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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 27 May 1983

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Informal Meeting of Permanent Representatives in Geneva of States Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 27 May 1983

27 May 1983

Mr. Chairman,

May I first welcome you all to this meeting during which I would like, as usual, to share with you the latest developments of concern to us, and to continue our dialogue. Our last meeting was three months ago, a comparatively short period. However, as we all know, the refugee front is never quiet. Although fortunately we have witnessed no new large-scale refugee tragedies since we last met, there was no time to sit complacently, as we had to concentrate with renewed energy on existing problems, and bring them closer to a solution. In this respect, there are important developments to report. I therefore wish to review a few specific situations taking into account that, within our information flow arrangements, you have received in April our latest reviews with regard to developments on assistance programmes on the one hand, and financial and budgetary matters on the other.

You will recall that, in October 1982, tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons moved inside Uganda and across the border into Rwanda. In early March this year, I visited Rwanda at the invitation of the Government. Over 40,000 refugees had arrived as from October and, together with the authorities, I visited a very well-organized refugee camp where some 23,000 refugees were receiving relief assistance under the responsibility of the Ministry for Social Affairs, with the Rwandese Red Cross acting as main operational partner. During my mission, I was received by the President of the Republic with whom I exchanged views on the situation and considered possible future action. A few days after our discussions, a Joint Ministerial Committee of both countries met in Kabale (Uganda) from 6 to 8 March 1983, under the chairmanship of UNHCR. The Committee took decisions with a view to finding long-term solutions to the plight of those uprooted: arrangements and criteria were agreed for the screening of the persons concerned in co-operation with UNHCR in order to determine their status; persons determined to be of Ugandan or Rwandese nationality, and who wish to repatriate, should be permitted to return to their respective countries, while UNHCR would co-operated in seeking solutions for those who do not desire repatriation. Registration in Rwanda has now taken place and is about to be undertaken in Uganda. A preliminary survey was carried out in Uganda on a new site designated to settle those refugees who - following the events - had moved into existing refugee settlements, thereby causing overcrowding.

At out last informal meeting, I reported on developments in the voluntary repatriation to Ethiopia of refugees at present in Djibouti. A first meeting of a Tripartite Commission composed of both Governments and UNHCR had taken place in Djibouti on 31 January and 1 February. A second meeting was held in Addis Ababa on 15 and 16 April 1983, during which the Commission gave further consideration to arrangements for assistance to returnees. Some doubts had been expressed in various quarters as to whether it was the genuine wish of the refugees to return. On this point, the Commission reiterated the purely voluntary character of the repatriation and the fact that refugees wishing to remain in Djibouti will be permitted to do so until other durable solutions are found by UNHCR and the Government of Djibouti, in co-operation with the international community. The Commission also agreed on the possibility for representatives of refugees wishing to repatriate, to visit sites of relocation in Ethiopia, and return to Djibouti to report on their findings.

In previous informal meetings, we have referred to the voluntary repatriation of refugees to Chad. I am happy to inform you that, as regards repatriation of Chadians from the Sudan, the last group returned home this month. UNHCR had opened a sub-office in El Geneina in January 1981, when these refugees had started to enter the Sudan. This Office has now been closed.

In our endeavours to reach durable solutions and to enable the refugees again to stand on their own feet, I would like to mention that we have just this week concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Labour Office, aimed at the promotion of income-generating activities in East Sudan. The measures devised will apply initially to 10,000 heads of family who will thus be placed on the road to self-sufficiency. This is an interesting and welcome example of inter-agency co-operation for the benefit refugees who have been waiting for a very long time for a solution to their problems.

In the International Protection field, the question of military attacks on refugee camps and settlements in various parts of the world continued to be a matter of serious concern. A Meeting of the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection was convened on 28 April 1983 with the specific purpose of examining this grave humanitarian question. The Sub-Committee had before it a report prepared by ambassador Schnyder at my request. By way of follow-up, a working group composed of 12 members is being constituted by the Chairman of the Executive Committee, in consultation with my Office. The task of the group will be to examine Ambassador Schnyder's report and the draft declaration on military attacks on refugee camps and settlements, with a view to their submission to the Sub-Committee of the whole on International protection in October, and thereafter to the thirty-fourth session of the Executive Committee.

Another area in which there have been developments since our last meeting is that of piracy attacks on asylum-seekers in South-East Asia. Discussions are now in progress with the Thai Authorities regarding the continuation of the anti-piracy programme. In addition, an expert group has been constituted to examine the progress achieved to date under this programme and to make recommendations for further strengthening of present arrangements. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, with whom I have been in touch on this problem, is also taking action and has addressed a Note Verbale to interested governments, drawing their attention to the need to find a global solution for the general problem of piracy in South-East Asia.

At our last meeting, I outlined the situation of refugees awaiting resettlement and, in particular, the Indo-Chinese. I regret that, in spite of the generosity shown towards this group by countries of resettlement, resettlement needs are no longer being adequately met. Indeed, the resettlement rate barely keeps pace with the new influx. The number of boat people awaiting resettlement has remained virtually unchanged over the past two years now, at a level exceeding 40,000 (44,054 on 31 December 1982, and 41,441 on 1 May 1983). In addition, in Thailand there were still 151,550 Kampuchean and Lao refugees on 1 May 1983, a reduction of about only 3,000 since the beginning of this year.

It is clear that the international community must intensify its efforts if we are to reduce in a significant way the population of Indo-Chinese refugees in camps in South-East Asia. To sit in a camp is no solution. It is detrimental to the individual and inhumane, especially if this situation lasts a considerable period of time. Resettlement places are especially needed for those refugees who have no family members in third countries. We all know the phenomenon of "compassion fatigue", and while the economic difficulties facing the countries of resettlement are fully appreciated, these obstacles must be surmounted in order to offer a decent future to refugees for whom resettlement is the only viable solution.

On a more positive note, I am pleased to report favourable developments in the programme for Orderly Departure from Viet Nam. In March 1983, 1,351 Vietnamese left Viet Nam for 19 different countries of resettlement. The figure for April was 1,256. It is encouraging that monthly departures are now well above the target of 1,000 initially fixed. On the other hand, there has been a significant decrease in the number of Kampuchean refugees leaving Viet Nam for resettlement. I would urge resettlement countries not to lose sight of this group and, in particular, to admit those who have family ties abroad.

Preparations have continued for the second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa, ICARA II. Many of you have attended meetings with interested governments convened by UNHCR, on behalf of the ICARA Steering Committee. Other meetings have taken place with representatives of the United Nations agencies and the non-governmental organizations community. Similar meetings were convened by the United Nations Secretary-General in New York. Projects to be submitted to ICARA II are under preparation. Guidelines for the elaboration of developmental programmes in affected African countries have been despatched by the Secretary-General to the Governments concerned. The United Nations Development Programme, which is associated to the Steering Committee, is kept fully in the picture. The African Governments are now preparing the project submissions of a developmental nature so that technical teams, which are to examine such projects thoroughly, could begin their missions to the most affected countries in less than two months time. It is expected that a progress report on ICARA II can be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in November, and that an initial indication of the scope and magnitude of project presentations to ICARA II can be made available before the end of the year.

In line with our close and long-standing co-operation with the Secretariat of the Organization of African Unity, the UNHCR actively participated in the preparatory work of the OAU/NGO Conference which took place in Arusha from 21 to 26 March. The UNHCR delegation to the meeting itself was headed by the Deputy High Commissioner. The Conference was opened by President Julius Nyerere who said, in the course of an inspiring introductory statement: "I have come to open this meeting solely because of the importance of this question and because I feel it incumbent upon me, as an African leader, to acknowledge, once again, Africa's responsibility for African refugees". These words can only stimulate us and the international community in pledging full support to the African countries who so generously receive the refugees. Over 150 participants from different voluntary agencies, the OAU Secretariat and representatives of the United Nations family were able to exchange views on their day-to-day activities in Africa and to make several recommendations for the implementation of which UNHCR will be closely associated.

In our efforts to reinforce our co-operation with the largest possible number of countries in the world, and to seek various forms of strengthened support for our activities, I visited Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar last month. In the countries visited, refugees, mostly individual cases, have been arriving from several countries in Africa and Asia and are in need of vocational training, employment or resettlement. In each country, I was received by the Emir and met with the Foreign Minister and high government officials. Our exchanges of views were most encouraging since I found interlocutors sensitive to the magnitude and complexity of the refugee problems in the world. I plan to maintain these contacts with countries individually and also more globally in the framework of strengthening our relationship further with the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Among UNHCR's overall preoccupations in order to enhance its capacity of response worldwide, is the question of how we react to emergencies. Further work has been done on preparedness measures: in particular, the UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, which was issued in a provisional version in 1981, was extensively revised on the basis of comments received from UNHCR staff in the field and at Headquarters, and on detailed reviews undertaken by outside experts. We have issued the English version since we last met and have sent to you copies. We are now having the text translated into French and Spanish, and are expediting this process as much as possible.

Following the interest expressed by the Executive Committee on the subject of "Refugee Relief and Development", a meeting of experts will be called in Geneva probably in the last days of August of this year. The participants will be invited in their personal capacity, for their own knowledge and experience in the subject. The report of the Meeting should be ready in time for submission to the forthcoming session of the Executive Committee in October.

In the framework of our endeavours to reach durable solutions to refugee problems, we are organizing a Seminar on "Integration of Refugees in Europe", to be held in Geneva in September. The Seminar will permit an exchange of information of practices and approaches in 20 European countries, as well as an assessment of successes and failures, in an attempt to formulate constructive proposals to overcome the obstacles at present encountered. It is expected that two experts of each country will participate in the Seminar, if possible one government official and one non-governmental representative.

Let us now turn to the ongoing measures we are taking in our efforts to improve UNHCR management and effectiveness. In this context, we have given much attention to the Study of the Headquarters Organization of UNHCR, made by the Administrative and Management Service. As you are aware, this Study is the result of a process initiated in 1981, when the Executive Committee supported a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, that UNHCR seek the assistance of the AMS. We have now reached the stage when our comments on the final report - a draft of which I sent you on 18 march - must be conveyed to the Under-Secretary-General for Administration and Management in New York, for his consideration on behalf of the Secretary-General.

I must send UNHCR's comments in the early part of June. I have not so far received from the Executive Committee members. If you have comments you would like to convey, I would highly welcome them, in order to take them into account when finalizing my reply.

We have studied each of the recommendations of the AMS. Our conclusion is that many of the recommendations are valuable and helpful in clarifying management issues of both a policy and a technical nature. There are some, however, which we find incomplete or inappropriate. The details are given in the draft comments which I sent you on 18 March.

In many ways the line of the Report coincides with our own thinking and course of action, so that we agree on the basic thrust:

  • firstly, a greater decentralization of responsibility and authority,
  • secondly, the strengthening of planning, execution control and evaluation of our programme.

In the management changes we are introducing in UNHCR, we do lay emphasis on delegation of authority and power of decision to the lowest possible levels at Headquarter, as well as on delegation to the field. For an orderly delegation of authority, a definition of responsibility for each post is important, and this has now been completed.

In its pursuit of improvement and greater efficiency, UNHCR is in a continuing process of change. The change cannot always be smooth as we have no control over the causes of the event which determine our expansion and the evolution of our responsibilities. The ideal for an organization is to have the right structure, the right procedures to make the structure work, and the right incumbents for each post. All three factors are complementary. Bearing these in mind, we have taken a number of steps:

  • We have issued a new manual of organizational structures and procedures - a copy of which we sent you earlier this month - as a tool to give effect to the concepts of delegation of authority and of transfer of decision power to the lowest possible level at Headquarters as well as to the field. In this process, the exact responsibilities of each position have been defined.
  • We have been reviewing conditions of service in the field, and I am happy to say that action has now been taken on many of the recommendations, numbering over one hundred, that were made on the basis of our study of many duty station in the world. We have certainly advanced a step forward. Progress achieved to date relates notably to grants, allowances and subsidies, as well as improvement of entitlements for staff at hardship duty stations. The fund for staff housing and basic amenities, approved by the Executive Committee at its last regular session, is now functioning. I have promoted measures to improve field service conditions in the common system of the United Nations through the Administrative Committee on Co-ordination.
  • A clear objective and result of this study will be to reinforce the concept of rotation between Headquarters and the field, since adequate field conditions are an incentive for staff rotation. Proper recruitment, training, and a revised posting system will assist us.

UNHCR is indeed a field-oriented organization. This is not to imply that we should underestimate Headquarters' role: here in Geneva we must formulate overall policies, establish main options, see to it that both fundamental functions - international protection and seeking permanent solutions - of UNHCR are correctly filled, and have the necessary strength to respond to what is expected of us by the field itself.

The goal of effective management is one we all share. I have tried to give you an outline of what we have been doing to this end. Details of these and other management improvements will be provided to members of the Executive Committee in the mid-year report on administrative, personnel and management issues in July of this year. I welcome your thoughts on the matters I have referred to, and hope we can discuss them here as well as on a continuing basis. Through the fundamentally important help you give to UNHCR and through continuing, open, and positive consultations on the problems we face together, we can build on what has been done, improve what is being done, and so achieve our purpose together - which is the better and more effective provision of international protection and assistance to refugees.

Before closing, I would like to inform the members of the Executive Committee that we have concluded this week our process of review of country targets for revised 1983 and proposed 1984 General Programmes. It appears that some savings will be possible in 1983. As regards 1984, we foresee a target of approximately the same magnitude as the one initially set for this year. A few chapters need to be further refined and in certain areas, some changes may still occur. We do not yet have the final figures for submission to the Executive Committee at its autumn session. In the meantime, I just wished to inform you of the general trend which is emerging.

I am very much looking forward to a fruitful exchange today, at a time when we must continue our action everywhere in the world so that the refugees may feel that, indeed, they have not come to the end of the road, but that a future does lie ahead for them.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.