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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 9 November 2004

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 9 November 2004

9 November 2004

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,

Excellent friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Speaking to this Committee last year I presented an overview of the initiatives UNHCR had taken to reinforce our organization. These were described in General Assembly Resolution 58/153 "Implementing actions proposed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate", which I urged your governments to support. Therefore, my first message today is therefore one of thanks for the adoption of the Resolution last December.

The confidence expressed in the "UNHCR 2004" process has encouraged us to look further ahead. One of the crucial elements in strengthening the Office in 2005 and beyond is to engage in partnerships from a new perspective. UNHCR recognizes that global humanitarian needs are far greater than its own resources or that the mandate cover and we are now building that recognition into the very way we operate.

We have made significant strides toward that goal this year. UNHCR's collaboration with the Departments of Political Affairs (DPA) and Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in particular has served to highlight the critical link between forced population displacement and international peace and security. My Office's concern for the safety of returning refugees and displaced persons is being incorporated in mandates of peace-keeping missions, a practice that will be expanded in the coming year. We look forward also to the establishment of a more coherent approach to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, which will be led by DPKO. As the Secretary-General recalled recently, we cannot contemplate the first two without the 'R' for reintegration. This is not only about giving former combatants the prospect of a new life, as we do for refugees and internally displaced persons. It is also an investment in security, in preventing the recurrence of conflicts simply because it is possible for idle men and women to become armed elements again.

UNHCR is fully committed to the process of integrating UN missions. The task of elaborating jointly planned missions has been furthered by the agreement last year between DPKO and UNHCR for the exchange of staff between our organizations. UNHCR has already seconded a senior staff member to DPKO and procedures to expand this cooperation are being finalized now.

I am pleased that the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has endorsed a set of revised policies on internally displaced persons (IDPs). UNHCR has also seconded a senior staff member to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to work on the implementation of the collaborative approach to IDPs, another key area of inter-agency cooperation, and supports the Emergency Relief Coordinator and UN Country Teams (UNCTs) in this area.

The UN Development Group (UNDG) has recently finalized a Guidance Note on Durable Solutions for displaced persons. For the first time, UN development actors have adopted a common policy on durable solutions for displaced persons and on the incorporation into joint planning and implementation strategies. This has been missing and I am pleased that UNCTs now have a good tool when preparing their Common Country Assessment and UN Development Assistance Framework.

A year since my Office joined the UNDG, UNHCR is continuing to integrate the Millennium Development Goals into its programmes, contributing especially to goal number eight, which calls for a global partnership for development, by promoting multilateral partnerships on durable solutions and burden sharing. There is much more to do to include the needs of refugees, returnees and IDPs into development programmes as the UNDG prepares for the Millennium Summit in 2005.

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers are also an important tool. The President of the World Bank and I have agreed to join forces to ensure that displacement issues, in particular the productive capacity of returning refugees, are included.

This June, UNHCR became the 10th co-sponsor of UNAIDS, joining other UN agencies in the fight against HIV/AIDS. UNHCR will be able to advocate more effectively to integrate refugees into host countries' HIV programmes.

Any description of our partnerships would be incomplete without reference to non-governmental organizations. UNHCR relies on hundreds of international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to implement and bolster its work. This year we introduced measures which will give them an expanded role in our protection and programming activities. Our goal is to involve traditional and new partners in UNHCR's process of mobilizing resources, programming, operating and providing protection for the people of our concern.

The challenge of answering crises with solutions demands our combined efforts. As I reported to the UNHCR Executive Committee last month, the financial situation of the Office is better than it has been in many years. Solid donor support and improved financial management have both contributed to greater budgetary stability in 2004. Nevertheless, we had to launch several emergency appeals and will enter 2005 with more supplementary projects to fund than this year, underscoring how precarious our funding situation remains.

Mr. Chairman,

The emergency in Chad and West Darfur is undoubtedly the largest new crisis facing the humanitarian community today. As in similar situations of sudden population displacement, UNHCR is fulfilling a key role by assisting the victims of violence, delivering aid, and establishing camps. The Secretary-General has also given my Office responsibility in West Darfur for the protection and return of IDPs. We are ensuring an international presence, linking up with members of the African Union (AU), the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and many NGOs, and interceding with local authorities to rebuild victims' confidence; then return will become possible.

UNHCR's five commitments to refugee women should be upheld from day one of an operation. But it is a major challenge to put them into practice during a sudden and large influx, as in Chad, when UNHCR and partners are focused on saving lives. UNHCR therefore hired an independent gender expert who joined the operation in eastern Chad from June to September. Her useful analysis and numerous recommendations will guide our work in the region and elsewhere.

We have also been given responsibility for protection and return of IDPs in Myanmar, where UNHCR this year gained access to border areas through mobile teams. The teams are also improving conditions in villages of origin in view of an eventual return of refugees from Thailand.

Return is already happening on a large scale in Africa. Several parts of the continent are on a march homeward. Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Eritrea and Liberia have all witnessed repatriation. Each operation represents a particular challenge; common to all is the need for a commensurate commitment to post-conflict reconstruction in order to break, once and for all, the cycle of violence.

Afghanistan is an example of this need to follow return with reintegration. Over three and a half million Afghans have gone home in the past three years and it is essential that reintegration projects take the same well-travelled roads to each province and district to make this massive return sustainable.

Southeastern Europe, after recording the one millionth returnee in Bosnia a few weeks ago, best exemplifies the need to go an 'extra mile' in order to consolidate success. UNHCR will continue to support local integration and ensure the right to return for everyone who chooses to, but the extra effort required to cement the stability of the region depends more on firm political and economic ties. It is with this aim in mind that I have urged the European Union (EU) to consider the prospect of eventual accession of all parts of former Yugoslavia to the European Union.

There are operations where we are still far from success. Insecurity continues to hinder UNHCR's efforts in Iraq and the northern Caucasus. We expect that many points on the globe where our staff must reach people in need will, for the foreseeable future, remain high-risk areas. We have taken measures which complement the anticipated UN system-wide changes to improve our ability to operate and perform in a safe way while minimizing risk.

Protracted refugee situations are a different type of obstacle. Palestinians represent the oldest refugee group under UN care, with Western Sahara heading UNHCR's list of oldest caseloads, topping groups such as the Bhutanese in Nepal for this unfortunate distinction. While solutions in many of the world's protracted refugee situations - those more than five years old - may still be remote, we are not giving up hope for the generations of refugees trapped in this limbo. Comprehensive plans of action for repatriation, self reliance in host countries and more resettlement are needed to address these protracted situations. With recent developments in Somalia solutions there are no longer utopian, but the country will only succeed if strong support is provided on the ground by the African Union and the UN.

Next week I will be in Mexico City for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. We will use the forum to draw attention to the plight of displaced Colombians as well as to resettlement in Latin America.

More generally, this is a crucial time for UNHCR. In the span of a few years refugee protection has become a polarizing issue, with fears of economic migrants, human trafficking and terrorist threat dominating much of the public and policy debate in developed countries. It is of little comfort to observe that attitudes have hardened at a time when global refugee numbers have indeed declined significantly. Trends that I reported on here two years ago have been sustained, with the figure of people of concern to my Office now standing at 17 million, down 10 million since the mid-1990s.

Beyond today's headlines of security fears and migrants mixing with refugees lays a genuine danger to the institution of asylum. Our response has been to refocus the Office on protection. I have proposed the creation of a second Assistant High Commissioner post at UNHCR which would be an Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. The Secretary-General reviewed the request favourably and the structural implications are being studied now as part of a senior management review. The creation of this post, in effect the upgrading of the current D-2 post, would make a real and qualitative contribution to the way UNHCR carries out its protection mandate. It will tally with more protection on the ground by UNHCR officers and by partners in protection, often trained by UNHCR.

Against the backdrop of heightened border controls we have moved forward on our Agenda for Protection by providing substantive assistance to multilateral efforts to preserve asylum space and addressing the stages of displacement from countries of origin through methods of transit. The present dilemma in Europe, where new EU border states struggle with the number of arrivals and human dramas played out weekly on the Mediterranean Sea, provides a compelling argument for the tasks my Office has set itself. From the UNHCR perspective, any solution to the Mediterranean issue must necessarily include enhanced protection capacity in north African countries as well as clear policies on how to handle individuals intercepted on the high seas or who have entered EU member States.

We recognize that irregular secondary refugee movements are the root of many States' move to more restrictive policies. There must be a concerted attempt to end human trafficking. The world cannot remain indifferent to the plight of the people lured into these illicit channels. The means used to put an end to trafficking should consider them first as human beings. UNHCR is regularly denied access to people victimized by smugglers, a fact that makes it still harder to find solutions to the growing phenomenon, and, I am firmly convinced, a serious mistake.

Reducing irregular undocumented flows of people by earlier registration and real perspectives for permanent solutions makes UNHCR effective in combating crime and terrorism as well as preventing recurrent conflicts.

Mr. Chairman,

International legal protection is not only in the interest of genuine refugees: it is also in the best interest of States' security. By assuring early registration of asylum-seekers, timely protection interventions, and access to durable solutions, an effective UNHCR is best placed to combat irregular secondary movements and to be an ally for security.

My message to developed countries is that a contribution to refugee programmes is an investment in a chain of solutions. The value of every Dollar invested in the resettlement of refugee families, for example, is multiplied by its effect on a series of others. To view 'the refugee problem' in isolation is to overlook an integral part of the solution to the great questions of the present day, including underdevelopment, insecurity and the threat of terrorism.

UNHCR is addressing the issue of irregular secondary movements of refugees and asylum seekers as part of our Convention Plus initiative. We have set out elements which may be developed into a multilateral agreement on key issues to reduce these flows, such as the allocation of responsibilities of States for refugees and asylum-seekers who move through several countries.

The Convention Plus initiative is no longer a promise but a reality which has already delivered tangible results. The Multilateral Framework of Understandings on Resettlement was completed this June and endorsed by our Executive Committee. It must now be put into practice. Increased use of strategic and group resettlement will make it a model for burden-sharing and give resettlement renewed potential as a durable solution with broad application. We have proposed a Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) for Somali refugees, a widely-scattered community which may hold lessons on the movement of similar groups. And are examining other situations where CPAs could be applied.

The targeting of development assistance is the third component of Convention Plus. In July, ECOSOC specifically encouraged States to support and fund the implementation of the '4Rs' and other tools to facilitate the transition from relief to development. One by one, links are being forged between development assistance and refugees. Next year we will expand our self-reliance activities in Africa and are determined to challenge the notion that refugees are being 'warehoused' by - and that is the alternative - empowering them as individuals. The needs of refugees in Uganda, like those in Zambia, have become an integral part of development planning, providing a model for other countries.

Mr. Chairman,

We are making genuine headway. Ownership of initiatives such as Convention Plus, the Agenda for Protection and the "UNHCR 2004" Process is now truly shared with States. The tools UNHCR has developed bring together protection and durable solutions, sharing, not shifting, the burden of refugee protection.

With your support, an effective UNHCR will be able to continue this course which has already helped restart millions of lives.

Thank you.