NGO Statement on International Protection, 61st Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee, 4-8 October 2010
4 - 8 October 2010
NGO Statement on International Protection
Agenda Item 5. a)
Mr. Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This statement has been drafted in consultation with, and is delivered on behalf of, a wide range of NGOs and aims to reflect the diversity of views within the NGO community.
NGOs would like to take the opportunity of this 61st Executive Committee meeting to address a number of particularly urgent country-specific protection concerns, as well as highlight some more general protection challenges worldwide.
1. Country-specific situations of concern
Over the past year, there have been dozens of situations around the world involving serious protection concerns for refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons, and other persons of concern to UNHCR. We would like to take this opportunity to highlight what we believe are some of the most serious examples of Member States' failures to protect the rights of persons of concern and to highlight one or two other situations of concern to us.
Over the past year, which has seen new tri-partite agreements between UNHCR and a number of refugee-hosting countries in the Great Lakes region, the Rwandan authorities have successfully placed significant pressure on both Burundi and Uganda to return Rwandan asylum seekers and refugees back to their country.
In Burundi, deportations of almost 80 Rwandans scheduled for mid November 2009 were halted after NGOs alerted UNHCR, which intervened with the authorities. On 27 November, however, Burundi deported 103 Rwandans after denying them access to asylum procedures. During Uganda's July 2010 deportation of 1,700 Rwandans, including hundreds of refugees, at least two people died as a result of the speed and manner of the operation. We call on all three governments to respect the right of their nationals to claim asylum and remain as refugees in each others' countries and to respect asylum seekers' and refugees' rights to appeal any decision to refuse them asylum or to revoke their refugee status. We also call on UNHCR to publicly press all three countries to respect these obligations.
In May this year, Uganda, Rwanda, and UNHCR announced that the 1951 Refugee Convention's "cessation clause" will be applied to Rwandans in Uganda by 31 December 2011. The clause allows a refugee-hosting country, usually with UNHCR's agreement, to declare that a specific caseload of refugees is no longer in need of protection and should return home. Uganda has not explained whether the clause will apply to all Rwandans in Uganda or only to a specific category, for example those who fled Rwanda during the immediate aftermath of the country's genocide in 1994. We call on Uganda to clarify its position and to publicly affirm that any application of the clause will be accompanied by safeguards required under the Convention and Ugandan law, including the right of any Rwandan refugee or asylum seeker covered by the clause to resubmit an asylum claim, and for asylum seekers fleeing Rwanda after the clause has been invoked to lodge asylum claims in Uganda.
(ii) Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Almost 2 million civilians remain displaced in eastern DRC. They face significant obstacles to returning home, including a general lack of security in villages away from main roads, abuses and threats by combatants on all sides, looting of harvests, extortion by ill-disciplined combatants, property destruction, and disputes over land title and land occupation.
Despite these concerns, over the past year the Congolese authorities have at times let political considerations trump the needs of the displaced. In September 2009, the authorities pressured 60,000 people in UNHCR-run camps in and around Goma to return home to show that the army's military operations had brought peace to eastern Congo and that it was safe for both IDPs and Congolese refugees in Rwanda to return home. This pressure coincided with a reduction in humanitarian assistance in the camps and assistance incentives in return areas.
After the camps closed, UN officials, diplomats, and others welcomed the "spontaneous return" of IDPs to their homes, yet there was no monitoring to track where IDPs went after they left the camps. While some returned to their villages of origin, others were afraid to do so. It remains unclear how many have settled in Goma and the nearby town of Sake, or moved on to other displacement sites after realising that their home areas remained insecure or that their land was occupied.
We call on Member States and UNHCR to ensure that the events in Goma are not repeated in the coming months and that IDPs in eastern DRC are in no way coerced or forced to leave their places of refuge with host families or in camps and to return home when it is not safe to do so.
In February 2010, DRC, Rwanda, and UNHCR signed a tri-partite agreement relating to the return of around 54,000 mainly Tutsi Congolese refugees from Rwanda to their homes in eastern Congo. Given ongoing insecurity in the region, likely disputes over land title in return areas and the resulting risk of violence, we call on both countries and UNHCR to ensure that any return takes place only on a purely voluntary basis and that sufficient resources are committed to ensuring that return takes place in a safe, dignified, and durable manner.
Kenya continues to host large numbers of mostly Somali refugees, almost 300,000 of whom live in three appallingly overcrowded camps near the town of Dadaab in Kenya's poverty-stricken North Eastern Province bordering Somalia. Fewer than 5,000 refugees were allowed to move from the Dadaab camps during the past 12 months, thereby violating their right to freedom of movement under the 1951 Refugee Convention. In the continued absence of any form of refugee screening near the border and organised safe transport from there to the camps, we are concerned about numerous reports relating to Kenyan police abuses against Somali asylum seekers on and near the border and in the camps. These include interception and extortion, unlawfully returning those who cannot pay to Somalia or arbitrarily arresting, detaining, and illegally charging them with unlawful entry, beating men and women alike, and in some cases raping women. We call on Kenya to immediately end these abuses, to swiftly conclude and publish the findings of an independent investigation it has launched into the extent of these abuses, to formally approve at central and local level the granting of more land on which to build new camps, and to allow refugees registered in the camps to freely move throughout Kenya.
(iv) South Africa
In light of perceived improvements in the situation in Zimbabwe, on 2 September South Africa ended its April 2009 "special dispensation" policy for Zimbabweans - which allowed hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans to live and work in South Africa - and announced it would resume deportations on 1 January 2011. The 2 September decision allows Zimbabweans (asylum seekers, the undocumented, and those with fraudulent South African identity papers) currently working, studying, or operating a business in South Africa to regularise their status by 31 December. To qualify, applicants must hold a Zimbabwean passport, which they can obtain from the Zimbabwean authorities in South Africa, and prove they have been in the country since at least 31 May this year. NGOs are concerned that four months is insufficient time to ensure that all Zimbabweans wishing to apply can do so and that those missing the deadline will be caught up in South Africa's likely resumption of mass deportations of Zimbabweans in the New Year. NGOs call on South Africa to extend the deadline until at least 1 June 2011 to ensure this does not happen. NGOs also call on the Zimbabwean authorities to commit the necessary resources to ensure passport applications are rapidly processed.
Despite UNHCR's 2010 Eligibility Guidelines on Somalis - which advises against forced returns to south central Somalia - South Africa continues to arrest, detain, and threaten Somali asylum seekers with deportation to Somalia, including those deported from Namibia via South Africa. We call on South Africa to respect its obligations not to deport Somalis to south central Somalia.
In the run-up to the January 2011 referendum in southern Sudan, we urge Member States and UNHCR to ensure NGOs are involved in the development of contingency plans relating to possible renewed displacement from northern to southern Sudan, and from southern Sudan to neighbouring states. We urge States and UNHCR to ensure that such plans involve a rapid and robust humanitarian response should displacement increase and humanitarian conditions deteriorate before or after the referendum. We also urge UNHCR to increase its protection monitoring in IDP areas around Khartoum to identify any concerns as soon as they arise.
In the Kassala region of eastern Sudan, over 60,000 Eritrean refugees have established settlements and made Sudan their home. Many have been there for more than three decades or were born in the camps since then. By and large the long-term camp residents are de facto integrated into Sudanese society and many say they want to remain in Sudan. We urge the Government of Sudan to grant those refugees who want to remain in Sudan permanent residency and eventual naturalisation, which amongst other benefits would contribute significantly to the economic development of the Kassala region.