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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the Occasion of the Publication of the "State of the World's Refugees" in German, Bonn, 21 June 1994

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the Occasion of the Publication of the "State of the World's Refugees" in German, Bonn, 21 June 1994

21 June 1994

I am particularly pleased today to present to you the German version of the State of the World's Refugees. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the German Foundation of United Nations Refugee Aid for its generous financial support and the Dietz Verlag for all their efforts to make the publication of this book on refugees possible.

The first English version was published in November last year. The German version is an updated edition reflecting the developments through April of this year. The day my colleagues concluded the editing of this German version, the UNHCR emergency team in Tanzania reported the arrival, in one massive wave, of 250,000 refugees from Rwanda. This illustrates how difficult it is to provide an overview of the present day refugee problem given the rapidly evolving conflicts in the world.

Worldwide, the number of refugees and displaced people is continuing to grow relentlessly. The problem of forced displacement occupies an ever more prominent place on the international political, social and humanitarian agendas.

Twenty years ago there were 2.5 million refugees in the world. By the end of the Cold War there were 15 million. By the beginning of 1993, that total had risen to 18 million. Today, more than an estimated 20 million people, including refugees, as well as certain groups of internally displaced and victims of conflict, look to my Office for protection and assistance.

In addition to those who fall under the mandate of UNHCR, there is probably an even greater number of persons who have been displaced within their own countries, many as a result of the same violent forces that have caused refugees to flee across an international border.

In any situation of movement, numbers are difficult to verify. I would like therefore to add a word of caution that the figures in the State of the World's Refugees are indicative only, and generally based on statistics supplied to us by governments.

The paucity of figures does not however diminish the tragedy of facts. Can there be any more horrifying illustration of the tragedy of displacement than the present upheaval in Rwanda? In a period of less than six months the region around Rwanda and Burundi has witnessed two massive refugee movements. The scale of the displacements and of the carnage accompanying them have few precedents. Today, my Office is assisting close to one million victims of these terrible events. Such tragedies are not confined to distant lands. I need hardly remind you that the conflict in the former Yugoslavia has, for the first time in more than forty years, brought war and its dire consequences back to the heart of the European continent.

It is against this background of turbulence in world affairs that my Office has issued its first comprehensive public report, the State of the World's Refugees. The inaugural issue, entitled the Challenge of Protection analyzes the changing nature of the refugee problem in the post-Cold War World. It looks at the complex causes of today's massive movements and the crisis of asylum.

Asylum, it argues, must be preserved for those who have no option but to cross an international border in search of protection from persecution and conflict. But the institution of asylum is in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people on the move. If it is to survive, it must be complemented by new strategies which address the root causes of flight and consolidate possibilities for repatriation. The State of the World's Refugees therefore urges that international efforts to protect refugees be broadened to include solution-oriented and preventive strategies with a greater focus on countries of origin.

The challenge of refugee protection in the 1990s is a twin challenge. The first requirement is to continue to provide international protection to those who are forced to flee violence and persecution by granting them asylum. The second is to insist vigorously that States accept their responsibility to respect and safeguard fundamental human rights so that people do not have to seek protection outside their own countries and so that those who had fled can return home in safety and dignity.

This challenge concerns all of us. For the contemporary problem of displacement has far reaching implications for the peace and prosperity of our planet. The world cannot achieve stability unless the problems of human displacement are effectively addressed. I hope that the publication of the State of the World's Refugees will help to highlight this challenge and to convince the international community of the importance and urgency of meeting it.