note that numerous refugees are returning to Argentina where the restoration of democracy has been one of the happier events of recent months. As in our traditional practice, UNHCR has been able to finance tickets for the most needy returnees under its General Programmes. Returning exiles are none the less daunted by the critical economic circumstances of their homeland, and I have felt entirely justified in the circumstances in launching an appeal, at the request of the Argentine authorities, to provide for some initial assistance to those repatriates facing the most severe difficulties in reintegrating. I commend this appeal to the attention of Members of the Executive Committee, Mr. Chairman, in the hope that donors can assist Argentina in this small but tangible way in its return to democracy. In South East Asia as well, while numerically small, the voluntary repatriation of Laotians, Kampucheans and Vietnamese continues to be promoted whenever possible by the Office, and we will continue these efforts.

Mr. Chairman, if there has been noteworthy progress in the past six months in voluntary repatriation, there have also unfortunately been several new refugee situations which have required the attention of UNHCR. We have had to provide emergency assistance in three such new situations in Africa: to some 42,000 Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia, to tens of thousands of Mozambicans in Zimbabwe, and to some 12,000 Angolan refugees in the province of Shaba, Zaire. We have also had to provide additional assistance to Lebanese displaced persons in Syria, as well as to persons of concern to UNHCR in Lebanon itself. I fervently hope that current developments in that unhappy country will lead to a situation in which such exceptional measures will no longer be required. Details of these programmes up to 15 April 1984 have been provided to you in the periodic letter of my Director of Assistance (reference EA/COM.8/83-84). In addition, an influx of several thousand border-crossers from the Indonesian province or Iryan Jaya to neighbouring Papua New Guinea has been a subject of preoccupation in recent weeks. There are indications that significant numbers of them might be able to repatriate voluntarily. Should UNHCR receive a request for assistance from the authorities of Papua New Guinea, it will naturally be considered, on condition that the Office be given full access to the concerned groups. As regards repatriation, we of course are insisting that it be voluntary and that the safety of returnees be ensured.

There have also been important developments in our ongoing major programmes in Pakistan, Somalia, the Sudan, Thailand and other parts of South East Asia, Central America and Mexico. In all of these areas a common denominator has been progress, despite at some times considerable difficulties, towards longer-term or durable solutions. In Pakistan, for instance, implementation has started on the income-generating projects being carried out by the World Bank under an arrangement initiated by UNHCR. I am very happy with the initial support provided by the international community for these projects, which augur well for the future and will, I trust serve as an example to be imitated in other parts of the world. It may interest the distinguished Members of this Committee to know that just a few days ago I had a visit from the Governor of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, where a major part of these projects is being undertaken, and he confirmed to me how vitally important they are for his province, where the presence of so many hundreds of thousands of refugees has had very serious effects on the local economy and environment. Likewise in the Sudan we have been able to report positive developments towards self-sufficiency for large numbers of refugees both in the East and in the South, thanks to several partnerships, with the ILO, with UNDP, and with voluntary agencies. Unfortunately, internal and external political, economic and climatic factors have, as elsewhere in Africa, to some extent hindered planned implementation of these schemes. In Somalia as well there has been gradual but significant progress away from relief-oriented programmes towards income-generating and self-sufficiency activities. Again we envisage associating sister agencies such as the ILO and UNDP in certain of these schemes.

In South East Asia, where the only durable solutions available for the time being remain resettlement and, in a limited measure, voluntary repatriation, I nonetheless see some signs of progress towards other alternatives. I am also happy to note the considerable success of the Orderly Departure Programme. Resettlement continues and I trust that through further generous efforts of receiving countries the camp populations can gradually be reduced to even more manageable proportions and, hopefully, eventually be eliminated.

In Central America and Mexico, where our programmes are largely concentrated on care and maintenance, there have also been steps, albeit slow, towards bringing refugees to self-sufficiency. These are also linked with enhanced security for the refugees who in a number of instances have been the victims of armed attacks. In Honduras, for example, it is the wish of the Government to move Salvadorian and Guatemalan refugees away from the border areas. UNHCR has insisted that such a move must provide greater safety, more freedom of movement, and possibilities of self-sufficiency for the refugees. We hope soon to come to an understanding with the authorities covering all these points in detail. Similarly in Mexico, refugees are being moved away from border areas where, as recent events have proved, their lives are sometimes in danger. These moves will also provide increased opportunities for the refugees to provide for themselves. Local integration programmes for refugees in rural areas in other countries in Central America have also progressed, as have those aimed at urban integration. Again, as in other regions, UNHCR stands ready to facilitate voluntary repatriation in this area whenever it becomes possible.

Mr. Chairman, as I pointed out in my introductory remarks, it is in the field of international protection where a number of situations have given us the most concern, I would even say anguish in some instances, in the half year under review. An example has been the continued vicious preying upon helpless boat people by brutal and sadistic pirates. While there has not been a quantitative increase in the number of such attacks, there seems to have been a qualitative augmentation in the level of violence associated with them. The entire international community deplores such senseless criminal actions, which it seems we are so helpless to prevent. I shared my grave preoccupation with this situation with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand during their recent visit to Switzerland, when I was assured that they fully share our concerns. I am therefore most encouraged by the continued support of a number of donors for the anti-piracy arrangement being carried out by the Thai authorities, and I am happy to be able to announce that we have just concluded an agreement in Bangkok for the continuation and strengthening of this programme for another year. An initial sum of US $2.1 million is currently available, and I sincerely hope that the full budget of US $3.6 million for the period up until June 1985 will be covered. I should greatly appreciate early and generous contributions from those Governments at present considering their participation in the anti-piracy arrangement.

Mr. Chairman, I would be less than frank if I did not express my very deep concern following occurrences of forcible expulsion or rejection at the frontiers of asylum-seekers in a number of parts of the world - in Africa, in Europe, in South East Asia. In certain cases, I have received the strongest assurances at the highest level that such occurrences would not be repeated, but in others the authorities of the countries concerned have been less forthcoming. It is indeed paradoxical, that at a time when we are witnessing a welcome development of international refugee law and the extension of the international instruments to parts of the world hitherto not covered, we should witness what I can only describe as a deteriorating attitude towards refugees and an erosion of the right of asylum. I can only attribute this unfortunate trend to the uncertain and at times dramatic world political and economic climate. A particular aspect of this phenomenon which has given rise to concern in a number of countries is the vastly increased mobility of economic migrants and asylum-seekers, often mixed together, often assisted in their inter-regional, sometimes inter-continental, travel by unscrupulous smugglers, purveyors of false travel documents and the like. Should genuine asylum-seekers be the victims of these reprehensible practices?

One of the regions where there have been developments affecting the international protection of refugees in the period under review is Southern Africa, where political developments modifying the relationships between the Republic of South Africa and neighbouring countries have rendered particularly difficult the situation of members of liberation movements recognized by the Organization of African Unity, notably the ANC. UNHCR's Director of International Protection recently undertook a mission to certain countries of the area (Tanzania, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia) and reiterated my particular concern that no refugee should be returned against his or her will to the country of origin. The presence of some of these refugees nonetheless places great strain on the host countries, and we are actively pursuing, in co-operation with the OAU, alternative solutions within the African continent.

Mr. Chairman, I have touched on a few of the most worrying aspects of our work in the field of international protection and I do not intend to go into further detail today. Our annual report to the United Nations General Assembly is now in the hands of delegations in its preliminary form as ECOSOC document E/1984/61. In it will be found considerable detail of developments in this area, and I commend it to your attention. In particular I look forward to hearing the results of your further reflection and consultations on the subject of the physical safety of refugees and asylum-seekers.

In this brief review of events of the past five months, Mr. Chairman, I have called attention to certain trends which have given me particular cause for reflection. one of these areas is the almost inextricable link between refugees and drought victims in Africa - in the Horn of Africa, the Sudan, in Southern Africa and elsewhere. Drought and other natural disasters affect refugees in the same way as nationals. They are contributing factors to their flight. Sometimes political events also disrupt or prevent food distribution, forcing mass exoduses to neighbouring countries. I have therefore wholeheartedly pledged UNHCR's support for the Secretary-General's initiative to combat the economic and social crisis in Africa, within the means at my disposal. One should none the less bear in mind the Office's limitations. We are charged with providing international protection and assistance to refugees. Unfortunately we cannot alleviate all the suffering of the world. Here again, I would welcome hearing the views of the Executive Committee on this important subject.

Indeed, I have noted signs of progress in our search for durable solutions, and particularly promising developments in our efforts to involve companion agencies in picking up where, properly, UNHCR should leave off. This includes a most useful agreement with UNDP on guidelines for UNHCR/UNDP co-operation with regard to development activities affecting refugees. Yet it is distressing to observe that all too often the durable solutions we seek elude us for reasons which have nothing to do with our humanitarian actions, but which are the direct result of the lack of will on the part of those concerned to come to political solutions to the problems which have caused some of the most massive population movements the world has ever known. I trust that Governments will continue, in the appropriate fora, their efforts in this regard.

In one area at least, certain durable solutions would seem to be within our grasp. I refer to Africa. Many months of intensive preparations will reach their culmination eleven days from now when the Secretary-General opens the second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA II). Most of you would have been present at yesterday's meeting which the Steering Committee convened with governments for a final round-up on the preparations for the conference. So there is very little I can add.

ICARA II is being referred to as the beginning of a process. Indeed, that process started more than 18 months ago, immediately after the adoption of the General Assembly resolution calling for the convening of ICARA II. During that period, problems have been identified, concepts defined, procedure and criteria established, and projects prepared and submitted to the international community. The next important step in this process is the conference itself - an occasion for the announcement of resources, support for and commitments towards the projects being presented.

As you know, the theme for the conference is "Time for Solutions". To reach the ultimate goal of lasting solutions to the refugee problems in Africa, the international community - that is African governments, financial donor governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations - must be prepared to continue the commitments after the conference and see the process through to the end. You can count on HCR's readiness and capacity to "stay the course" right through to its conclusion. We owe that to the refugees, to the African host countries and to the donor community investing their resources into the ICARA II process.

Mr. Chairman, I said at the outset how much I valued on the spot observation of refugee situations. One of the most rewarding of the missions I have undertaken in the past five months was to one of the African countries where, precisely, the most has been done to bring about lasting solutions to refugee problems, and where the ICARA II process can help consolidate those efforts. I refer to Tanzania, where it was my pleasure, alongside H.E. President Nyerere and H.R.H Crown Princess Sonja of Norway, to visit the settlements of Katumba and Mishamo, and participate in the opening of new schools which will benefit the refugees and local population alike. I also visited Ulyankulu, which has long been cited as an example of a successful durable solution. These settlements not only are self-sufficient, they export food commodities to the surrounding areas, and I travelled over a road which serves this purpose. Its upgrading is an ICARA II project.

While on the subject of my own travels, allow me to refer briefly to two other missions which each in its own way gave me an opportunity to gauge the importance of our Office's work. Early in the year, I went to Australia and New Zealand, two countries which are among the staunchest supporters of UNHCR, both in contributions to the financing of our programmes and in accepting refugees for resettlement. I was very happy to see how well refugees from many different parts of the world are integrating and the support they receive both from the national authorities and the many very active voluntary agencies. Another mission to which I attach special importance was my visit to Tunis at the invitation of Mr. Chedli Klibi, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. My talks with him and his close colleagues were very rewarding and, I am sure, herald enhanced co-operation between our Office and the member-States of the League, many of which are experiencing growing refugee problems.

To turn briefly to one or two "housekeeping" concerns, I would like to inform the Executive Committee that, as every year at the end of May, we held our staffing review, that is to say that we reviewed, in all sectors of the office the possibilities of discontinuing or redeploying existing posts, as well as of additional staffing needs. While the final request for new posts in the field, which I shall submit to the Executive Committee as usual during the formal session, will be in line with my call for minimum growth, I have decided that at Headquarters zero growth must apply, although we had received requests for a number of extra posts. This decision was not an easy one to reach. The strengthening of UNHCR management, in which the Executive Committee was most helpful, has now been in operation for over two years and has proved to be beneficial. As you know, we have also followed most of the recommendations contained in the survey carried out by the Administrative Management Services, AMS. We now wish to explore all possibilities to continue streamlining, modernizing and redeploying - fully conscious that, in the long run, adding staff is not a panacea.

Mr. Chairman, you will remember the great interest expressed by the Executive Committee in job classification within UNHCR. Indeed this was made all the more necessary by the rapid growth and diversification of UNHCR's tasks over the last few years. I am happy to report that the bulk of the job classification work has now been done, both for Professional staff at Headquarters and in the Field, and for General Service staff at Headquarters. For Professional staff, two UNHCR Classification Committees were created, composed of UNHCR staff members encompassing the widest possible range of characteristics. The UNHCR Classification Committees received assistance from other United Nations agencies experienced in the job classification exercise. Various experts from the United Nations system visited a number of field office duty stations and a Consultant was recruited from the Classification Section of the office of Personnel Services in New York. Recourse procedures are currently underway for Professional staff who believe that their posts have not been properly graded, and a similar procedure will be devised for General Service staff. We shall publicize the findings of these job classification exercises once the recourse procedures have taken place. We then plan to ask for the Executive Committee's support in further stages leading to implementation of the results.

Mr. Chairman, I would like now to inform the Members of the Executive Committee that we have just completed the mid-year review of country targets for revised 1984 and proposed 1985 General Programmes. A few chapters need to be further refined, but in approximate figures I intend to propose a saving of some US$ 6 million in the 1984 General Programmes to be revised downwards from some US$ 368 million to some US$ 362 million. For 1985 I shall propose a target of some US$ 380 million, a figure which is still subject to further refinement, but I wanted to inform you today of the general trend which is emerging. The total requirements for both the General and Special Programmes are presently predicted at US$ 400 million for 1984 and US$ 425 million for 1985.

Turning now to the funding of the UNHCR General Programmes for the current year, I informed the Committee at our informal session in January of my concern for the decreasing trend both in pledges and payments and I predicted that, unless major additional resources were forthcoming in the course of the spring, we could face a difficult financial situation by mid-year. I regret today to inform you that my prediction unfortunately has proved correct. Taking into account all available resources, including all pledges, the carry-over from last year and all other miscellaneous income, only some US$ 249 million are available for the 1984 General Programmes against the revised requirements of US$ 362 million, leaving a shortfall of US$ 113 million. Of the US$ 249 million available, US$ 225 million have already been obligated, leaving only US$ 24 million available for obligations while the General Programmes require some US$ 30 million a month at this time of the year. I do not wish to dramatize this situation as I am confident that several important contributions will be pledged to UNHCR General Programmes in the near future, but I must confess that the financial situation leaves much to be desired.

Mr. Chairman, I shall now conclude my remarks. Thank you all for your attention. I am looking forward to hearing your views, your comments and your concerns, in the spirit of dialogue which, as I said at the beginning, are so vital to our work on behalf of the world's refugees. Thank you.