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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Substantive Session of 2001 (Humanitarian Affairs Segment), Geneva, 13 July 2001

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Substantive Session of 2001 (Humanitarian Affairs Segment), Geneva, 13 July 2001

13 July 2001

(Check against delivery)

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,

I am pleased to be with you for the Council's humanitarian affairs segment and to address the theme strengthening coordination. My understanding of coordination and partnership is broad and inclusive. UNHCR's most crucial partners are obviously OCHA and our sister UN operational agencies - particularly WFP and UNICEF. Our immediate partnership circle also encompasses ICRC and the Red Cross Movement, IOM, governments, NGOs and civil society. My Office is also reaching out to the private sector, and I see potential for developing new partnerships with the corporate world.

We have also sought to forge new relationships with development actors, such as the World Bank, UNDP, European Commission and other regional and bilateral donors, as well as relevant UN agencies, including ILO, WHO and UNFPA. I will return to the linkages that I see between UNHCR's humanitarian work and sustainable development later in a moment.

Effective humanitarian response demands close coordination with all these partners and, of course, with the refugees themselves. We partner with refugees to empower them and, when empowered, they become our key partners - especially in the search for durable solutions.

Partnership and collaboration are particularly needed to ensure protection and an adequate safety net for people at special risk, such as households headed by women, separated children and elderly people, people with HIV/AIDS and AIDS orphans and their caretakers. These are not the problems that affect only refugees, but refugees are especially vulnerable.

UNHCR's work is entirely dependent upon coordination and partnership, so the theme of the humanitarian affairs segment imposes few limits on my remarks. Let me first briefly highlight two areas that I see as immediate and important concerns: first, strengthening the international response to internal displacement; and second, providing a secure environment for humanitarian operations.

I am aware that the problem of internal displacement was extensively debated in this forum last year. I have also recently elaborated my views elsewhere, so I will not dwell upon the topic too long here. Let me simply reaffirm my view that UNHCR has an important role to play in relation to situations of internal displacement. My Office will be a willing partner, where our involvement makes sense and donors come forward with the necessary resources. But we do not see ourselves as the sole actor or even as the main actor. Our role with IDPs is set within the larger UN - indeed international - response to internal displacement.

The dimensions and complexity of the IDP phenomenon are such that the humanitarian community can only have an impact by working together and in a coordinated manner. My Office has actively supported the Inter-Agency Network on Internal Displacement, not least by seconding a senior UNHCR official, Dennis McNamara, as the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for IDPs. We endorsed his recommendation to establish a non-operational IDP unit within OCHA, and we look forward to supporting its work in practical ways, such as the secondment of another senior UNHCR colleague to head up the unit.

Let me next touch upon the management of security - both for refugees and our own staff - which is a major challenge for my office. We are working here on three inter-related levels. Within UNHCR, we are mainstreaming security responsibilities, developing a more proactive security management system and establishing and maintaining standards for security. In addition to these internal measures, we are supporting the enhancement of the UNSECOORD, UN system-wide security mechanisms.

Mr. Chairman, the opening of last year's Millennium Summit coincided with the brutal killing of three UNHCR staff members in West Timor. Virtually every Head of State or Government who took the floor condemned this act of barbarism. Many called for stronger measures to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers. So when the General Assembly declined guarantee funding for staff security within the UN regular budget, the UN humanitarian community was deeply disappointed.

We are now working with the Secretariat and our sister humanitarian agencies to develop a cost-sharing formula for funding UNSECOORD's increased budget. These increased UNSECOORD expenditures were not foreseen in UNHCR's budget. So unless additional funds are forthcoming, we will be forced to make uncomfortable - and, I believe, unfair - trade-offs between protecting and assisting refugees and ensuring the security of our staff. I look to our donors to fund UNHCR's share of the UNSECOORD enhancements. If not, we will have difficulty paying the bill.

When launching the Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeals last November, my predecessor, Sadako Ogata, said that fully funding the staff security component of each appeal would be a "good starting point" in showing solidarity with humanitarian workers - people who place themselves at risk daily to save the lives of victimised and vulnerable people. By the beginning of July, however, less than a quarter of these requirements had been funded. Let me be blunt. Expressions of sympathy for the deaths of our colleagues mean little when the resources needed to improve security are not forthcoming. The Consolidated Appeals Process responds to calls for greater inter-agency coordination, but a coordinated response from the donor community is needed as well.

With the balance of my time, I would like to offer my perspective on the need for better coordination between international humanitarian and development efforts. Along with James Wolfensohn of the World Bank and Mark Malloch-Brown of UNDP, Sadako Ogata devoted great energy to defining and seeking to close the "gap" between relief and development. While some progress has been achieved, the transition "gap" remains very much with us. The world of development continues to exclude refugees, and excluding refugees from development leads to their marginalisation.

I see the problem as a failure to consider refugees within the dialogue on development - not only upon return to the country of origin but also in countries of asylum. In donor capitals, development assistance is separate from humanitarian aid for refugees and IDPs. They are the responsibility of separate institutions, funded with separate budgets and, I would say, driven by a separate conceptual approach. The structure of ECOSOC itself reflects this. Next week's high-level segment will focus on the UN's role in sustainable development in Africa. But refugees will not be on the agenda. They are simply excluded.

I do not believe that refugees can be dismissed as an issue peripheral to development. Africa is home to more than 5.3 million refugees and other people of concern to my Office. Their productive potential is enormous. In many African countries, I would venture to say, sustainable development will be very difficult to achieve if the productive capacities of refugees are ignored by host countries or by their own governments after they return home.

But the challenge is present not only in Africa. A satellite view of the demography in many countries would reveal the extent to which refugees are a part of life - including economic life. I recently visited Pakistan, where some two million Afghan refugees have a hotly debated - but undisputedly large - impact on the economy. The new authorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are coming to terms with the reality that several hundred thousand refugees may never return home. The quality of life these people - and their children - will have in the future will depend upon reconstruction and development activities in Serbia, not upon humanitarian aid.

Development programmes emphasise ownership by the recipient government. Governments, however, are naturally disinclined to bring refugees within development planning, as they are not part of their political constituency. The same political "disconnect" is present in many returnee and IDP situations. The tendency to think of refugees as a burden is understandable, and I do not want to underestimate the humanitarian and security issues related to the presence of large refugee populations. These are important and relevant concerns. As a former politician, I understand this dynamic. But as High Commissioner for Refugees - and as an economist - I would argue for a more enlightened and integrated view.

Host countries need to take ownership of the issue and tap into the development potential of refugees. Instead of a burden on local resources, refugees should be catalysts for local development. Refugees are an international concern and responsibility. Refugee populations, therefore, can be a magnet drawing both humanitarian and development resources to the communities where they live. Rather than a competition for scarce funds "zero sum" game, the empowerment of refugees can be part of a process that benefits everybody. So helping refugee communities to achieve self-reliance need not be seen as detrimental to host communities.

Respect for refugees and their potential is needed. Disregarding refugees shows them disrespect and ignores the economic contributions that they can and often do make to their countries of refuge. Refugees are not simply the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid. They are potential contributors to development - both in their countries of asylum and upon their return home.

Mr. Chairman, we need to rethink the relationship of refugees to development and develop a new approach to multilateral and bilateral development assistance programmes. Such facile statements as "development is long-term" and "humanitarian assistance is short-term" are not useful. They simply miss the point. The search for durable solutions begins - or rather should begin - in an integrated manner from the outset of every humanitarian emergency.

Humanitarian agencies - not just host governments and development actors - will also have to change their way of doing business. Rapid emergency response is of critical importance. But let us also seek to empower refugees, so that they can play a greater role meeting their own needs. Providing refugees with economic opportunities and a new perspective on the future can also be a powerful force preventing the recurrence of conflict and displacement. Development is the investment in peace.

To succeed, we need partnerships. But let there be no misunderstanding. We have an international mandate to protect refugees, but also to secure lasting solutions for their problems. The sustainable integration of refugees and reintegration of returnees are, thus, concerns very much at the heart of our mandate.

UNHCR is about partnerships, but achieving durable solutions for refugees requires real integration or reintegration, and this is only possible through development assistance. When refugee integration and development are addressed in tandem, synergies can result and the possibilities for a "win-win" outcome become visible to all.

Mr. Chairman, I will conclude my statement by repeating the call that I made at the Least Developed Countries Conference in Brussels: Donors should allocate or "earmark" a modest, at least proportional, share of development assistance funding for the inter-related issues of refugees, IDPs and affected local populations.

Thank you.