Summary of the Strategic Oral Presentation on Central Asia, South-West Asia, North Africa and the Middle East (CASWANAME)
29 February - 2 March 2000
1. Progress in implementing durable solutions to the long-standing refugee situations in the CASWANAME region was limited in 1999. This was the result of several factors including lack of solutions to protracted conflicts, political constraints and continued reduction in resources for the region from the donor community.
2. Against this difficult background, UNHCR's has continued its efforts to harmonize the protection and assistance régimes, providing increased resettlement opportunities for urban and at-risk refugees. It has also sought, with some success, to build the capacity of governmental and non-governmental partners to establish and manage legal and administrative frameworks for refugee protection and assistance.
3. In his presentation to the Standing Committee, the Director for CASWANAME will focus on the following issues and trends in the region:
- The Tajik repatriation from the other Republics in Central Asia is entering its final phase. The local settlement of Tajik refugees has been initiated in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
- In early March 2000, a workshop will take place in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan for the NGOs of the region under the PARinAC framework. It is expected that the number of NGOs engaged in delivering assistance to refugees in the region will increase.
- The International Migration Policy Programme, established by UNFPA, UNITAR, ILO and IOM, will organize a workshop for high ranking officials of Central Asia and its neighbouring countries on the theme of migration, refugees, population movement regulations and procedures. UNHCR will be associated with this project.
- UNHCR is discussing with the World Bank and other international financial institutions ways and means to integrate beneficiaries of UNHCR assistance (reintegration of returnees or local settlement of refugees) into the development projects funded by them.
- The long-term presence of Afghan, Iraqi and Tajik refugees in the sub-region has continued to place a heavy burden on the local resources of host countries. UNHCR encourages the donors to be more generous in responding to the host countries' needs.
- The assistance of UNHCR to refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan is limited to education and health services, as well as some infrastructure improvements in refugee camps/villages. These are priority sectors, which UNHCR must continue to support. Under the current circumstances inside Afghanistan, the education of Afghan boys and girls in the countries of asylum is vital for the long-term future of the country. It follows that educational assistance for Afghan refugees must be maintained at its current level, if not increased.
- The Afghan Gender Equity Project initiated by UNHCR in 1999 is progressing slowly. UNHCR hopes that this project will be accepted by all United Nations agencies and implementing partners as well as governments concerned.
- Inside Afghanistan, international and local UNHCR staff regularly monitor the return of refugees to Afghanistan, to ensure that their repatriation is taking place in safety and dignity. Any protection needs of the returnees are immediately raised with the local authorities. In 1999, a total of 109,000 Afghan refugees were assisted by UNHCR to return to Afghanistan from their countries of asylum (92,000 from Pakistan and 17,000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran). In addition, some 75,000 Afghans returned from the Islamic Republic of Iran outside the UNHCR-sponsored programme.
- UNHCR believes that under the Principled Common Programming, all the United Nations agencies and NGOs should include the returnees as beneficiaries of their national programmes of assistance. UNHCR will limit its material assistance to the first year of return.
- UNHCR strongly supports the European Union Plan of Action on Afghanistan of the High Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration adopted on 11 October 1999 and hopes that the European Union will be able to finance humanitarian activities envisaged under this Plan of Action.
Islamic Republic of Iran
- A major recent development was the signature on 14 February 2000 of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Joint Programme for the Voluntary Repatriation of Afghan refugees by UNHCR and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This Joint Programme is based on the principles of voluntary repatriation and of continued protection of those Afghans who cannot return for the time being, and should offer better guarantees in both situations.
- Since the 28 June 1999 decree of non-prosecution for illegal exit from Iraq, 2,700 Iraqis have returned voluntarily from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Iraq with UNHCR's assistance. In addition, some 14,000 Iraqis returned spontaneously from the Islamic Republic of Iran to the north of Iraq in 1999.
- In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the increased involvement of NGOs in delivering assistance to the refugees remains a main objective for UNHCR.
- While 92,000 refugees returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan, in 1999 there have also been new arrivals from Afghanistan, mainly belonging to the Hazara ethnic group.
- Some NGOs who have been associated with UNHCR for many years in providing services to refugees are losing the direct financial support they used to receive from donor countries and are requesting UNHCR for funding. This is putting a great additional strain on UNHCR's limited resources.
- The assistance provided in refugee villages in Pakistan is limited to education, health and some infrastructural improvements with the active participation of the refugees themselves. The provision of education in the refugee villages has been effective, thanks to the NGOs implementing this programme and the participation of the refugee community. The increase in enrolment, especially of girls, is significant and regular. More can be done, but would require more funding.
- A joint CASWANAME and Department of International Protection mission visited North Africa from 24 January to 12 February 2000 to conduct a review of UNHCR's objectives and presence in the region. Preliminary conclusions indicate the need to enhance the presence of UNHCR in most of the countries in the region, in view of the interest expressed by governments, notably in the promotion of refugee law and in training programmes for government officials.
- In Algeria, efforts are being made with the authorities to take a new approach to UNHCR's programme by prioritizing the needs of the refugees that cannot be met through other sources, and initiating new activities in income generation and vocational training. In close coordination with WFP and other relevant agencies, UNHCR is currently addressing the shortage of basic food in the camps.
- The durable solution to the problem of the Saharan refugees is directly linked to the successful implementation of the United Nations Settlement Plan. The Secretary-General recommended to the Security Council to extend the present mandate of MINURSO until 31 May 2000, to enable his Personal Envoy to return and discuss with the parties an early, durable and agreed resolution to the Western Sahara conflict. UNHCR hopes that the efforts of the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy will be fruitful and would lead to a solution to the Western Sahara situation.
- Meanwhile, confidence-building measures, logistics and infrastructure development planning are being reviewed and discussed with the relevant parties. Given present realities, UNHCR is adjusting its overall plan of action to the pace of the ongoing political process.
- The pre-registration exercise to ascertain the willingness of the refugees to repatriate and determine their final destination in the Territory, was completed in January 2000 in the Tindouf camps. Other activities, such as needs assessment and information on vulnerable refugees and livestock are currently under-way. Once completed, UNHCR will update its overall planning assumption for the repatriation operation together with the authorities, relevant United Nations agencies and local partners.
- While the voluntary repatriation of the Somali refugees in Yemen has continued at a slow pace, the influx of asylum-seekers into the country has continued unabated. UNHCR, in close coordination with the relevant authorities, is taking concrete steps towards establishing national legislation and asylum procedures, through the promotion of refugee law and training of government officials.
- UNHCR, in close cooperation with the concerned government authorities, has begun preparing for the transfer of the refugees from the temporary camp of Al Gahin, to the new site at Al Kharaz.
- The prevailing situation in Iraq is leading to an increased number of Iraqis departing the country through both legal and illegal means. While some persons approach UNHCR Offices in the area seeking asylum, others make their way outside the region, seeking a durable solution.
- During 1999, UNHCR, with the support of traditional resettlement countries, made a major effort to strengthen its status determination and resettlement processing capacities in an effort to provide protection and durable solutions to refugees, and to reduce irregular movements of asylum-seekers from the region. However, a large number of persons, including rejected asylum-seekers continue to leave the region irregularly, seeking asylum in traditional asylum and/or immigration countries.
- During 1999, UNHCR witnessed the spontaneous return of some 17,000 Iraqis mainly from the Islamic Republic of Iran. A total of 102 Iraqis also returned spontaneously from Saudi Arabia in 1999. In 2000, UNHCR will continue to facilitate bilateral discussions between the concerned authorities in Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the return of displaced populations.
- In August 1999, the Government of Iraq officially requested UNHCR to assist a group of some 10,000 Iranian refugees (Ahwazis) accommodated in the south and the centre of the country. UNHCR and the Government of Iraq are currently developing an assistance strategy to address this request in a systematic manner.
- In 2000, UNHCR will continue its intensive efforts to promote refugee law in the Middle East region including efforts aiming at securing more accessions to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, setting up national institutions to deal with asylum seekers and refugees and training government officials, NGOs and civil societies in general.