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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Board of the World Food Programme at its First Regular Session in 2004, Rome, 23 February 2004

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Board of the World Food Programme at its First Regular Session in 2004, Rome, 23 February 2004

23 February 2004

(Check against delivery)

Mr. President,
Executive Director,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you here today.

WFP is one of UNHCR's strongest and most reliable partners. In the field, where our staff work closely together in numerous different countries, we continue to face many of the same challenges. The most critical of these is that of ensuring the regular and uninterrupted supply of food to our beneficiaries.

In 2002 we strengthened the partnership between our two agencies by signing a revised Memorandum of Understanding. This outlines our common commitment to addressing the humanitarian needs of refugees and other displaced people. It highlights the need to ensure an enhanced role for refugee women, particularly in matters relating to food distribution. Most of our joint activities on issues such as training and needs assessment are carried out within the framework of this Memorandum of Understanding.

Over the last year humanitarian agencies have suffered a number of setbacks, particularly with the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad and other despicable attacks on unarmed humanitarian personnel. Nevertheless, in spite of all the constraints, WFP has once again managed to successfully mount a number of extremely complex logistical operations, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in numerous "forgotten emergencies" far from the media spotlight.

But while many of our joint operations over the last year were well funded, others were not. In spite of our inter-agency appeals and the joint briefings by WFP and UNHCR to alert donors to impending breaks in food pipelines, some operations - particularly in Africa - remained poorly funded. The success of our operations ultimately depends on the resources that are made available by our donors. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to make a general appeal to donors for more resources to ensure that we, WFP and UNHCR, are able to effectively discharge our respective mandates.

I would also like to encourage the development of standardized and reasonable timeframes for the provision of food to particular caseloads. For example, in the case of returning refugees and internally displaced people, my Office considers it important that returnees have access to adequate food supplies at least until after the first harvest period following their return. This will help to ensure their sustainable reintegration and prevent backflows into countries of asylum. With a number of important repatriation operations already underway in places such as Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Angola, and with good prospects for more in the coming year in places such as Burundi, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, we must ensure that we have strong donor support so that we can jointly provide the necessary impetus for returns to succeed and be sustained.

I hope that in the coming year it will also be possible to extend more of WFP's school feeding programmes to refugee populations, not only to ensure that refugees are included in national programmes, but also to achieve the Millennium Development target of gender parity in primary school attendance. We have already seen positive examples of refugee children benefiting from school feeding programmes in Mozambique and Guinea and in many cases they have helped to keep young girls in school.

Mr. President,

WFP has done a great deal to draw attention to the links between HIV/AIDS and food security and I congratulate Jim Morris on the important role he has played as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the famine in southern Africa. My Office has been working closely with WFP and other partners to ensure that refugees and the internally displaced are brought within the ambit of global programmes aimed at addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on food security, especially in Africa - the region most seriously affected by the pandemic.

In dealing with the prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS, refugees deserve the same opportunities as the citizens of host countries. However, many countries with refugee populations neither include them specifically in their National HIV/AIDS Control Strategies nor take them into consideration when presenting their proposals to donors. With this in mind, it was recently decided that a broad-based Inter-Agency Task Team will be established to increase advocacy for displaced people and other conflict-affected populations, and to develop integrated programmes for their benefit and also for the benefit of surrounding host communities. UNHCR will actively support the work of this Team over the coming months.

UNHCR's reproductive health programmes have proven their effectiveness over the years and in many cases the incidence of HIV/AIDS is lower in refugee camps than amongst the population of host countries. We need to build on existing reproductive health programmes and ensure that these extend to both refugees and local populations. Less taboos and a greater focus on prevention is what is needed. We also need to ensure that we do not let people down when it comes to providing treatment and care.

We still have a long way to go to ensure that uprooted people are included in the strategic plans, proposals and programmes of host and donor governments, UN agencies, NGOs and multilateral funding institutions. This was an important factor in our efforts to become a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, as WFP has also done. I count on the support of our key partner, WFP, in ensuring that the needs of refugees are not overlooked.

Mr. President,

In the report that I submitted to the General Assembly last year on strengthening UNHCR's capacity to carry out its mandate, I stressed the importance of working with partners to enhance prospects for finding durable solutions for refugees. The search for durable solutions must become more systematic and must begin at the outset of each new refugee crisis. Protracted refugee situations are unacceptable. Refugees, and especially their children, deserve new opportunities.

With this in mind, UNHCR has developed, in close cooperation with its partners, a Framework for Durable Solutions. This consists of three elements. The first is the promotion of Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR) through better targeting of such assistance to countries and areas hosting large numbers of refugees over protracted periods. These refugees are often in remote areas, and projects to provide clinics, schools, feeder roads or other such services can also be of great benefit to the local community. The second is the establishment of 4Rs programmes in post-conflict situations: repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Here again UNHCR, working with partners in the UN Country Team under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator, can help to plan and implement programmes not only for returning refugees and internally displaced people but also for local communities in areas of return. The third is the promotion, where it is a viable option, of a strategy of Development through Local Integration (DLI). DAR, 4Rs and DLI initiatives have already led to concrete projects in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Zambia.

All this is consolidated in the Framework for Durable Solutions. This is a key document, not only for UNHCR but for the whole UN family. For us in UNHCR, it is also central to the Convention Plus initiative. What is Convention Plus? Reaffirming the continuing centrality of the 1951 Refugee Convention, this initiative is about strengthening burden sharing and the focus on permanent solutions through the development of multilateral special agreements to complement the Convention.

The success of these initiatives depends on the effectiveness of our partnerships. It is particularly important that we ensure close cooperation at the Country Team level and that we plan and implement activities in a bottom-up process. With WFP's extensive field presence, the partnership between UNHCR and WFP is key in this regard.

Mr. President,

My Office greatly appreciates the close partnership it enjoys with WFP in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee at both senior and middle management levels. We have ensured mutual support on several issues of humanitarian coordination and inter-agency cooperation, including putting into practice the "collaborative approach". For us this is not about talking but doing; it is not about endless papers and meetings at the Headquarters level, but about taking care of our beneficiaries on the ground.

One last word on security. We face many common challenges. The attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad has dramatically changed how we must plan and conduct our operations. The UN has now become a legitimate target for certain terrorist groups. While we need to be extremely prudent regarding the deployment of our staff to vulnerable areas, we cannot operate from a fortress. Like you, our staff need to work closely with beneficiaries and local authorities. This is indeed a challenge to agencies like WFP and UNHCR which both have a large field presence, often in remote and volatile areas. Our collaboration on this sensitive issue will be paramount in the months and years to come.

Finally, let me thank you once again for this opportunity to address the WFP Executive Board. Mr. Morris has been kind enough to accept my invitation to him to address the next session of the UNHCR Executive Committee in October, and I look forward to that occasion. All of these exchanges focus on a common objective - the strengthening of partnerships to ensure coherent UN responses to the needs of vulnerable populations across the globe.

Thank you.