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Update on regional developments in Europe

Executive Committee Meetings

Update on regional developments in Europe

2 April 1998



1. This document is structured in the following manner:

II. Western Europe and the Baltic States

III. Central Europe

IV. Eastern Europe

V. Turkey

2. The text for each of the three European sub-regions starts with an overview of events and objectives in the sub-region, followed by "Country Reviews" for each of the countries in the particular sub-region. Information on regional Special Programmes is included in the texts wherever relevant. Two annexes summarize budgetary information and post levels.


A. Sub-regional overview

Trends in asylum applications

3. Figures so far available indicate that the number of asylum-seekers in Western Europe grew by some ten per cent in 1997, reaching 271,000 as compared to 244,000 in 1996. The highest relative increases were noted in Ireland, Greece and Italy, where the number of applicants more than doubled from 1996 to 1997. Other notable increases occurred in Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Switzerland. Chart I below provides comparative figures for 1996 and 1997 for the number of asylum applicants in Western Europe.

Repatriation to Bosnia and Herzegovina

4. UNHCR estimates that some 120,000 refugees repatriated to Bosnia and Herzegovina from abroad during 1997, mainly to "majority areas" in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of this total, only 8,700 refugees are estimated to have repatriated to the Republika Srpska. The following five Federation Cantons received the highest number of returnees: Sarajevo (30,500), Una-Sana (22,900), Posavina (16,900), Tuzla-Podrinje (11,000) and Herzegovina-Neretva (7,800). Most returnees from abroad arrived from Germany, which witnessed the repatriation of some 100,000 refugees in 1997 alone, and has accounted for the majority of repatriation movements since December 1995. Germany remains the European Union (EU) Member State hosting the largest number of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina (over 200,000). UNHCR estimates that, in January 1998, some 3,500 refugees repatriated from abroad. UNHCR's principal objective for 1998 is to achieve a substantial breakthrough on minority returns.

Asylum-seekers from Iraq

5. Against the background of the perceived increase in the number of Iraqi asylum-seekers arriving in Western European countries in recent months, UNHCR has monitored developments in order to formulate appropriate policies. UNHCR has thus gathered and considered information on the composition and nature of the caseload, on current conditions in Iraq and on current conditions in neighbouring countries. On the basis of findings and the analysis thereof, UNHCR concluded that: the movement of Iraqis could not be considered a "mass influx"; that it was a mixed-motive movement with an important proportion of people leaving Iraq for valid refugee-related reasons and that they were, therefore, in need of international protection; that internal flight was not a realistic alternative to crossing international borders; that asylum options within the region were currently not feasible; and that Iraqi asylum-seekers needed to be afforded protection outside the immediate region. An assessment of these issues was shared with the European Union in February 1998. At the time of writing, UNHCR was developing an overall policy on the movement of Iraqi asylum-seekers.

Algerian asylum-seekers

6. UNHCR has expressed concern about increasing levels of violence in Algeria, and has appealed to Governments not to forcibly return rejected Algerian asylum-seekers without due consideration of the security risk they may face if they returned to Algeria at this time (March 1998). UNHCR recognizes that not all asylum-seekers from Algeria have legitimate claims to asylum. However, given the serious levels of violence that the country has experienced in recent months, UNHCR considers that a significant proportion of those seeking asylum at present are in genuine need of international protection. Accordingly, UNHCR has urged Governments to take a generous approach to their claims.

Amsterdam Treaty

7. UNHCR hopes that the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, signed on 2 October 1997, will facilitate the adoption of a coherent and comprehensive European asylum policy, based on common standards of protection which are consonant with internationally agreed standards. It looks forward to putting the existing consultative arrangements between the European Union and UNHCR in the harmonization process on a more formal basis, as foreseen by a Declaration to the Treaty.

Council of Europe

8. The 40-nation Council of Europe (CoE) Committee of Ministers adopted, in November 1997, a recommendation containing guidelines for member States to assess whether a country is a "safe third country" for individual asylum-seekers. The aim of the recommendation is to indicate under which conditions a country may be considered safe in order to provide appropriate and effective protection for asylum-seekers and refugees. UNHCR actively participated in the drafting of the text from its beginning and appreciates its adoption.

Baltic States

9. UNHCR welcomed the ratification of the 1951 Convention by all three Baltic states as well as Latvia's subsequent lifting of the geographical reservation in October 1997. Activities aimed at assisting the States with implementation of the Convention are ongoing, and support is also being provided to the establishment of reception centres in each of the three countries.

Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

10. On 11 and 12 June 1998, the UNHCR Regional Office in Brussels will host, in coordination with the European Women's Lobby, with a Belgian NGO, the National Council of Women of Belgium, as well as with a Dutch NGO, the Humanist Committee on Human Rights, a conference concerning women asylum-seekers and refugees titled "Toward a Gender-Sensitive Asylum Policy in Europe". The conference will accommodate 120 representatives from NGOs in Western, Central and Eastern Europe. The purposes of the conference are to provide information about substantive and procedural problems encountered by women asylum-seekers and refugees as well as legal standards and practical guidance to allow NGOs to address these problems, to identify lobby strategies at both the State and European Union levels to encourage States to address the problems encountered by women in the asylum process, and to create recommendations for a gender-sensitive asylum policy in Europe.

11. A new project formulated by UNHCR and the International Save the Children Alliance, "Separated Children in Europe", will assist child and adolescent refugees and asylum-seekers who are separated from their families. They include Bosnian children who remain dispersed throughout Europe as a result of failure to follow basic principles of documentation and tracing during evacuations, as well as young people fleeing from conflicts in many other regions who are also unidentified and unassisted. The project aims to promote the development of consistent policies and procedures in relation to these "lost" or unidentified young people, separated minors in detention and in refugee status determination procedures, and those who require family reunification. With support from the Government of Norway, UNHCR is deploying a Regional Child Policy Officer to Brussels to engage government officials at national and regional levels on behalf of minors in need of international protection. The International Save the Children Alliance and UNHCR will also work together to create information networks, conduct advocacy and promote collaboration among NGOs in Europe.

Oversight reports

12. An audit of UNHCR's cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) took place at Headquarters in 1997. As part of this audit, the project with IOM in France was reviewed. The report has not yet been made available.

13. UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service undertook a mission to Turkey and Greece in April 1997. The mission was carried out as part of a comprehensive regional inspection, which focused on Iraq and Iraqi refugees, and included the Islamic Republic of Iran. The mission was not an inspection in the usual sense, but gave priority to the operational issue of cross-border movements into and out of Turkey, primarily from northern Iraq.

14. Greece was added to the mission due to the relatively large number of Iraqi asylum-seekers, most of whom pass through Turkey and end up in Greece with the help of smugglers. Since 1992, status determination procedures have improved and local integration was made possible. Mandate status and resettlement are no longer options for refugees in Greece. The mission's recommendations are aimed at addressing the main areas of concern corresponding to directions underway at the Branch Office, namely close follow-up with the Government over the drafting of a Presidential Decree addressing procedure/reception and social benefits of asylum-seekers and the rights of recognized refugees. The focus of social services during 1997 has continued its shift from individual case counselling to a community-based approach.

B. Country reviews

1. Belgium

(a) Beneficiaries

15. A total of 11,787 asylum applications were lodged in Belgium in 1997, a marginal decrease from the 12,232 applications lodged during 1996. The main countries of origin were the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1,290 applications, of which 1,037 were from Kosovo), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,230), Albania (1,007), Romania (641) and Rwanda (565).

16. The Commissariat général aux réfugiés et aux apatrides considered a total of 5,887 cases during 1997, of which 1,728 were recognized as refugees and 4,027 were rejected. A total of 132 applications were withdrawn from the procedure.

17. The appeals board reviewed a total of 3,133 cases, of which 132 were accorded refugee status, 2,854 were rejected and 147 withdrew.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

18. The Regional Office in Brussels has increased its focus on various European institutions, and continues to liaise closely with the European Union institutions and to provide input into the European Union harmonization of asylum policy and practice, for example with regard to the implementation of the Dublin Convention which entered into force in September 1997. The Regional Office was also involved in the preparations for a multi-country European Union assistance project for asylum institution and capacity-building in the Associated countries in Central Europe.

19. The Office continues to intervene when necessary in precedent-setting cases, and has closely followed the implementation of the modifications to the new Belgian Aliens Law adopted in 1996. The Minister of the Interior, responding to UNHCR and NGO comments, has indicated that Belgium's approach to asylum has not become more restrictive despite the changes to the Aliens Law.

20. UNHCR pursues its contacts with NGOs and continues providing country of origin information as required . In 1998, the Office plans to concentrate on furthering its protection objectives, emphasizing its role with the European Union institutions and focusing on increasing its training and public awareness activities.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

21. UNHCR continues its cooperation with the Comité Belge d'aide aux réfugiés (CBAR) on individual cases where persons require assistance and advice relating to the asylum procedure or family reunification. It is expected that the CBAR activities will be further enhanced following confirmation of funding from the European Commission for 1998. The Office in Brussels will thus, in line with UNHCR's policy in Western Europe, transfer most of its individual casework to CBAR. Other activities are directly implemented by the Regional Office.

(d) Budget

22. No significant changes are proposed for the 1998 budget.

(e) Post situation

23. An additional post of Liaison Officer (European Union institutions) was created as of 1 January 1998 to strengthen UNHCR activities in this field, and a post of Senior Legal Advisor will be deployed from Headquarters as of mid-1998. The post of Liaison Officer (Repatriation) is foreseen for discontinuation in December 1998. A Belgian Government donation to General Programmes contributes to the salary of a staff member for community services activities.

2. Cyprus

24. A detailed report on UNHCR's activities in Cyprus was presented to the tenth meeting of the Standing Committee (EC/48/SC/CRP.3). The following paragraphs summarize 1997-1998 activities.

25. Some 100 persons approached UNHCR to request asylum in 1997. In the absence of national refugee legislation, all status determination is undertaken by UNHCR. The main activities of the Office in Cyprus focused on the bicommunal programme and on the draft refugee law. It is expected that this draft legislation will be approved and come into effect during 1998.

26. With the expected handover of the bicommunal programmes to a development-orientated United Nations agency in early 1998, UNHCR's future work in Cyprus will concentrate on the adoption and implementation of the national refugee law and on training.

3. Denmark

(a) Beneficiaries

27. During 1997, 5,100 persons applied for asylum in Denmark, a drop from the5,896 applications in 1996 and close to the 1995 level. The main countries of origin were Somalia (1,164), Iraq (831), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (408), Afghanistan (264), Bosnia and Herzegovina (220), the Islamic Republic of Iran (158), Sri Lanka (150), Armenia (139) and Pakistan (121). Among the applicants, there were also 394 stateless Palestinians.

28. During the year, 883 persons were granted Convention refugee status, 3,015 persons were granted de facto status, and 3,210 persons were rejected. At the appeal level, 118 persons were recognized as Convention refugees and 411 persons received de facto status. An additional 85 persons were allowed to stay on humanitarian or other grounds. A total of 1,713 persons were rejected.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

29. The attention of the media and political parties in Denmark during the year was increasingly focused on anti-foreigner sentiment, including a feeling that the current refugee/asylum regime is too liberal. This issue dominated the local elections of November 1997, and was behind the resignation of the Minister of the Interior in October 1997. Working groups have been established to review legislative changes which are expected to focus on a new integration law, deportation of foreign criminal offenders, a tightening up of family reunification measures and repatriation of rejected asylum-seekers.

30. A total of 321 persons repatriated voluntarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the course of 1997. Denmark is also a contributor to the Nordic Pilot Project for the temporary return of qualified professionals to Bosnia and Herzegovina, coordinated by UNHCR.

31. UNHCR activities in 1998 will focus on monitoring and participating in discussions on issues concerning current and proposed Danish asylum procedures, including monitoring of the Dublin Convention and other European Union-related developments. Training, with a shift from traditional methods towards more issue-related sessions, will continue. Denmark continues to offer 500 places for resettlement, and cooperates closely with UNHCR on this matter.

32. UNHCR, through the Regional Office in Stockholm, implements a public awareness campaign throughout the Nordic region.

4. Estonia

33. In February 1997, the Estonian Parliament adopted a national refugee law and ratified the 1951 Convention together with its 1967 Protocol. The law entered into force at the same time as the Convention, on 9 July 1997.

34. One person of Armenian origin applied for asylum in July 1997. This application has not yet been decided upon as the authorities are waiting for the relevant by-laws concerning asylum procedures to be issued.

35. The Estonian authorities have been engaged in amending existing legislation, when necessary, in order to bring it into conformity with their obligations under the 1951 Convention and the related national law.

36. UNHCR Stockholm continued to support implementation of the legislation, and has been extensively involved, together with Nordic Governments, in providing training to Estonian officials and NGOs.

37. UNHCR has no presence in Estonia apart from a designated official within UNDP who handles refugee and asylum matters, strongly supported by the UNHCR Office in Stockholm.

5. Finland

(a) Beneficiaries

38. The number of asylum applications registered in Finland increased by 37 per cent, from 711 in 1996 to 973 in 1997. The top ten countries of origin in 1997 were the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (184), Somalia (184), the former Yugoslavia (105), Iraq (102), the Russian Federation (70), Turkey (47), Sri Lanka (25), the Islamic Republic of Iran (23), Bosnia and Herzegovina (17) and Pakistan (15).

39. During 1997, a total of four persons were recognized as Convention refugees, 16 persons were allowed to stay on "in need of protection" grounds, 231 persons on humanitarian grounds and 30 persons on other grounds. Applications from 278 persons were rejected.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

40. In the first quarter of 1997, the Finnish Committee on Immigration and Asylum Policy (CIRP) submitted its report. The main recommendations centred on the introduction of an appeal with suspensive effect, the transfer of responsibility for eligibility interviews from the police to the Directorate of Immigration, an increase in the refugee resettlement quota and discontinuation of the Asylum Appeals Board. The CIRP furthermore recommended abandoning a list of "safe countries of origin", introduction of a temporary protection regime in case of mass influx, and closer adherence to UNHCR guidelines on status determination. The resettlement quota has, as a result, been increased by 100 places to a total of 600 for 1998.

41. Twenty-five persons repatriated voluntarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the course of 1997.

42. UNHCR participated in hearings of the CIRP, and its comments were duly considered. The Office is also involved in training and public awareness activities and cooperates closely with the Finnish Government on resettlement issues.

43. UNHCR, through the Regional Office in Stockholm, implements a public awareness campaign throughout the Nordic region.

6. France

(a) Beneficiaries

44. During 1997, there were 20,968 applications for asylum. Forty-five per cent of the applications were from Europe (the majority being Romanian), 32 per cent from Asia, 21 per cent from Africa, one per cent from the Americas and 0.9 per cent were stateless. In the first instance, 14,826 applications were rejected and 5,624 were recognized.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

45. During 1997, the French Government undertook reforms to its immigration legislation. UNHCR participated in the debate on the draft proposal and shared a position paper with the authorities and concerned NGOs. The main thrust of this paper centred on a separate and distinct law dealing with asylum and refugee matters, emphasis on the principle of non-refoulement, and an application of the refugee definition to include claims arising from persecution by non-state agents. The Bill passed the second reading in the National Assembly in early March 1998. UNHCR will continue to monitor the final stages of the legislative process and the implementation phase of this legislation.

46. As of 31 January 1998, 23,450 titres de séjour were granted in an attempt to resolve the issue of sans papiers, ten per cent being granted on the basis of family reunification. It is anticipated that all applications will have been dealt with by mid-1998.

47. As of mid-1997, 3,784 Bosnians had obtained refugee status in France and 7,394 Bosnians benefited from temporary protection. Temporary protection for Bosnians in France will cease only when certain conditions, such as safety and respect for human rights, are restored.

48. During 1998, the Office in France will continue to concentrate on putting forward UNHCR's position on the draft legislation, monitoring the Dublin Convention, visiting reception areas at points of entry (zones d'attente) and participating in hearings of the Refugee Appeals Commission (CRR). UNHCR is currently reviewing its role on the CRR. Training and public awareness activities are also priorities for the Office, which is concentrating on highlighting UNHCR's role regarding protection in the national and international context and sensitizing French opinion towards refugees by developing a public awareness media campaign.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

49. Implementing partners are IOM, France Terre d'Asile, the Service Social d'Aide aux Emigrants and the Association Nationale d'Assistance aux Frontières pour les Etrangers for activities in the fields of legal assistance, family reunion and social counselling.

(d) Budget

50. Programme budgets for 1998 remain at approximately the same levels as those of 1997, although reductions have been made in the funding for family reunification, gradually to be taken over by the French authorities.

51. The French Government provides funds for the staffing of Branch Office Paris in order to ensure UNHCR's participation in the CRR.

(e) Post situation

52. A post of Senior Protection Clerk was discontinued in February 1997. No post changes are foreseen for 1998.

7. Germany

(a) Beneficiaries

53. 1997 saw a marginal increase in the number of asylum-seekers in Germany, as in many other Western European countries. During the year, some 152,000 persons applied for asylum, 104,000 of whom applied for the first time. In 1996, the number of applications was slightly lower (149,000), but the number of first applications was somewhat higher (116,000) than in 1997. Updated figures on the total refugee population in Germany are not yet available.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

54. During 1997, UNHCR in Germany focused on attempts to ensure protection for victims of non-state agents of persecution and refugees from civil war situations, and on the repatriation of Bosnian refugees.

55. A series of court decisions in 1997 affirmed Germany's stance on victims of non-state persecution and refugees from civil war situations. In April 1997, the Federal Administrative Court affirmed that asylum under the Art. 16a of the German Constitution and protection against deportation under Section 51 of the Aliens Act was only available to victims of state persecution. In another decision, the same court held that protection under Section 53(4) of the Aliens Act (prohibiting return to a country where a risk of torture exists) only applies where the threat of torture emanates from the State or from a state-like organization.

56. Following the ending of the special regime of temporary protection for Bosnian refugees in December 1995, Germany planned a two-phase return of all Bosnians. In June 1997, the Conference of Interior Ministers recognized that ethnicity and place of origin should be taken into account in planning returns. The Conference therefore recommended that the forcible removal of Muslims or Croats from Republika Srpska should not be a priority. Since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, more than 100,000 Bosnians left Germany, of whom 929 were deported, leaving a remaining caseload of over 200,000, according to statistics provided by the Ministries of the Interior of the Federal States. In accordance with UNHCR's policies, the Office in Bonn continues to express concern over the forcible return of minorities.

57. During 1998, UNHCR activities will continue to focus on achieving protection for persons persecuted by non-state agents and for persons fleeing civil-war or failed-state situations, as well as for vulnerable groups who fail to obtain protection owing to a narrow interpretation of the refugee definition. The Office will monitor the Schengen Implementation Agreement and seek to improve the quality of decisions at first instance and appeals levels through ongoing training activities and the sharing of expert reports and position papers. Public information activities also remain a priority for the Office.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

58. UNHCR has a number of partners in Germany, such as the Deutsche Caritasverband, the Diakonisches Werk, the German Red Cross, the Deutsche Stiftung für UNO-Flüchtlingshilfe, the Bundesverband Information und Beratung für NS-Verfolgte and the Zentrale Dokumentationsstelle der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege, essentially for carrying-out legal assistance and public awareness activities.

(d) Budget

59. Funding for programme activities was decreased slightly in 1998 as compared to 1997.

(e) Post situation

60. In line with Government policy, the Branch Office in Bonn will be moved to Berlin in the second half of 1998.

61. In view of the size of the caseload and complexity of the repatriation to the former Yugoslavia, a second Liaison Officer post was created in early 1997, together with a post of Repatriation Assistant. These posts, and the Liaison Officer post created in 1996, are scheduled for discontinuation in December 1998.

8. Greece

(a) Beneficiaries

62. During 1997, a total of 4,367 applications for refugee status were lodged in Greece, a 279 per cent increase over the 1,564 applications lodged in 1996. The main countries of origin were Iraq (3,808), Turkey (172) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (139). During the same period, 2,010 persons received decisions, of which 1,865 were negative, 129 were positive, and

16 persons were granted humanitarian stay. In addition, 97 Iraqi Kurds were granted temporary protection.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

63. The revised draft legislation on asylum and refugee status was approved by Parliament in December 1996. The presidential decree implementing the asylum procedure has, however, not been finalized. UNHCR has participated, by providing comments, in the drafting of the decree. The main developments in the new law include the establishment of accelerated procedures for status determination, a new temporary protection regime, the right to work for asylum-seekers and holders of humanitarian permits, and legal provisions for family reunification.

64. Greece ratified the Schengen Convention in June 1997 and, in line with its new obligations, has undertaken to increase border controls as well as make efforts to prevent the onward movement of asylum-seekers or illegal migrants into other parts of Western Europe.

65. Two presidential decrees on the regularization of illegal migrants were officially presented, setting out a process by which foreigners currently living and working illegally in Greece may regularize their status by registering between 1 January and 31 May 1998.

66. The Branch Office in Athens continues to develop its relations with the Greek authorities and holds regular meetings with them on matters of mutual interest. The Office also intervenes, when required, to ensure access to the procedure, non-refoulement and obtain release from detention of asylum-seekers. UNHCR will focus its activities on priority areas such as the reception of asylum-seekers, refugee status determination procedures and integration, as well as reinforcing its activities in training and public information campaigns.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

67. UNHCR's main implementing partners in Greece are the Greek Refugee Council, for legal assistance and counselling work, the Social Work Foundation, which will establish an employment office to assist refugees and asylum-seekers with access to the employment market, and International Social Services, who are responsible for psycho-social counselling at the Lavrion Reception Centre for Asylum-Seekers.

(d) Budget

68. The 1998 budget remains at approximately the same level as 1997 expenditures.

(e) Post situation

69. No changes are foreseen in 1998 post levels.

9. Iceland

70. The number of asylum requests remains very low; a total of six requests were lodged in 1997 as compared to four in 1996. The Regional Office in Stockholm maintains regular contacts with the Government authorities and the Icelandic Red Cross, which is the lead NGO involved in asylum issues.

71. Iceland accepted 20 refugees for resettlement from the former Yugoslavia during 1997, and has indicated its willingness to accept a further 30 in 1998.

10. Ireland

(a) Beneficiaries

72. During 1997, 3,883 applications for asylum were lodged, as compared to 1,179 in 1996. The top five countries of origin were Romania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Algeria and Somalia.

73. A total of 516 decisions were taken during the year; 212 persons were recognized as Convention refugees (a recognition rate of 41 per cent), 120 were granted leave to remain on humanitarian grounds and 184 were rejected. By the end of 1997, the number of outstanding asylum applications stood at 4,075 as opposed to 757 in December 1996.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

74. The large increase in the numbers of asylum-seekers in Ireland has brought the issue of asylum-seekers and refugees to the forefront of public attention.

75. Several provisions of the 1996 Refugee Act entered into force in August 1997 through the Refugee Act 1996 Commencement Order 1997. However, these provisions relate to the definition of a refugee, prohibition of refoulement, implementation of the Dublin Convention and extradition, rather than to procedural matters. To fill the void, the Department of Justice announced, on 10 December 1997 in a letter to the UNHCR Representative, interim asylum procedures pending the full implementation of the Refugee Act. This would replace the old procedure which required UNHCR's opinion on each case.

76. A special team, funded by the Irish Government, was employed for six months by the UNHCR Office in London to clear a backlog of 400 cases. UNHCR maintained a presence in Ireland in the second half of 1997 through missions of two protection staff, and a Liaison Officer post was created.

77. UNHCR priorities in Ireland will focus on promoting implementation of the 1996 Refugee Act, monitoring of the application of the Dublin Convention, training of newly recruited Department of Justice eligibility staff, promoting a legal aid scheme, providing country of origin information and other background documentation, and general public awareness activities.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

78. Until the Refugee Act procedural provisions are implemented, all activities will be carried out directly by the Branch Office in London, through the Liaison Officer in Dublin.

(d) Budget

79. The 1998 budget was slightly increased as compared to 1997 in order for UNHCR to provide the requisite support to the Irish authorities in the implementation of the 1996 Act.

(e) Post situation

80. An Liaison Officer post, based in Dublin, was created in late 1997 to ensure a continuous UNHCR presence for 1998. This post, funded by the Irish Government, has a one year duration.

11. Italy

(a) Beneficiaries

81. During 1997, a total of 1,858 asylum applications were lodged in Italy, an increase of 275 per cent over the 675 applications made in 1996. The main countries of origin were Albania (917) and Iraq (336). A total of 348 persons were recognized as Convention refugees, and 1,306 were rejected.

82. In the first quarter of 1997, over 16,000 Albanians arrived in Italy as a result of the unstable situation in their country of origin.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

83. The early part of 1997 was marked by the arrival of over 16,000 Albanians who left their country as a result of the outbreak of violence in Albania. The Italian authorities allowed them to remain in Italy, under temporary protection, until 30 November 1997. Some 900 Albanians applied for Convention refugee status, and 70 were recognized. The authorities have since been repatriating those who were not recognized as refugees or who did not fall under certain specified humanitarian categories.

84. Illegal arrivals in Italy continued throughout 1997 and early 1998, culminating in the arrival of over 1,200 persons in the Puglia and Calabria regions in December 1997 and January 1998. The majority of the arrivals are Turkish nationals of Kurdish origin and Iraqi nationals of Kurdish origin, although several other nationalities are also present. Italy has come under strong pressure from the European Union to more strictly control its borders and to prevent onward movement of these persons to other European Union Member States. Most of the Iraqi nationals eventually decided to apply for refugee status. The Central Eligibility Commission is currently meeting in Puglia and Calabria to examine their applications.

85. The Italian Government has undertaken to revise its legislation relating to asylum and to immigration, and two draft laws were prepared to this effect in 1997. UNHCR contributed to this process through the provision of extensive comments in the drafting of the law relating to asylum-seekers and refugees. The Immigration Law was finally approved by Parliament on 19 February 1998, and provides for stricter measures to deal with illegal migrants, including detention prior to expulsion.

86. The main provisions of the draft asylum law include the establishment of pre-screening mechanisms, humanitarian status, and the establishment of assistance programmes for refugees through local authorities. In addition, recent amendments call for particular attention to be paid to women and children asylum-seekers and for implementation of the asylum provision of the Italian Constitution.

87. The Italian Government took the first steps towards implementation of the Schengen Agreement in October 1997 by eliminating immigration controls for travellers from the other Schengen countries.

88. The voluntary repatriation of Bosnians, carried out with IOM assistance, is still ongoing, with a total of 442 repatriations having taken place between January 1996 and December 1997.

89. The Office in Rome will continue, inter alia, to liaise with the authorities and NGOs on the revision of the asylum legislation, implementation of the Dublin Convention, admission and access for asylum-seekers to the refugee status determination procedure and participation in the Central Eligibility Commission. The Office is also involved in training activities, public awareness campaigns and a private sector fund raising programme.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

90. In Italy, UNHCR's main implementing partner is the Italian Refugee Council. The Office also contributes to the Ministry of the Interior project for one-time assistance to vulnerable cases and recently recognized refugees.

(d) Budget

91. The 1998 budget remains approximately the same as in 1997.

(e) Post situation

92. No changes are foreseen in 1998 post levels.

12. Latvia

93. There were no asylum-seekers registered in Latvia during 1997.

94. The Latvian Parliament ratified the 1951 Convention, with a geographical reservation, and adopted a national refugee law on 19 June 1997. However, on 2 October 1997, the Parliament voted to lift the geographical reservation.

95. In close cooperation with the Latvian authorities and the Nordic countries, and with substantial financial support from the United States Government, UNHCR is assisting in the construction of a reception centre for asylum-seekers near Riga. The centre will accommodate up to 300 persons with a full range of facilities.

96. UNHCR is planning to open an office in Riga covering the Baltic region in May 1998. In the meantime, a designated official within UNDP is handling refugee and asylum matters, strongly supported by the UNHCR Office in Stockholm.

13. Liechtenstein

97. In December 1997, the Principality of Liechtenstein hosted around 200 persons benefiting from temporary protection, including Bosnians (160), citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Tibetans (19). An ambitious return programme was developed by the authorities to promote the return of Bosnian citizens to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

98. The draft Asylum Act is currently under discussion in Parliament and is planned to enter into force in June 1998. If adopted, the law would become the first asylum law in Liechtenstein's history.

99. UNHCR's activities in the Principality are covered by the Unit for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, based at UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva.

14. Lithuania

(a) Beneficiaries

100. During 1997, 320 persons sought asylum in Lithuania. The main countries of origin were Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, India, Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

101. Five persons were recognized as Convention refugees and 54 persons were rejected at first instance. On appeal to the Refugee Affairs Board, one person was recognized as a Convention refugee and two persons were rejected.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

102. In January 1997, the Lithuanian Parliament ratified the 1951 Convention and the related 1967 Protocol. The Lithuanian Parliament had already adopted a national refugee law in July 1995, which came into force at the same time as the 1951 Convention, on 27 July 1997. In November 1997, the Parliament amended the refugee law to abolish the regulation on annual quotas of asylum-seekers, which was in contradiction to certain 1951 Convention provisions.

103. UNHCR, with the support of the Nordic Governments, has been assisting the Lithuanian authorities in establishing procedures for the effective implementation of the refugee law and in enhancing officials' knowledge of international standards and practice relating to refugees and asylum-seekers. A refugee reception centre was opened in Rukla, outside Kaunas, in 1996.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

104. Activities are implemented through the UNDP office in Vilnius, Lithuania, and by the Regional Office in Stockholm.

(d) Budget

105. The overall 1997 budget for the Baltic countries increased substantially as a result of a United States Government contribution towards construction of a reception centre in Latvia.

106. For Lithuania, funds have been made available for the renovation of an additional building at the Rukla reception centre, to increase its capacity to 350.

(e) Post situation

107. UNHCR has no presence in Lithuania apart from a designated official within UNDP who handles refugee and asylum matters, strongly supported by the UNHCR Office in Stockholm.

15. Luxembourg

108. Luxembourg held the presidency of the European Union in the second half of 1997. During this time, the authorities organized a seminar on asylum procedures in the European Union attended by officials of the Justice and Interior Ministries. The seminar reviewed the application of the London Resolutions and the European Union Resolution on minimum guarantees for asylum procedures.

109. As there is no UNHCR office in Luxembourg, activities are covered by the Regional Office in Brussels, in close cooperation with the Honorary Correspondent in Luxembourg. Main activities in this period included the production, by Luxembourg NGOs involved in asylum and refugee matters, of a guide for asylum-seekers, and participation in the refugee week, an NGO initiative which included round tables, films, exhibitions and events to focus public and media attention on the plight of refugees.

110. No statistics on the number of asylum-seekers in Luxembourg are available for 1997.

16. Malta

(a) Beneficiaries

111. The decreasing trend of asylum applications continued in Malta during 1997, with a total of 70 new applications registered as compared to 80 in 1996. All applicants, except one, came from Africa or the Middle East.

112. By the end of 1997, there were a total of 250 recognized refugees in Malta.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

113. The Government of Malta maintains the geographical limitation to the 1951 Convention. Hence, all status determination of non-European asylum-seekers is undertaken by UNHCR. The Office's primary objective in Malta is thus the removal of the geographical limitation by the Maltese Government and the establishment of properly functioning national eligibility procedures. UNHCR continues to seek work permits for recognized refugees. As integration possibilities in Malta are limited, resettlement activities are also carried out for certain categories of refugees, such as those with family links, and vulnerable cases.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

114. Care and maintenance activities for refugees recognized under the UNHCR Mandate are implemented by the Emigrants Commission of Malta.

(d) Budget

115. During 1997, the project budget for Malta was decreased in light of fewer arrivals than anticipated, and the phasing-out of assistance for refugees over a given time period. The revised 1998 budget was reduced as compared to 1997 expenditures and, if the current trend continues, further budgetary reductions may be possible.

(e) Post situation

116. There is no UNHCR presence in Malta. Activities are handled by the Branch Office in Rome, in close cooperation with the local implementing partner, the Emigrants Commission.

17. The Netherlands

117. During 1997, there were 34,443 applications for asylum, an increase as compared to the 22,857 applications lodged in 1996. The top ten countries of origin were Iraq (9,641), Afghanistan (5,920), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1,968), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1,652), Sri Lanka (1,497), Somalia (1,280), the Islamic Republic of Iran (1,253), China (1,158), Turkey (1,135) and the Sudan (678).

118. During 1997, a total of 49,142 cases were considered in the first instance and on appeal by the Dutch authorities, of which 6,630 were recognized as refugees under Dutch asylum law, 5,176 were given humanitarian status; 5,182 were granted conditional residence permits and 28,319 were rejected.

119. The current revision of the Dutch asylum policy includes draft laws on the application of Art. 1 of the 1951 Convention and the preparation of a draft law on the treatment of undocumented asylum-seekers, as well as simplification of the asylum procedure under the Dutch Aliens Law. The Secretary of State declared her interest in holding informal consultations with UNHCR on a regular basis in order to discuss the proposed revision.

120. Furthermore, UNHCR accepted to be consulted on a case-by-case basis on the interpretation and application of the exclusion clause of the 1951 Convention in Dutch asylum procedure.

121. The rise in asylum applications in 1997 has resulted in a number of measures being taken by the Ministry of Justice to reduce the influx, resulting in a stricter application of resettlement and family reunification criteria. The influx has also led to growing attention by the local media to migration and asylum matters. Indications are that asylum policy will be high on the agenda of all political parties in the forthcoming general elections in May 1998.

122. The Netherlands is an important resettlement country for UNHCR. The 1998 quota has not yet been confirmed. However, UNHCR hopes it will be maintained at the 1997 level of 500 places.

123. UNHCR's priorities for 1998 will focus on liaising with the authorities on matters of refugee law, country of origin information and training initiatives. In close cooperation with the Regional Office in Brussels, public awareness activities will be undertaken. UNHCR works closely with a wide variety of organizations in the Netherlands.

124. During 1997, the UNHCR office in The Hague entered into an agreement with the Dutch Ministry of Justice for a legal officer to work in the UNHCR Liaison Office "on loan" from the Ministry. This agreement entered into force on 1 October 1997 and, after a six month trial period, is expected to be effective for a period of one year.

18. Norway

125. The number of applications for refugee status in Norway rose from 1,778 in 1996 to 2,271 in 1997. The top ten countries of origin were Somalia (552), the former Yugoslavia (343), Iraq (272), Sri Lanka (196), the Islamic Republic of Iran (138), Bosnia and Herzegovina (90), Croatia (55), Ethiopia (48) and Turkey (44).

126. In January and February 1998, more than 800 asylum-seekers from the Krajina and East Slavonia regions of Croatia arrived in Norway. The majority of these persons are women and children.

127. In the course of 1997, 14 persons were granted Convention refugee status, 550 persons were granted humanitarian status and 1,428 persons were rejected. At the appeal level, four persons were recognized as Convention refugees and 176 persons received humanitarian status. A total of 1,364 persons were rejected. In addition, decisions were taken regarding Bosnian nationals who previously had received collective temporary protection; 69 were recognized as Convention refugees and 103 were rejected.

128. In January 1998, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice presented a proposal for the reform of the asylum procedure based on the recommendations of an internal study on this issue. According to the proposal, an appeals board will be established with the authority to review decisions made by the present first instance Directorate for Aliens (UDI).

129. On 13 January 1998, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice also presented new guidelines for refugee status determination based on these recommendations. The main points are: persecution emanating from non-state agents will be considered as grounds for 1951 Convention refugee status; consideration of cases claiming fear of persecution on account of participation in an armed group will now be possible; and persecution on account of gender or sexual orientation will be considered under the 1951 Convention. The Ministry of Justice also announced that the application of the safe third country concept will be liberalized.

130. During 1997, 488 persons voluntarily repatriated to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Norway. The Norwegian Government is supporting various programmes in Bosnia and Herzegovina aimed at reconstruction, and also participates in the Nordic Pilot Project for the temporary return of qualified professionals, coordinated by UNHCR.

131. Norway cooperates closely with UNHCR on resettlement issues and has increased its annual resettlement quota from 1,000 in 1997 to 1,500 for 1998. UNHCR continues to hold discussions with the authorities on eligibility issues, asylum policy and provision of country of origin information, and conducts training and public awareness activities.

132. UNHCR, through the Regional Office in Stockholm, implements a public awareness campaign throughout the Nordic region.

19. Portugal

(a) Beneficiaries

133. The number of asylum applications decreased from 269 in 1996 to 251 in 1997. The main countries of origin were Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Romania and Nigeria.

134. Of the 194 decisions in 1997, there were 205 rejections and four recognitions under the 1951 Convention. A further 12 persons were granted humanitarian status.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

135. A draft asylum law was approved by Parliament on 29 January 1998. The main provisions include the introduction of accelerated procedures, the institutionalization in the legislation of a role for the Portuguese Refugee Council, appeal of the final decision in the regular procedure to the Supreme Administrative Court, with suspensive effect, reinforcement of family reunification provisions, and the introduction of a set of minimal conditions for social assistance.

136. During 1998, the Office will concentrate on the effective implementation of the asylum legislation and monitoring of the Dublin Convention. Training activities will be increased, and the Office will also undertake public awareness campaigns and sensibilization of the population to UNHCR and its work.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

137. The main implementing partner in Portugal is the Portuguese Refugee Council. UNHCR also has an agreement with the Regional Social Security Centres.

(d) Budget

138. The 1998 budget is somewhat lower than the level of 1997 expenditures.

(e) Post situation

139. No changes are foreseen in 1998 post levels.

20. Spain

(a) Beneficiaries

140. A total of 4,855 persons applied for asylum in Spain in 1997, a number almost identical to the 4,730 applicants in 1996. During 1997, the main countries of origin were Romania (1,515), Nigeria (373), Liberia (323), Cuba (283), Algeria (273), Armenia (177) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (168).

141 During 1997, 152 applicants were recognized as refugees under the 1951 Convention, 224 applicants were granted humanitarian status and 4,272 cases were rejected.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

142. Arrivals in Ceuta and Melilla continue to focus the attention of the authorities, UNHCR and other organizations on the conditions facing asylum-seekers. However, accommodation facilities for asylum-seekers improved in Ceuta following the rehabilitation of Calamocarro reception centre in 1997 and the provision of medical assistance. In June 1997, the Ombudsman called on the Interior Ministry to take urgent measures to solve the serious situation of the immigrants in Ceuta and Melilla, beginning with the respect for human rights.

143. The proposed establishment of a resettlement quota was discussed throughout the course of the year, and UNHCR will continue to support the Spanish Government in devising an annual quota which takes UNHCR concerns into consideration.

144. An estimated 150 Bosnian nationals, with different legal status in Spain (refugee status, temporary protection, etc.) were voluntarily repatriated to Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1997 under NGO and Government funded programmes. Most of these returns were to Sarajevo.

145. The Office in Madrid will focus on the implementation of asylum procedures in the framework of its responsibilities entrusted by the Spanish legislation and the UNHCR mandate. The Office will also continue monitoring of the Schengen Agreement and enhance refugee law training activities. In terms of public awareness, the Office will undertake activities in close cooperation with the UNHCR Spanish Committee "España con ACNUR".

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

146. UNHCR's implementing partner in Spain is the Spanish Committee "España con ACNUR", for both legal assistance and public awareness activities.

(d) Budget

147. The 1998 programme budget is slightly lower than 1997 expenditure levels. The fund raising activities of "España con ACNUR" are supported through a trust fund.

(e) Post situation

148. No changes are foreseen in 1998 post levels.

21. Sweden

(a) Beneficiaries

149. During 1997, 9,662 asylum-seekers arrived in Sweden as compared to 5,753 in 1996. The top ten countries of origin were Iraq (3,057), the former Yugoslavia (2,115), Bosnia and Herzegovina (742), Somalia (364), the Islamic Republic of Iran (356), the Russian Federation(231), Turkey (208), Poland (179), Afghanistan (176) and Croatia (155).

150. At first instance, 4,719 persons received a positive decision (breakdown by category not available). Applications from 5,150 persons were rejected.134 applications were handed over to the Aliens Appeals Board for decisions and 764 applications were closed.

151. At both first and second instance, 8,416 persons received a positive decision during the year, of whom 1,310 were granted Convention status. 739 persons were allowed to stay on "in need of protection" grounds and 6,367 on humanitarian grounds.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

152. The amended Aliens Act came into force in January 1997. The main reforms included the creation of a two-year regime of temporary protection in situations of mass influx, with a possible two-year extension, the inclusion of claims of persecution by non-state agents for consideration under the 1951 Convention, the introduction of an "in need of protection" category which includes persons fleeing from armed conflict, the inclusion of gender and sexual orientation under the "in need of protection" category, and the inclusion of "best interests of the child" provisions in the Preamble of the Act. The ongoing parliamentary committee (NIPU) is looking into moving appeals from the Aliens Appeals Board to the administrative courts. Its findings are now expected in October 1998.

153. During 1997, 755 persons voluntarily repatriated to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Sweden. Swedish authorities expect 1,500 persons to return during 1998, provided that the conditions remain unchanged. If a significant improvement of the situation occurs, the authorities hope that up to 5,000 persons may return. Sweden is involved in providing assistance for reconstruction and also participates in the Nordic Pilot Project.

154. Sweden remains an important resettlement country and has indicated that it will maintain its quota of 1,800 places in 1998.

155. The UNHCR Office in Stockholm maintains a close working relationship with NGOs throughout the region, as well as with governmental counterparts. The Office also arranges and participates in training seminars, at both regional and country level, and conducts extensive external relations work.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

156. UNHCR works with a wide range of organizations throughout the Nordic region. However, there are no implementing partners as such in Sweden.

(d) Budget

157. There is a small programme budget for implementation of public information and training activities in the Nordic and Baltic regions. The 1998 budget has not changed from that of 1997.

(e) Post situation

158. The Regional Office in Stockholm covers UNHCR activities in the Nordic and Baltic regions. A Junior Professional Officer post of Associate Public Information Officer was created in 1997. For 1998, the deployment to Riga of the Senior Liaison Officer (Baltics) is foreseen. The post of Liaison Officer (Repatriation) is scheduled for discontinuation at the end of 1998.

22. Switzerland

(a) Beneficiaries

159. During 1997, the total number of asylum claims in Switzerland increased significantly, reaching 23,982 persons as compared to 18,001 in 1996. The main countries of origin were the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (6,913), Albania (3,081), Sri Lanka (2,137), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1,987) and Turkey (1,398). This trend was confirmed in the first two months of 1998 as the number of asylum-seekers increased by 50 per cent as compared to the same months in 1997.

160. In 1997, the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees considered a total of 23,612 cases, of which 2,636 were granted refugee status and 2,755 were given temporary protection. The remainder were rejected.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

161. The draft revision of the asylum act is still being discussed in Parliament and will not enter into force before 1999. The revision foresees the introduction of a temporary protection regime and refers specifically to persecution of women. Nevertheless, UNHCR is concerned by recent amendments introduced by the Conseil des Etats (second chamber) which restrict access to the asylum procedure for asylum-seekers who enter Switzerland illegally as well as for asylum-seekers without personal documents.

162. UNHCR was associated with the Swiss authorities in an in-depth study on Switzerland's resettlement policy on the basis of which the Federal Council will decide whether it will maintain its present policy.

163. More than 5,000 Bosnian citizens benefited from the return programme implemented by the Swiss authorities. UNHCR maintains that further protection should be granted to those minorities who cannot return to their region of origin and should not be forced to resettle in majority areas. A readmission agreement was signed with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1997 which foresees the progressive return of more than 14,000 rejected asylum-seekers.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

164. Implementing partners include the Organisation Suisse d'aide aux réfugiés (OSAR) and the Swiss Foundation of the International Social Service, for legal assistance and protection activities.

(d) Budget

165. The budget for UNHCR's two implementing partners was reduced by 20 per cent in 1997 in accordance with UNHCR's policy in Western Europe.

(e) Post situation

166. Further to an agreement signed in February 1998 between the Government of Switzerland and UNHCR, a post was created within the Unit for Switzerland and Liechtenstein to enable the enhanced involvement of UNHCR in the airport asylum procedure as provided for by the Swiss asylum law.

23. United Kingdom

(a) Beneficiaries

167. During 1997, 32,500 new applications (excluding dependants) for asylum were made in the United Kingdom, an increase over the 27,875 applications lodged in 1996. The top ten countries of origin were Somalia (2,730), the former Yugoslavia (2,245), some countries of the former Soviet Union (2,015), China (1,945), Sri Lanka (1,830), Pakistan (1,615), Colombia (1,330), Nigeria (1,480), Turkey (1,445) and India (1,285).

168. In 1997, a total of 36,045 decisions were taken; 3,985 cases were granted Convention status (a recognition rate of 11 per cent), 3,115 cases were granted exceptional leave to remain, and 28,945 cases were rejected. At the end of 1997, 51,795 applications were still pending.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

169. A review of the asylum system in the United Kingdom began following the election of a new Government in May 1997. The review is expected to recommend extensive reforms such as the discontinuation of a list of designated safe countries of origin, reform of the appeal procedure and changes in detention policy. The Government is holding consultations on these issues with concerned bodies, including UNHCR.

170. Detention practices remain an issue of concern to UNHCR and have also been the subject of numerous reports from NGOs. Immigration officers have wide powers of detention under the 1971 Immigration Act, and there is often no right to apply for bail. Continuing detention or release are at the discretion of the Home Office. UNHCR is involved in continuing discussions with authorities, particularly on the question of detention.

171. The United Kingdom holds the European Union presidency for the first half of 1998. Main items on the agenda include the effective implementation of the Dublin Convention, an exchange of "good practice" in handling large numbers of asylum applications, discussions on the European Union joint action plan on temporary protection, and an action plan on the influx of Iraqi citizens into the countries of the European Union.

172. There is no formal resettlement quota in the United Kingdom, although discussions between the Government and UNHCR on this issue have taken place. However, cases may be accepted on a discretionary basis.

173. Priority issues for 1998 will focus on improvement of the decision-making process, monitoring implementation of the Dublin Convention, participation in policy discussions regarding the practice of detention, enhanced training activities and public information campaigns.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

174. Implementing partners include UK for UNHCR for public awareness and private sector fund-raising, IOM for voluntary repatriation of refugees, the Refugee Legal Centre for legal assistance and protection activities, and the British Red Cross Society for family reunion and resettlement-related activities.

(d) Budget

175. The 1998 programme budget did not decrease as originally foreseen because of an agreement with the Refugee Legal Centre to continue funding at 1996 levels for the following two years when funding will cease entirely, as opposed to a 20 per cent reduction over five years as previously expected.

(e) Post situation

176. No changes are foreseen in 1998 post levels.


A. Sub-regional overview

177. The core component of UNHCR's strategy in Central Europe is to influence the legislative process leading to the establishment of comprehensive, efficient and fair asylum systems. To complement these efforts, UNHCR is also assisting Governments in capacity-building through training and limited assistance, particularly in countries where national structures for refugee status determination need to be further developed. A similar capacity-building approach also applies to local NGOs dealing with asylum and refugees. In such cases, training reaches beyond refugee law to cover areas such as fund raising and project management so as to reduce dependence on UNHCR support.

178. All countries in the sub-region have acceded to the Geneva Convention and the 1967 Protocol. In December 1997, Hungary lifted its geographical reservation to the 1951 Convention. As a result, all States in Central Europe are now party to the Convention without a geographical reservation. Furthermore, most countries in the sub-region have adopted asylum legislation and the administrative norms required for the implementation of the Convention, and are gradually establishing the related structures. In view of economic problems, very few countries have committed the resources required for the reception of asylum-seekers and the integration of refugees. However, UNHCR welcomes the progress achieved to date and is also appreciative for having been extensively consulted throughout the legislative process as well as in the adoption of implementing norms. UNHCR also appreciates the efforts made by Poland and the Slovak Republic in making office premises available to UNHCR free of charge.

179. Nevertheless, some problems remain. These include, for example, time limits set on asylum applications, practical difficulties in acceding to asylum procedures, insufficient remedies, particularly in accelerated procedures, excessive detention of asylum-seekers and limitations on the duration of asylum. There are different practices in the sub-region, as these problems are not as acute in all countries. UNHCR acknowledges the laudable goodwill and effort shown by all its counterparts in the sub-region, despite often serious economic and transition problems. It remains confident that these difficulties can be overcome, particularly with adequate financial and technical support, and within the momentum generated by the accession process to the European Union. As a case in point, UNHCR's experience in the Czech Republic and Poland is evidence of how significant progress can be achieved if the asylum issue is placed on the agenda with the commitment it deserves.

180. With asylum procedures in place and functioning in most Central European countries, problems related to rejected cases and integration of recognized refugees have become more acute. UNHCR is concerned that failure to address these problems meaningfully could restrict access to asylum procedures or result in backlogs that leave asylum-seekers in a state of vulnerability and economic hardship. Tackling these problems requires a concerted international and inter-agency effort that goes beyond what UNHCR can effectively do, particularly within the limited financial resources available for the region. This explains UNHCR's pro-active search for partnerships with the European Union's PHARE programme, the Council of Europe's Social Development Fund and IOM, in areas where these agencies can complement and enhance efforts to build an effective asylum system.

181. Some of the strains witnessed in asylum systems can be linked to an increase in the number of persons seeking asylum in the sub-region, although they remain within a manageable range. For instance, the number of asylum-seekers in Poland soared from 840 in 1995 to over 3,500 in 1997. In other countries, figures usually remained below that level, while following the same trend. Nevertheless, there is a widespread perception that these countries are increasingly becoming target countries for asylum-seekers and refugees, rather than merely countries of transit.

182. In order to assist Central European countries in meeting the challenges they face, UNHCR has been seeking the support of the European Commission, and particularly its PHARE programme, for strengthening their asylum systems. Currently, the Commission and several European Union Member States are developing a project in the framework of the PHARE Horizontal Programme on Justice and Home Affairs, which intends to support the implementation of standards and practices in the Associated States. UNHCR welcomes this and other initiatives taken by the European Union to support Central European States in their capacity-building efforts in the areas of justice and home affairs. UNHCR's involvement in this project has been extensively discussed with the European Commission. It is expected that a satisfactory conclusion will be reached on practical modalities, thereby leading to a new partnership framework.

183. A key instrument of UNHCR's advocacy and promotion strategy in the sub-region has been a series of international conferences on the protection of refugees in Central Europe, the latest of which was held in Budapest in April 1997. The proceedings of this Symposium, which included topics of particular interest to the ten Central European States associated with the European Union, have been published in the European Series (Volume 3, No 2, December 1997). The next Symposium is planned for September 1998 in Bled, Slovenia. A novelty of the Bled Symposium will be the establishment of an inventory and evaluation of existing assistance projects in the Associated States.

184. While closely following developments in the region, UNHCR also aims at disseminating information which may facilitate the understanding of receiving countries of the causes of population movements and, hence, in determining the need for international protection. It is in this spirit that the Office is regularly issuing guidelines relating to the eligibility for refugee status of various groups of asylum-seekers. The most recent guidelines relate to Roma asylum-seekers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In this context, UNHCR also issued instructions to its own offices and recommendations to States to apply the cessation clause of Article 1 C of the Geneva Convention to refugees who had left Bulgaria or Romania as a result of the events in these two countries prior to 1990.

185. During the reporting period, UNHCR has continued its activities relating to the reduction and prevention of statelessness. To this end, the Office has been providing advice and assistance to Governments and individuals on nationality matters, including the drafting and implementation of citizenship legislation. The rewarding experience in the Czech Republic, where UNHCR and a local NGO have been implementing, since 1996, a project aimed at providing legal counselling and administrative guidance, is now likely to be replicated in Slovenia. In January 1998, a workshop was jointly organized with the Council of Europe in Bucharest on citizenship issues in Romania.

Oversight reports

186. Following a mission by UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service to Central Europe in late 1996, during which a number of issues from the regional perspective were raised, the main recommendations were addressed by the Regional Bureau for Europe. The status of compliance was reviewed and it was concluded that the recommendations have, as a whole, been satisfactorily implemented.

187. The report's main recommendations concerned the appraisal and need for the adjustment of UNHCR's regional strategy and structure in Europe. Of particular interest was the role of the Regional Office in Vienna with respect to the decentralization trend established under Project Delphi. After consultations, the Bureau opted for the Regional Service Centre concept. The centres will provide specialist support in various fields to the country offices in the region. Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

188. Following extensive consultations between the Regional Senior Advisor on Refugee Women and UNHCR field offices, a strategic plan for gender issues in Central Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States was finalized and distributed throughout the region in June 1997. The document provides detailed background to the issues, defines regional priority needs, goals and objectives, opportunities and challenges, an approach and scope, a broad range of activities, the means of delivering this effort, and success indicators. The document also encourages UNHCR offices to draw up their own action plans defining their overall approach to, and specific activities on behalf of, refugee women. The process of drawing up action plans is currently underway and will be actively followed up.

189. A survey was carried out in the region on how to integrate gender issues into regional training. Conclusions stressed, inter alia, the need to standardize and build material and documentation resources in UNHCR offices. Implementation of these conclusions will be an important step in helping UNHCR offices in the region to become more active and proficient in their gender-oriented protection and assistance activities.

190. Policy priorities for children will be formulated by a newly appointed Regional Policy Officer for Children.

B. Country reviews

1. Albania

(a) Beneficiaries

191. As at 1 January 1998, UNHCR assisted 30 refugees, 24 of whom are from the former Yugoslavia, three from Iraq, and three from the Syrian Arab Republic. Approximately 50 per cent of the refugee population are female and 25 per cent are under the age of five years.

(b) Recent development and objectives

192. In early 1997, Albania witnessed a total breakdown of law and order coupled with a complete collapse of governmental structures. As a result, several thousand persons fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Italy and Greece. During the events which followed the collapse of the so-called "pyramid schemes", UNHCR closely monitored the humanitarian situation in Albania and the outflow of Albanians in order to address the implications of this movement in terms of international protection. As the crisis unfolded, UNHCR issued four position papers to advise the Governments affected by the influx on appropriate protection and assistance measures. UNHCR recognized that a large number of people were leaving Albania for reasons not related to a need for protection. However, noting that departures motivated by protection concerns could not be excluded, the Office stressed the importance for these persons to reach safety and have their protection needs assessed and appropriately met.

193. Thanks to a major international effort, the situation gradually improved and elections could take place by end-June 1997. UNHCR continued to monitor developments and to uphold the key principle that persons seeking asylum should have their claims properly examined. On the other hand, it was not felt necessary for UNHCR to take a lead role in the return of Albanians who left their country during the crisis, particularly since a return programme was initiated by IOM.

194. A mass information campaign was launched in 1997 to assist those Albanians planning to leave in reaching an informed decision. It addressed, in a comprehensive manner, issues such as asylum, refugee status, illegal departure, as well as related economic and health aspects.

195. Since 1993, UNHCR has endeavoured to build an emergency preparedness and response capacity in the framework of the Refugee Contingency Plan for a possible influx from Kosovo. Several ministries, NGOs and United Nations agencies have been involved in the preparation and regular updating of this plan. Progress was achieved, particularly in the identification of five possible refugee reception sites. The process reached a standstill in 1997, mainly due to the lack of government counterparts, but has now been re-activated. However, Albania's presently limited capacity to cope with a large influx is acknowledged.

196. While Albania has acceded to the 1951 Convention, there are numerous gaps in the Albanian legislation on asylum. UNHCR is therefore promoting support of governmental and non-governmental institution for the development of a legal framework to enable the Albanian authorities to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees in a manner that is consistent with international standards. UNHCR is supporting the newly established Migration Office in the drafting of asylum legislation. Capacity-building and training remain key components in establishing, and effectively implementing, refugee status determination procedures.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

197. UNHCR is collaborating with the Albanian Red Cross for implementation of the care and maintenance project. The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) is implementing the mass information programme. In the framework of the emergency contingency planning process, UNHCR is collaborating with OXFAM which undertook water surveys at selected reception sites in preparation of a possible mass influx.

(d) Budget

198. During 1997, and in view of the crisis in Albania, an increase in the initial allocation was necessitated to accommodate, in particular, the mass information programme. The allocation was further increased for 1998 to take into consideration the continuation of this programme and for capacity and institution-building of government institutions.

(e) Post situation

199. The staffing level remains unchanged (four posts in 1997 and 1998).

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

200. The UNHCR Office in Tirana is assisting a limited number of urban vulnerable individuals/families with allowances to cover food, shelter and medical treatment. Children of ethnic Albanian refugees from the former Yugoslavia are granted access to Albanian schools and are treated on an equal basis with Albanian children. The same applies to refugee women.

(g) Oversight reports

201. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

2. Austria

(a) Beneficiaries

202. During 1997, 6,719 persons lodged asylum applications in Austria. During the same year, the cases of 8,363 persons were decided; 639 were granted asylum. The main countries of origin include Iraq, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey. Over 75 per cent of the asylum-seekers are male. While 468 persons applied for asylum in January 1997, the number increased to 724 in January 1998. The number of Bosnians benefiting from the special federal/provincial care and maintenance programme decreased from 11,431 in 1996 to 5,785 in December 1997, due in large part to voluntary repatriation.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

203. The new Asylum Act entered into force on 1 January 1998, and it incorporates many of UNHCR's recommendations. Among the improvements, UNHCR welcomes the establishment of an independent appeal body, the Unabhängiger Bundesasylsenat (UBAS), with 35 decision-makers under a chairman and deputy. The UBAS began its work in January and has maintained close contact with UNHCR. Among the remaining issues of concern, however, are the lack of procedural safeguards in the newly introduced accelerated procedure, and a provision allowing the Embassy of the home country of an asylum-seeker to be contacted and provided with data on the case immediately after a negative first instance decision.

204. A high proportion of asylum-seekers and refugees have continued to be detained, even where there is no realistic possibility of their being returned to a third country or to their country of origin, and in conditions often giving rise to concern. Although, in a positive development, the Ministry of Interior and selected NGOs reached agreement in the last quarter of 1997 on a country-wide detention project for asylum-seekers giving detainees free access to counselling and social assistance, the number of detained asylum-seekers has, in fact, further increased since.

205. Significant progress was achieved towards durable solutions for Bosnians after the Ministry of Interior accepted UNHCR's offer to assist in the implementation of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group (HIWG) recommendations of December 1996 and April 1997. The measures undertaken on repatriation and to assist local integration enabled the number of Bosnians awaiting a durable solution to be reduced by half. Local authorities and NGOs provided repatriation counselling to all Bosnian refugees still under temporary protection, and the temporary protection of those still unable to repatriate was selectively extended on the basis of HIWG criteria and detailed country-of-origin information provided by UNHCR. Approximately 2,000 persons benefited from government repatriation/reintegration assistance, 300 to 400 from Austrian-funded repair and reconstruction of their housing, and 250 from UNHCR housing programmes. The Government intends to discontinue temporary protection on 31 July 1998, and it is expected to announce criteria for extension of stay on humanitarian or protection grounds.

206. The Office will follow up on the implementation of the new aliens and refugee legislation to promote compatibility with international standards. In this context, it will maintain and further strengthen the already well-established cooperation with the UBAS in the areas of UNHCR policy, country-of-origin information and training. UNHCR will also assist in the improvement of the quality and capacity of legal and social counselling, the decision-making skills of the main actors in the Austrian asylum procedure, and the strengthening of the NGO/lawyers network, including cross-border contacts with counterparts in neighbouring countries. It will continue to monitor the detention situation and intervene whenever required. In view of Austria's forthcoming European Union presidency and the recent entry into force of the Dublin Convention and the Schengen Implementation System in Austria, the Office will maintain an update on each of these developments. With regard to Bosnians, durable solutions for some 8,300 persons will have to be worked out in the first half of the year. UNHCR will promote voluntary repatriation and adequate durable residency and assistance provisions for those unable to repatriate or to be absorbed into Austrian society.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

207. During the last five years, UNHCR and Caritas have pursued a legal counselling project, under which asylum-seekers and refugees are able to benefit directly from legal advice, representation and/or assistance provided through the network of lawyers, or indirectly as a result of standard-setting jurisprudence resulting from the project. In order to contribute to the future sustainability of the legal network, UNHCR and Caritas are jointly seeking to identify additional partners in Austria willing to co-fund the project. The fourth annual NGO-UNHCR Forum was held in Vienna in November 1997. This two-day event helped strengthen coordination among all Austria's refugee-assisting NGOs with UNHCR and with Provincial and Federal Government authorities.

(d) Budget

208. The initial and revised budgets for 1997 and 1998 remained largely unchanged.

(e) Post situation

209. Apart from a newly created post of Senior Repatriation Clerk in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Unit, the staffing level remains unchanged from previous years.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

210. In 1997, the annual UNHCR award for an NGO refugee project in Austria went to a refugee women's project in Upper Austria. In this connection, a public information document describing the activities of NGOs benefiting women refugees was prepared and given wide distribution.

(g) Oversight reports

211. A report of the 1996 mission of the UNHCR Inspection and Evaluation Service to Central European countries was distributed in mid-1997. An interim report on progress and follow-up action was prepared in January 1998.

3. Bulgaria

(a) Beneficiaries

212. By January 1998, a total of 2,041 asylum-seekers were registered with the National Bureau on Territorial Asylum and Refugees (NBTAR) as compared to 1,600 persons in January 1997. The monthly average of new applications in 1997 increased to 38 as compared to 23 in 1996.

213. By January 1998, a total of 368 persons had received refugee status compared to 240 in January 1997 and 113 in January 1996. Most of the asylum-seekers are from Afghanistan (599), the former Yugoslavia (261), Iraq (208) and stateless persons (156). The remainder are from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and from the Commonwealth of Independent States countries.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

214. Major efforts were made to improve and finalize the drafting of the refugee law. In spite of the change of Government in April 1997 and efforts made by UNHCR, the adoption of this law is currently not a priority for the Government. It is hoped that the draft refugee law will be introduced in the Parliament by September 1998. At present, the draft has been cleared by all ministries and is with the Council of Ministers waiting to be included in the agenda of the Parliament.

215. During 1997, a gradual transfer of responsibility for the refugee assistance programme to the Government has been pursued. Some progress was made in this direction with NBTAR agreeing to pay subsistence allowances to asylum-seekers equal to the payments made to vulnerable Bulgarians. The law on social security and health services, adopted in November 1997, was also amended to include refugees as beneficiaries.

216. Efforts have been made to outsource the training of government counterparts and the border police. In this connection, an agreement was reached with the Police Academy under which the Academy started an intensive programme for training of police and border officials in refugee law. The Academy has also included refugee law in the curriculum for future training.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

217. A division of responsibilities among UNHCR implementing partners in Bulgaria was introduced during 1997 in order to avoid duplication of work. The Bulgarian Red Cross (BRC) is responsible for social and medical counselling and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) is responsible for legal counselling. During 1997, two new NGO partners have been established; Help the Needy, taking care of all the asylum-seekers and refugees in Plovdiv, and Future, located in Haskovo, close to the border with Turkey, facilitating refugees' access to the Bulgarian border authorities and helping to register asylum-seekers with the NBTAR.

(d) Budget

218. The initial 1998 allocation has been somewhat reduced, resulting in the deferral of certain activities to 1999.

(e) Post situation

219. The number of posts (two international and six local staff) remains unchanged for 1997 and 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

220. UNHCR is working closely with NGOs such as the Nadja Centre for Women Victims of Violence and the Assistance Centre for Torture Survivors who have included refugee women in their programmes. In addition, two special Integration Centres were established in Sofia and Plovdiv. These centres provide facilities for learning trades. The main objective of these centres is to provide support to women who wish to supplement their family income or who want to become self-sufficient.

221. In Bulgaria, education for children is free. UNHCR is providing supplementary support in the form of stationery, clothing, breakfast and lunch. In 1997, a summer camp was arranged for intensive training of those children who were weak in the Bulgarian language. Similar activities are planned for 1998.

(g) Oversight reports

222. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

4. Czech Republic

(a) Beneficiaries

223. The total number of asylum applications lodged in the Czech Republic during 1997 was 2,098 as compared to 2,156 in 1996. The main countries of origin were Bulgaria (724), Iraq (281), Afghanistan (268), Romania (156) and Algeria (66). As of 31 January 1998, there were 643 asylum-seekers in the various stages of the procedure. The number of persons granted refugee status during the period from 1991 to 31 December 1997 was 1,739, of whom 1,489 are believed still to be living in the Czech Republic.

224. During 1997, all refugees from the former Yugoslavia covered by the temporary protection regime found a durable solution, either through the repatriation programme jointly implemented by the Government and UNHCR or through another type of residence in the Czech Republic, including long-term stay or permanent residence. Those Bosnians suffering physical or mental disabilities, numbering 119 persons including family members, were granted permanent residence under a government-designed humanitarian programme.

225. As of December 1997, 4,104 persons deemed to be de facto stateless were receiving legal counselling and procedural guidance to ascertain their nationality through a UNHCR-funded project implemented by a local NGO. Most of the beneficiaries are children under foster care and prisoners. As of 31 January 1998, the number of persons receiving assistance under this project had increased to 4,352.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

226. The Czech Government is in the process of drafting new legislation on asylum and aliens. The basic concepts, as well as the initial drafts of the detailed provisions of the new laws, have been submitted to UNHCR for comments. In view of the political uncertainty which has recently emerged in the Czech Republic, it is expected that the final approval of the new legislation, previously scheduled for 1998, will be delayed to 1999. The temporary protection scheme designed for refugees from the former Yugoslavia expired on 30 September 1997 with all the beneficiaries having found a durable solution. The humanitarian centres which housed this group of refugees were closed in late 1997.

227. The legal context was marked by an amendment to the provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with the expulsion of foreigners which brought the related Czech law closer to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, the Government agreed to make full use of the waiver of the clean-criminal-record condition for former Czechoslovaks applying for Czech citizenship. Moreover, an amnesty was declared by the President of the Republic in early 1998 affecting over 1,500 persons, including former Czechoslovaks, asylum-seekers and other foreigners.

228. During the second half of 1997, a relatively important number of Czech Roma, claiming to be targets of widespread discrimination and skinhead violence, left the Czech Republic for Canada and the United Kingdom seeking asylum. In view of the outflow, the Czech Government moved to adopt a plan of action aimed at improving the integration of Roma in terms of housing, employment and education.

229. The major objectives set by UNHCR for 1998 include contributing to the drafting of the new legislation on refugees and foreigners, ongoing monitoring of all aspects of the Czech asylum system, including border monitoring, and ensuring that adequate procedural, legal and social counselling as well as exceptional limited material assistance is made available to all persons of concern, including the stateless. Increased attention is being paid to the integration of recognized refugees in the Czech Republic. As part of the capacity-building process, several training sessions and workshops are being organized for the benefit of government and NGO staff as well as lawyers and journalists. UNHCR is also striving to enhance dialogue between governmental institutions and NGOs and to seek state funding for NGO work. Monitoring and educating on human rights and minority issues, as well as promoting refugee issues among the public and policy-makers, will continue to be among the major objectives of the UNHCR programme in 1998.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

230. The Government, through the Department for Refugees, continues to shape Czech asylum policies and to introduce necessary improvements to asylum practice and procedure. The Refugee Facilities Administration continues to provide basic care and maintenance to asylum-seekers. Recognized refugees are offered housing in integration centres and are later provided with private accommodation in cooperation with local authorities. Procedural, legal, social and psychological counselling for asylum-seekers, recognized refugees as well as stateless persons, is provided through local NGOs; the Czech Helsinki Committee (HELCOM), the Society for Citizens (SOZE), the Organizace Pro Pomoc Uprchlukim (OPU), the Locus Association for Social and Psychological Support (LOCUS), as well as a newly created organization, PPI, which focuses on integration-related assistance. In order to conduct border monitoring activities on the Czech-Slovak and Czech-German borders, UNHCR has signed sub-agreements with two branches of the local NGO, Caritas, which has field presences in the target areas.

231. UNHCR continues to encourage operational partners to seek other sources of funding for their activities. A recent tender by the Ministry of Interior calling for NGO bids to implement refugee integration assistance is considered to be a positive development in this context.

(d) Budget

232. The amount allocated for the 1998 assistance programme was increased slightly as compared to the revised 1997 allocation in order to cover the increased attention paid to integration and border monitoring activities, as well as special assistance required by the group of handicapped Bosnians granted permanent residence on humanitarian grounds.

(e) Post situation

233. A post of Programme Assistant was created in January 1997. No changes in the post level are foreseen for 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

234. Women and children are receiving increased attention under the 1998 assistance programme in both UNHCR and partner activities. Workshops intended for refugee women are being set up in various refugee locations, and single women have access to special categories of assistance in the framework of integration related activities. A unit for unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers has been established in the refugee reception centre in Zastavka and a ceramic workshop for children has been set up in the same camp with technical assistance from the Masaryk University near Brno.

(g) Oversight reports

235. The recommendations made by the 1997 inspection mission to Prague are being closely followed including, in particular, those relating to capacity-building, NGO-government relations and state responsibility vis-à-vis refugees and asylum-seekers.

5. Hungary

(a) Beneficiaries

236. As of 1 January 1998, there were 218 non-European refugees recognized by UNHCR under its mandate and 2,450 European refugees recognized under the 1951 Convention. A total of 1,065 persons of European and non-European origin submitted a claim for refugee status in 1997. In addition, there were 3,243 displaced persons from former Yugoslavia under temporary protection as of 1 January 1998. Registration of new asylum-seekers from the former Yugoslavia under temporary protection ceased in January 1996, except for purposes of family reunion.

237. In cooperation with the Government, IOM and international NGOs, UNHCR has helped to repatriate close to 200 de facto refugees, primarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and will continue to do so during 1998, when repatriation is expected to start to Croatia (Eastern Slavonia). Simultaneously, de facto refugees unwilling or unable to return home will be assisted to resettle to third countries or to integrate in the host country.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

238. After several announcements concerning the lifting of the geographic limitation and subsequent postponements, the Hungarian Parliament, on 9 December 1997, accepted Parliamentary Decree No. 113/1997, which will enter into force on 1 March 1998. At the same session, the Parliament accepted Law No. 1997. CXXXIX on asylum (to likewise enter into force on 1 March 1998).

239. The law extends protection in an institutionalized way to three different groups of beneficiaries: to Convention refugees; to temporarily protected persons escaping from their territory en masse due to foreign occupation, war, civil war, ethnic clashes, or mass and brutal violation of human rights; and to persons who may not be Convention refugees, but whose expulsions raise compelling human rights issues. The law also foresees a procedure to assess the claims and legal status of all three categories and lays down the framework for the organizational structure required to deal with these matters, emphasizing the role of NGOs in this field.

240. Until the geographical limitation is lifted on 1 March 1998, UNHCR will continue to provide assistance to non-European asylum-seekers and refugees in need, covering shelter, food and health as well as language and vocational training and business grants to enable refugees to become self-sufficient. Non-European mandate refugees will receive a status after 1 March 1998, which will give them access to wider rights.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

241. UNHCR has accelerated the training of government officials in anticipation of the lifting of the geographical limitation to the Convention and continues to raise the capacity of the NGOs to support Government endeavours in assisting asylum-seekers and integrating refugees. The Hungarian Red Cross continued to be the most important local implementing partner with regard to non-European refugees.

(d) Budget

242. While the level of assistance to non-European mandate refugees has increased, the assistance to de facto refugees decreased in 1997 as compared to 1996 as a result of repatriation and, to a lesser extent, resettlement, and is expected to further decrease in 1998. As the geographical limitation to the Convention will be lifted on 1 March 1998, care and maintenance needs for both non-European and European beneficiaries are included under a single General Programmes project for 1998.

(e) Post situation

243. The post of Head of Field Office, Pecs, has been redeployed to Budapest as a Programme Officer post, and two posts in Pecs are scheduled for discontinuation in the middle of 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

244. During its operations in 1997, the Branch Office in Hungary has, paid particular attention to the physical and psychological well-being of women and refugee children.

245. The refugee population in Hungary has not caused any notable damage to the environment. In its collaboration with the Hungarian authorities, the Branch Office has nevertheless continued to stress the importance of UNHCR's environmental guidelines.

(g) Oversight reports

246. A report on the implementation of the recommendation of the inspection mission to Central Europe was prepared by the UNHCR Office in Budapest in December 1997.

247. In November 1997, the Audit and Management Consulting Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services conducted an audit of UNHCR funds remitted to the Hungarian Government.

6. Poland

(a) Beneficiaries

248. As at 1 January 1998, there were some 2,000 persons of concern to UNHCR, 800 of whom were recognized refugees. The main countries of origin are Afghanistan, Armenia, countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

249. While Poland still remains a transit country for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants wishing to reach countries in Western Europe, the number of asylum-seekers lodging an application in Poland has dramatically increased from 840 in 1995 to 3,200 in 1996, and to over 3,500 in 1997. The increase is due, among other reasons, to stricter controls at the western border and the higher numbers of asylum-seekers returned from Germany on the basis of a readmission agreement. During 1997, approximately 3,150 persons applying for refugee status did not pursue their applications through to the end of the long procedure.

250. The new Aliens Law, which stipulates the granting of refugee status and the rights to be enjoyed by recognized refugees, went into force on 27 December 1997. The new legislation regulates comprehensively for the first time various aspects related to asylum-seekers and refugees in Poland. It also establishes a new appeals body which will better safeguard the rights of asylum-seekers. On the other hand, it introduces restrictive measures concerning access to asylum procedures, such as time limits on the lodging of applications for refugee status.

251. During 1996 and 1997, the Government had financed and implemented a programme of support for recognized refugees. However, in 1998, as the responsibility for integration shifted from the Ministry of Interior and Administration to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, a comprehensive programme aimed at addressing the integration concerns of refugees is needed.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

252. UNHCR will support and fund the activities of five NGOs which provide social and/or legal counselling for refugees and asylum-seekers in various regions of Poland. Local integration support to complement government activities will also be provided in partnership with NGOs. In order to promote the capacity-building of institutions dealing with asylum issues, training for government officials, judges, lawyers and NGOs will continue in 1998 and 1999. UNHCR will also continue the promotion of public information activities.

(d) Budget

253. The revised 1998 budget remains largely unchanged as compared to the initial 1998 allocation.

(e) Post situation

254. A new post of Translator/Interpreter was created, thereby increasing the total number of posts to two international and six national staff in 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

255. Women's issues have been highlighted by UNHCR as an area of concern, and 1997 assistance activities targeted their needs. Under the integration programme, women and children refugees will be enrolled during 1998 in an intensive summer computer course.

(g) Oversight reports

256. A report on the implementation of the recommendations of the inspection mission to Central Europe was prepared by UNHCR Warsaw in December 1997.

7. Romania

(a) Beneficiaries

257. As at 31 December 1997, 1,208 refugees were assisted by UNHCR, of whom 988 were receiving direct material assistance. The main countries of origin are Bangladesh, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia. As at 1 February 1998, the Romanian authorities received a total of 5,078 asylum applications of which 665 were granted refugee status, 1,755 were rejected at first instance and the remainder are awaiting decisions.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

258. The Government of Romania has agreed to take over responsibility for refugee assistance from UNHCR as of 1 January 1998 and is currently taking necessary steps to implement the provisions of the Refugee Law which clearly establishes the legislative framework for Government assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers. The Government will provide a subsistence allowance for accommodation and board to asylum-seekers. In an effort to implement the provisions of the law, which went into effect in May 1996, the Government is currently working on plans to put into practice a reimbursable-loan scheme for the minimal upkeep of recognized refugees.

259. During 1998 and 1999, UNHCR will continue to support the efforts of the Government to strengthen the reception of asylum-seekers and to implement the programmes for the integration of recognized refugees. As in the past, the UNHCR programme will continue to provide, through NGO partners, legal assistance, social counselling, information services, and guidance to refugees and asylum-seekers. The integration programme will focus on support training, guidance and assistance to help recognized refugees achieve self-reliance and integrate into Romanian society.

260. UNHCR will continue to advise and assist the competent authorities in strengthening the refugee status determination procedure so as to ensure its fairness, efficiency and accessibility in accordance with international standards. Romania's refugee status determination system has seen some improvements since 1995, when the Ministry of Interior was charged with the task of coordinating the Romanian Committee for Migration Problems, especially as concerns speedier and decentralized registration procedures. Within the framework of technical cooperation, a joint UNHCR/Romanian Government programme is currently underway, aimed at improving the procedure and clearing the existing backlog.

261. Promotion of institutions and capacity-building through training of government officials, judges, lawyers and NGO staff will continue in 1998 and 1999, as will the promotion of public information activities.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

262. In 1998, Romanian Save the Children is implementing projects focused on legal representation, counselling, health care, community services, education and labour insertion. Two additional sub-agreements are under consideration with the Romanian Ministry of Interior to establish a reception and accommodation centre for asylum-seekers and refugees and to rehabilitate flats for recognized refugees.

(d) Budget

263. The 1998 allocation for care and maintenance is significantly lower than the revised 1997 allocation, due mainly to the fact that the Romanian Government has undertaken to assume responsibility for the assistance programme. This decrease has, however, been offset by the launching of a local settlement project to further facilitate local integration of refugees.

(e) Post situation

264. As at 1 January 1998, a post of Programme Assistant was been created, which brings the staffing component to two international and seven local staff. No further changes in the staffing structure are envisaged for 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

265. The Office has identified a number of special services for refugee women, including facilities for networking with national womens' groups and child care services to ensure their access to skills acquisition and employment. For vulnerable women, the UNHCR programme covers the cost of securing temporary accommodation. Thus, during the first two months of 1998, three vulnerable cases benefited from direct material assistance for rent.

266. Children comprise about 25 per cent of the total refugee population in Romania. Generally, UNHCR Romania has assisted refugee children indirectly by assisting their families. The 1998 programme seeks to pursue certain interventions which enhance the children's physical and mental development.

(g) Oversight reports

267. A report on the implementation of the recommendation of the inspection mission to Central Europe was prepared by UNHCR Romania in December 1997.

8. Slovak Republic

(a) Beneficiaries

268. As at 1 January 1998, UNHCR assisted 395 refugees recognized by the Slovak authorities, 645 asylum-seekers, 11 mandate-refugees and 281 stateless persons. As at 31 August 1997, less than 200 de facto refugees remain in the Slovak Republic on long-term or permanent residence permits; 130 de facto refugees have been repatriated to Bosnia and Herzegovina in movements organized by UNHCR, IOM and the Migration Office. UNHCR assisted 24 Yugoslav de facto refugees to settle in the United States and Australia in 1997.

269. The main countries of origin include Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Armenia, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, China and Algeria. It is estimated that 29 per cent of the refugee population is female and less than five per cent is under five years of age.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

270. UNHCR will pursue the accession of the Slovak Republic to the 1954 and 1961 United Nations Conventions relating to the status of stateless persons and the reduction of statelessness and will promote compliance of the Refugee Law and related legislation with international standards. With regard to the status determination procedure, the Office will continue to advocate for the withdrawal of the 24-hour limit, will support the Migration Office in improving the quality and reducing the length of the procedure and will further develop the network of legal counsellors through intensified legal training. UNHCR will continue efforts to make the appeal instance more effective and independent. It will also promote prevention and protection through public information activities emphasizing observance of human rights standards and will continue to monitor detention practices.

271. Continuing its cooperation with the Migration Office and NGOs on durable solutions, UNHCR's assistance programme will help to develop additional options for creating access for refugees to low-cost accommodation. As a further priority, the programme aims to improve services by ensuring that all cases in a given part of the country are comprehensively assisted by a single partner from reception to durable solutions, with emphasis on appropriate forms of assistance for groups with specific needs.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

272. UNHCR's implementing partners in the Slovak Republic are the Migration Office, Ministry of Interior, Bjornson Society, Goodwill Society, Inforoma, Milan Simecka Foundation and Organization for Help to Refugees. The Migration Office is mainly involved in the reconstruction of flats in assisting recognized refugees to integrate into the socio-economic structure of the host country.

(d) Budget

273. UNHCR and the Slovak authorities are continuing their integration scheme for refugees with the Government contributing some $ 172,000 each year for reconstruction of flats for recognized refugees and requesting UNHCR to contribute the same amount. The 1998 revised allocation has been slightly decreased from the initial allocation.

(e) Post situation

274. The staffing component currently comprises two international and six national posts. No changes are envisaged for 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

275. Approximately 30 per cent of the refugee population in the Slovak Republic is female. In light of the general protection of women's rights in Slovakia, the Slovak Government approved, in 1997, the National Action Plan on Women identifying the critical areas of concern regarding the attainment of equality and advancement of women with regard to international human rights obligations and commitments.

276. Refugee children in the Slovak Republic are mostly from the former Yugoslavia, Armenia, Afghanistan, Romania and the Russian Federation. According to Article 7 of the Refugee Act, children are automatically considered as refugees on a humanitarian basis by the national authorities, if their parents are granted refugee status. A refugee child born in the Slovak Republic may obtain Slovak citizenship only when both parents are stateless refugees or the parents are unknown. Otherwise, one of the parents must have Slovak citizenship. The resolution adopted by the Government in 1995 states that the Ministry of Education is responsible for assisting refugee children (including children of de facto refugees) to attend schools in Slovakia.

(g) Oversight reports

277. The recommendations made by the 1997 inspection mission to Bratislava are being closely followed-up. An implementation update was prepared at the end of 1997.

9. Slovenia

(a) Beneficiaries

278. As of December 1997, there were 4,636 de facto refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Slovenia. In addition, there were two Convention refugees, 11 asylum-seekers, and some 800 persons who lost temporary protection during 1997 or are refugees sur place who are of concern to UNHCR. UNHCR estimates that there are 5,000 to 10,000 persons from the former Yugoslavia who are without effective citizenship in Slovenia.

279. Between 1 January and 31 December 1997, UNHCR assisted 1,982 persons to repatriate voluntarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

280. The asylum procedure in Slovenia is regulated by the provisions in the Law on Foreigners. The law has been insufficient and restrictive but, in general, the procedure has gradually improved. However, since the end of 1995, there has been no new recognition of Convention refugees. UNHCR will continue to monitor access to the procedure, and provide further training on refugee status determination procedures. A Law on Asylum was drafted by a governmental committee in early 1997. UNHCR provided extensive comments on the first version of the draft in November 1997. A parliamentary debate on the law is expected in mid-1998.

281. The Law on Temporary Refuge, the second of its kind in Europe after Denmark, was adopted in Parliament in March 1997. The decree legalizes the stay of de facto refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Slovenia and provides a legal framework for large influxes of persons fleeing mass violation of human rights, war or war-like situations.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

282. During 1998, the assistance programme for de facto refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina will be implemented by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Work, the GEA 2000 Foundation and the Slovene Foundation.

(d) Budget

283. The revised 1997 General Programmes budget was decreased slightly in view of a lower number of assisted de facto refugees. Similarly, the revised 1998 allocation has been further decreased.

(e) Post situation

284. There are four international posts (including one Junior Professional Officer) and six local posts in Slovenia. At the end of March 1998, a Secretary post will be discontinued.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

285. Women refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina are very much encouraged to participate in the projects and activities organized by UNHCR, the Government and NGOs. They benefit equally from academic education, vocational training, literacy, foreign language courses and other training. Approximately 46 per cent of the refugee women between the age of 15 and 19 are either enrolled in secondary school or technical/vocational schools.

286. Unaccompanied minors and children with specific problems among the Bosnian refugee population receive psycho-social assistance from a local NGO.

287. Targeted vulnerable groups amongst the Bosnian refugee population, which includes female-headed families and unaccompanied minors, received ad hoc financial assistance at the end of 1997.

(g) Oversight reports

288. A report on the implementation of the recommendation of the inspection mission to Central Europe was prepared by the UNHCR Office in Slovenia in December 1997.

10. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

(a) Beneficiaries

289. At the beginning of 1998, the number of Bosnian refugees in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is estimated to be some 3,500 persons; 300 are in collective centres (Katlanovo and Radusa) and 3,200 reside with host families. UNHCR is providing assistance to some 2,600 refugees. It is estimated that 45 per cent of the refugee population is female and nine per cent is under five years of age.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

290. During 1997, the repatriation process continued for those who have obtained guarantee letters. A Tripartite Commission composed of representatives of the Bosnian Government, the Government of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and UNHCR reviewed the situation in October 1997, and efforts will be made to complete the repatriation by the spring of 1998.

291. During 1998, the UNHCR Liaison Office in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will focus mainly on the promotion of capacity and institution-building of the Government and NGOs. The Liaison Office will also continue to assist the Government in establishing refugee status determination procedures, as well as continue advising on issues concerning citizenship and stateleness.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

292. UNHCR, in close collaboration with the Red Cross of the The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is implementing the assistance programme. For the capacity-building programme, the various ministries, IOM and Skopje University will be UNHCR counterparts.

(d) Budget

293. The revised 1998 budget is lower than both the revised 1997 and initial 1998 budgets. Emphasis is placed on repatriation, local integration and capacity-building activities. Food distribution was discontinued in June 1997, and the cash grant project is not envisaged for 1998.

(e) Post situation

294. Due to the downsizing of the assistance programme, a post of Driver will be discontinued in 1998, bringing the post level down to seven.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

295. Women and children are the major beneficiaries of the assistance programme.

(g) Oversight reports

296. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.


A. Sub-regional overview

297. In December 1997, UNHCR launched an appeal for the implementation of its programmes in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States during 1998. In keeping with the joint UNHCR/IOM operational strategy for the sub-region, the appeals of the two organizations were launched simultaneously, following inter-agency consultations. UNHCR's overall strategy for the sub-region, together with country-specific objectives, were extensively described in the appeal. Two donor familiarization missions took place during 1997, one to the Caucasus (in May) and the other to the Russian Federation and Ukraine (in November). UNHCR is appreciative of the feedback received from these missions.

298. Hence, within the Commonwealth of Independent States Conference (CIS Conference) context, UNHCR and IOM have developed a working relationship based on complementarity, an effective division of labour and a regular flow of information. An institutionalized dialogue has been established which also brings together UNHCR and IOM representatives in the field on the occasion of coordination meetings which have so far been held at least once a year. It was therefore not a surprise that, when presenting jointly their respective appeals in January 1998, the two organizations praised the flexible, but yet complementary and effective nature of their cooperation.

299. Salient features of UNHCR's programmes in the sub-region can be summarized as follows:

(i) UNHCR continues to assist a large number of persons displaced as a result of conflicts in the sub-region, particularly in the Caucasus. As most of these displacement situations have reached a post-emergency phase, the need to gradually re-direct activities is recognized. Furthermore, assistance to the displaced needs to be gradually integrated into national plans in order to avoid perpetuating parallel aid structures. These considerations are factored into the design of UNHCR programmes.

(ii) While UNHCR actively pursues the search for durable solutions, this effort is often constrained by the lack of solutions to conflicts. However, as evidenced by recent developments in Georgia regarding the South Ossetia conflict, there are also opportunities for durable solutions which UNHCR needs to support.

(iii) In Ukraine, UNHCR's efforts to address a situation leading to statelessness have also exposed the Office to the problems of "formerly deported peoples", who were highlighted by the CIS Conference as a group of concern.

(iv) "Involuntarily relocated people" constitute another such group for which UNHCR will continue providing targeted assistance. However, due to the scale and complexity of the problem, a multi-organizational approach is called for in this case.

(v) In some countries, UNHCR provides limited material assistance to vulnerable asylum-seekers whenever no other source of public assistance is available. However, every possible effort is made to streamline and set a time limit to such programmes.

(vi) Support in the form of capacity-building and training is provided to government structures for the establishment and effective functioning of refugee status determination procedures as well as the registration of asylum-seekers. The same type of support is also offered for the development of the NGO sector. A regional meeting held in 1997 highlighted the need to shape a structured approach to capacity-building by setting clear objectives, identifying indicators of success, cross-fertilizing on best practices and drawing from lessons learnt. This is considered as a key priority for the sub-region.

300. In overall terms, the sub-region is witnessing an impressive push towards the adoption of new legislation in practically all fields, including human rights and refugee law. UNHCR has benefited from this trend, as a good level of cooperation and consultation was achieved both with concerned ministries and lawmakers. However, despite this high quality dialogue, the legislation adopted did not always match UNHCR's expectations. This provides an additional incentive for the Office to intensify the promotion and sensitization work already carried out with government officials and lawmakers. This is also an area where UNHCR's close cooperation with the Council of Europe is yielding tangible benefits. Another discernible trend relates to the importance of citizenship issues, both in achieving local integration and preventing further displacements.

301. Cooperation with the Council of Europe expanded dramatically as the two organizations became increasingly aware of the potential for complementary action in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The process was facilitated by an increased flow of information, largely boosted by the assignment of a UNHCR staff member to Strasbourg. Areas of cooperation now cover, inter alia, citizenship, registration of citizens and freedom of movement, NGO legislation, refugee legislation and the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) on questions related to refugees and asylum. In this context, compatibility studies carried out by the Council of Europe deserve special mention. These reports aim at assessing the quality of legal and institutional norms prevailing in a given country against the standards of the Council of Europe. As they invariably cover legislation gaps pertaining to refugees, NGOs and citizenship, these studies have been a significant support to UNHCR.

302. The growing cooperation between UNHCR and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is based on complementarity of mandates and objectives with the critical linkage between migration, displacement and security issues now being widely acknowledged. This cooperation drive received the full support of successive Chairmen-in-Office and encompassed all OSCE institutions, the Ministerial Council and the OSCE Field Missions. UNHCR attended the Permanent Council meeting held in December 1997 in Copenhagen, and actively participated in the Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension (Warsaw, November 1997). UNHCR is also part of the "tripartite" consultative mechanism which brings together United Nations agencies, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other humanitarian agencies. In this context, a high-level meeting took place in Geneva in January 1998 and a target-oriented meeting on the Caucasus was organized in November 1997 in Vienna.

303. An institutionalized cooperation framework has been established with the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) which foresees, inter alia, regular contacts at the senior as well as experts levels. Cooperation with ODIHR continues within the context of the follow-up to the CIS Conference and focuses on the identification of concrete joint projects. Cooperation with HCNM has so far mainly centred on citizenship of formerly deported peoples in Crimea, but also has considerable potential for extension to other areas.

304. Within conflict resolution processes, there is a close correlation between political and humanitarian issues. Durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons are often predicated on the political settlement of conflicts; conversely, conflict resolution also has a humanitarian dimension since solutions to displacement problems need to be an integral part of the peace process. From this correlation flows the logic of an integrated approach to conflict resolution. The negotiation frameworks adopted for the Georgia/Abkhazia and Georgia/South Ossetia conflicts provide cogent examples of this approach. In both instances, UNHCR chairs working groups set up to address problems of refugees and internally displaced persons, but discussions are also conducted in a broader framework to ensure the safety and sustainability of voluntary repatriation. Another example is provided by the UNHCR/DHA mission which visited Azerbaijan and Armenia in late 1996. At the request of the Co-Chairmen of the Minsk Group, the mission explored the parties' interest in initiating consultations on the humanitarian aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While it transpired that conditions were at the time not ripe for the immediate implementation of this proposal, the latter could be re-activated whenever circumstances permit. One important spin-off resulting from this initiative has been a growing awareness of the formidable challenge that post-conflict rehabilitation poses in terms of resource mobilization and lead-time for an appropriate international response, as well as the consequent need for early planning.

305. During the period under review, UNHCR was closely involved in the preparation of an European Union Commission (TACIS) programme on technical assistance in justice and home affairs in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, including refugee and asylum policy and practice. The Office provided inputs to a TACIS feasibility study, and was instrumental in the European Union's identification of areas of cooperation and pilot projects in migration and asylum, as these can benefit from future European Union funding and technical support.

306. Despite the progress achieved in several areas, UNHCR's activities in the sub-region have been constrained by two factors, namely the lack of solutions to the conflicts in the Caucasus and the growing concern for the safety of humanitarian workers. At the time of writing, the abduction on 29 January 1998 of the Head of the UNHCR Office in Vladikavkaz remained unresolved. For UNHCR, any situation where humanitarian needs cannot be properly addressed, due to the insecurity facing its staff, is particularly frustrating. Comment on the ordeal endured by the staff member's family may fall outside the scope of this report, but should nonetheless be recorded.

CIS Conference

307. The Programme of Action adopted by the Regional Conference to address the problems of refugees, displaced persons and other forms of involuntary displacements in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS Conference), provided a broad framework for UNHCR's activities in the sub-region. It offered scope for creative action, and contributed to enhancing UNHCR's relevance in the sub-region. As a case in point, the focus placed on formerly deported peoples and involuntarily relocated persons, who were identified by the Conference as groups of concern, flows from the Programme of Action. Activities aimed at improving the capacity of national institutions to deal with displacement and migration problems, including legal, judiciary and administrative aspects, can also be traced to the latter.

308. The Programme of Action stressed the need to strengthen civil society. In this context, support to development of the NGO sector became a priority. The establishment of a special NGO Fund in 1997 gave a significant boost to this segment of the CIS Conference follow-up. The NGO Fund was set up to provide financial support to local NGOs, ensure exchange of information and transfer of skills between international and local NGOs, and to support NGO participation to the annual meeting of the Steering Group. The Fund was successfully implemented in nine countries (Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) through small grants aimed at strengthening the capacity of local NGOs, improving their organizational management and promoting small-scale self-reliance programmes.

309. UNHCR participated in a significant inter-agency effort to produce a comprehensive reference guide, NGO manual on international and regional instruments on human rights and refugees. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, IOM, ILO, the Council of Europe as well as several international and local NGOs were involved in this undertaking. The manual is a practical tool for NGOs on the application and use of international and regional instruments to address human rights issues and problems of displaced populations in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

310. UNHCR's strategy in this sector has also aimed at facilitating exchanges and cooperation between international and local NGOs accredited to the Steering Group and promoting NGO networking in the follow-up to the CIS Conference. In this context, five issue-specific working groups were established in 1997 with the support of UNHCR to consolidate NGO reports and contributions on the implementation of the Programme of Action as well as promote joint programming and networking between participants. Four of the working groups are coordinated by international NGOs and one by OSCE/ODIHR. The following international NGOs have accepted coordination responsibilities within this programme: the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the Danish Refugee Council, the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, Counterpart International, the Open Society Institute, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Equilibre.

311. In cooperation with the Council of Europe, the International Centre on Not-for-Profit Law and the Open Society Institute, UNHCR launched a programme for the promotion and development of NGO legislation in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. This joint programme will be implemented through international and sub-regional seminars to familiarize both representatives of Governments and NGOs with global legislative standards and fiscal policies on non-governmental and non-profit organizations. The sub-regional meetings aim at stimulating national reviews of existing legal and tax provisions for NGOs and supporting the Commonwealth of Independent States countries in the development of appropriate legal frameworks and taxation models for NGOs.

312. From the outset, UNHCR recognized that an inter-organizational response was necessary to meaningfully address the thematic issues identified in the Programme of Action. As a result, effective partnerships have been forged with regional organizations (OSCE and Council of Europe), IOM and international NGOs. This approach has yielded considerable interaction by maximizing the complementarity of programmes and avoiding duplication. To highlight the importance that joint initiatives carry for the implementation of the Programme of Action, two important examples of "trilateral" cooperation between UNHCR, the OSCE and the Council of Europe are described below.

313. An Experts Group Meeting on freedom of movement and choice of place of residence, co-chaired by the three organizations, was held in December in Kyiv, as part of the follow-up activities to the CIS Conference. The objectives of the meeting were to identify ways of mitigating the negative and restrictive consequences associated with the system of acquiring a residence permit, better known as "propiska", and to explore possible approaches in changing the system. Emphasis was also placed on support and technical expertise that would be required from international organizations to assist countries where such a change has already taken place or others where it is being contemplated. UNHCR's interest stems from the fact that "propiska" very often hinders access of asylum-seekers to refugee status determination procedures. A review on follow-up to the Experts Group Meeting is expected to take place at the annual Steering Group meeting.

314. In the context of the voluntary repatriation from North Ossetia (Russian Federation) to Georgia, a joint UNHCR, OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe mission visited Tbilisi in October 1997 to explore ways of enacting legislation for the restitution of property rights of returnees. Discussions on this issue, which is critical both for repatriation and peace-building, are continuing.

315. The second Steering Group meeting was held in July 1997. It was preceded by the NGO consultation to review progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action and discuss main directions for the next year. The next Steering Group meeting is scheduled for June 1998.

Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

316. As noted in the sub-regional overview on Central Europe, extensive consultations were held between the Regional Senior Advisor on Refugee Women and UNHCR field offices, resulting in a strategic plan for gender issues in the Commonwealth of Independent States (and Central Europe) which was finalized and distributed throughout the region in June 1997. The document also encourages UNHCR offices to draw up their own action plans defining their overall approach to, and specific activities on behalf of, refugee women. The process of drawing up action plans is currently underway and they will be implemented this year.

317. Furthermore, particularly successful activities in this context have been income-generation, skills training and reproductive health projects for women beneficiaries.

Oversight reports

318. A review of UNHCR's assistance to older refugees was undertaken during late 1997 by UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service. The evaluation team travelled extensively to field locations, and case studies were prepared on a number of countries, including Armenia and the Russian Federation. The resulting report provides lessons learnt and offers recommendations on policy options to tackle the problems of elderly refugees.

319. The main findings of the review relate to the loss of traditional family structure and support, which is in many cases a situation of concern to UNHCR. As a result, older refugees are often perceived by the community as a burden and are abandoned. One of UNHCR's objectives should be to fight such negative social selection by treating the elderly as assets to the community rather than liabilities. The evaluators observed that, in the realm of reconciliation, older refugees could play an important role since they were the ones who had the most experience of more positive pre-conflict social dynamics.

B. Country reviews

1. Armenia

(a) Beneficiaries

320. Since 1989, some 340,000 persons have been registered as refugees by the Government. Most of them are ethnic Armenians who had left Azerbaijan due to ethnic tension and the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. By the end of 1997, the number of refugees was estimated at some 220,000. In addition, according to Government estimates, some 72,000 persons are internally displaced from villages located in areas bordering Azerbaijan.

321. A large number of persons (both refugees and citizens) have left Armenia essentially due to economic hardships. Some refugees have chosen to move to countries providing better opportunities to reach higher living standards. Most of them moved to the Russian Federation, where persons in need of international protection were granted refugee status by the Russian authorities.

322. Against this background, UNHCR's assistance programme is geared towards addressing the social and economic needs of 150,000 refugees and displaced persons who have been identified as particularly vulnerable by the Armenian authorities. The programme also intends to play a positive role as an incentive for acquisition of Armenian citizenship by refugees. Therefore, refugees who are actively seeking, and those who have already acquired, citizenship are also included in the category of potential beneficiaries.

323. UNHCR and the Government have recently conducted a survey among refugees in Armenia. Updated statistics and information on the caseload are expected to be released shortly. The survey will provide detailed demographic data, including geographical distribution, age and gender information, which will allow a refinement of the identification procedures concerning persons in need of assistance.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

324. By the end of 1997, a guarded optimism prevailed as to a possible breakthrough in the negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict conducted under the aegis of the OSCE's Minsk Group. Following recent developments in Armenia, this optimistic scenario seems now to have given way to a likely stalemate, at least in the immediate future.

325. Consonant with the post-emergency stage reached in the operation, UNHCR's programme in Armenia is entering a consolidation phase. The programme is being re-directed to activities oriented toward durable solutions. As part of the overall capacity-building strategy in the sub-region, UNHCR in Armenia is actively involved in providing legal expertise in order to assist the authorities in drafting relevant legislation in accordance with international norms and standards. In the spirit of promoting local integration as a durable solution for refugees, emphasis is placed on assistance to the authorities in the implementation phase of the citizenship law.

326. In accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UNHCR and the Government of Armenia, and in support of the Government's policy of integration, UNHCR's programme aims at the full integration of ethnic Armenian refugees into Armenian society through local settlement and naturalization. The legal framework for the implementation of the Armenian Law on Citizenship is now in place. UNHCR will continue to support the relevant governmental institutions to further develop practical procedures for acquiring Armenian citizenship and will promote a generous interpretation of the provisions of the Armenian Law on Citizenship, in line with the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness to which Armenia is a State Party. Media campaigns, seminars and workshops will be organized to raise public awareness on the rights of refugees to citizenship, and to break the psychological barriers against naturalization prevailing amongst the refugee population. Promotion and advocacy activities will also be carried out through governmental institutions, influential academics and NGOs, as well as by the refugees themselves.

327. UNHCR will continue to encourage the adoption of a refugee law in line with international standards, in particular the 1951 Convention, to which Armenia is a Party, and the implementation of fair and efficient refugee status determination procedures. A draft refugee law was recently approved by the Government and will be submitted to Parliament. Despite real efforts deployed by the drafters to comply with international standards, some provisions contained in the draft law are still of concern, and UNHCR continues to provide expertise and to promote necessary changes to the draft before its adoption.

328. In parallel to the activities in the field of promotion and development of relevant legislation, UNHCR's main objective will be to assist the authorities in strengthening national capacities to address matters related to the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers, realization of their right to citizenship, as well as the management of assistance projects for refugees. As an important element of this strategy, a series of seminars, workshops and training sessions for local authorities and NGO partners in refugee-related fields have been planned for 1998.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

329. In line with the new programme directions and modus operandi stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), UNHCR will continue and strengthen its cooperation with the Government of Armenia, other United Nations agencies and NGO partners in fields of primary importance to UNHCR's work, such as the provision of material assistance to refugees and the promotion of the implementation of the naturalization process. The number of implementing partners will be limited to seven in order to streamline and implement a cost-effective programme. Family shelter and the quick impact projects implemented in previous years have now been completed and have been replaced by more sustainable activities linked to those of other donors and to the National Development Plan. The refugee shelter project will be focused on renovation and upgrading of apartments and communal centres where refugees could be accommodated. For this purpose, a sizeable number of abandoned and unoccupied apartments and communal centres, which are usually located in town centres, need to be identified jointly with the Government during the course of the year. In order to achieve these goals, UNHCR will place a greater emphasis on dialogue, negotiations and cooperation with Government institutions, United Nations specialized agencies and other development agencies. One of UNHCR's aims is to encourage these institutions and agencies to integrate material assistance activities for refugees into their longer-term development projects, in the perspective of the post-naturalization phase.

330. Institutional and capacity-building activities will also aim at creating or enhancing the capacity of governmental counterparts in areas such as refugee status determination procedures, the establishment of a decentralized structure for managing refugee assistance, and NGO partners in the social services sector. UNHCR will also continue to support a number of local NGOs involved in the implementation of the Programme of Action within the framework of the CIS Conference follow-up.

(d) Budget

331. The requirements for the 1998 programme are included in the 1998 UNHCR Appeal for the Commonwealth of Independent States countries. A significant change in the 1998 budget was the move of certain activities from General Programmes to Special Programmes. As a result, the General Programmes component in Armenia was reduced from $ 1.2 million to some $ 560,000. Under both General and Special Programmes, the revised 1998 budget has been slightly reduced as compared to the initial 1998 budget.

(e) Post situation

332. In support of the implementation of projects focused on the integration of refugees through local settlement and naturalization, 24 posts (four professional, one Junior Professional Officer and 19 local) have been included in the 1998 Appeal under the Special Programme. Only four posts (one professional and three local) continue to be covered under General Programmes.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

333. UNHCR and its implementing partners have been actively seeking the involvement of refugee communities in identifying and prioritizing the needs of refugees, as well as in selecting appropriate areas of possible interventions. The special needs of women, children and disabled persons are addressed in various ongoing projects.

334. Pending the local integration of refugees, UNHCR will continue to provide basic material assistance to vulnerable groups (elderly and disabled persons, children, female-headed households and most needy refugees). The project components will include better access to accommodation, health care services and clean drinking water. In order to provide the refugees with a firm foundation in an attempt to alleviate their poverty, particularly among 150,000 vulnerable persons, provision of assistance will take various forms, including improved primary education, small-scale income generating activities and micro-credit projects. Health care awareness projects in the rural areas of Armenia will target mainly women and children and will focus on training, counselling and special medical services. In 1997, for instance, UNHCR supported the implementation of reproductive health and family planning programmes targeting refugee women in urban areas.

335. UNHCR is mainstreaming refugee women's needs and concerns through the implementation of the Policy and Guidelines on Refugee Women. A survey will be conducted in 1998 to assess the impact of male migration that leads to the creation of single female-headed households. This survey will have consequences on the future implementation of local settlement activities on behalf of refugee families/women in Armenia.

(g) Oversight reports

336. A special audit on the 1996-1997 programme, focused on the provision of shelter and quick impact projects, was carried out in late 1997. Appropriate measures have been undertaken for streamlining the programme management practices and effective control of resources, in line with the recommendations of the report.

2. Azerbaijan

(a) Beneficiaries

337. According to official Government statistics, there were some 785,000 internally displaced persons and refugees in Azerbaijan as at the end of 1997. This population includes some 550,000 internally displaced Azerbaijanis, 198,000 Azeri refugees from Armenia and 36,000 Meskhetian Turks who fled Uzbekistan in 1989. In addition, 81 individual cases (mainly Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis) were recognized and assisted by UNHCR as at 31 December 1997.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

338. The self-imposed cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been maintained since 1994, in spite of sporadic incidents along the front-line. A fragile situation of "no-war-no-peace" still prevails.

339. In parallel to the ongoing implementation of its assistance programme for the displaced population in Azerbaijan, UNHCR continues to pursue an active dialogue with all concerned international organizations and NGOs to promote a contingency planning process in preparation of a large-scale return of displaced persons to liberated areas, which should take place in the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement.

340. The necessity of reinforcing the management and coordination mechanisms of the national institutions, and the need to streamline the decision-making processes between various governmental entities dealing with humanitarian and rehabilitation/reconstruction issues, led UNDP, UNHCR and the World Bank (WB) to harmonize their strategies and strengthen their links of cooperation through regular and frequent coordination meetings and joint activities. In January 1998, UNHCR commissioned an external consultancy to evaluate the institutional capacities and coordination mechanisms, on the basis of terms of reference previously shared with and cleared by UNDP and the WB. The mission report was communicated to concerned international organizations and diplomatic representatives in Baku. Its conclusions and recommendations will be taken into consideration in the progressive elaboration of the UNDP/UNHCR/WB common approach.

341. A joint UNHCR/WB appraisal mission, composed of an experts team from the World Bank in Washington and UNHCR in Baku, was undertaken in February 1998 in an attempt to formulate an integrated programme of resettlement for returning internally displaced persons to existing liberated areas, and of reconstruction of physical infrastructure and housing. A draft programme of resettlement and reconstruction was presented to representatives of the international community in Baku. The conclusions of this appraisal mission were supported by the Head of State. This UNHCR/WB mission also resulted in the establishment of an International Advisory Group (IAG) co-chaired by UNDP, the WB and the European Commission. The IAG will review progress made in the implementation of the programme, and provide advice to the relevant authorities on major policy orientations. The IAG will also monitor the evolution of the situation in the areas of return, on the basis of reports from concerned international organizations and field assessments.

342. It is estimated that around 69,000 internally displaced persons have spontaneously returned to areas liberated at the end of 1994, mainly in the Fizuli and Agdam regions. The Government is planning for the return of another 36,000 persons to accessible parts of existing liberated areas, with the active support of the WB, UNDP and UNHCR.

343. The UNHCR assistance programme for the displaced population is progressively shifting from humanitarian relief activities to a strategy adapted to the prevailing post-conflict phase. The new programme direction aims at longer-term development and self-sufficiency. Particular emphasis is placed on creating conditions conducive to self-reliance of the displaced population, as well as providing qualitative and targeted assistance to the most impoverished. UNHCR's programme in 1998 aims at improving housing conditions, trades training, health, crop production and income-generation. These are the priority areas of planned interventions to redress the basic needs of the 150,000 most vulnerable and socially-disadvantaged internally displaced persons and refugees in Azerbaijan. Specific activities implemented in 1997 for women and children will continue to be pursued in 1998.

344. In the course of 1997, UNHCR provided selective assistance to the returnee population in the Fizuli area. A UNHCR pilot shelter rehabilitation programme was complemented by UNDP-funded activities in the same sector. The government agency for reconstruction and rehabilitation (ARRA), the executive body of the State Commission for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (SCRR), is assigned the task of coordinating the shelter rehabilitation and infrastructure repair activities in the liberated regions, and with strengthening liaison between the Government, UNDP, UNHCR, the WB and NGOs.

345. Access by refugees to Azeri citizenship is an essential element in the overall strategy of local integration of refugees. UNHCR has therefore been active in promoting the adoption of a citizenship law consistent with international standards, in particular the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to which Azerbaijan is a State Party, and in assisting the authorities in the drafting process. As a result of such activities, a Law on Citizenship has been drafted and submitted to Parliament.

346. Other important objectives relate to the assistance provided to the authorities in developing relevant refugee legislation in line with international instruments, in particular the 1951 Convention, to which Azerbaijan is a State Party. A draft Refugee Law has already been submitted to Parliament. In many aspects, the draft law is not in accordance with international standards related to refugee protection, and UNHCR will continue to provide legal expertise to the authorities in the drafting process. This process is becoming increasingly important as, at present, the issue of asylum-seekers not from the Commonwealth of Independent States (mainly originating from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq) on the territory of Azerbaijan is not addressed.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

347. The UNHCR Branch Office in Azerbaijan implements its country programme in cooperation with eight international NGOs and one national NGO, with a clear delineation of sector activities and geographical areas of operation.

348. In an effort to develop the capacity of local NGOs to support the implementation of UNHCR's programmes, UNHCR is providing, through external expertise, support to the Azeri authorities in the drafting of a law on NGOs. UNHCR will, in cooperation with other partners, continue to assist the authorities in carrying out this task.

(d) Budget

349. The requirements for the 1998 programmes are included in the UNHCR Appeal for the

CIS Countries and amount to a total of some $ 7 million.

(e) Post situation

350. As at 1 January 1997, the UNHCR Branch Office in Baku had a staffing level comprising five international officers and 16 national staff members. During the year, two national posts were created which were, however, offset by the discontinuation of three other national posts, bringing the total number of posts to 20 as at 1 January 1998. The Branch Office is in need of a Physical Planner; UNHCR hopes to fill such a post through secondment from a donor country.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

351. UNHCR's past programmes, implemented through various partners, targeted benefits for internally displaced women and female-headed households. Small crop and vegetable growing and livestock raising were significant activities in support of vulnerable female beneficiaries. Health-oriented programmes in the field of reproductive health, obstetrics, and provision of supplies to the new-born represent a predominant part of assistance activities. Child care facilities established in occupied public buildings and elsewhere will be equipped with means to conduct play-and-learning activities. A pilot "Peace and Tolerance" education programme in selected schools, including teacher-training and provision of material, aims at building essential social skills of the young in their society.

352. Tree planting and promotion of environmental awareness will be part of the environmental education of displaced children. UNHCR Azerbaijan is placing emphasis on the dissemination of environmental messages to children through pictorial activity books so as to encourage and promote environmentally correct behaviour. In 1997, UNHCR-built housing settlements were provided with a three-month supply of fuel (kerosene) provided by an international NGO to contribute towards environmental protection.

(g) Oversight reports

353. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

3. Belarus

(a) Beneficiaries

354. According to information provided by the Belarusian authorities, some 31,200 asylum-seekers from the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent Sttes were registered (strictly for statistical purposes) as residing in Minsk City as well as in the other six regions of the Republic. The figure includes Belarusian repatriates from other republics of the former Soviet Union (46.6 per cent), Russians (32.6 per cent), Ukrainians (5.4 per cent) and other small groups from Armenia, Poland, Tajikistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Latvia. Different governmental bodies proclaimed various statistics on illegal migrants transiting through Belarus that range from 120,000 to 200,000. By the end of 1996, 131,200 persons were resettled by the Government from Chernobyl-affected zones to other parts of the country.

355. As of 1997, UNHCR registered some 2,374 asylum-seekers who met the criteria of the 1951 Convention, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan (78 per cent). The remainder are from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ethiopia, Iraq, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Pakistan.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

356. The Belarus Committee on Migration continued to assume its responsibilities related to the implementation of policy on refugees and migration. The Committee started the implementation of the National Law on Refugees, which entered into force on 1 July 1995, only in February 1997 due to the lack of financing and relevant institutional capacities. The procedure for Refugee Status Determination was established earlier and, by the end of 1997, on an exceptional basis, the status was granted to 50 persons (38 Afghans and 12 Ethiopians) residing in Minsk for a long period.

357. Within this framework, UNHCR enhanced the capacities of the concerned authorities to establish the necessary infrastructure and procedures to cope with the various issues related to refugees and migration in the Republic. This assistance included training activities, inter-governmental exchanges and sharing of information, and the provision of basic material resources. Special efforts will be made to promote the implementation of an effective and efficient status determination procedure at the central and regional levels. This will provide the concerned authorities with tools and opportunities to develop their knowledge on handling refugee and migration issues in accordance with international standards.

358. The UNHCR Office in Belarus also focused on the provision of legal and social services, promoting public awareness on refugee and migration related issues through academic entities and local NGOs, as well as advocating the rights of asylum-seekers residing in Belarus. In the future, these programmes will include publication of academic journals, seminars and round-table meetings advocating the rights of special groups of concern, namely women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. UNHCR aims to affect a change in the attitude and the level of understanding of the concerned authorities on these issues.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

359. UNHCR directly implements institutional and operational capacity-building activities for the concerned Belarusian authorities. Moreover, protection and assistance activities for refugees and asylum-seekers are implemented through local NGOs, as well as through governmental partners. Special attention is also paid to the strengthening of local NGO capacities for their future sustainability and development.

360. Agreements were signed with Caritas Minsk and the Belarusian Red Cross for the management of a refugee reception centre, legal counselling, registration of new arrivals, intervention in cases of arrest and other legal matters.

(d) Budget

361. Under General Programmes, care and maintenance activities were fully implemented in 1997. Sixty-four per cent of the funds appealed for against the Special Programme were received and utilized for 1997 activities related to the follow-up on the implementation of the CIS Conference Programme of Action. Budgets for General and Special Programmes for 1998 total some $ 700,000.

(e) Post situation

362. The UNHCR Liaison Office in Minsk is currently staffed by two international staff members (Head of Liaison Office and a Programme Officer) and four national staff (Senior Administrative Clerk, Senior Protection Clerk, Secretary and a Driver).

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

363. During 1997, specific attention was paid to groups of concern to UNHCR, namely women, children and the elderly. Through various community meetings with ethnic groups of asylum-seekers and refugees and with operational partners, UNHCR emphasized the importance of women in the development of society. Specific programmes were implemented for the advancement of women. Education and recreational programmes were also implemented for ethnic minority asylum-seeker children.

(g) Oversight reports

364. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.

4. Georgia

(a) Beneficiaries

365. According to Government figures, 275,000 people, mainly ethnic Georgians, were internally displaced as a result of conflict. The majority of these persons reside in the Samegrelo and Imereti regions of western Georgia. Increased UNHCR field capacity as well as expanded rehabilitation assistance in 1997 have allowed a spontaneous return of an estimated 53,000 people to Gali. During the spring and summer of 1997, UNHCR field officers reported an average return rate of 1,500 people per month.

366. As a consequence of the Georgia-Ossetian conflict, 29,000 registered refugees and 10,000 non-registered de facto refugees of South Ossetian ethnicity fled to North Ossetia in the Russian Federation. Moreover, an estimated 5,000 people displaced within South Ossetia reside in collective centres in Tskhinvali. Some 10,000 ethnic Georgians displaced from South Ossetia still live in the Government-controlled areas outside of South Ossetia, mostly in Borjomi, Gori and Tbilisi.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

367. During 1997, United Nations-sponsored talks were held in Abkhazia, Tbilisi, Moscow and Geneva, providing a positive momentum for the resolution of the Georgia-Abkhazian conflict. This process is based on negotiations between the two opposing parties under the aegis of the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative and the Russian Federation as facilitator, and the Friends of the Secretary-General and the OSCE as participants. The meeting in Tbilisi between Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba and President Shevardnadze in August 1997 was widely believed to have broken psychological barriers between the conflicting parties. Furthermore, the United Nations-sponsored Geneva talks were also held in June and November. During the latter meeting, a Coordinating Council was established under the Chairmanship of the Secretary-General's Special Representative. The Council acts as a framework for working groups which hold meetings to discuss security, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and economic and social issues. The UNHCR Representative in Georgia was designated to chair Working Group II on issues related to refugees and internally displaced persons.

368. UNHCR in Georgia implemented expanded activities in Abkhazia aimed at the normalization of daily living conditions of spontaneous returnees in the Gali Region. In addition, UNHCR increased its presence in Sukhumi, enhancing its operational capacity there and creating a more balanced approach in assistance. Assistance was provided in the form of house reconstruction, public infrastructure rehabilitation, agricultural inputs, and distribution of household items targeting the most vulnerable individuals. 650 returnee families in the Gali Region were provided with roof repair kits, and 20 schools serving 3,612 children were rehabilitated. UNHCR also continued its successful corn seed project which assisted 5,600 families in achieving food security during 1997. Furthermore, UNHCR was able to begin providing similar assistance to war-affected peoples residing in the Sukhumi and Ochamchira districts of Abkhazia. In these two districts, 21 families received full roof kits while 149 received partial kits, and 17 schools were rehabilitated, benefiting 4,582 school children.

369. The foundations for a political settlement, security, economic/social development, and the comprehensive return of refugees and displaced persons to South Ossetia and to government-controlled areas of Georgia has been defined within the framework of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) which is composed of representatives from Georgia, South Ossetia, North Ossetia, and the Russian Federation. The modalities for voluntary repatriation were refined through this mechanism, and UNHCR is participating in the process as an observer. In the field, organized voluntary repatriation from North Ossetia to South Ossetia, and from Georgia proper to South Ossetia, began in 1997. Although the actual number of voluntary returns remains small in comparison to spontaneous returnees among both the internally displaced persons and refugee caseloads, UNHCR's presence and assistance in the Ossetian conflict zone has led to positive developments and an increased sense of confidence within the JCC conflict resolution process.

370. UNHCR's field presence was established in Tskhinvali by the creation of a mobile team in June 1997 to monitor the return of refugees from North Ossetia to South Ossetia and to implement assistance activities for both returnees and internally displaced persons who moved from communal centres in Tskhinvali to their original homes in various villages throughout the region. Harsh weather conditions in South Ossetia require additional inputs in order to sustain the momentum for return. In this regard, a total of 429 families in South Ossetia received shelter rehabilitation assistance, such as roof repair kits and two-room rehabilitation kits. A total of 24 schools were rehabilitated, benefiting 2,957 school children. As most of the war damage occurred in Ossetian villages, the majority of the beneficiaries were ethnic Ossets (349 families). Eighty Georgian families who spontaneously returned to Georgian villages within South Ossetia also received support from the programme.

371. As the majority of the 29,000 registered refugees in North Ossetia originate from government-controlled areas of Georgia, UNHCR's assistance programme is expected to be extend in 1998 to adequately cover these mostly mountainous areas through the creation of a new mobile team. The team will assess the situation, monitor the return movement for protection, and provide assistance such as shelter rehabilitation and agricultural support to the returning population. UNHCR's project on property restitution will help create and enforce legislation compensating expulsion victims for losses sustained. UNHCR as lead agency, in cooperation with the OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe, will provide technical support to the Government in an effort to create a just restitution mechanism, an issue which is at the core of the return process. In this context, UNHCR is, through consultancy, addressing the issues of compensation and property law in Georgia. This activity is expected to reinforce the capacity of the Government as well as the local administrations in the areas of return.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

372. As a result of an inter-agency assessment in 1996, a decision was taken to shift the focus of international aid from humanitarian to development assistance due to the improved circumstances of the internally displaced persons and the country in general. Consequently, UNHCR's focus in 1997 shifted from the care and maintenance of internally displaced persons in Georgia to support of conflict-resolution processes within the conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia through rehabilitation activities. International NGOs, which mainly provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons, still represent the bulk of UNHCR's partners in Georgia, both in number and amount of funding received.

373. Capacity-building of local NGOs continued in 1997 and will be expanded in 1998. A new local NGO was supported by UNHCR through the micro-credit project implemented by Save the Children (SCF). The Internally Displaced Persons Women's Association was supported through the Women's Initiative Fund. In addition, the NGO Fund enabled UNHCR to expand its support of local NGOs in the conflict zones. Peace and Accord in Abkhazia and the Children's Fund of South Ossetia were supported by this fund and provided assistance to vulnerable beneficiaries during 1997.

(d) Budget

374. Requirements for the 1998 Special Programme in Georgia are included in the 1998 UNHCR Appeal for the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. UNHCR hopes to receive a higher level of contributions at a much earlier time in order to enable it to procure construction material for rehabilitation projects for returnees. In 1997, delays in funding during the spring and summer peak periods, crucial for return and rehabilitation work, created obstacles to a smooth implementation of the operation, and led to regrettable delays in the delivery of assistance into the winter months.

(e) Post situation

375. UNHCR has re-prioritized its humanitarian assistance programmes in Georgia from care and maintenance to repatriation in support of revitalized government policies aimed at conflict-resolution in the two conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. UNHCR has consequently established an increased field capacity by creating two additional professional posts to support the South Ossetian repatriation operation, and one professional post in Sukhumi, Abkhazia. The increased workload of the Tbilisi Office in support of expanded field operations, as well as two conflict resolution processes within the United Nations and OSCE-sponsored negotiation process, have entailed the creation of a post of Deputy Representative. This post was redeployed from UNHCR's programme in the Russian Federation. In recognition of the risk UNHCR staff are increasingly exposed to in the Georgia conflict zones, especially Gali which is heavily mined and an area of increasing partisan activity, a Field Staff Security Officer post has been created. The increases in repatriation operations have resulted in an increase of local posts by 22, bringing the total number to 49 local posts. The current staffing levels can be augmented with emergency mission staff in the event that there is a substantial increase in voluntary repatriation in the Ossetian operation or an increase in spontaneous returns to the Gali region of Abkhazia.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

376. As the majority of the returnee population consists of families, this shelter rehabilitation assistance benefits all members of families. Vulnerable or single-headed families are usually assisted by their extended families or neighbours. UNHCR works with local NGOs in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia to provide assistance to vulnerable beneficiaries, focusing on elderly women without families and children from poor households. During 1997, two sub-projects were implemented which specifically targeted women; a micro-credit scheme involving group loans in Tbilisi, and community development in support of women's groups in communal centres.

377. UNHCR continued its support of the children's magazine, White Crane, which is distributed on a monthly basis to 10,000 children in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and other areas of Georgia. The magazine is very popular and provides children of different ethnic origins with opportunities to exchange letters, poems and drawings in an interactive format, thereby promoting conflict resolution at a grass-root level.

378. UNHCR, in close cooperation with the World Bank and UNDP, will be carrying out an assessment of the forestry sector during 1998 to avoid negative repercussions of local procurement of a large quantity of timber. An international expert will be engaged in an attempt to evaluate the effects of UNHCR's local procurement of over 8,000 metric tons of timber for its shelter project. Depending on the consultant's recommendation, a portfolio of project ideas may need to be developed jointly with the WB and UNDP as an integral component of their environmental protection project with a view to rehabilitating forests which might have been affected by shelter project construction.

(g) Oversight reports

379. No reports were initiated during the reporting period

5. Moldova

(a) Beneficiaries

380. As a result of the conflict which erupted in the eastern part of Moldova (Transnistria) in 1992, 56,000 persons fled to the Ukraine and 51,000 became displaced within Moldova. Although most displaced persons have either returned or were able to integrate in host communities, authorities estimate that some 1,280 persons are still unable to provide for themselves and are destitute.

381. In addition, the authorities have reported an increased number of migrants, many from other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East. While some among them have obtained temporary or permanent residence permits under Moldovan immigration laws, others are staying illegally in the country.

382. The Government of Moldova has so far not registered any refugees. According to a recent survey (January 1998), 726 foreigners are residing in Moldova who wish to apply for refugee status once an asylum procedure is introduced in the country. The main countries of origin are Azerbaijan (86), Afghanistan (71), Armenia (57), Iraq (50), Tajikistan (38), Syria (30) and Sudan (30). Of these persons, 169 are female.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

383. A "Memorandum on Normalisation of Relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria" was signed by the two sides on 8 May 1997. The Memorandum, which is the result of a mediation process supported by the Russian Federation, the Ukraine and the OSCE, broadly outlines the extent of autonomy the Transnistria Region will enjoy within the territory of the whole of Moldova. As a consequence of the signing of the Memorandum, various meetings took place at both a political and a technical level. However, a bilateral working group commissioned to draft the "Law on the Special Status of the Transnistria Region" was not successful in finalizing this document during the reporting period.

384. In 1997, the Republic of Moldova ratified the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

385. The Republic of Moldova became the first country in the Commonwealth of Independent States to implement international and regional human rights standards on freedom of movement after the Constitutional Court abolished the "propiska" system in May 1997.

386. UNHCR opened a Liaison Office in 1997. Programme activities have so far focused on capacity-building for the Department of Migration of the Ministry for Labour, Social Protection and Family. Technical equipment was provided and Moldovan authorities participated at UNHCR-sponsored workshops and seminars.

387. UNHCR organized introductory workshops on refugee law for judges, lawyers, and senior civil servants. Limited funds were also made available to translate international refugee law materials. In addition, three small sub-projects were implemented to support the Moldovan Bar Association and the capacities of two local NGOs. The Republic of Moldova is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention nor the 1967 Protocol, nor has it enacted a national status determination procedures. The authorities have continued to stress that the country does not have sufficient resources to provide for care and maintenance of refugees and that the relevant institutional capacity would first have to be established.

388. During 1998, UNHCR will increase its activities relating to capacity and institution-building. In addition, the Liaison Office in Chisinau will sign sub-agreements with two NGOs which will provide social and legal counselling to asylum-seekers. To improve the living conditions for internally displaced persons from Transnistria who cannot envisage returning to the left bank in the near future, UNHCR will upgrade accommodation in Chisinau. Jointly with UNDP, UNHCR will assist the newly created Centre for Human Rights of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, which will introduce an Ombudsman system to the country.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

389. UNHCR in Moldova implemented three sub-projects in 1997 through the Department for Migration, the Law Centre of the University Advocates and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Moldova. A small grants project for NGOs was directly implemented by the Liaison Office in Chisinau.

390. During 1998, UNHCR will cooperate with six partners. They include three Government institutions, namely the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family and the Parliament of Moldova/Human Rights Centre. The Danish Refugee Council will upgrade shelter for internally displaced persons and rehabilitate a school. On behalf of UNHCR, local NGOs will provide emergency assistance and social and legal counselling to vulnerable asylum-seekers. UNHCR will also support the Women Judges Association and the Law Centre of the University Advocates to publish international human rights and humanitarian law documents.

(d) Budget

391. UNHCR's requirements for 1998 are included in the UNHCR Appeal for the Commonwealth of Independent States Countries. Some $ 500,000 are budgeted for 1998 General Programmes activities.

(e) Post situation

392. The staffing component of the newly established Liaison Office in Chisinau consists of two international posts (a Head of Office and an Associate Protection Officer) as well as six local staff posts. No additional posts are foreseen for 1998.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

393. Approximately 25 per cent of all asylum-seekers and 52 per cent of all internally displaced persons are female. The sub-project to be implemented by Salvati Copiii will include a component ensuring that single mothers and other vulnerable women refugees are provided with shelter. The sub-project will also focus on ensuring enrolment of refugee children in school. UNHCR will rehabilitate a primary school in the Dubasari region to prevent further displacement and to promote the return of internally displaced persons.

(g) Oversight reports

394. No reports were initiated during reporting period.

6. Russian Federation

(a) Beneficiaries

395. As at 1 January 1998, an estimated four million forced migrants were present in the Russian Federation, of whom some 1.2 million persons have been registered with the Federal Migration Services. Of this figure, a total of 153,000 persons are registered as internally displaced persons from the Chechnya region and are located in all regions of the Russian Federation. In addition, 2,908 persons from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States have been registered by the Federal Migration Services as having applied for refugee status, while another 240 persons have been granted refugee status by the federal authorities. Over the past five years, UNHCR has registered some 32,000 asylum-seekers in Moscow from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States region who are not included in the above figures. A process of re-registration of specific nationalities has started in UNHCR and is expected to continue throughout the first semester of 1998.

396. In the North Caucasus region, as of 31 January 1998, there are an estimated 48,000 refugees from Georgia and other countries residing in North Ossetia, some 48,000 internally displaced persons in Ingushetia (14,000 from the Chechnya region, and 34,000 from the Prigorodny District of North Ossetia) and 6,000 refugees and other internally displaced persons in Kabardino-Balkaria. Another 150,000 persons are estimated to be internally displaced within Chechnya (Russian Federation), including 5,000 persons who are accommodated in 18 collective centres. In Stavropol Krai, some 65,000 persons are estimated to be of concern to UNHCR, of whom 42,000 are internally displaced from Chechnya (Russian Federation).

(b) Recent developments and objectives

397. The Head of the UNHCR Sub-Office in Vladikavkaz was abducted by unknown gunmen on 29 January 1998. As a result, all UNHCR activities implemented in the North Caucasus have been suspended. All international and local staff movements within North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Chechnya (Russian Federation) are on hold. Although the UNHCR Offices in Vladikavkaz and Nazran are presently being maintained, the number of international staff has been greatly reduced. Field assessments to develop and expand UNHCR activities in the Stavropol, Krasnodar Krai and other areas are presently underway.

398. Prior to the above and throughout 1997, UNHCR activities in the Russian Federation saw new developments linked to an expansion of activities and operations within the context of the UNHCR/IOM Joint Appeal for the CIS Conference and the promotion of three voluntary repatriation movements of refugees and internally displaced persons from/in the North Caucasus.

399. Capacity-building assistance in the form of training, technical support, exchange programmes and internships was provided to numerous regional branches of the Federal Migration Services and various Departments and Points of Immigration Control. Similar support, which was already initiated with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, will be further developed throughout 1998.

400. To support the integration of refugees and forced migrants, a pilot project of micro-enterprise development through a credit scheme was developed with Opportunity International in the Saratov region. Similar projects will also continue to be supported in Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, while possible new regions of expansion will be assessed in mid-1998. The rehabilitation of temporary accommodation centres and hostels in a number of regions contributed to the provision of adequate shelter for the most vulnerable internally displaced persons and refugees.

401. Throughout 1997, and with progress achieved in regional political/peace settlements, UNHCR implemented three simultaneous voluntary repatriation movements in the North Caucasus. Over 25,000 internally displaced persons were repatriated to Chechnya (Russian Federation) from Daghestan, North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Some 1,700 Ingush returnees were assisted in their return from Ingushetia to Prigorodny District of North Ossetia, and 270 Georgian refugees were repatriated from North Ossetia to Georgia/South Ossetia. UNHCR assisted with transport and provided food/non-food kits to the returnees. In areas of return, support was provided for community-based re-integration projects linked to reconciliation, medical, shelter/sanitation and education infrastructure.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

402. In an effort to enhance their operational capacity, UNHCR provided assistance to support the legal networks, lobbying initiatives and other intra-regional training seminars for major local NGOs (Memorial, Compatriots, CCARFM, Forum of Forced Migrants). Within the context of the NGO Fund, capacity-building assistance was also provided to a diversity of nascent local NGOs located in numerous regions of the Russian Federation. Major areas targeted included Saratov, Stavropol, Lipetsk, Omsk, Voronezh, Pskov, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Kazan, Moscow and Ekaterinburg.

403. Close cooperation continued with Russian (St. Petersburg and Moscow Red Cross) and international (Magee WomanCare International and EquiLibre) implementing partners of UNHCR programmes in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the North Caucasus, and with the notable exception of the Children's Fund of North Ossetia, the absence of local NGO partners meant that most assistance activities for refugees and internally displaced persons continued to be implemented through international NGOs (Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Médecins sans Frontières (France), Médecins sans Frontières (Belgique), Merlin, EquiLibre, Médecins du Monde) and local administrations/authorities. As security conditions worsened and as several NGO expatriate staff were abducted, international NGOs progressively pulled out and UNHCR directly implemented an increasing number of activities related to the re-integration of returnees.

(d) Budget

404. UNHCR programmes in the Russian Federation were significantly increased within the context of the 1997 UNHCR/IOM joint Appeal related to follow-up to the CIS Conference Programme of Action. Simultaneously, a Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Persons Displaced as a result of the emergency situation in Chechnya (Russian Federation) was issued in early 1997 to cover the period until 31 December.

405. The 1998 UNHCR Appeal for the Commonwealth of Independent States countries was launched on 23 December 1997, and its Russian Federation component now combines all UNHCR activities in that country.

(e) Post situation

406. In 1997, the UNHCR staff in the Regional Office in Moscow comprised, in addition to the local staff, nine international officers and one Junior Professional Officer. In Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia), the UNHCR team included four international staff and two Junior Professional Officers while the Office in Nazran (Ingushetia) comprised three internationals and one Junior Professional Officer.

407. In July 1997, UNHCR established a Field Office in Stavropol (one international and two nationals) in order to develop and strengthen operations related to the internally displaced persons from Chechnya (Russian Federation) and refugees present in the southern part of the Russian Federation.

408. Having completed the voluntary repatriation of internally displaced persons to Chechnya (Russian Federation), the UNHCR Offices in Daghestan (Makhachkala and Khasavyurt) closed in September 1997. An early warning mechanism and a Refugee Counselling Centre were, however, established and are still maintained through local arrangements.

409. In February 1998, UNHCR assigned an international staff member to St. Petersburg to work with, inter alia, the St. Petersburg Red Cross in dealing with the issue of forced population displacement in the Leningrad Region. Attention will also be paid to the Pskov Region.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

410. Particular attention continues to be given to the more vulnerable groups within the populations of concern to UNHCR in the Russian Federation. This especially concerns women, children and the elderly. The provision of relief items specifically distributed to these groups continued in Stavropol, Moscow, St. Petersburg and the North Caucasus. Rehabilitation of schools and the distribution of school materials/supplies were a primary activity in Chechnya (Russian Federation) and Stavropol Krai. Training workshops for income-generation activities were organized for refugee women in North Ossetia while, in Ingushetia, UNHCR is funding the Women's Committee to develop a Counselling Centre to conduct legal, social and medical referrals. In Moscow, the partner Magee WomanCare provides medical services specifically targeted at women and children; women-specific public health booklets were developed in the various languages of the asylum-seekers and workshops on domestic violence were conducted.

411. Hostels accommodating elderly internally displaced persons were rehabilitated to increase the comfort of prolonged stay while children's playgrounds were included in the rehabilitation work undertaken in the temporary accommodation centres.

(g) Oversight reports

412. Within the context of a global evaluation conducted on UNHCR activities related to the mass information programmes, UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service undertook a brief field assessment in Moscow in the summer of 1997.

7. Ukraine

(a) Beneficiaries

413. According to the State Committee for Nationalities and Migration, since the commencement of status determination procedures in mid-1996, over 2,400 persons have been granted refugee status in Ukraine. The majority (90 per cent) originate from Afghanistan and have been recognized. Of this number, over 50 per cent are either women (12 per cent) or children (40 per cent). Almost all the refugees in Ukraine are located in urban centres. Over 60 per cent of the total number of recognized refugees reside in Kyiv, 11 per cent in Odessa and 6 per cent in Kharkiv. UNHCR's reception centre in Kyiv (Nivki) received a total of 4,560 visits from refugees/asylum-seekers during 1998. At the end of 1997, almost 800 persons of concern were receiving direct financial assistance from UNHCR.

414. Unfortunately, refugee status is only granted for three month periods, subject to extension, which severely restricts the opportunities for refugees to obtain legal employment or to secure accommodation. In addition, a large number of asylum-seekers are currently being rejected on the basis of the "safe third country" rule. As most asylum-seekers transit the Russian Federation or other Commonwealth of Independent States countries before entering Ukraine, it is expected that most new arrivals will not be granted status even if they have sound refugee claims.

415. The Ukrainian authorities have also registered over 6,500 persons originating from other Commonwealth of Independent States countries such as Tajikistan, the Russian Federation (Chechnya) and Georgia (Abkhazia) who have applied for refugee status or benefit from special decrees for persons fleeing from these regions. Due to the desire of many persons to enter western Europe, quite often illegally, large numbers do not register with UNHCR or the relevant government authorities.

416. In Crimea, UNHCR's primary target group among the formerly deported peoples are the estimated 5,000 persons who are in a refugee-like situation having left conflict zones in the Commonwealth of Independent States (Tajikistan, Fergana Valley, Abkhazia, Chechnya). This group is considered to be the most vulnerable of the estimated 260,000 formerly deported peoples who have returned since the late 1980s. According to a study commissioned by UNHCR in mid-1997, some 30,000 formerly deported peoples are already de jure stateless, while tens of thousands more are potentially stateless.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

417. During 1997, a central feature of UNHCR's efforts was the forging of closer links with European regional organizations with which it shares complementary interests. Closer cooperation is in an advanced stage with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe (COE).

418. 1997 witnessed the expansion and strengthening of the status determination procedures in almost all regions of Ukraine and the introduction of functioning appeal procedures. By the end of 1997, some 2,400 persons had been granted refugee status with 200 having had their cases heard by the Appeal Commission in Kyiv. In Crimea, in cooperation with the Danish Refugee Council, over 30 hostels were renovated which accommodated formerly deported peoples who are in a refugee-like situation. Tens of thousands more benefited from information and advice provided by UNHCR on the critical issues of citizenship and statelessness. A major breakthrough was achieved in April 1997 with the revision of the Law on Citizenship. Other highlights in 1997 included the visit of the High Commissioner, the convening of a CIS-wide Experts Group Meeting to discuss issues related to freedom of movement ("propiska"), a meeting for judges, providing input into the drafting of the revised refugee law, a multi-national donor mission (October) and a multitude of regional and national seminars on issues related to refugees, asylum-seekers and access to citizenship.

419. In 1997, UNHCR's integrated programme of assistance for returning formerly deported peoples also made significant progress. In April, following UNHCR interventions, the Law on Citizenship was significantly simplified, thereby opening up the possibility for thousands of formerly deported peoples who were "stateless" to acquire Ukrainian citizenship.

420. In support of the citizenship campaign, a government-sanctioned public awareness drive was initiated which was complimented by ten counselling points established via a local NGO throughout Crimea. UNHCR provided technical assistance to local authorities to assist in promoting the campaign, registering and processing applications.

421. UNHCR's objectives in Ukraine continue to focus on ensuring that the basic protection and assistance needs of refugees and other persons of concern are addressed. This includes promoting durable solutions to the issue of statelessness for the returning formerly deported peoples in Crimea. UNHCR's priorities are to:

(i) assist in the further development of refugee related legislation and the operational capacity of relevant authorities;

(ii) expand the implementation of refugee-related legislation to all regions of Ukraine;

(iii) promote implementation of the revised Citizenship Legislation;

(iv) establish an effective integration mechanism for recognized refugees and formerly deported peoples;

(v) support NGO capacity to assist in the implementation of the CIS Conference Plan of Action.

422. The policy of the Government is to develop domestic asylum institutions before binding itself to the obligations which derive from the 1951 Convention. UNHCR will continue to work with the central and regional authorities in developing the capacities of domestic institutions to deal with people of concern while also encouraging Ukraine to adopt the principles of international refugee law, with the ultimate objective of accession to the Convention prior to the year 2000.

423. Since February 1996, when the 1993 Refugee Law was finally implemented, status determination procedures are now undertaken in 20 of the 26 regions in Ukraine. In March 1997, Ukraine initiated appeal procedures, with over 200 cases having already been processed by the end of the year. However, as noted above, the majority of new asylum-seekers are being rejected on the basis of the "safe third country" rule.

424. UNHCR has assisted the implementation of the national refugee law through the provision of technical assistance and training to the central and regional authorities. This has included supplying computer registration equipment, training and country of origin information and the furnishing and equipping of the new Appeal Commission in Kyiv. UNHCR also provided advice and comments on the draft revision to the 1993 Law on Refugees.

425. During 1998, UNHCR will continue to work with government authorities to improve the protection mechanisms for asylum-seekers in Ukraine by seeking to address issues relating to those cases rejected because of the "safe third country" rule or because of lack of documentation, in addition to advocating for longer periods of residence (currently only three months) which in turn would assist in addressing questions relating to obtaining work and residence permits. In 1997, following UNHCR interventions, training and public information campaigns, the number of cases of police harassment of persons of concern declined substantially. Following a request from the Government, UNHCR provided technical assistance and training to border guards faced with increasing numbers of persons attempting to leave Ukraine illegally. Following a UNHCR assessment, which found that almost one-third of those detained may be of concern, UNHCR supported the establishment of a counselling centre,

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

426. At the beginning of 1998, UNHCR had 12 implementing partners. UNHCR's primary counterpart in the Ukrainian Government is the State Committee for Nationalities and Minorities (SCNM). It is supported throughout the country by almost thirty regional SCNM offices as well as regional Departments of Migration, as is the case in Crimea and Odessa. The SCNM has been the principle beneficiary of UNHCR's capacity and technical assistance programme over the past two years. This support will be consolidated in 1998. With the expansion and maturity of the status determination system in Ukraine, it is expected that the SCNM and other relevant bodies dealing with refugee-related issues will have to assume additional responsibilities associated with registration, status determination, implementing the appeal procedures and, ultimately, finding durable solutions for those persons recognized to be in need of international protection.

427. Arrangements have also been made with public hospitals in Kyiv, Odessa and Simferopol to ensure a safety net for vulnerable persons of concern, particularly women, children and the elderly. In Crimea, UNHCR, in addition to supporting local authorities, has agreements with the Danish Refugee Council which will be responsible for shelter rehabilitation, income-generation, a tolerance campaign through arts, culture and education, and capacity-building. The local NGO, Assistance, will provide counselling and advice on citizenship issues. It is anticipated that, in 1998, responsibility for managing UNHCR's Social Counselling Centre in Kyiv will be transferred to a local NGO, with ADRA examining possibilities of consolidating its vocational training for women to one location which could then also be used as a focal point for counselling. ADRA has also established a social counselling centre for vulnerable persons of concern on Ukraine's western border at Uzghorod.

(d) Budget

428. The 1997 budgets for UNHCR's General and Special Programmes in Ukraine supported the provision of targeted technical assistance and training to government authorities and NGOs, care and maintenance for persons of concern, rehabilitation of communal shelters for returning formerly deported persons, implementation of a citizenship strategy to address the statelessness issue in Crimea, a tolerance through arts and culture campaign and pilot income-generation projects.

429. An appeal to support UNHCR's reintegration activities in Crimea, which includes implementation of the citizenship campaign, rehabilitation of communal shelters, income-generation and capacity-building, was issued in late 1997 for an amount of $ 2.3 million. This amount is in addition to the approved General Programmes budget of just over $ 3 million and a request for $ 300,000 from the NGO fund, which would bring the total budget in 1998 to over $ 5.6 million.

(e) Post situation

430. UNHCR's Office in Kyiv was upgraded from a Liaison Office to Branch Office. Kyiv has five international posts (including one Junior Professional Officer) and nine national staff posts. UNHCR also has a Field Office in Simferopol, on the Crimean Peninsula, with one international and three national staff.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

431. UNHCR has paid particular attention to meeting the needs of women and children amongst asylum-seekers, refugees and formerly displaced peoples in Ukraine. Approximately half of all recognized refugees are either women (12 per cent) or children (40 per cent). Almost 60 single women, the majority being Afghan, benefit from direct financial assistance,. Six unaccompanied children have been identified; arrangements have been made for their care by families from their own community. UNHCR has agreements with several public hospitals to ensure that the medical needs of the most vulnerable are met, including women (particularly pregnant women) and children. In Kyiv, UNHCR's partner hospital has an Afghan (refugee) gynaecologist on staff. Arrangements have also been made for refugee children with health problems to attend a health sanatorium for medical treatment. The sanatorium programme may be extended to other major cities during 1998.

432. A local NGO and ADRA have established vocational training courses for women in addition to Russian courses to assist with the integration process. It is hoped that, in 1998, a social counselling centre for women will also be established in Kyiv, which will provide a focal point for the distribution of information, advice and training. In western Ukraine, ADRA has established a centre to assist the most vulnerable groups (women, children, elderly) who have been detained but may have bona fide claims. UNHCR is also examining possibilities of supporting an emergency accommodation centre near Kyiv. The beneficiaries would be limited to single women, the elderly and large families, who would be able to benefit from the centre for a restricted period of time until a durable solution could be found.

433. UNHCR also supports a number of ad hoc and cultural activities which assist in empowering women and promoting their cultural identity. These activities have included a Women's Refugee Survey which provided more concrete information on which to base future programmes of assistance, supporting participation in the "Christmas bazaar" and providing materials for women to make traditional arts and crafts.

434. UNHCR provides one-off technical assistance and support to schools which have refugee children. Other activities include providing mother-tongue classes for Afghan children in Kyiv and Odessa and sponsoring children/youth activities which are consistent with themes related to refugees. In Crimea, UNHCR, in cooperation with the OSCE, initiated a major tolerance through arts, culture and education campaign. In 1998, this programme will be expanded with the message of tolerance being reinforced in classrooms throughout Crimea by the publication of books on the benefits of multi-culturalism and diversity.

(g) Oversight reports

435. No reports were initiated during the reporting period.


(a) Beneficiaries

436. The number of asylum-seekers and refugees registered by UNHCR in Turkey stood at 6,430 persons as of 15 February 1998. This figure includes an urban caseload of 3,930 persons (comprising 1,338 Iranians, 2,363 Iraqis and 229 other nationals) plus 2,500 Bosnian refugees living in a camp and in Istanbul. With the exception of some 1,500 Bosnians, all the refugees are being assisted by UNHCR.

(b) Recent developments and objectives

437. The Government of Turkey applies the 1994 Asylum Regulations for granting temporary asylum to non-European refugees pending their resettlement by UNHCR to a third country. UNHCR continues to interview asylum-seekers who approach the Branch Office in Ankara in order to ensure that all persons needing protection register with the Government and to eventually seek solutions for these persons. Some 4,450 asylum-seekers were processed by UNHCR Turkey in 1997.

438. Cooperation between the UNHCR Office in Turkey and the Government departments responsible for refugee issues has improved the situation for asylum-seekers in Turkey. The increased UNHCR presence in the border cities of Van, Agri and Hakkari has increased asylum-seekers' compliance with the Turkish asylum regulations and enhanced local officials' understanding of refugees' rights and needs. In October 1997, a joint visit to the border cities by the UNHCR Representative and a Ministry of Interior official demonstrated to security officers that the Ministry and UNHCR are working together to solve problems.

439. In 1996, most of the asylum-seekers who were processed by UNHCR for resettlement were not registered with the Government. In June 1997, the authorities and UNHCR agreed on a programme of amnesty, registration, status-determination and resettlement for an accumulated group of up to 3,300 refugees and asylum-seekers who had approached UNHCR but who were not registered legally with the Turkish authorities. This programme was a success and, in parallel, UNHCR insisted that asylum-seekers make every effort to comply with the asylum regulation. Between June 1997 and the end of the year, there were only a small number of refugees who were recognized by UNHCR but considered illegal by the Government. The large majority of new arrivals managed to register themselves in spite of the authorities' strict application deadline (five days after arrival in Turkey).

440. The number of UNHCR-recognized refugees expelled from Turkey has sharply declined; the number in 1997 was only a third of the number in 1995. However, refoulement can be eliminated entirely through a Government review of the application of the asylum procedure and continued cooperation between the Government and UNHCR on asylum issues.

441. UNHCR assists non-European refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey through financial assistance, food assistance for vulnerable groups, medical care, accommodation costs, local travel expenses, legal and social counselling pending status determination, and resettlement for recognized refugees. The Office in Turkey aims to increase attention paid to vulnerable groups through regular field visits, counselling and cooperation with local NGOs whose social services activities are being encouraged.

442. The assistance programme for the remaining Bosnian refugees will continue during 1998 until most refugees are able to repatriate. For an estimated residual population of up to 1,000 persons who are either unable or unwilling to repatriate, UNHCR will propose local integration or, as a last resort, resettlement to third countries.

443. The voluntary repatriation of Turkish refugees from northern Iraq to south-eastern Turkey continues, although at a slower pace than expected. The return movement gained momentum after the dismantlement of the Atroush camp in December 1996. In January 1997, UNHCR established an international presence in Silopi in south-eastern Turkey to register the returnees upon their arrival, provide emergency assistance packages, and liaise with Turkish authorities about their legal and material situation. A total of 1,187 persons repatriated between June 1996 and February 1998. Due to the volatile situation in northern Iraq, the continuing conflict and the difficult socio-economic situation in south-eastern Turkey, it is hard to predict the future of the repatriation movement. However, there are indications that larger groups may choose to repatriate later in 1998.

(c) Implementing partners/arrangements

444. In the absence of sufficient implementing partners in Turkey, the UNHCR Office in Ankara continues to provide direct assistance to individual cases living in urban areas. Medical care for urban refugees is arranged through hospitals and health institutions in the main cities. The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) implements assistance programmes for Iranians and Iraqis in Istanbul who are in the resettlement process. Caritas undertakes counselling for refugees living in Istanbul. The UNHCR Office in Ankara intends to contract more programme activities to a relatively new Turkish NGO, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum-seekers and Migrants (ASAM), as its implementation capacities develop.

445. The processing of family reunification cases for urban refugees is carried out by IOM. Repatriation of Bosnians to Bosnia and Herzegovina is also arranged by IOM.

446. The Anatolian Development Foundation (ADF) continues to provide support for Bosnian refugees living in a camp and in Istanbul. With UNHCR funding, the Turkish Red Crescent Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are implementing health activities for Bosnian refugees in Istanbul.

(d) Budget

447. The 1998 assistance budget has been slightly decreased following a review of the care and maintenance assistance project for Bosnian refugees in Turkey. The UNHCR programme includes two other projects: assistance to recognized refugees being resettled to third countries, and care and maintenance of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey.

448. A programme of initial assistance to Turkish refugees repatriating from northern Iraq will continue in 1998. UNHCR Ankara is consulting with United Nations development agencies with the aim of establishing interagency projects for internally displaced persons in villages to which repatriating refugees are returning.

(e) Post situation

449. The number of UNHCR staff needed to process asylum applications remained unchanged from 1997. However, one post was created in Silopi by offsetting a post in Ankara to strengthen protection and voluntary repatriation activities. Staff and non-staff costs are estimated to be slightly higher than in 1997 taking into account the rising living costs in Turkey.

(f) Implementation of policy priorities (women, children, environment)

450. The UNHCR Office in Ankara will continue to ensure gender and cultural sensitivity during interviews of female asylum applicants by using female legal officers and interpreters whenever appropriate. The Office will also maintain close liaison with the Directorate of Women's Status and Problems and NGOs in support of capacity-building and promotion of refugee issues. However, the relatively low political priority for asylum and refugee issues is an obstacle. Special attention will continue to be paid to the needs of female-headed families and single women in the legal and social services provided by the Office. In the light of a survey among women refugees and asylum-seekers, it was decided to prepare an information leaflet for women refugees and asylum-seekers to facilitate their active participation in UNHCR's asylum process. This leaflet, which describes all services available for refugee women, will be finalized by mid-1998 and distributed to all female applicants and female family members.

451. Other information leaflets have already been prepared by the focal point for refugee women on family planning, pregnancy, breast-feeding and nursing. Beginning in 1998, these leaflets are being distributed to women refugees and asylum-seekers to inform them about these health services. Women seeking detailed information and professional guidance will be referred to the health clinic contracted by UNHCR. Furthermore, a reproductive hygiene kit is being prepared for distribution to all female asylum-seekers.

452. UNHCR Ankara and UNICEF have collaborated to seek full access by refugee children to education. However, the nature of temporary asylum for non-European refugees in Turkey precludes formal education in either the mother-tongue or in Turkish. In some provincial capitals where refugees and asylum-seekers reside awaiting status determination and resettlement, UNHCR and refugee teachers have established informal education courses. UNHCR has supported these groups with educational materials. Moreover, in some provincial capitals, refugee and asylum-seeker children are permitted by local authorities to attend local schools.

453. The Office in Turkey is near an agreement with the Turkish Government to provide shelter to unaccompanied minor refugees and asylum-seekers. UNHCR staff will continue to follow the Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum and trained social services staff conduct status determination interviews for unaccompanied minors. Social services staff also counsel refugee and asylum-seeker parents on child care issues.

454. Children's clothing, toys and books in Turkish, English, Persian and Arabic have been successfully collected and distributed to refugee children, and this activity will continue. The Office is also planning conferences and discussion sessions on refugee children at local primary and secondary schools where videos on refugee children will also be shown.

(g) Oversight reports

455. UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Service (IES) conducted a mission to Turkey in 1997 to review operational activities of the Office in Ankara, especially in relation to Iraqi asylum-seekers. Action has already been taken on most of the recommendations. A second mission was organized by IES to Turkey in 1997 as part of a study on the use of project staff arrangements in UNHCR field offices.

(Note: Tabular Annexes I & II and mapping Annex III not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)