Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at its second Regular Session for 1985, Geneva, 9 July 1985

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at its second Regular Session for 1985, Geneva, 9 July 1985

9 July 1985

Mr. Chairman,

It is against the background of the current grave crisis that I wish to inform the Council today of developments in certain of our refugee programmes in Africa. Indeed it is no coincidence that the General Assembly of the United Nations, deeply concerned by the effects of the crisis on refugees and on the countries which have so generously given them asylum, already late last year asked my Office once again to keep this Council apprised of the situations in three of the most severely affected countries: Somalia, Ethiopia and the Sudan (as well as our programmes for refugee students in southern Africa). What could not be known at the time, however, was the magnitude of the disaster which has stricken these countries", nor the dimensions of the new movements of persons of concern to my Office into both the Sudan and Somalia. We have been obliged to issue a special appeal to the international community for these and other refugee emergencies in Africa, for a total amount of US$ 102 million, just to keep the newcomers, as well as the already-established refugees who are also suffering from the drought, alive. Our ongoing programmes on their behalf have been very seriously affected, in some cases all but wiped out due to successive crop failures in refugee settlements.

Information on our special appeal, first issued in November 1984 and updated monthly since then, has been communicated regularly to all concerned Governments. Our efforts have been closely Coordinated with the Office for Emergency Operations in Africa ever since its inception early this year. Despite the welcome arrival of abundant rainfall in many of the affected areas, we are still very much in the emergency phase, and it may not be possible for some time to resume all of what might be called "normal" operations on behalf of the refugees, that is to say, efforts aimed at durable solutions to their problems. I should add that while many of the newcomers to both the Sudan and Somalia may have moved for a mixture of reasons, not the least of which have been the drought and lack of food in their country of origin, we nonetheless had no hesitation in acting on their behalf, being at the time the only United Nations agency in a position to do so.

It is therefore in a context of emergency operations both for large numbers of newcomers in camps, for the existing refugee populations in rural settlements and, in some cases, for nationals from surrounding villages, that I should like to report briefly on some aspects of our programmes, as required by the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly.

Turning first to resolution 39/104 on Assistance to refugees in Somalia, it should be recalled that at the beginning of 1982, a planning figure of 700,000 refugees from Ethiopia in camps in Somalia was agreed upon between the Somali Government and the United Nations. No formal census of the refugee population has taken place since. This has not, however, affected the UNHCR programme in recent times, which has been based on identified needs rather than on per capita cost. Nevertheless, the question of the number of refugees in Somalia has become increasingly more complex for the Government, UNHCR and the donor community, and it has now been agreed by all concerned that a reassessment of the population in the refugee centres should take place as soon as possible. UNHCR is providing technical assistance to the Government for this purpose.

A large proportion of the refugees in Somalia are women and children under the age of 15, living mainly in 36 refugee centres spread over four regions in the country. Nine centres are situated in the North West, 11 in Hiran, 12 in Gedo and four in Lower Shebelle. Additionally, some 1,300 refugees of urban and semi-urban background are registered with UNHCR in Mogadishu and Hargeisa.

A new influx started in the last months of 1984, and a total of some 150,000 persons of concern to UNHCR are now estimated to have arrived in the North West and Gedo regions from Ethiopia. Assistance has been provided for these new arrivals under the Special Programme of Emergency Relief Assistance launched by UNHCR at the end of 1984.

Under the Special Appeal, needs for the period 1 November 1984 to 31 December 1985 were estimated at some US$ 14.6 million for some 150,000 persons. Assistance includes the provision of basic food, tents, tarpaulins, domestic utensils, blankets, soap, drugs, medical equipment, vehicles, as well as support for adequate water systems, sanitation, transport, administration and related costs.

An outbreak of cholera occurred in late March 1985 in Gannet, a suburb of Hargeisa in the North West region, where over 40,000 new arrivals were residing temporarily. The situation is now believed to be under control and measures are being taken to transfer the population of Gannet as soon as possible to a centre near Darbi Hare, about 250 kilometres away from Hargeisa.

In view of the emergency, the pace of implementation of the land settlement programme for refugees has unfortunately continued to be slow. In addition to difficulties related to project-planning and implementation procedures, the programme in Somalia has also been delayed due to problems which have arisen concerning the rate of exchange applicable to United Nations operations in the country. This problem is still the subject of negotiation between the Government and the United Nations Development Programme.

Under 'the land settlement programme the Government of Somalia has agreed to develop rural settlements in nine centres: two in the North West, two in Hiran, two in Gedo and three in Lower Shebelle.

Approximately 14,350 refugee families benefited from the rural settlement programme during 1984 and were assisted to produce food crops. In some areas, three crops were harvested during the year. Technical guidance to improve farming techniques was provided by the Japanese Volunteer Centre (JVC) as well as 30 United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) involved in agriculture and self-reliance activities.

Approximately 3,000 hectares of rain-fed or irrigated land will, it is hoped, be brought under cultivation in 1985 and it is expected that a total of 15,000 families will be involved in agricultural activities as well as in training programmes. In addition, an estimated 7,200 refugees will benefit from related non-agricultural income-generating activities.

In 1984, more than US$ 22 million were spent for multipurpose assistance to refugees in camps. Major sectors included food, water, health, shelter and domestic supplies, transport and logistics, communal construction, education and community development and support to refugee services.

As in previous years, basic food supplies continued to be provided by WFP, which co-ordinates both bilateral and multilateral food donations and assumes responsibility for soliciting food aid. In 1984, some 95,000 tons of ten different food commodities were distributed. Food requirements for 1985 have been estimated at some 120,000 metric tons. UNHCR's contribution under this sector includes provision for the supply of supplementary food items to combat protein deficiencies among young children and pregnant and lactating women.

Efforts are also being made to maintain and improve water systems for the refugee centres. PC was necessary to truck in water in many cases, due to the drying up of rivers in the South as well as the absence of good quality ground water in the North. It is hoped to overcome some of these difficulties by the progressive introduction of sand filtration units.

UNHCR also continues to support the operation of basic health services in the refugee centres, to upgrade the technical skills of community health workers and traditional birth attendants, to train nationals and refugees to replace expatriates, to improve sanitation in the centres and to monitor the nutritional situation of refugees. The general health situation in the centres has remained satisfactory.

As far as shelter and domestic needs are concerned, tarpaulins, soap, blankets, kitchen utensils, lamps and metal buckets were distributed in the refugee centres as needed.

Under the beading of transport and logistics, the Emergency Logistics Unit of the voluntary agency CARE (ELU/CARE) continues to be responsible for the delivery and distribution of food and other relief commodities from the ports of entry to the refugee centres, as well as fuel distribution and the maintenance of vehicles assigned to various refugee programmes. It also provides training for nationals and refugees.

In 1984, 50 prefabricated classrooms and community centres were built and the maintenance of community buildings, airstrips and feeder roads in the North West, Gedo and Lower Shebelle regions was assured. The construction of some 80 classrooms and community centres is foreseen in 1985.

UNHCR finances teaching staff, school equipment, furniture and teaching materials, teacher training, family life and vocational training courses, and adult functional literacy courses. Selected refugees also participated in a six-month vocational training programme, conducted by the Somali authorities, in general mechanics, carpentry, masonry and bricklaying, and auto-mechanics.

In addition to these items, UNHCR also supports projects for lower secondary education, legal assistance, refugee counselling, assistance to handicapped refugees, supplementary aid to individual refugees, and scholarships.

The UNHCR programme in Somalia is implemented primarily by the National Refugee Commission, which delegates specific sectors to appropriate Ministries or non-governmental agencies including the Refugee Agricultural Unit, the Refugee Water Supply Division, the Refugee Health Unit, the Institute of In-Service Teacher Training and the Emergency Logistics Unit/CARE. UNHCR programmes in Somalia also continue to benefit from the active support of some 20 non-governmental agencies in addition to several United Nations agencies, notably UNICEF, WHO, UNV and ILO. The largest share of food aid for refugees is channelled through WFP.

Resolution 39/105 calls upon my Office to intensify its efforts to mobilize humanitarian assistance for the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of voluntary returnees, refugees and displaced persons in Ethiopia and to apprise the ECOSOC of its implementation. In doing so, I would like to stress that the latter category, that is displaced persons, is not of concern to UNHCR. In any case, the resolution has, I am sure you will agree, been partially overtaken by events: the massive relief efforts undertaken by the United Nations system are well-known to all.

As regards refugees, the influx of Sudanese refugees has continued in 1985. At the end of May, some 72,000 had been registered at the Itang refugee camp near Gambella while the Government of Ethiopia estimated the total refugee population in the region at some 180,000 persons.

UNHCR is providing basic relief assistance to the Sudanese refugees registered in Itang pending the implementation of durable solutions, including their eventual inclusion in rural settlement schemes in the area. Work on such schemes was initiated in early 1985 and, when completed, will allow up to 15,000 refugees to begin agricultural activities on land made available by the Government. The settlement scheme is being implemented by the Lutheran World Federation, which will also contribute financially to the project next year. A further 10,000 refugees may be included in the scheme in 1986, depending on the evolution of the situation in the region and the allocation of additional land by the Government.

The entire refugee population in Itang will, however, continue to be provided with basic assistance in 1985 in view of the fact that those refugees who have started to use the land can be expected to obtain only a limited harvest by the end of the year. In the camp, major improvements to the water system have had to be made to meet the need for potable water for the increased population. Due to the location of Itang some 1,400 kilometres from the nearest port, the difficulties and costs of transport of food and other basic relief items are considerable. The basic relief assistance is administered by the Ethiopian Government Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) while the Ethiopian Red Cross Society is providing health services.

The UNHCR programme to promote the local integration of some 480 urban refugees, mainly in Addis Ababa, is also continuing. Assistance is provided in the field of training to improve their chances of obtaining gainful employment, and some small-scale income-generating activities are supported. There are also a number of projects in Ethiopia covering traditional UNHCR activities in the fields of refugee education, counselling, voluntary repatriation and resettlement.

As regards voluntary returnees, the Special Programme for organized voluntary repatriation of Ethiopian refugees from Djibouti was terminated at the end of 1984. At that time, 32,859 persons had been registered as repatriates from Djibouti. Some rehabilitation assistance activities unfortunately had to be suspended in late 1984 because of the drought. They will, I hope, be continued this year if conditions permit.

The Special Programme for returnees from other neighbouring countries, which was launched in 1982 and budgeted at US$ 20 million, was, to a large extent, completed in 1984. Meanwhile, in 1984, following information from the Ethiopian authorities that there were large numbers of returnees in Hararghe Province needing assistance, UNHCR entrusted the League of Red Cross Societies (LRCS) with a registration exercise in order to plan a comprehensive reintegration and rehabilitation programme. At the end of the exercise, the League reported that some 317,000 returnees had been registered.

In August 1984, the Government declared Hararghe Province a drought area and UNHCR was called upon to provide supplementary food and basic health assistance to some 50,000 persons who were considered to be the most needy among the returnee population. By the end of 1984, it was evident that, due to the severity of the drought, relief assistance would have to be provided to the entire returnee population throughout 1985. The relief programme for returnees in Hararghe is being implemented by the World University Service of Canada, in co-ordination with the RRC and the OEOA. This relief effort forms part of the UNHCR Special Appeal for Emergency Relief in Africa, and is currently budgeted at US$ 9,077,495. In addition to this programme, some 23,000 tonnes of basic and supplementary food have been channelled through UNHCR for the returnees. Some 36,000 tonnes of food will also be provided to the returnees in Hararghe by the United Nations Relief Operation in Ethiopia. Taking into consideration these food donations, the objectives of the UNHCR programme are to improve logistics, including the provision of trucks, to upgrade water facilities, to provide health services and to ensure adequate operational support for food distribution.

In order to maintain a climate conducive to further voluntary repatriation, UNHCR launched a separate appeal in early April 1985 for a US$ 23.5 million rehabilitation programme for returnees in Hararghe. The programme will benefit, directly or indirectly, some 200,000 returnees, assisting them to attain a reasonable degree of self-sufficiency in either agricultural or pastoral activities.

The programme is aimed at expanding or creating rural settlements and improving the quality and quantity of potable water for the agriculturalists. In addition, pastoralists will be assisted to reestablish their herds. Watering points will also be developed to ensure an adequate water supply for the survival of the animals.

Food has been pre-positioned in camp areas which will become totally isolated and impassable during the rainy season. UNHCR has airlifted to the Sudan 70 prefabricated warehouses for storage.

Water supply is another essential consideration. Through the work of OXFAM, United States Government technical experts and the Sudanese authorities, arrangements are now in hand to ensure water resources which are the key to successful dispersal or transfer of populations from the overcrowded and inadequate reception centres. UNICEF is currently supplementing these efforts, using its own rig to provide additional borewells in one major camp while the Swedish Special Unit for Disaster Relief has also deployed a drilling rig. The Technical Assistance Corps of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Swiss Disaster Corps have deployed teams to install water supply systems. Among the voluntary agencies, Médecins sans Frontières has 16 medical staff while OXFAM has 13 water engineers. Other voluntary agencies helping in the emergency programme include the International Rescue Committee, the Sudan Council of Churches, the Lalmba Association, the Swiss Red Cross, CARE (USA), Save the Children Fund (UK), the YMCA, Christian Outreach, CONCERN and the American Refugee Committee.

As a preventive measure, UNHCR has bought and airfreighted to Sudan a buffer stock of basic medicines, including supplies related to cholera control and treatment.

While the Government has established the presence of some 120,000 Chadians in Darfur province of Western Sudan, the objective of the UNHCR Emergency Programme is to provide relief assistance to some 60,000 in camps. Considerable numbers of Chadians are now moving into the relief centres, however, and it is thought likely that the planning figure of 60,000 beneficiaries will have to be revised. Food stocks in the pipeline are adequate to cover the projected needs for grain and pulses for 60,000 people until the end of the year. This will, of course, need to be reviewed should the population increase. The principal problem is the dispatch to and distribution in Western Sudan, which is at the end of a long, overburdened and complex logistical pipeline.

A group of water specialists (provided by the Government of the Netherlands) is now at work to enable an effective water programme to be developed. In view of the imminence of the rains, the provision of shelter and medical care will also be strengthened.

The achievements of the programme have been very considerable, taking into account the gravely deficient nutritional and health status of many of the new arrivals and the very limited resources which Sudan could offer. That a state of fragile equilibrium balancing the needs of beneficiaries and the available resources has been reached and maintained is little short of a miracle.

To turn for a moment to other aspects of our activities in the Sudan, by mid-1985 no new influxes were reported into the Southern Sudan where some 140,000 refugees from Uganda are assisted in 51 agricultural settlements, of which 32 are reported to have reached self-sufficiency in food. While political disturbances have had little direct impact on the refugees, programme implementation has been affected by the withdrawal or reduction of the expatriate staff of several implementing agencies.

UNHCR's major operational partner continues to be the Government, both in the emergency and for its ongoing programmes. UNHCR has increased its support to the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees in order to strengthen its capacity to supervise and implement both the overall programme and the emergency. Voluntary agencies, through tripartite agreements with the Government and UNHCR, play a significant role in programme implementation. In addition, as I have said, WFP continues to provide basic food commodities. Despite the enormous difficulties arising out of the emergency, UNHCR has also pursued its funding of an income-generating programme implemented in cooperation with the ILO and a start has been made on UNDP programmes for the benefit of refugees in the West Bank area of Southern Sudan.

As regards resolution 39/109 on Assistance to student refugees in southern Africa, the following are a few facts from the report we will present to the General Assembly at its fortieth session. In Botswana, 22 South African refugees and 15 Namibians were enabled through UNHCR funding to attend secondary schools and vocational training institutions. In general, they obtained good grades and several were admitted to the university, polytechnic and the National Health Institute. In addition, 66 South African refugee students were assisted to pursue their studies abroad, mainly in other countries in Africa, while five Namibians and seven South Africans left for the United States under the Phelps-Stokes sponsorship programme.

The University of Botswana continues to reserve 50 places for student refugees. Ten South African students are enrolled at present. The Government of Botswana has continued to administer and finance the Junior Secondary School at Moshupa and the Senior Secondary School at Palapye for the benefit of nationals and refugees alike.

In Lesotho, there are currently 32 refugee pupils in various primary schools while 35 students are enrolled in secondary and vocational/technical schools; 19 refugee students are pursuing courses at the National University of Lesotho, while 29 South African refugee students benefit from scholarship assistance provided by the World University Service, the African American Institute, and the United Nations Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa (UNETPSA).

A total of 282 young South Africans departed for schooling in the United Republic of Tanzania and three South African refugees completed technical courses abroad in aircraft maintenance, electronics and accountancy.

The Maseru Reception Centre continued to provide facilities to newly-arrived refugees and those travelling to educational placements abroad. A total of 136 South African refugees and asylum-seekers benefited from its facilities. Counselling services were provided to some 280 South Africans. Twenty-two South African refugees were provided scholarships at various lower secondary or vocational/technical institutions.

In Swaziland, the total urban caseload of South African students is 177 and there are two Namibians. They were sponsored to study in Swaziland by UNHCR, UNEPTSA, WUS, AAI, and LFW.

Seven South Africans left for scholarships abroad, five for studies in the United States, one for the United Kingdom and one for Canada, while 97 South Africans were assisted to travel from Swaziland to Tanzania on educational placement. Some 60 South African refugee children living in the urban centres were enabled to attend nursery and primary schools.

In Zambia, scholarships were awarded by UNHCR directly to two Namibian students covering tuition, board and personal and transport allowances. UNHCR has also financed educational material, food, clothing, medicines, etc. for some 7,000 Namibian refugees at the Nyango Health and Education Centre run by SWAPO in the Western Province of Zambia. Most of the inhabitants of the Centre are young women and children of school age.

In Zimbabwe, the total number of South African refugees is 480. UNHCR assistance concentrates on developing the refugees' level of formal education as well as their vocational and technical skills. A total of 67 South Africans and 16 Namibians attend primary, secondary, vocational and university institutions sponsored by Christian Care, Lutheran World Federation, Otto Benecke Foundation, UNEPTSA, Phelps-Stokes, AAI, and UNHCR.

A Reception Centre was completed in November 1984 and some 50 South African refugees benefited from its facilities including counselling, particularly on education matters.

Finally, a total of 386 Namibian and two South African refugee students from various countries of first asylum are studying in West African educational institutions with the benefit of UNHCR scholarships: 71 were awarded to new students and 315 to ongoing students. UNHCR has also covered the travel costs for 285 Namibians and 17 South African students proceeding for higher education out of their countries of first asylum as well as for 150 other Southern African students, besides paying for the travel of 71 new students placed in West Africa.

Mr. Chairman, allow me now to say a few words about ICARA II. As you know, resolution 39/139 calls upon the Secretary-General to report on progress, through this Council, to the UN General Assembly, but I felt it would be useful for me to apprise this second regular session of UNHCR's efforts to discharge the tasks incumbent on my Office. I understand the representatives of the Secretary-General and UNDP here today intend to do likewise.

The ICARA II Declaration and Programme of Action requested the Secretary-General, In consultation and close co-operation with the Organization of African Unity, to monitor the follow-up of the Conference through the existing channels, namely UNHCR and UNDP. The Steering Committee, composed of the Secretary-General's representative, the OAU, UNHCR and UNDP, has continued functioning with a view to monitoring follow-up activities. The Steering Committee has met three times since the Conference and will continue its regular review of the status of follow-up throughout the ICARA project period. According to the Declaration, UNHCR will remain the focal-point for aid to refugees, both for relief, care and maintenance and for durable solutions through voluntary repatriation and local settlement of refugees.

As planned, the ICARA Unit which I established to co-ordinate UNHCR's preparations for the Conference ceased to operate as from 1 January 1985. The UNHCR Regional Bureau for Africa is now responsible for co-ordinating the follow-up of ICARA within UNHCR, and will continue to monitor both ongoing and additional assistance activities which have been incorporated into UNHCR's General Programmes in Africa. In so doing it will continue to work in close co-operation with the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa.

There is a grave danger that the ICARA II impetus will be lost, overshadowed by the magnitude of the current crisis. In my view, both the emergency and the longer-term efforts must be addressed simultaneously. My Office will participate in any way feasible in helping to generate a more integrated approach to both within the United Nations system. This is essential, taking into account the fact that refugees are surrounded by nationals who are often in just as great a need of food, water, health care and, of course, development aid as are the refugees.

I should therefore like to stress that while participating in the United Nations system-wide approach to the African crisis, UNHCR will not shirk its responsibilities towards refugees. On the other hand, we attach great Importance to inter-agency co-operation in development-oriented refugee assistance leading to the self-sufficiency of refugees and a durable solution both for the refugees themselves and for the problems created by the presence of refugees in the host countries. This was the spirit of ICARA II, and I trust that it will not be forgotten despite the most urgent need today to save human lives.