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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at his meeting with staff on 23 January 1981

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at his meeting with staff on 23 January 1981

23 January 1981

Dear Colleagues,

Each year - around New Year's time - I have the opportunity of seeing you and exchanging some views on our problems and preoccupations. It is just over a year now since we last had a meeting like this together. Much has, of course, happened in the refugee field which is so intimately linked with world events, and UNHCR, more than ever, has been under constant demand to respond swiftly and adequately to developments - sometimes of a dramatic nature. I wish - as in previous years - to review briefly the main developments of refugee situations we have to face and then turn to considerations affecting the evolution and eed for reorganizations of UNHCR itself.

Of the approximately ten million refugees and displaced persons in the world, half are in Africa. The Horn of Africa and the Sudan have continued to be an area of greatest concern. In Somalia, the authorities are reporting a figure of over 1,200,000 refugees in camps. Several new camps have been opened lately to face the continuing influx. Food deliveries, transport and distribution, health facilities, water supply, shelter, various domestic needs, are the main fields in which UNHCR and a host of voluntary agencies are concentrating together with the authorities, to maintain and improve the pace of a programme on a massive scale. Progress is made, the trend in malnutrition is on the decrease, health has improved, but much remains to be done in these areas and the search for measures enabling the refugees to become self-supporting - as far as feasible in a country whose resources are heavily overtaxed - must be reinforced. In Djibouti, the number of refugees from Ethiopia exceeds 40,000, and intensified assistance efforts are directed towards the provision of additional food items - domestic supplies, clothing material and blankets. In Ethiopia a project is being established for the creation of reception centres as well as the provision of basic items to some 10,000 returnees. Programmes are progressing in the Sudan, where the authorities report a total of some 500,000 refugees mainly from Ethiopia but also from Uganda and Chad. Two new emergency situations have developed most recently in the Sudan: while some 30,000 Ugandans entered the southern part of the country during the last two months of 1980, some 8,000 from Chad arrived in Western Sudan in late December. Initial relief assistance has been distributed.

Assistance has continued to some 100,000 Chadians in Cameroon. In the event of voluntary repatriation to Chad, UNHCR will play its role in facilitating their return and in taking initial rehabilitation measures for the returnees once they are in their home country.

Activities connected with voluntary repatriation and subsequent initial rehabilitation, probably the most rewarding activities UNHCR can undertake, are being carried out on a large scale in Zimbabwe. Returnees, as well as persons who had been displaced inside Zimbabwe following events in the country in the years preceding independence, are being assisted for a limited period, mainly with relief items, rebuilding and equipment of their homes, and launching of agricultural schemes.

The efforts of the international community on behalf of refugees in Africa are being considerably stepped up. Upon the advice of the Organization of African Unity and the Economic and Social Council, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a few weeks ago a resolution on an International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa, to be convened in Geneva on 9 and 10 April 1981 at ministerial level by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in close cooperation with the Secretary-General of the OAU and the High Commissioner for Refugees. UNHCR provides the Conference with its Secretariat, time constraints are severe and we have been moving ahead with the preparation in cooperation with all concerned outside UNHCR. Many of you have been, and are, closely involved with this considerable effort. I know how demanding and time-consuming this task has been and still is, and I want to thank you for your work. We have promised to do our utmost to make this conference a success - and it seems to me - that we have not failed so far.

In Asia, the main areas of concern have continued to be the refugee situations in Pakistan and in Thailand, as well as the boat people in several countries in South East Asia. Refugees in Pakistan, according to the authorities, numbered 1.4 million at the end of last year. Heavy influx has thus continued, as well as a vast UNHCR assistance programme. Here again, while attention is paid to immediate needs such as food, shelter and health, possibilities for self-sufficiency of the refugees are not overlooked. In Thailand, there are approximately 260,000 refugees. These include Laotians who have been arriving throughout the years since 1975, Kampucheans who arrived mainly at the end of 1979 during a massive and sudden influx and, in smaller numbers, boat people from Viet Nam. Establishment of camps, as well as care and maintenance programmes, have gained considerable dimensions from year to year. Efforts are made to find durable solutions. Voluntary repatriation has been limited so far, while resettlement has proved to be a most important solution. As far as boat people are concerned, they are to be found mainly in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. For them, resettlement appears to be the only feasible solution. There are still today 55,200 boat people in the area awaiting resettlement, influx has continued in 1980, when a monthly average of 6,320 arrived in South East Asia, the average departure was 12,900.

In view of the importance of resettlement, both for boat people in South Asia and so called "land cases" in Thailand, UNHCR organized yesterday a technical meeting with representatives of those governments and agencies concerned, to take stock of the situation but also, above all, to examine what further measures can realistically be contemplated in the framework of a coordinated approach.

In Latin America, Salvadorean refugees are the main group of concern. Large numbers are to be found in Mexico and Honduras - 25,000 in the latter country. Costa Rica has received several thousands, while smaller numbers are in Belize, Nicaragua and Panama. Emergency assistance is provided in most of these countries, while plans are formulated aiming at the refugees' self-sufficiency.

1980 was a busy year for all of us. It was the year when our expenditure increased to almost US$ 500 million, or double as much as the year before. But when we closed the books on 31 December we had got the money we required. I still think this could be called a miracle, at least a middle-sized miracle.

1980 was the year when 260,000 - or some 750 a day - were resettled from South East Asia.

1980 was the year when hundreds of thousands were repatriated.

It was also the year in which new countries ratified the Convention and the Protocol.

It was a year with broader understanding than before for the cause of the refugees.

Let me also mention that I leave this afternoon for Saudi Arabia, because I have been invited to participate as an observer in the Islamic Conference Summit. This is the first time in the history of UNHCR.

As a final remark on this very rapid tour d'horizon, I wish to add that, as usual, I presented my annual report to the General Assembly of the United Nations in November 1980, through the Third Committee. It was encouraging that once again the resolution on the High Commissioner's report was adopted without a vote, and the purely humanitarian character of UNHCR was reaffirmed. Many nice and appreciative words were said about "the devoted staff in UNHCR". Let me take this opportunity to convey them to you.

I turn now to UNHCR itself. UNHCR has grown rapidly with the refugee problems, over 1,700 staff members today, as compared to some 600 only three years ago. The necessity for UNHCR to adapt to evolving needs has always been recognized and discussions on basic principles have taken place with a number of those here present. I remember our exchange of ideas in February 1979, a follow-up meeting in April of the same year, meetings with staff representatives and, later on, consultations undertaken, notably by Mr. Heidler, during the elaboration of what could be an appropriate structure for UNHCR. I also have in mind the areas in which sectoral progress has been achieved following these ongoing contacts: training course; creation of a Policy, Planning and Research Unit, of an Emergency Unit; survey now completed in a significant number of Branch Offices regarding conditions of service in the field, establishment of a Postings Committee etc. The impact of these undertakings is not yet fully felt, but at least they constitute steps in the right direction, from the point of view of the staff and of UNHCR's efficiency.

But the need has been felt for some changes in the structure itself. As I told the staff in October 1979, after discussions I had with my Deputy, the four Directors and my Executive Assistant during a 24-hour "retreat", the structure of the Office had been one of the main subjects of consideration. We had reached the conclusion that the basic structure at Headquarters - though admittedly imperfect - should not be changed, but only adjusted. There were practical reasons for this: the increasing number of refugee problems, often of an emergency nature, the resulting pressure of work, did not allow for any kind of drastic change which carries the risk of a considerable interruption. Changes towards improvements, which appeared necessary for increased efficiency, should therefore be evolutionary. Bearing in mind the basic principle on which we all agreed, and which was uppermost in my mind, that decisions within existing policies should be made at the lowest possible level of authority, and the idea of the closest possible partnership between the Regional Sections and the field, we set to work. Our programme of work was the establishment of the structure, the elaboration of terms of reference for the various elements of the structure, the setting up of procedures for the structure to function. Very soon - of course - we realized that there were several categories of interests to preserve and that - this is just reality - they could not always be reconciled. Firstly, the paramount interest, that of the refugees, which of course admits no concessions. Secondly, the interest of the Office as a whole, as well as the legitimate aspirations the interest of the Office as a whole as well as the legitimate aspirations of individual staff members. Thirdly, the budgetary constraints to the extent that a new structure means the creation of new posts, i.e. new lines. Fourthly, the fact that, as I have just recalled, the changes could not be drastic but should be based on an improvement of existing structures. Regarding the structure and its functioning, the leader of the Policy, Planning and Research Unit, Mr. Heidler, undertook consultations to what I would call a significant extent. No wonder he could never draw up a plan which would have met with unanimity. His own ideas and those he collected were carefully scrutinized. The Directors also consulted some of their colleagues in their respective Divisions. The proposals for the structure which finally came up is, of course, a compromise, and you should know this. Before apprising you with the chart - the "organigram", I would like to make a few remarks.

At Headquarters, the idea is to reinforce programme implementation and control, project evaluation, and the coordination. In substance, it is proposed to establish four regional bureaux, each comprising three geographical sections, and to reorganize somewhat the functional sections in the Assistance Division.

The Headquarters' structure as proposed entails the creation of new lines: five D.1s, eight P.5s, some few of more junior grade and some ten General Service.

In the field, two new posts at the D.2 level are foreseen: one in the UNHCR Office at UN Headquarters in New York, one for a Special Representative in Africa; also, the field offices would be strengthened by eight more D.1 posts.

The proposed changes are in line with a decision by the Executive Committee at its last regular session in October, when - as you will recall - it "welcomed the intention of the High Commissioner to reinforce, in consultation with the States members of the Executive Committee, the senior management level of his Office, particularly in the areas of programme implementation and control, of project evaluation and of coordination within and outside the United Nations system". In total, the strengthening at the senior management level would require 23 new posts at the P.5, D.1 and D.2 levels.

These conclusions were reached at the beginning of this week. Next step - that was three days ago, on Tuesday - was to start the requested "consultation with the States members of the Executive Committee" and tell them about the outline of the proposed structure. So the organigram which you will have now has been given to the States members of the Executive Committee. The reason is obvious: if we should be able to go ahead, it was a condition to get the approval of 23 new lines. If we could not get that, the whole exercise will have to wait.

When you see the new structure, you will note that the chart is called "Proposed organization of UNHCR". I stress the word "proposed" - which shows that we are still in the consultation process - but I must say that, after this long phase of preparation, I feel that we can not start from scratch again, and I would highly appreciate it if we could aim at the implementation of the organization as suggested. There is no perfect structure, and this one, as I said, is the result of a compromise. As regards the terms of reference of the various components and the procedures, these are still being worked on, but the principles and the aims are there. I very much insist again on the importance of the Regional Sections - which should be focal points for UNHCR's activities in their region - and their links with the field.

In closing, I should like to present the proposed organigram to you - and then make one final remark - and after that invite your comments and questions.

My final remark is a very short one. I can not conclude my words to the staff without voicing my appreciation of the work of the staff of UNHCR. When we go round the world and mention ten of thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of refugees on all continents, when we talk of doubling our funds, when we talk of the African Conference, of the Executive Committee documents, of the protection work, when we know of the pressure on the Finance Section, the Personnel Section, etc., it is obvious after a retrospective view of the events in 1980 that the results have not been achieved without much work.

I thank you for 1980.

Thank you for your attention.