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Oral Report on Implementation of the Agenda for Protection, Ms. Erika Feller, Director, Department of International Protection, UNHCR, 32nd Meeting of the Standing Committee (Geneva, 9 March 2005)

Speeches and statements

Oral Report on Implementation of the Agenda for Protection, Ms. Erika Feller, Director, Department of International Protection, UNHCR, 32nd Meeting of the Standing Committee (Geneva, 9 March 2005)

9 March 2005

Check against delivery

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

In endorsing the Agenda for Protection in June 2002, the Executive Committee recognized that its implementation would be a multi-year undertaking and asked to be kept informed of progress. UNHCR fulfils this responsibility in part through its annual Note on International Protection and through the various presentations of Bureau Directors to this Standing Committee session. My own presentations, in March, June and October, are another medium here.

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women's Day. In terms of tangible benefits, this has yet to show results for millions of women in displacement situations. Darfur is but one example, where girls are raped for fun, or deliberately to fragment communities, and then are detained for so-called fornication when they become pregnant. Payment of a fine - up to $80 - will buy freedom and delay the punishment of being lashed until after the birth of the baby. I was also discussing yesterday, with our protection staff in Darfur, viable protection interventions for dealing with a situation which has recently come to light of children in one camp, one as young as 8 years, temporarily on their own for one reason or another, who had become the victims of abuse by youths from the local town.

Running through the Agenda for Protection is concern for the particular vulnerability of women and girls in displacement situations to gender based violence, notably intimidation, rape and under-age sex. Action to reduce the occurrences, diminish any culture of impunity and assist the victims is strongly encouraged on the part of all concerned. UNHCR is one such actor. In Darfur, the office has established 23 women's centres in IDP settlements and villages of origin where high rates of sexual assault against women and girls have been reported. An additional six centres are planned for 2005. Their objective is to provide a safe space for women where they can organise themselves, find peer support and pursue literacy classes and income generation activities. Sanitary materials for 100,000 beneficiaries have to date been provided by UNHCR to the common UN pipeline. UNHCR has also hired a specialist to implement comprehensive training for local staff of implementing partners and community volunteers on SGBV prevention and response. In addition, there is an initiative underway in one camp, to be replicated in others, to construct a shelter for children who find themselves alone and particularly vulnerable to abuse. It will involve volunteer women from among the camp populations, who are known to be particularly responsible, who will work with the children in the shelters until longer term community based solutions are found. UNHCR has played a leading role within the inter-agency GBV Working group in West Darfur to get the fuel efficiency initiative up and running. This is piloting the production by and use within communities of fuel efficient stoves, which cut down the necessity for highly dangerous forays by women to search for firewood. Vulnerability to assault and rape is reduced and the additional spin offs include income generation for those involved in the making of the stoves, as well as a beneficial impact on the environment.

These various initiatives are but several of a number UNHCR is pursuing to address the occurrence of gender vulnerability and violence in Darfur. I relate them to illustrate, not least, what DIP advises upon and what UNHCR does in the field. To provide the details is, though, at this session principally the brief of the Bureau Directors, who will address you shortly. Mine for the moment is to present more general directions with the Agenda, and how the work of the Department of International Protection furthers UNHCR's efforts to implement it, to which I will now turn.

We have several years of working with the Agenda. The Note on International Protection, which you will receive in anticipation of the June meeting, will provide an overview of where and how the Agenda is reflected in our field programmes and protection interventions. In all of these there is a close interaction between the Department, the Bureaux and the field. I believe it is valuable to mention some examples because certain delegations have asked for this, following the Mannet report. In addition, I detect a measure of misunderstanding, on the part of some, about the links in-house between DIP and the Bureaux, including when it comes to implementation of the Agenda for Protection through protection delivery.

These links are close and direct. In the first quarter of this year, DIP staff, including the Director, have or will have undertaken some 30 missions, of which the large majority are to field locations. They break down, in roughly equal proportions, into inspection and assessment missions, training missions, those of an advisory or task-oriented character, and those which have a representational or promotional function. The Department's role is to provide operations-related as well as legal advice, both to the Bureaux and direct to the field. DIP also manages the resettlement function, whose implementation is field based. At the same time, the Department's role is to improve how protection is delivered and managed in the field. The latter requires of us hands-on capacity building with our offices. This includes staff deployments, oversight and assessment missions to specific operations, and the provision of protection advice on individual cases, as well as on developments with groups and in relation to situations. The responsibility also includes provision of tools, guidelines and protection information, including through dissemination of Refworld, delivery of training in protection and assistance to field offices with interventions and promotional activities, not least as regards accessions to the important instruments. In all this we are particularly mindful of the imperative, among others, to improve the way we support and build women's capacities and to address their protection needs. Our three staff deployment schemes continue to boost field capacity to do general protection work and to undertake resettlement and refugee status determination. Taking the three schemes together, DIP deployed 152 additional protection staff to the field during 2004. It is noteworthy that the Surge deployment arrangement has a specific roster dedicated to SGBV and gender skills. The Department is also fully engaged in the selection and placement of protection staff and in decisions on the protection structure of field offices. Moreover, as part of its oversight role, DIP staff members participate in all missions of the Inspector General's Office, serving as the protection resource for each inspection. More generally, DIP contributes in a significant way to the development by UNHCR of its overall operational strategies and policies. It has been and remains an influential policy interlocutor on, for example, emergencies like Darfur or the Tsunami, management of the Iraq operation, and decisions on matters as divergent as tripartite arrangements for Montagnards in Cambodia, invoking the cessation clause for Tajiks, or new engagement with IDP populations. The Department chairs two in-house coordination mechanisms, dealing respectively with IDP policy and with migration-related matters.

Moving to more general issues with the Agenda, DIP has invested considerable effort into the process of infusing the Agenda into the programmes of UNHCR, principally in the field, but also at Headquarters. I believe we have been largely successful here. The Agenda is to all intents and purposes "mainstreamed," and with visibility [not to invisibility!]. The Agenda is, of course, not UNHCR's alone. We have actively encouraged its acceptance and ownership by states. I believe many governments do at least take cognizance of the Agenda in planning their refugee programmes and asylum strategies.

In part to ensure this, we have widely disseminated the Agenda. In addition to making available the Arabic, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish versions, UNHCR offices in the field have been encouraged to produce other languages. Bosnian and Turkish versions, for example, were produced in 2004 and are being used to engage local authorities and NGOs in a dialogue on the Agenda and its implementation.

The Agenda for Protection has been the agenda of this Committee for the last three years as far as its Conclusions are concerned. This year, in fulfilment of a three year implementation process set collectively with you, there will be the requested conclusions on local integration and complementary forms of protection. The study on mass influx, a summary of the main lines of which produced the conclusion last year on burden sharing, will be put for expert analysis at a round table being organised together with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, our valued partner on refugee law training. The Institute has been the home of much innovative thinking in the past on mass influx responses. We want to re-vitalise that link.

The Agenda also has had its impact on DIP's output of guidelines and field advice. Last year we made available to governments and UNHCR offices guidance on, among other issues, cancellation of refugee status [when, where is it appropriate, or otherwise], on religion-based refugee claims, and on resettlement criteria and standards, particularly as regards groups [through revision of the Resettlement Handbook]. DIP is close to finalising the Best Interests Determination Guidelines, pursuant to the call in the Agenda for Protection that UNHCR disseminate material on the rights of refugee children, drawing on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and other international human rights law. The Guideline should assist staff and partners in the field when called upon to make a "best interests" decision for children. We will be soon circulating the draft for final comment to NGOs and UN operational partners. Also in train are guidelines on family unity in the refugee protection context, on age-related persecution, on the political opinion ground, on the eligibility of victims of trafficking for refugee status, and on management of armed elements in camps. We are working, as well, on the issue of protection safeguards in interception.

The Ford Foundation has made possible the production - actually a co-production of DIP, DOS, and ESS - of a protection operations field manual. It is in effect a compilation of "best practices" in protection delivery, which is to be piloted before finalisation, and which should assist offices to learn from the experience and practice of other offices when trying to devise ways to manage protection situations consistent with the dictates of the various guidelines. The reference manual will remain a "work in progress", with the good practice examples to be added progressively through DIP's Protection Management Workshops. Three of these are planned for 2005, in West Africa, the Middle East region and South East Asia. As you may remember [this is an ongoing programme] their aim is to improve protection delivery in the field and strengthen management accountability in this regard. In addition, however, they give DIP a useful opportunity to interact with protection providers on obstacles to the doing of protection and, as such, allow us to adjust and better target our field support activities. This has been beneficial not least for women's protection.

In the same vein, we are currently engaged in a project, generously sponsored by the European Commission and some EU member states, to promote more favourable protection for refugees in host states through an analysis of the gaps and through assistance to and capacity building in these states to address them. The Capacity Building manual, called for in the Agenda, is in a final draft. It is now serving as a reference text for the design of programmes here, and will undergo modification and elaboration as a result. Hence we will not formally be issuing it for the time being, even while we will be making full use of it for this project. The project, by the way, is currently focusing on four countries in Africa. However, the analytic framework which has been developed for it, to enable the identification of protection gaps in specific countries, is being used more widely now in other countries as well. It has taken on a life of its own. Consistent with the strong and cross-cutting focus of the Agenda on sharing responsibilities and easing any burdens they may entail through capacity building based on international solidarity, a number of UNHCR offices in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and other parts of Africa have enthusiastically embraced the notions of the gaps project and have absorbed a tailored version of it into their own country operations strategies.

Promoting an agreed understanding of where are the protection gaps and of strategies to address them is central to this project. The next step will be to engage partners more energetically and imaginatively in programmes to remedy the problems.

Certain projects currently in train may serve as interesting precedents on which to draw in this regard. One, by way of example, is the current collaboration between UNHCR and the Centre for Refugee Research at the University of NSW in Australia on women-at-risk identification and response mechanisms. It is a field-based project. We anticipate that it will assist us more speedily to recognise women and girls who, as a result of violence or abuse, require urgent intervention.

The success of all such efforts, of course, depends quite a bit on the protection knowledge and capacity of both UNHCR staff and partners. The Agenda for Protection is now specifically a feature of all UNHCR's protection learning programmes. We continue to expand these, both in content and in reach, including through merging the Protection Learning Programme for Partners with our own staff learning scheme. We have in fact re-aligned our whole training approach so as to address needs at four levels:

  • at the entry level, through a comprehensive and mandatory protection induction programme for the more than 6000 UNHCR staff worldwide and;
  • at the intermediate level, through the regular Protection Learning Programme;
  • at the functional level, through issue-specific training for those directly having to confront protection problems in armed conflict situations, or stemming from irregular migration;
  • at the management level, through the protection management workshops.

The Agenda promotes strengthening of partnerships more broadly with a host of actors outside UNHCR. The past year has seen a lot of activity here, on the part of UNHCR. DPKO and UNHCR have improved their cooperation on the basis of an exchange of letters setting out areas for complementary initiatives. Staff exchanges will be one feature of these closer organisational links; so too is closer cooperation on refugee and returnee security and with DPKO's Mine Action Service.

There has also been greater interaction between UNHCR and organisation partners on migration issues where mandates meet, including in the framework of the Geneva Migration Group, which brings together the executive heads of UNHCR, ILO, UNHCHR, UNCTAD, UNODC and IOM. The creation of this Group was largely a UNHCR initiative and we hope to use it in part to support new approaches to bringing to a decent end such of those protracted refugee situations which, over time, have moved closer to being a migration than a refugee protection problem. The Action Group on Asylum and Migration [AGAMI], about which I have reported earlier to this Committee, and which grew out of the Global Consultations on International Protection, could also be a useful inter-agency forum for its two participants, IOM and UNHCR. It has, though, yet to realise its full potential. We remain committed to this, as the Agenda encourages of us both.

As the Agenda reaffirms, States are, naturally, the actors principally responsible for refugee protection and the key partners for us in this endeavour. Better said, it is the reverse: we are an important partner for governments. I mentioned refugee security and our partnership with DPKO. Governments too have responded to the Agenda's call for cooperation to improve security. The past experience of using the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to assist the Guinean Mixed Brigade to assure camp security in Guinea was a positive one which we would like to repeat, drawing upon the recommendations of the Expert Round Table on the Civilian and Humanitarian Character of Asylum, called for in the Agenda and organised by UNHCR [with a generous contribution from the Government of Canada] in June 2004.

A quintessential state responsibility is that of determining who is a refugee and to whom, as a result, it should extend its protection. The Agenda in effect calls on states to assume their proper responsibilities here, just as it asks UNHCR to improve its own mandate processes. UNHCR is currently undertaking RSD under its mandate in some 80 countries, 66% of which are State Parties to the 1951 Convention. There were around 40,000 persons whose claims were adjudicated by UNHCR in 2003. In effect, UNHCR is doing RSD in too many countries, by default. We are currently considering an initiative to promote the transfer of responsibility for RSD to signatory states in particular. Capacity building has to be a part, with UNHCR remaining involved in the national processes in some way, if this is what is desired.

As for UNHCR's own RSD processes, we continue to work to make them more effective and better integrated into overall protection strategies of field offices. We are currently doing a survey of all field offices where we do RSD, with a view not least to ascertaining where RSD is serving as a genuine protection tool and where it is not. We are also in the process of assessing the impact, one year down the line, of our Guide on "Procedural Standards for RSD under the Mandate". Refinements will be made as necessary.

Still on the theme of partnerships with States, UNHCR is to co-host with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference a ministerial level conference on "The Problem of Refugees in the Muslim World", tentatively scheduled for November of this year. Hopefully this will lay the basis for improved protection and more accessible durable solutions for the millions of refugees hosted in OIC member states.

A major promotional event in terms of refugee protection was the November 2004 conference held in Mexico to commemorate 20 years of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration. The Declaration and Plan of Action adopted at that Conference contain important state commitments on matters recommended in the Agenda for Protection - for example to adopt enhanced asylum legislation and to strengthen national eligibility commissions. UNHCR will be working closely with States in the region in the follow up phase. This is not least to ensure that the so called Solidarity Resettlement component is implemented. This envisages a region-wide resettlement effort which will lead to an increase in the number of states carrying out resettlement and which, as a result, would benefit from assistance to these states to boost their expertise, knowledge and integration capacity in the resettlement area.

We have made available to you today a brochure with the outcomes of the African Parliamentary Union Conference which we helped to organise last year, on the subject of "Refugees in Africa: The Challenge of Protection and Solutions". Joining forces with the APU, the IPU and the ICRC, we are currently exploring how the APU can be practically supported to follow up on the many recommended areas for action.

Cooperation with parliaments was highlighted in the Agenda as a key area for development. To this end, aside from such initiatives as the APU Conference, UNHCR has been using as a tool to build this cooperation the joint IPU/UNHCR Handbook for Parliamentarians in International Law. The Handbook has been translated now into over 30 languages, the most recent version being the Chinese version. We hope to be able to launch this version in China in the coming months, as we have now done in some 10 countries, the latest being in Croatia last year. In 2005 we are partnering again with the IPU, this time to produce a Handbook for Parliamentarians on Statelessness - a problem flagged in the Agenda for heightened focus. UNHCR has a mandate for stateless persons which requires of us both promotional and advisory services activities, as well as interventions to assist stateless persons to access their rights. We have very recently participated in inter-agency, expert level discussions on activities which will improve understanding of the problems of stateless persons and which will help to redress their problems. For us, 2005 will be a year of particular attention to protracted statelessness situations and how we can contribute to their humane resolution. The IPU Handbook should be an important promotional tool in these endeavours.

Finally on partnerships, UNHCR has long promoted protection partnerships with NGOs, going beyond advocacy and the delivery of protection-related assistance programmes. In line with the outcome of the retreat we organised with NGOs a year ago, we are increasingly working together with non-governmental agencies in the development of protection tools and operational policies. Another focus here has been on identifying activities which lend themselves to protection interventions by NGOs. This is not an uncontroversial issue, also for the NGO community, and we have either participated in, or organised, a number of meetings to clarify the possibilities and limitations here. We participated in a stocktaking meeting in Washington at the end of last year on protection collaboration generally, and are currently joining forces in the organisation of another one, this time dealing with expanding the NGO role in resettlement. The Cartagena-linked, Mexico Plan of Action calls for establishment, or consolidation, of national protection networks in Mexico and Central America, as well as the Andean Region and the Southern Cone. We are looking currently at how to build on this request.

Goal 5 of the Agenda for Protection focuses on making durable solutions more timely and accessible. UNHCR has continued to develop its Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern, which, inter alia, aims at underpinning durable solutions with development assistance. You will hear more on developments from the Director of DOS later in this meeting. DIP has contributed to the 2004 "Handbook on Repatriation and Reintegration Activities." It has also assisted with the "Handbook for Planning and Implementing Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR) Programmes" as well as the "Handbook for Self-Reliance".

Thanks to strong donor support, UNHCR has been investing considerably in developing its resettlement function, including through the creation of resettlement hubs in Africa, development and successful implementation of the group methodology, and better integration of resettlement into the country operations planning process. Group processing is well underpinned through mechanisms for the identification, processing and referral of groups. A specific chapter of the revised Resettlement Handbook now deals with the group methodology, drawing on the experiences to date with processing of groups in countries including Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Yemen. We are in the process of identifying caseloads to which we can apply the Multilateral Framework of Understandings on Resettlement concluded within the Convention Plus initiative last June.

Mr. Chairman, let me add a few words more on Convention Plus. The initiative remains one important vehicle through which to pursue implementation of the Agenda for Protection. It has the goal of strengthening international cooperation and burden and responsibility sharing through comprehensive plans of action which make durable solutions both timelier and more sustainable. These plans entail, among other activities, making more strategic use both of resettlement and of development assistance. Addressing irregular secondary movements of refugees and asylum-seekers, in a protection oriented framework, will also be a part of certain such plans. UNHCR remains firmly committed to this initiative until its objectives have been achieved.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, this is the third full year of the Agenda's implementation. In reporting on the progress, I do not want to make light of the problems. Protection has to be realised today in a climate of "asylum fatigue", born of concerns about unequal burdens among host countries, about the growth of international crime, terrorism and people smuggling, about the protracted character of many situations, and about the asylum/migration mix of issues. There are serious security constraints, logistical hurdles and resources problems for UNHCR, and indeed for States themselves. For the people, those persons who need protection, accessing it effectively is impeded by all of these factors, as well as by faltering support for asylum-seekers among civil societies, and by mandate gaps or lapses in coordination at the level of institutions. I intend to report on these - and how we want to deal with them - in more detail in my presentation to this Committee next June.

These types of problems were those which made the Global Consultations on International Protection necessary and, as a result, they make the product of these consultations, the Agenda for Protection, ever more relevant. What is clear, I hope, from all that I have said, is that the Agenda for Protection is more than a catalogue of good intentions. Short, of course, of being a legally binding text, it nevertheless carries considerable political weight and has served as a practical tool for better protection. The Agenda helps give focus both to the asylum policies of states and to the protection interventions of UNHCR and other partners. It guides global and regional protection strategies, is widely used as an advocacy tool and has led to the development of a range of guidelines, handbooks and Executive Committee conclusions. While protection is not always a quantifiable achievement as such, measurable as often through outcomes, rather than outputs, the Agenda nevertheless is now also an integral part of our Results Based Management methodology. Identifying output targets specifically against the goals of the Agenda, with corresponding indicators, assumptions and constraints, is underway. Non-governmental organisations, too, have sought our guidance on how to make the Agenda similarly work for them. One example here is the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is currently using the Agenda as the basis for a thorough internal review of that organisation's contribution to the delivery of protection. We are also exploring together the opportunities for collaborating in the dissemination of the Agenda, in cooperation with ICVA.

The implementation of the Agenda has always been a multi-year programme. It does not, as a document, have any pre-set shelf life. The challenge is how to maintain its momentum in the prevailing environment of "asylum fatigue", how to ensure that the Agenda stays on the agenda, if you like! As one step in this direction - and because the Agenda is a common one - not UNHCR's alone - we would like to explore further with you the possibility of making reporting on the Agenda's implementation a genuinely joint undertaking, just as was its drafting. Would it be feasible to arrive at a comprehensive progress report, say at the five year mark, whereby UNHCR, States and NGOs produce a common overview of gaps, challenges and future directions? Allow me to leave you with this question.