Statement by Mr. Jean-Pierre Hocké, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 3 July 1986
It is indeed an honour for me, during my first year as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to address this Council in response to various resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
I have just returned from a visit to both Ethiopia and Somalia where I have had the opportunity to visit several refugee and returnee projects and to hold discussions at the highest level on future co-operation between the two Governments and UNHCR. The aim of this co-operation is not only to provide relief assistance to refugees and returnees in need, but also to give a new impetus to the search and promotion of lasting solutions.
While relief action in co-operation with the Office of Emergency Operations in Africa is continuing, in response to the grave crisis that has affected various countries, particularly in the Horn, it is my conviction that, to paraphrase the motto of ICARA II, the time has come for solutions.
Turning first to resolution 40/132 on assistance to refugees in Somalia, it should be recalled that at the beginning of 1982, a planning figure of 700,000 refugees living in 36 camps was agreed upon between the Somali Government and the United Nations. In late 1984 and throughout 1985, a further 107,000 refugees arrived and were accommodated in three holding centres and tow transit centres. These refugees were the subject of the UNHCR Special Programme of Emergency Relief Assistance in Africa. Their situation in 1986 began to stablize, despite difficult problems in sanitation and water supply. Then, early this year, a new influx was reported by the Solmali authorities, at times reaching 1,000 persons a day. A reception centre was established at Tug Wajale to accommodate these new arrivals and, by the beginning of June, the National Refugee Commission had registered 83,800 persons.
During the first six months of this year, we undertook a number of initiatives to meet this new emergency. A Task Force was established at headquarters in Geneva and a special Emergency Team was sent to Hargeisa to co-ordinate relief assistance. Some 120 tons of relief supplies (including warehouses, water-tanks and generators) were airlifted by three cargo flights from Europe. A charter flight of water equipment, warehouses, communication equipment, staff accommodation facilities and high protein biscuits arrived on 20 June 1986. Having just returned from a first-hand look at this new emergency, I can report that I was struck by the difficulties which are inherent in the terrain and the prevailing conditions. I was also concerned by the lack of possibilities for proper registration at Tug Wajale, despite the important resources that UNHCR has mobilized. I therefore welcome the decision of the Somali Government to re-enumerate the population of the Tug Wajale reception centre to and move this camp to a new site farther away from the border as soon as is feasible. It is hoped that this transfer will go a long way towards alleviating the present sanitary, drainage and nutrition problems. To meet these additional costs, we will shortly be is suing a revised appeal for further contributions to the 1986 UNHCR Special Programme of Emergency Relief Assistance in Africa.
This new emergency should not cause us to overlook the fate of persons who arrived much earlier and are being assisted under the General Programmes. It is most unfortunate that financial constraints in 1985 and 1986 have delayed the implementation of these programmes. Despite setbacks, a dialogue had been maintained with the Somali authorities with a view to reaching a pragmatic and a satisfactory solution on the question of the exchange rate. I am happy to say that in June of this year an interim agreement has been reached which enabled us to resume all our planned activities.
On the question of the number of refugees in Somalia, which I know is a matter of paramount concern to donor governments, an agreement of principle has been reached with the Government to conduct a survey of all refugee camps in Somalia. The methodology for such a re-enumeration exercise is now under consideration.
The most important issue facing Somalia today is the need for a long-term solution to one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. Obviously, for the majority of these refugees, the most realistic solution would be for them to return voluntarily to their country of origin. This issue was discussed at some length during my recent visit to Ethiopia and I am confident that, with goodwill on both sides, progress can be made in this direction. Earlier this month, I also sent a technical team to Somalia to evaluate various possibilities for the local settlement of refugees. As a number of earlier studies have shown, local settlement is possible for a portion of the refugees, but this will require substantial development assistance which is outside the financial and technical capacity of UNHCR. To promote such schemes, I will be undertaking discussion with development agencies within the United Nations and other institutions to see how we can together help a good number to attain self-reliance and self-sufficiency. UNHCR stands ready, as necessary, to participate jointly with other agencies in fund-raising efforts to secure financing for such programmes.
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.
The Influx of Sudanese refugee continued in 1986. At the end of June 1986, some 104,000 had been registered at the Itang refugee camp near Gambella. The Government of Ethiopia estimates that the total refugee population in the region is 180,000 persons. More recently, a further group of between 5 and 10,000 refugees had entered the Kaffa region. UNHCR is currently assessing their needs in co-operation with the Government of Ethiopia.
UNHCR is providing basic relief assistance to the Sudanese refugees registered in Itang, pending the implementation of durable solutions, including the eventual inclusion of part of these refugees in rural settlement schemes implemented by the Lutheran World Federation. The entire refugee population in Itang will, however, continue to be provided with basic assistance in 1986, 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, the water system is much improved and income-generating activities have been introduced, in order to promote self-sufficiency for at least some of the refugees. Because of the need for long haulage from the nearest port, logistics continue to be most difficult and costly aspect of the operation. The basic relief assistance is administered by the Ethiopian Government Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) and implemented by the RRC-UNHCR Coodination Office. The Ethiopian Red Cross Society implements the health sector of the project.
Plans for the implementation of a rural settlement scheme for refugees at Itang did not materialize in 1985 due to flooding and the low level of mitigation of the concerned refugees. The viability of the project was assessed during the first months of 1986 and an approach with emphasis on livestock has been proposed. This new approach, initially benefiting 400 families, will be implemented as a pilot scheme by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which will also contribute financially to the project.
The UNHCR programme to promote the local integration of some 373 urban refugees, mainly in Addis Ababa, is continuing. Assistance is provided in training, to improve their chances of obtaining gainful employment and their children's pursuit of primary education, as well as to support some small-scale income-generating activities. Other projects in Ethiopia in the field of education, counselling, voluntary repatriation and resettlement are also being implemented.
In August 1984, the Government declared Hararghe Province a drought-stricken area. This situation continued throughout 1985 and during the first months of 1986. Among the victims, returnees often were the most vulnerable and UNHCR was called upon to meet basic health needs and provide supplementary food as well as potable water to an estimated number of nearly 200,000 beneficiaries. During the latter part of 1986, supplementary food distribution will continue and our activities in the health and water sectors will aim at establishing a sound foundation for the implementation, in close co-ordination with the Government, of a realistic rehabilitation programme in 1987. Discussions are now under way for the voluntary repatriation as soon as possible of some 12,000 refugees now living in the Gedo region of Somalia.
I should like to refer briefly to developments in assistance to refugees in the Sudan over last year. Following the spontaneous return of some 65,000 Ethiopians to the Tigray Province this year, approximately 207,000 recent arrivals are still being assisted in East Sudan. Conditions are steadily improving and the focus of this programmes is gradually shifting to measures to promote self-sufficiency among the recent arrivals and to re-activate the economic life of the 130,000 refugees already being assisted in rural settlements prior to the emergency.
Over 60,000 Chadians are still being assisted in West Sudan. Some have been able to make progress towards at least partial self-sufficiency and efforts I this direction are being pursued. However, we hope that a repatriation movement will begin, and we are reviewing with the Chadian authorities what assistance could be given to returnees whenever this is possible.
Recent developments in South Sudan led to the return home of over 70,000 Ugandans, including almost all those previously assisted in organized settlements on the east bank of the Nile and many who were previously spontaneously settled. A successful emergency operation was mounted at very short notice to organize this movement in conditions of considerable insecurity. Assistance to these returnees was the subject of an appeal to the international community on 11 June. Some 120,000 Ugandans remain in the west bank settlements and there are many others spontaneously settled there. Inmost cases they are already broadly self-sufficient. It is hoped that the great majority will soon feel able to repatriate, though unless other factors intervene, many may chose to await the end of this year's harvest.
The problems posed by and for refugees in the Sudan were considered by an inter-agency mission in February and March this year. The mission recommended an approach calling for integrated development planning in refugee-affected areas and this is being followed-up in close co-operation with the Government and the developmental agencies. I would add that I had the opportunity to meet the Sudanese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in New York recently and to express our appreciation for thee generous asylum policies of the Sudan, a tradition that the new government has reiterated its intention to maintain.
With respect to the current status of programmes for student refugees from South Africa and Namibia who have been granted asylum in counties of southern Africa, a total of over 200 refugees from South Africa and nearly 400 Namibian student refugees benefited from UNHCR scholarship assistance, while 589 refugee students from South Africa and 102 Namibian students were assisted to travel abroad for educational purposes.
The overwhelming majority of the beneficiaries from South Africa were in Swaziland and the rest were to be found mainly in Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabwe. As for Namibians, the majority were given scholarships outside their countries of asylum in southern Africa but within Africa: UNHCR extended educational assistance to 382 Namibians of whom 85% were women, in a number of west African countries including, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana.
Mr. Chairman, allow me to conclude by saying a few words about ICARA II and about UNHCR's efforts to discharge the tasks incumbent on my Office. There is no doubt that action in favour of development-oriented refugee assistance leading to self-sufficiency and durable solutions has been overshadowed during the last two years by the magnitude of the crisis in Africa, triggered by the drought that his many of the countries providing asylum to refugees. During this period, UNHCR had to mobilize considerable assistance, reaching almost 225 million dollars in 1985, although action was - of necessity - oriented more towards emergency life-saving aid rather than towards self-sufficiency programmes.
Although the crisis is not yet over, we are confident that the conditions now allow for a fresh review of the more development-oriented projects which formed part of the initial ICARA II submission. Indeed, the last meeting of the ICARA II Steering Committee concluded that immediate action would be taken to review projects which have not yet been funded in order to examine their continued validity, re-design them as appropriate and renew efforts towards securing their financing and implementation.
Mr. Chairman, UNHCR continues to attach the greatest importance to inter-agency co-operation in the formulation and implementation of long and medium-term refugee assistance projects leading to self-sufficiency and rehabilitation. This was the spirit of ICARA II and certainly represents the principle that must guide our future action in favour of refugees and returnees, particularly in the least developed countries.