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Conference on refugees in the Muslim world scheduled

Briefing notes

Conference on refugees in the Muslim world scheduled

13 June 2006

As part of ongoing efforts to enhance relations with Islamic nations, UNHCR is meeting in Geneva today with officials from the government of Pakistan and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to discuss plans for an OIC ministerial conference on refugees in the Muslim world scheduled later this year in Islamabad.

The conference, scheduled for 27-29 November, will be hosted by the government of Pakistan. Preparations have been under way since the 10th session of the Islamic Summit held in Kuala Lumpur in October 2003. The summit called for the convening, in coordination with UNHCR, of a ministerial conference to address the problem of refugees in the Muslim world.

The OIC's 57 member states are host to an estimated 9.4 million of the 20.8 million refugees and others of concern to UNHCR worldwide. This figure excludes the Palestinian refugees in the Near East who fall under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

While providing protection and assistance to refugees, many OIC states are not party to international refugee instruments and lack refugee legislation or refugee-related institutions and structures. Moreover, many refugee situations in OIC countries are of a protracted nature, requiring more resolute action to address root causes and more robust multilateral cooperation to find durable solutions.

In recent years, new challenges have emerged, including the so-called asylum-migration nexus in which refugees and asylum seekers have become entangled in the web of increasingly strict migratory controls and prey to human smugglers and traffickers. Moreover, the increased international focus on security has profoundly affected the international climate for refugee protection. All of these issues call for a greater role for the Muslim world.

UNHCR has many years of experience with Islamic charities in the Middle East, the Gulf, South-east Europe and South-west Asia. Islamic humanitarian groups have been active in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and many African countries in easing the suffering of those forcibly displaced by conflict. OIC members have been generous in funding refugee programmes, primarily on a bilateral basis.

Of the $4.3 billion UNHCR has channelled through various NGOs and implementing partners over the past decade, some $1.6 billion (37 percent) was used in humanitarian programmes in OIC countries. In 2003, for example, UNHCR worked with a total of 572 NGO partners worldwide, 153 of them from OIC countries. These NGOs work principally in health and nutrition, shelter, education, legal assistance and protection, water and sanitation, and transport and logistics.

The OIC conference in November will provide an opportunity to strengthen our cooperation in addressing refugee issues; to seek solutions to protracted refugee situations; to emphasize the asylum traditions and highlight the contributions that Islamic countries have made in sharing much of the refugee and displacement burden in today's world. Discussions will also focus on the promotion of awareness of refugee and displacement issues in OIC member states and globally; the role of UNHCR in refugee protection and the search for durable solutions; international refugee law and the benefits of accession to international refugee instruments; and enhancing partnerships between Islamic charities and UNHCR or other international apolitical institutions that enjoy the confidence of the international community

An information session on the planned OIC conference is being held tomorrow (Wednesday) for permanent representatives of OIC member states, UN agencies, NGO partners and the media from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. in Salle XXI, Palais des Nations. It is open to media.