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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, Brussels, 14 May 2001

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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, Brussels, 14 May 2001

14 May 2001

(Check against delivery)

Distinguished Co-Chairpersons,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here at this Conference and to use this forum to call on you to think of refugees in a broader perspective: not just as a humanitarian issue, and as beneficiaries of humanitarian aid; but as potential contributors to building peace and promoting development, not just in their countries of asylum, but on return to their homes.

Madame Chair, in introducing this segment of this afternoon's debate, you made reference to my past career as a Prime Minister and what lessons I could bring to the discussion on the issue of governance. This I would like to do, but I am here to speak in my capacity as High Commissioner for Refugees.

Firstly, some passing remarks on refugees and governance. To talk of refugees in the context of governance is somewhat strange: refugees are refugees, precisely because they are without a national government to care for them. They are the result of poor governance. It is the obligation, duty and mission of my Office to take care of them with the support of host governments and the international community. But it is also my duty to plead that they be treated with respect and that their potential as development partners, albeit modest, is taken into account and used.

I do not want to underestimate the humanitarian and security issues related to the presence of refugees in hosting countries: issues such as the security and neutrality of refugee camps; that camps be located away from borders and that they do not become bases for incursions into neighbouring countries. These are important and relevant issues and I feel that substantial progress is being made on them.

What I want to do today is to ask you to think again and differently about how we might best take care of refugees, especially in the LDCs, so as to involve refugees in taking care of themselves and as contributors to the development needs of LDCs.

The issue is not peripheral to the development needs of LDCs. A satellite snapshot showing the demographic profile of LDCs, especially in Africa, would highlight the extent to which refugees are a substantial part of the life of LDCs, also impacting on the local populations of these countries.

We need a different perspective when we talk of refugees in LDCs. They should not just be recipients of humanitarian aid, but we have to look at their potential as human capital to contribute to peace building and development.

The reality is that in many LDCs, development will not be possible without making use of the human capacity of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to help with the development challenge. Development must take into account the realities on the ground. One such reality is the presence of refugees and IDPs in many LDCs. This is the challenge. Responding to the challenge will not be easy. But it must be systematic.

I would like to invite you to rethink the relationship of refugees to development and to express our new thinking in ways that are reflected in our multilateral and bilateral development systems. Such facile statements as: development assistance is long-term; humanitarian assistance is short-term, need to be re-thought. Frankly, this approach is condescending to the refugees and shows no respect for their potential contribution to the development of the countries where they have found refuge. LDCs need to take ownership of this issue and tap the development potential of refugees. Development Ministers in donor countries need to look at the refugee issue in the longer-term.

As I said earlier, if there is to be any change in our approach to refugees, this has to be reflected in our systems and in the way we give and use development aid. On behalf of the refugees, I say to you today: Thank you for your humanitarian aid. This is appreciated. But it is not enough to bring about a real change in the situation prevailing in the LDCs. Change the system.

Here I would like to propose that development funds should allocate or "ear-mark" a modest percentage to the inter-related issues of refugees, internally displaced and affected local populations. This percentage could be differentiated by region. It would be only released when projects are proposed for spending the earmarked funds in specific situations where there are the inter-connected issues of refugees, internally displaced and the affected local population.

In this way, we could use the enormous capacity of refugees and internally displaced, especially of women, to be agents of change for peace and development. In line with this, full use should be made of the existing arrangements of the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement between African, Caribbean and Pacific States and the European Community and its Member States; these arrangements include provisions for addressing the needs arising from the displacement of people.

Thank you.