Five 'mega-trends' - including population growth, urbanization, climate change - make contemporary displacement increasingly complex, Third Committee told
Sixty-fourth General Assembly
38th & 39th Meetings (AM & PM)
High Commissioner for Refugees Says Trends Causing Crises to Multiply; Means Humanitarian Action Operating in Difficult International Environment
Five "mega-trends" -- population growth, urbanization, climate change, migration and food, water and energy insecurity –- made contemporary forms of displacement increasingly complex, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
Addressing the Committee as it took up questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian activities, High Commissioner António Guterres said these mega-trends were causing crises to multiply and deepen. Together with the global financial and economic downturn, this meant humanitarian action was taking place in a difficult international environment.
"Attempting to deal with these mega-trends individually would doom the effort to failure. They are a global reality and need a global response", he said. "This has not always been the strongest feature of an international community whose analytical and policy tools are fragmented and dispersed."
He highlighted efforts over the past three years to reform his Office -- UNHCR -- which will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary next year -- noting that it, nevertheless, faced four main challenges. These included shrinking humanitarian space, with humanitarian actions facing unprecedented insecurity in the field; shrinking asylum space marked by greater restriction and fewer rights; increasing difficulty in achieving durable solutions, resulting in more situations of protracted displacement; and rising numbers of urban refugees.
He stressed that, although the UNHCR was not yet the organization it could be, "it was getting there". If the measure for these reforms was delivering enhanced protection, assistance and solutions for those it cared for, many could already be judged as effective. Not only had significant resources been freed up and used to bridge critical gaps in the field, but UNHCR's new approach to assessing beneficiary needs and its ambitious results-based framework -- the Global Needs Assessment (GNA) -- had been rolled out worldwide earlier this year.
To fill gaps in responses to natural disasters at the field level, he had also requested that the UNHCR be allowed to take the lead role at the organization's Executive Committee meeting a month ago. The UNHCR was well placed to provide support to Governments, which had the main role and responsibility in responding to natural disasters, but might lack the expertise to coordinate protection-related activities.
During the ensuing general discussion, delegates underlined the need to address the root causes of displacement, particularly armed conflict and political instability. As part of that effort, durable solutions to protracted refugee situations should also be sought, many said. The representative of Liechtenstein welcomed UNHCR's approach in that regard, stressing that the first step out of a prolonged period of dependency must be a real choice between a safe and dignified return, local reintegration or resettlement.
The United States representative said that finding durable solutions was one of the best investments that could be made in advancing the security and welfare of refugees. Such work was inextricably linked to humanitarian assistance efforts, but should also move beyond care and maintenance towards increasing the self-reliance of all refugees, and especially those in protracted situations.
Citing the burdens caused by the influx of so many refugees, a number of host countries called for more international support, including financial assistance. Yemen's delegate said that, in addition to the thousands of refugees it had received from the Horn of Africa in past years, 46,000 Somalis had entered Yemen since the beginning of 2009 and assistance was needed to blunt the economic burden posed by the absorption of so many refugees. The representative of Kenya stressed that work was also needed to help local communities stop conflicts and environmental degradation.
Several countries highlighted the situation of Afghan refugees, whose country continued to be the leading country of origin of all global refugees. The delegations of Iran and Pakistan -- where the majority of the Afghan refugees currently resided -- stressed that beyond being voluntary, returns needed to be sustainable. Pakistan's delegate suggested a "pull factor" that included the design of viable individual and family return packages could help. The assistance regime, which had been reduced in 2002, should also be strengthened.
The representative of Afghanistan noted his country's "lost citizens" had at last begun to find their way home, with over a quarter of a million of them returning in the past year. But, repatriation alone did not equal success, and coordinated work to ensure that refugees returned safely, voluntarily, gradually and with dignity was needed. He said his Government was working to increase its absorption capacity in order to manage and assist sustainable reintegration, but Afghanistan would have difficulty implementing its strategy for refugees without sustained financial assistance from the international community.
A portion of the debate centred on the process of local integration. Several countries applauded the decision by the United Republic of Tanzania to offer local integration through naturalization to the 1972 caseload of Burundian refugees. Others, citing the potential difficulties in this process, urged more focus on third-party resettlement.
To this end, Iran's delegate cautioned that local integration could spark a crisis for host countries, especially in "mass influx situations", and the international community should refrain from providing unrealistic and irrational remedies. Moreover, the UNHCR should encourage more participation by the international community, including developed countries, in resettlement efforts.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania (also on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), Federated States of Micronesia (on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States), Japan, Switzerland, Georgia, Norway, Egypt, Colombia, Sudan, Algeria, Russian Federation, Zambia, Ethiopia, Canada, Morocco, Ukraine, Thailand, Montenegro, Bangladesh, India, Serbia, Republic of Korea, Malta, Mauritania, South Africa, Nigeria, Kuwait, Jamaica, Liberia and Azerbaijan.
The representatives of Sri Lanka and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Organization for Migration also participated in the debate.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday, 5 November, to hear the introduction of several draft resolutions and take action on others.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to take up the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to consider questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions.
The report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/64/12) provides an account of the work carried out by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) between January 2008 and mid-2009, in response to the needs of over 34 million people of concern. It looks at major developments and challenges with respect to protection, assistance and finding durable solutions for refugees, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and others of concern; progress made three years into the reform process; renewed efforts to tackle protracted refugee situations; and an overview of UNHCR's global priorities. Partnerships and coordination of action with other concerned entities, both within and outside of the United Nations system, are also reviewed.
The report states that, of the 34.4 million people of concern to the UNHCR, some 10.5 million were refugees at the end of 2008. The number of identified stateless people stood at almost 6.6 million; however, the actual number of stateless people worldwide is estimated to be closer to 12 million. The number of people displaced in their own country as a result of conflict remained high, at an estimated 26 million, with 14.4 million of them benefiting from UNHCR protection and assistance activities. The report notes that the latter constituted an increase of more than 600,000 compared to the 13.7 million of the previous year, and was the highest figure ever recorded by the UNHCR.
According to the report, developing countries were hosting 8.4 million refugees, or 80 per cent of the global refugee population, by the end of 2008. Despite the repatriation of a quarter of a million people to Afghanistan, Pakistan again topped the list, hosting nearly 1.8 million, mostly Afghan refugees. Afghanistan continued to be the leading country of origin of refugees, followed by Iraq. Together, Afghan and Iraqi refugees accounted for almost half of the refugee population under UNHCR's responsibility.
Returning home became a reality for more than 1.3 million internally displaced persons during 2008, including some 700,000 going back to their places of origin within Uganda and 350,000 going back to their areas of origin inside Kenya. More than 600,000 refugees were also able to return to their homes. At least 839,000 individual applications for asylum or refugee status were submitted to Governments or UNHCR offices in 154 countries in 2008. This constitutes a 28 per cent increase compared to the previous year (635,800) and the second consecutive annual rise.
The report states that the UNHCR reform process, which started in 2006, had made the Office a leaner and more efficient organization. Staff costs had been reduced to just under 34 per cent of total expenditure. A number of human resources management reform initiatives have been undertaken to address career management, assignments and promotion and staff well-being and relations. Other reforms included a transition to a results-based framework, the launch of a global needs assessment, a revised budget structure and the development of a global management accountability framework. To empower and capacitate the field, the UNHCR began to pursue a more robust model of decentralization and regionalization in Europe and the Americas.
The report further notes that the current working environment for humanitarian staff dealing with forcibly displaced people was highly complex, requiring a decisive, coherent and dedicated response, in partnership with all relevant parties, notably States. The structural and management reform process launched in 2006 had now reached the consolidation phase, with an organization-wide commitment to results-oriented performance. Going forward, the Office would continue to review its working methods and adjust them as necessary to maximize delivery for its beneficiaries.
The report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/64/12/Add.1) summarizes that body's sixtieth plenary session, which was held in Geneva, from 28 September to 2 October 2009. It includes decisions of the Executive Committee, but notes that consensus on the text of a draft conclusion on protracted refugee situations could not be reached in time for its adoption and inclusion. However, negotiations on that text were being pursued with the objective of reaching consensus on an agreed text by the end of the current year, for their adoption at the Executive Committee at an extraordinary meeting to be convened in December 2009. The report also includes a Chairman's summary of the general debate as Annex II.
The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/64/330), which covers the period from 1 January 2008 to 15 June 2009 and updates the information contained in the report submitted by the Secretary-General to the sixty-third session of the Assembly (document A/63/321).
The report recommends that, in line with international and regional instruments, States should respect the principle of the non-refoulement of refugees and ensure the proper reception and timely registration of refugees. Given that two out of three refugees depend on international aid, host countries must be encouraged, and supported in their efforts, to create environments that enable refugees to become self-reliant. This may include the withdrawal of reservations on refugee rights set out in the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol.
According to the report, African States have led the world in developing a binding regional convention for the protection of internally displaced people, and United Nations organizations must continue to support these efforts. Moreover, the lack of recovery programmes when humanitarian assistance is being phased out puts the sustainability of durable solutions at risk. Humanitarian and development organizations and institutions need to better synchronize their activities to avoid a transition gap. Likewise, donor States should consider investing more in early recovery efforts.
The report says that African States that have not yet done so should consider acceding to the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. They should also be encouraged to work with the UNHCR and other organizations, as appropriate, to identify stateless populations on their territory and to review domestic legislation, with a view to eliminating gaps that can give rise to or perpetuate statelessness.
State and non-State parties to conflict, as well as international and regional mediators, should work towards addressing the root causes of all forms of displacement in Africa in a resolute manner, with greater attention to the links between the prevention of displacement, durable solutions and sustainable peace processes. Refugees and internally displaced persons should be integrated in post-conflict transition schemes, development plans and poverty reduction strategies.
State and non-State parties to conflict should facilitate access by humanitarian organizations to affected civilian populations and ensure the security of humanitarian workers, so that protection and assistance can be provided safely, even during ongoing hostilities. Humanitarian organizations should tailor their security arrangements to address the different patterns of violence affecting staff, facilities and assets. African States are also encouraged to ratify and enforce the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.
Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said humanitarian action was taking place in a difficult international environment, especially against the backdrop of the global financial and economic crisis. He identified five "mega-trends" which were interlinked with the issue of displacement: population growth; urbanization; climate change; food, water and energy insecurity; and migration. The world population was expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, and almost all the population growth would be in the developing world. The current population is 6.7 billion. A majority live in cities, and that proportion is expected to reach 70 per cent in 2050. Already, services and jobs were failing to keep pace.
He said global warming threatened to contribute to massive displacement. Compared to two decades ago, the increase in extreme weather events today was making natural disasters about twice as likely. Energy demand was expected to increase by 50 per cent in the next 20 years, most of it in the form of fossil fuels, which would contribute to global warming. Approximately 1.4 billion people lacked safe water and water shortages threatened millions, while many poor countries were still undergoing a food crisis. Competition over those and other resources would necessarily intensify.
He added the world had more than 200 million migrants. The demographics, economics and environmental degradation that drove migration were unlikely to relent.
"Attempting to deal with these mega-trends individually would doom the effort to failure. They are a global reality and need a global response", he said. "This has not always been the strongest feature of an international community whose analytical and policy tools are fragmented and dispersed."
Those mega-trends were causing crises to multiply and deepen, he said. Two thirds were found in a "band of crisis" stretching from south-west Asia through the Middle East to the Horn and Great Lakes of Africa. It included Palestinian refugees. Of the nearly 14.5 million internally displaced people that benefited from attention by the UNHCR, around three quarters lived in those areas, and almost all the significant new internal displacement had been there.
He said one out of two people displaced by conflict lived in Africa, and he lauded the African Union for approving a convention for responding to forced displacement. He said African leadership had been extremely important in that regard, and expressed hoped their example would be copied in other parts of the world.
He said the UNHCR faced four challenges, the first of which was shrinking humanitarian space. Many actors in today's conflicts had no respect for humanitarian principles or the safety of humanitarian staff. The firmer line taken on national sovereignty by a few Governments for political reasons had resulted in humanitarian agencies being thrown out. The blurring of the lines that used to separate civilian and military actors had created confusion, which was cynically and brutally exploited by some to undermine operations.
He said that the UNHCR had lost three staff members in Pakistan in a period of six months, while a fourth had been abducted and held for 63 days. The office of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Islamabad was attacked in October, killing five staff. For its part, the UNHCR had created a security steering committee to examine the security situation of key operations, and was enhancing its "security software" -- information-gathering capacity, staff training and rules of engagement, and paying special attention to national and implementing partner staff. In doing so, it was communicating with others, such as the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.
He said shrinking asylum space was the second big challenge. Despite developments in asylum law and practice in a few jurisdictions, including alternatives to the detention of asylum-seekers -- especially children -- the trend was broadly towards greater restriction and fewer rights. Pushing asylum-seekers back to where protection was not available, or further burdening developing countries, which already hosted four fifths of the world's refugees, was neither normal nor acceptable. Some systems had a "zero recognition rate" for asylum-seekers, even from war-torn countries.
The third challenge was the increasing difficulty in achieving durable solutions, he said, directly linked to the increasing complexity and intractability of contemporary forms of conflict. While more than 600,000 refugees were voluntarily repatriated with UNHCR's support in 2008, that was 17 per cent fewer than the year before, and among the lowest in the last 15 years. Repatriation was decelerating in Afghanistan, southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But in the United Republic of Tanzania, about 170,000 Burundian refugees from 1972 were naturalized. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had clarified that, in West Africa, refugees from member States were entitled to work, residency and other rights.
In response to current crisis, he said Chad, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, Syria, United Republic of Tanzania and Venezuela all hosted more than 200,000 refugees or persons in refugee-like situations. The UNHCR had submitted more than 121,000 refugees for resettlement consideration in 2008, twice as many as in 2006. Unfortunately, that added up to more refugees than available resettlement places, implying that additional places must be found.
He stressed that, with fewer solutions there would be more refugees in protracted situations. The UNHCR had developed a Global Plan of Action on these situations that emphasized enhanced support for voluntary repatriation, a revised education strategy, multi-year strategies of self-reliance, more support for refugee-affected and hosting areas, prioritized use of resettlement, and an increased emphasis on partnerships.
A similarly comprehensive approach was animating the Office's efforts on statelessness, he said. Recent years had seen some major breakthroughs. Urdu-speaking Biharis in Bangladesh were enfranchised in time for national elections in December 2008. The Russian Federation was granting nationality to an increasing number of those left stateless by the Soviet Union's dissolution. The UNHCR was also working with the Governments of Kyrgyzstan and Viet Nam, as well as civil society, to register stateless populations. Information on nationality and documentation was being made available in Côte d'Ivoire. Legal counselling was being provided in the western Balkans, Iraq and Nepal.
He said the fourth main challenge -- urban refugees -- included refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, the internally displaced and the stateless living in urban settings. Providing protection in these settings would be the subject of this year's Dialogue on Protection Challenges on 9 and 10 December. Together with the Cities Alliance, the UNHCR was conducting a scoping study on urban displacement that recognized the strong links between displacement, urban planning and poverty reduction. A thorough review of UNHCR operations for Iraqis in Amman, Beirut and Damascus was also being undertaken.
He noted that everything the Office needed to do for all persons of concern was being done in a highly challenging economic environment, and it had embarked on comprehensive structural reform even before the crisis hit. In 2006, total expenditure was $1.1 billion and, this year, it was expected to be $1.7 billion. Activities had increased by more than 50 per cent, even as the number of staff worldwide had been maintained and personnel in Geneva reduced by 30 per cent. The proportion of total expenditures dedicated to Headquarters, including the Global Service Centre in Budapest, had been reduced from nearly 14 per cent in 2006 to approximately 10 per cent in 2008. Further, staff costs had been reduced from 41 per cent of total expenditure to 34 per cent.
He went on to say that savings through reform had allowed significant additional resources to be freed up for the people the UNHCR cared for. The benefits had initially aimed at critical gaps in the areas of malaria, malnutrition, reproductive health and sexual and gender-based violence, and to initiate new programmes for anaemia, water and sanitation. Those investments had now been mainstreamed and had significantly enhanced the Office's emergency response, as was seen recently in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Perhaps most important among the reforms was UNHCR's new approach to assessing beneficiary needs and its ambitious results-based framework, he said. The Global Needs Assessment had been rolled out worldwide in 2009. It would allow the Office -- for the first time -- to project the full scale of its beneficiaries' needs. Further, the Global Strategic Priorities were finalized in August and the Global Accountability Framework was now being tested.
He said the process of decentralization and regionalization was ongoing, and the authority for decisions had been moved as close as possible to the point of delivery. The first phase of human resources reform had also been completed, with the establishment of an ethics office, a whistle-blowers policy, a Staff-Management Consultative Council, and a Career Management Services Section. Procedures for fast-track deployment had been improved, a new policy on short-term assignment enacted, and a new performance appraisal system introduced. The second and final phase of the human resources reform was also ongoing and included a more streamlined and professional assignments and promotions process. These were difficult reforms in the United Nations context, but they were essential to make the UNHCR more agile.
He emphasized that the change process was moving into a consolidation phase, noting that the focus would now be on oversight and continuous improvement. A new Division for Programme Support and Management had been created to integrate programme management, analysis and support functions that had previously been scattered. The capacity of the Division of International Protection Service was also being enhanced. Other recommendations, such as those made by the European Union's anti-fraud office to augment the independence and integrity of the Office of the Inspector General and the Fritz Institute, were being implemented or were in an advanced phase of being implemented.
While the UNHCR was not yet the organization it could be, he said "it was getting there". Reform was not an objective, in itself, but a means to delivering protection, assistance and solutions for those it cared for. By that measure, many reforms were already effective. The Office had already embraced its wider responsibility for conflict-generated internally displaced persons, including in protection, shelter and camp coordination and management clusters, which made more resources available to refuges and the stateless. Moreover, the pledge that responsibility for internally displaced persons would not take away from resources to refugees had been fully respected.
He noted that, in terms of responding to natural disasters, there was a gap at the field level. He had requested that the UNHCR take on this role during its Executive Committee meeting a month ago. With its emergency roster of able individuals, the UNHCR was well placed, through the United Nations Country Teams, to provide support to Governments, who had the main role and responsibility in responding to natural disaster, but might lack the expertise to coordinate protection-related activities.
In closing, he noted that the UNHCR would celebrate its sixtieth anniversary next year. The following year would see the sixtieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the fiftieth anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. A committee had been created to identify how best to commemorate those instruments and whether, given the changing nature of displacement, new ones were necessary.
The representative of Ethiopia raised questions about "unsubstantiated facts" in the Commissioner's report in relation to internally displaced persons in her country. According to the report, data could not be obtained because access to certain areas had been restricted. The report had also expressed concern about laws governing civil society in her country, which were deemed restrictive to humanitarian action. She said the number of internally displaced persons in Ethiopia, as cited in the report, was exaggerated. The Government had been taken by surprise by such unfounded stories. She said such meddling was unacceptable. Natural and man-made disasters created crisis and displacement, and her Government viewed its work with United Nations agencies as a top priority. For its part, the Government was working to deliver assistance to people in remote areas. She added that Under-Secretary-General John Holmes had led a field mission to the Somali region in 2008, where the situation had been grave at that time. She asked him to name his sources of information. Also, did he believe that humanitarian agencies were the right organizations to study the issue of human rights, and to uncover the root causes of conflict displacement?
The representative of the Sudan said his country was one of the States that received refugees from neighbouring countries and had done so for decades. Even if it brought considerable burden to the Government, it nevertheless welcomed refugees, because it believed in providing assistance to those that required it. But, the Commissioner's report did not correctly reflect situation in the Sudan, and did not reflect recent developments. Those humanitarian organizations that had gone beyond their mandate, and which had been removed from the country, had been replaced by others that were working effectively. The assessment team that was working with the United Nations and the Government to study that issue had borne that situation out, and he had not expected the report to discuss the issue further. He added that, in Darfur, refugees were being returned and there had been a decrease in acts of violence. The representative of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) had delivered a report on that subject to the Security Council, in which he talked of such improvements. On the political side, the Government is making every effort to resume negotiations, with the assistance of the Government of Qatar. He then turned to the issue of human resource reform within the UNCHR, asking about the Ethics Office. What was its mandate and what activities had it conducted?
The representative of Finland said the Commissioner's report had been helpful. He asked about global needs assessment process, which he welcomed. How would the process enhance the humanitarian response capacity across the United Nations system, and in cooperation with other actors? Would the methodology and applicability of the process be assessed and revised, if needed? How would the process be applied to the consolidated appeals process framework? Regarding the search for a durable solution to the situation of refugees, he noted that that meant facilitating a transition from emergency relief to development. That, in turn, would require tools, resources and expertise in the humanitarian and development fields. What challenges did the UNHCR face in that regard, and how could those efforts be enhanced and supported? He noted, as well, that the 55 donors and 101 per cent funding were signs of people's trust in the UNHCR and in the importance of its work.
The representative of Yemen thanked the Commissioner for his report, and expressed appreciation for the UNHCR's efforts. He welcomed his country's partnership with the UNHCR in providing assistance to refugees and affirmed his country's commitment to cooperate. He congratulated the UNHCR on its reform, which began in 2006. The report had held Yemen up as an example of a country that was carrying out its work, despite its economic difficulties. He asked if there was any intention to increase cooperation between the UNHCR and countries with urgent needs.
The representative of C ôte d'Ivoire expressed condolences to the UNHCR for having lost personnel in the field. He also called on the Commissioner to observe the fair distribution of posts within the UNHCR.
The representative of Cameroon expressed thanks to the UNHCR for its commitment and welcomed the good cooperation between her Government and the Office. She congratulated him on the reforms, in which there were still many challenges. Her Government was particularly concerned by violent attacks on personnel and called on States to step up their protection of humanitarian actors. Her country would try to ensure the security of refugee camps, in cooperation with other countries and civil society. To guarantee the rights of refugees, her Government was offering grants to vulnerable students, financing micro-projects and funding hydraulic projects, among other things. It was strengthening its public health services and, working with the WFP and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), was carrying out vaccination programmes. The Government would welcome financial support from donors, and urged them to continue their assistance to host countries. On the transport of food products, how could the international community better contribute to ensuring the security of convoys? Did the Commissioner have specific needs, in that regard?
The representative of Australia said her delegation was concerned about acts of violence that diminished the ability of the UNHCR to respond to those in need. Australia welcomed the reforms undertaken by that Office, as well as efforts to address protracted situations. Through its permanent representative in Geneva, Australia was delighted to be chairing the Executive Committee.
Zimbabwe's delegate said that, in response to the Secretary-General's report, her country was concerned with the Secretariat's assessment of the situation in her country. Specifically, in paragraph 32, the first sentence talked about challenges faced by a large number of persons there. As far as her Government was concerned, it had yet to assess if there was even a large population of displaced persons. How could the Secretariat then describe such a situation, if no such assessment had taken place? Moreover, there was also a lack of clarity in paragraphs 32 and 33, which used terms such as "many Zimbabweans". Why was the Secretariat describing a political environment of uncertainty, when progress had been made? She called on the Secretariat to be more precise.
She noted that last year her delegation had described why Zimbabweans were migratory. They had been going to South Africa from time immemorial and there was nothing new about it. Also, why were the attacks of May 2008 included in this report, when they had been talked about last year? As far as Zimbabwe was concerned, this situation had been overtaken by events. Her Government was working in cooperation with the humanitarian aid organizations, including the UNHCR, and was grateful for the help it was receiving. It hoped there was no sinister motive in including these outdated events in the current report.
The representative of Serbia said the High Commissioner had mentioned the burden borne by countries hosting large populations of refugees and internally displaced persons. Serbia was one such country. It had 341,000 internally displaced persons or refugees in a protracted displacement situation. The High Commissioner was well aware of that situation, since he had visited Serbia. Could he share his views on how this protracted situation could be resolved?
The representative of China said 2008 had witnessed the first decline since 2006 in the number of refugees. China highly appreciated the efforts of the UNHCR, which had maintained good cooperation with Governments, intergovernmental and regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations around the world. The root causes of the refugee problem had yet to be eradicated, however, and the economic crisis, as well as the impacts of climate change, had further worsened the situation for refugees. China hoped the UNHCR would continue to take as its core responsibility the protection of refugees. It should also help developing countries strengthen their capacity-building in order to fashion long-lasting solutions. It should also continue its pragmatic cooperation with Governments. For its part, China was fulfilling its relevant obligations in capacity-building and the procurement of emergency goods, among other things, and it was ready to further that cooperation.
Kenya's representative said his Government very much appreciated the work of the UNHCR in his country. He clarified that the number of refugees in Kenya was 300,000 in one camp and over 100,000 in another, bringing the total to over 400,000. Of course, that applied only to the number of registered, camp-dwelling refugees. He emphasized that the cause for those refugees lay in conflict-ridden neighbouring countries and the burden for his country was high. He thanked Kenya's partners in that regard, but underlined the need for a long-term solution. Aid agencies were working to try to stem the flow of refugees. Kenya supported repatriation and settlement work, but more work was needed to help the local communities stop conflicts and stop environmental degradation. What UNHCR plans existed to assuage the feelings of the communities around the refugee camps? What long-term solutions could come out of Member States to deal with the continued flow of refugees from countries like Somalia?
The representative of Egypt, referring to the challenges facing the UNHCR, said the root casus of the refugee problem must be addressed. What was the UNHCR doing in that respect? Also, in relation to the protection of those working in the humanitarian field and in the UNHCR, what was being done to protect staff? In terms of the report, he asked for more explanation on the definitions given by the UNHCR to the categories of "IDP-like" and "refugee-like" situations.
The representative of Pakistan expressed regret for the loss of UNHCR staff and condemned the acts targeting them. Everyone must work together to identify threats and eliminate them. What could be done for host countries that were extending protection and shelter to refugees in protracted situations? That was particularly important in light of the financial and food crises, he added.
Morocco's delegate said that the High Commissioner had been "faultless" in his work. The work of the UNHCR was needed more than ever before. It had paid a high price in human lives. The five trends the High Commissioner had highlighted required a global response, but there was always a gap between the goals and the financial means of meeting them. His delegation had noted the reforms undertaken by the Office, particularly those in terms of recruitment. Morocco hoped that those reforms would not take away from the main responsibility of the UNHCR. Did the Office intend to further pursue decentralization? In terms of natural disasters, he had said the primary responsibility lay with national Governments. Did the UNHCR intend to draft some kind of guide or basic rules, so countries could respond in a coordinated fashion when such disasters struck?
Responding first to the representative of Ethiopia, Mr. GUTERRES underscored the long-standing partnership between the UNHCR and the Government of Ethiopia. The framework of cooperation enjoyed by the two parties was extensive and important. He then noted that his report covered a period that ended in June, and it was true that the Government had taken action since then with regard to people affected by drought. He said the idea of establishing a sub-office had been floated to make it easier to deploy assistance in response to displacement caused by the violence in the south-east. However, the Government had answered in the negative. He stressed that a negative response on that issue did not undermine other aspects of cooperation between the UNHCR and the Government with respect to refugees.
He told the representative of the Sudan that the UNHCR enjoyed good cooperation with that Government, which was hosting 150,000 refugees in the east. The UNHCR's implementing partner was the Sudanese Government's Commission on Refugees. He stressed again that, because of the time frame covered by the report, it was true that access for non-governmental organizations had improved in southern Sudan. But, he noted that the Government had yet to accept UNHCR's role as cluster leader on protection and camp management.
To the representative of Finland, he said the global needs assessment was an ambitious project covering both emergency and regular activities of the UNHCR. Agreeing that the process, and the associated "tools", needed continuous evaluation, the UNHCR had created a new division of programme support. It was working with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on how to harmonize that process with the United Nations' process for assessing needs in emergency situations. They were seeking to simplify the tools at their disposal to make the consolidated appeals process better. Such tools were excellent for enhancing cooperation with other actors. He underlined the importance of donor support and the support provided by host countries.
Responding to the representative of Yemen, he said resources had been successfully diverted to certain operations that faced huge difficulties in addressing refugee protection, given a difficult economic environment. The programme in Yemen had increased threefold. The UNHCR was deeply committed to increasing cooperation with countries such as those.
To the representative of Côte d'Ivoire, he stressed the importance of an equitable geographical balance, and said that there was a good balance among UNHCR directors, in that regard. The UNHCR was also concerned about maintaining a gender balance, and had set aside 50 per cent of all promotions at all levels for women. But, he said it was challenging to ensure gender and geographic balance amid other issues of concern, such as merit and the need to comply with the United Nations' internal justice system.
In answer to the representative of Cameroon, whose country was generous in welcoming refugees from neighbouring countries despite the problems it created, he said cooperation with other agencies and the Government of Cameroon was exemplary. He intended to visit the country in 2010. The logistical problems raised by the delegate was mostly felt by the WFP and not so much the UNHCR, because the volume of food provided by the UNHCR was much less. He said the WFP was facing increased difficulty because of piracy.
He added that Ambassador Miller was a dynamic chair of the Executive Committee, and they were working together to ensure that important decisions would be acted on next year.
To the representative of Zimbabwe, he admitted that some things had improved since the time of the report. The paragraph cited by the questioner contained not just negative elements, but positive ones too; namely, the formation of an inclusive government that had given rise to cautious optimism, the launch of pilot projects by humanitarian agencies, and so on.
Responding to the representative of Serbia, he said UNHCR's efforts to deal with protracted situations included the situation of refugees hosted by Serbia, which was also hosting internally displaced persons. A conference would be held in Serbia soon on the situation of refugees in that complex environment. The UNHCR had defined measures with the Government and that of its neighbours to make return more attractive and sustainable. That process would involve discussion on complex issues, such as tenancy rights.
To the representative of China, he said he was planning a visit to that country and was in the process of discussing dates. The UNHCR was fully supportive of China's efforts to develop refugee legislation.
In answer to Kenya, he said the UNHCR had prepared a plan to support host communities according to the "delivering as one" philosophy, and involving nine United Nations agencies. He said he was committed to bringing people together around that issue and in raising the necessary resources. Environmental degradation was at the centre of that process. The UNHCR was seeking to carry forward that philosophy in as many countries as possible, and was developing community development programmes in Pakistan, although recent events had made things slightly difficult. In the past, encouraging community involvement tended to fall by the wayside, because of emergency concerns and lack of resources. But, he was totally in agreement on its importance, both as a matter of justice and protection.
He said humanitarian activities provided a bandaid system of support. To truly solve problems required political action. That was true, for example, in the situation of Somalia, where a political settlement was needed to stem the tide of 5,000 to 7,000 Somalis arriving in Kenya every month.
To the representative of Egypt, he explained that a footnote in his report provided the definition of "IDP-like" or "refugee-like". In short, there were times where refugees were not recognized as such, but had the same protection needs. Similarly, there were internally displaced persons who were displaced within their own country and were supported by the UNHCR, but were not counted in the statistics as displaced persons. Thus, such people faced the same situation as refugees or internally displaced persons, but were not officially recognized as such. In most cases, it was only a matter of time before they were classified as normal, standard-internally displaced persons or refugees.
He said Pakistan was the largest host country in the world, with 1.8 million Afghans. He praised its generous attitude, even amid its many problems. In his visit to the country, he and the Government had reached agreement on a community-based programme he had spoken about earlier. After initial hesitation, a certain number of countries had now come forward with announcements of support.
To the representative of Morocco, he said the UNHCR was able to expand its activities without increasing costs. That was partly due to the good quality of its human resources. Also, the UNHCR had decentralized a bulk of services to Budapest. The next stage would be to decentralize its information and computer support services, which were currently located in Geneva, but would be brought to hubs closer to Budapest. Already, the UNHCR had reduced its presence in Geneva from 1,400 to 720, which had brought enormous savings. The costs at its new sites were quite low.
As for its treatment of internally displaced persons, he said the UNHCR was part of the cluster approach, for which general guidelines already existed. Sometimes, agencies faced difficulties in implementing those guidelines, particularly in countries with weaker administrations. To bolster its efforts, the UNHCR would typically send two or three experts to work closely with the Government.
JUDITH MTAWALI (United Republic of Tanzania), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), acknowledged the importance of the decreases in the number of refugees worldwide for the past eight consecutive years. Those figures were truly encouraging. However, it was undeniable that there were alarming numbers of displaced persons in the world and the root causes of displacement must be addressed, bearing in mind the relation between prevention, durable solutions and sustainable peace processes.
She said that, with Africa still registering the largest number of internally displaced persons, it was imperative to set up concerted efforts in that area at the national, regional and international levels, in parallel with strengthening international law. The SADC welcomed the adoption of the new African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, which was the first legal instrument dealing with internally displaced persons and emphasized the responsibility States and armed groups had in protecting and assisting their own uprooted citizens. The SADC encouraged all African countries to ratify that instrument.
She noted that SADC member States were home to over 2 million persons of concern, further pointing out that tangible progress had been made in the region towards the local integration of refugees in the last year. A series of tripartite meetings were continuing to prepare for the return of refugees to their countries and to find durable solutions for protracted refugee situations. The SADC particularly welcomed the readiness of Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to participate in those meetings. While it recognized that a long-term solution was not without challenges, the SADC believed a comprehensive approach that involved a mix of solutions would offer the best chance for success. In this, legal migration opportunities may be fundamental in tackling the already precarious refugee situation. The SADC applauded the Tanzanian Government's decision to offer local integration through naturalization to the 1972 caseload of Burundian refugees. It encouraged more African Government to engage in negotiations to create more local integration opportunities for long-staying refugees.
She said migratory movements in the region were growing for a number of reasons, including exponential economic growth in Angola and the developed country status of South Africa, which were attracting an increasing number of asylum-seekers and illegal migrants. That migration put pressures on resources that were already strained by the world financial, economic and food crises. The countries of the SADC faced tremendous challenges in providing assistance to the mixed population movements, as well as the strain caused by urban refugees. It was crucial to elaborate a normative framework and enact socio-economic measures to promptly achieve sustainable solutions. With the phenomenon of internally displaced persons migratory movements becoming an increasingly global challenge, mixed migration flows required more engagement from the States and stakeholders that were seeking to address their causes and consequences.
She stressed that the shrinking of asylum space among developed countries was disrupting the burden-sharing responsibility. The strict migratory measures implemented by several countries to frustrate or hinder successful asylum requests chastised those who left everything behind looking for a better life. That desire should not be considered a crime, and the SADC stressed the need for a comprehensive approach that included international protection responsibilities. Migration policies should take into consideration not only the international protection obligations, but also the humanitarian perspective.
PER ORNEUS ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the international community must responsibly face the challenges brought on by climate change, environmental degradation, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, the economic crisis and shrinking humanitarian and asylum space. The promotion of international humanitarian law was more important than ever, against the backdrop of blatant violations that occurred in various conflict settings. That was particularly true given the shrinking humanitarian space and direct attacks on humanitarian actors.
He said the Union was concerned by the conditions of internally displaced persons in camps in Sri Lanka, and called for freedom of movement. It also called for an overall plan for a return process and unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations there. Unhindered humanitarian access was crucial in many countries, not least the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and Somalia. While deeply appreciative of Kenya's generosity in hosting refugees, the Union urged the Government of Kenya to provide additional land in the Dadaab area.
He said violations of the principle of non-refoulement needed addressing, for example, in the context of migratory flows. The European Union believed that the UNHCR's 10-point plan to deal with mixed flows was a valuable instrument, and it welcomed the Commissioner's participation in the Global Migration Group. Asylum would be an important part of the Union's next five-year plan, and the Union aimed to adopt the Common European Asylum System in December.
He welcomed the UNHCR's efforts to contribute to finding durable solutions to the situation of refugees in protracted situations, and urged all countries to contribute, as well. They could do so by addressing the root causes of, and in resolving existing, protracted situations, by carrying out voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. Within the European Union, work was going on to establish a common resettlement programme to increase the number of places available for settling refugees with protection needs. It was important to fill the gaps that occurred between emergency relief and development assistance. UNHCR's involvement in the United Nations' "delivering as one" initiative was important, in that context.
He welcomed the UNHCR's policy on refugee protection in urban areas, and looked forward to the dialogue on that topic in December. The Union also welcomed the decision by the UNHCR to expand protection to internally displaced populations and the African Union Convention on Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. Moreover, it appreciated UNHCR's lead role for three of the clusters in the "cluster system", and noted the importance of mainstreaming cluster activities in budgets and programming. It urged the UNHCR to continue being a constructive partner in the humanitarian reform effort, and to support the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and the humanitarian coordinators at the country level. It welcomed the establishment of the needs assessment task force, encouraging the UNHCR to continue being an active partner.
As for internal reform, he stressed the importance of establishing gender parity in staffing.
JEEM LIPPWE ( Federated States of Micronesia), on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said that those States were among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The possibility that those impacts would lead to forced displacement across international borders in the Pacific was one of the gravest security threats they faced. The prospect for the future was particularly alarming for some of the low-lying islands. Factors contributing to climate-induced displacement in the Pacific region included: loss of freshwater security, through reduced precipitation and saltwater intrusion into freshwater supplies; and the loss of food security, through increased inundation, erosion and saltwater intrusion affecting agriculture, ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Other factors were: rising sea levels that exacerbated inundation, erosion and other coastal hazards and threatened vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities; and sudden climate-related disasters or hazard events, such as storms and flooding.
Internal relocation within the islands due to climate change had already occurred, he went on. The settlement of Lateau in the northern province of Torba in Vanuatu had to be relocated because of rising sea levels. Further relocations related to climate change had happened in Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. Internal relocations, both within and between islands, placed enormous strains on food, housing, education, health and water, as recipient communities struggled to accommodate the displaced people. In some of the small island States, internal relocation was not feasible because of geographical constraints. Displacement to a neighbouring or third country might, therefore, be the only option, if climate change continued at the current rate without significant urgent mitigation by the international community.
For some countries in the Pacific, the climate crisis risked the total submergence of islands, he stated. The Pacific islands included a number of low lying atoll islands rising no more than two to three metres above sea level, so that, as the sea level continued to rise, a point could be reached where whole islands would be eliminated. In the most tragic cases, the very existence of sovereign nations could be at risk. He warned that under no circumstances should the effort to protect climate-displaced people be used as an excuse for inaction on mitigation and adaptation. "Further, any discussion on climate change induced displacement and consideration of options to protect the most vulnerable must be driven by the people affected", he said.
GEORG SPARBER ( Liechtenstein) welcomed the focus on the often forgotten protracted refugee situations. Living in provisional circumstances over a prolonged period of time added particular psychological burdens on the people affected, especially if it was compounded by the absence of prospects for a durable solution. He welcomed UNHCR's approach to promote different kinds of durable solutions for refugees and displaced person on an equal footing. The first step out of a prolonged period of dependency must be a real choice between a safe and dignified return, local reintegration or resettlement.
He said Liechtenstein was concerned about the 26 million persons currently displaced within their country due to armed conflict, and urged all parties to conflicts to facilitate the work of relevant organizations in that field and provide the humanitarian space necessary for their operations. Unconditional and immediate access to refugees must be allowed under all circumstances. The rights of people in provisional camps or settlements must be respected, including their freedom of movement. Further, the civilian and humanitarian nature of those camps must be guaranteed. Parities to a conflict were responsible for the internal and external safety and security of camps, including protecting those refugees and camps from any kind of rearmament, remilitarization or recruitment. Camp inhabitants must also be protected from violence, particularly sexual and gender-based violence that was often rampant in displacement situations. The impunity for such crimes must end.
He stressed that the sixtieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions should be a reminder that their provisions were routinely disrespected in many conflict situation. Indeed, the continuous violation of those rules was a concern and, in that regard, his delegation expressed its deepest condolences to the families of the UNHCR workers who died while carrying out their duties. It also condemned last week's deadly attacks in Kabul, killing five United Nations workers and leaving many seriously injured. Liechtenstein was also concerned by the fast growing number of persons displaced due to climate change and natural disasters. More attention should be paid to future humanitarian and displacement challenges related to climate change. That should include consideration of the legal status of person obliged to leave their residence due to long-term climate change or sudden natural disasters.
TETSUJI MIYAMOTO ( Japan) said the need for humanitarian assistance had increased in recent years due to a greater incidence and severity of natural disasters resulting from climate change and other factors. As a major donor country, Japan would continue to strengthen its partnership with the UNHCR and continue to support it as much as possible. For its part, the UNHCR should make every effort to continue to update its organizational structures to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its assistance and to allocate more of its resources to the field. Commending the streamlining of headquarters and efforts to introduce results-based management through the Global Needs Assessment and FOCUS, he said the reform process should be consolidated and even strengthened, which would lead to stronger relations between the agency and donors.
He wanted to make three points, in particular, he said. First, it was necessary for all parties, including non-State parties, to facilitate humanitarian access. The UNHCR staff often served in difficult and dangerous situations, and the increasing attacks on humanitarian personnel, including UNHCR workers, was deplorable. Second, he agreed with the importance of the development and universalization of normative instruments. He welcomed the initiative of African countries to adopt a new Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. He also welcomed Slovenia's new membership of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the UNHCR. He added it was vital to further respect the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and called on Member States which had not yet acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol to consider their accession.
Third, he said, the root causes of displacement should be addressed since, in complex emergencies, it was vital to develop political and peace processes and to deal with the various problems faced by displaced persons in the peacebuilding phase. Issues such as property rights and landmine clearance were impediments to reconciliation and the establishment of durable peace worldwide. Because the reintegration of displaced persons was a global problem, a strategic framework should be developed in various parts of the world that was similar to the Peacebuilding Commission's Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding in the Central African Republic.
He stressed that, although natural disasters could not be prevented, the impact of those calamities could be mitigated through risk-reduction efforts, which could drastically reduce new displacement. The UNHCR must address the problem of protracted refugees, respond to the needs of internally displaced persons, and tackle new challenges such as urban refugees. Structural reforms of the organization were needed if the UNHCR was to cope with such a variety of challenges. As a demonstration of its commitment, Japan planned to start a pilot resettlement project in fiscal year 2010, in which Japan would receive refugees from Myanmar -- the first project of its kind in Asia.
DOUG MERCADO ( United States) said a key goal for his country was endorsing the political stability, human rights and progressive socio-economic conditions worldwide that were necessary to prevent and minimize global refugee flows and displacement. It would work with implementing partners to protect and assist those in situations of displacement due to conflict. The United States reaffirmed UNHCR's noble purposes and shared the organization's objective. Indeed, the UNHCR was heading in the right direction in its mandate and programmes. The United States believed that the protection of persons around the world, who were victims of persecution or armed conflict, should be at the centre of foreign policy and national security decision-making. Moreover, there was a moral imperative to save and safeguard lives.
He noted that the diversity of protection needs was increasing and required a range of responses, drawing upon human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. As the UNHCR broadened its mission's scope to assess needs more comprehensively, the protection challenges were ever more complex. The United States supported a global approach that addressed a variety of populations and circumstances, but believed that protection of conflict-affected populations must remain a priority. Policy-makers involved in humanitarian responses must not only provide assistance once the conflict had emerged, but should engage in measures to prevent displacement and strengthen norms for the rights of those displaced by conflict. Their interests should be a central part of the policy debate and the root causes of their displacement addressed. Humanitarian diplomacy played a critical role in protection and the United States strongly supported UNHCR efforts to engage Governments on the fundamental issues of principle, such as freedom of movement, minimum standards relating to food, shelter and health and protection from violence.
He said that finding durable solutions was one of the best investments that could be made in advancing the security and welfare of refugees. Work to that end was inextricably linked to humanitarian assistance efforts. At the same time, the United States sought to move beyond care and maintenance towards increasing the self-reliance of all refugees, and especially those in protracted situations. In the months and years ahead, the United States would continue to fulfil its commitment to protecting vulnerable populations at home and overseas, while providing diplomatic and financial support to the UNHCR. As the single largest donor to that Office, the United States anticipated continued progress in its ongoing reform efforts.
JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY ( Switzerland) addressed three issues: protection; humanitarian access and the safety of humanitarian personnel; and the issue of urban refugees. Noting that the primary responsibility for the protection of refugees lay with States, he advocated the ratification of, and respect for, the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol by the largest number of States. Those instruments were the cornerstone of the High Commissioner's mandate. In that context, he welcomed UNHCR efforts to devise instruments and approaches to strengthen the reception and protection capacity of countries confronted with large refugee flows. He further welcomed the adoption of a management approach that was both results-based and took into account the numerous aspects of protection under UNHCR's mandate.
He expressed grave concern at increasingly frequent restrictions imposed on humanitarian access in conflict zones and following conflicts, urging States and concerned parties to respect humanitarian space and guarantee the protection of personnel from the UNHCR and its partners. As part of a Swiss initiative to that end, a manual on the regulatory framework, for use by national authorities, international organizations and those in the field, was just one practical instrument in formulation. Further, noting that 50 per cent of the world's refugee population lived in urban areas, he said that new solutions must be found to ensure that they were provided protection and assistance. He looked forward to the High Commissioner's dialogue and welcomed the recent publication of the new UNHCR policy on the subject.
MAIA SHANIDZE ( Georgia) said the human rights situation in the occupied territories of Georgia, the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region of South Ossetia, had deteriorated after the 8 August war. The independent fact-finding mission had confirmed the occurrence of serious human rights violations. No international presence was permitted on the ground to report on developments there. The ceasefire agreement of 12 August "lay in tatters", since its northern neighbour refused to implement it. The General Assembly had passed a resolution on the status of internally displaced persons in Georgia, which underlined the need to act urgently.
She said Georgia was committed to addressing issues related to internally displaced persons. Since May, it had been working to register people displaced by the war, and was granting internally displaced status to people who were unable to return. There were 131,169 such persons. So far, fewer than 30,000 internally displaced persons had been able to return. Income-generation programmes were being put in place to restart local economies. Education and medical assistance was covered by the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Science. Families living far from schools were given free transportation. In addition, the Government was also taking care to provide assistance to people displaced in the early 1990s.
To ensure employment among internally displaced persons, she said the Government was moving their place of work closer to them. Land was being distributed to persons who were employed in agriculture prior to their displacement. It was also providing education and social services near newly constructed residences for displaced persons. The State Action Plan was adopted in May, whose main goal was to promote socio-economic integration and to improve living conditions. The Action Plan would respect the principles of voluntary and informed decision-making and gender equality.
THORALF STENVOLD ( Norway) said the High Commissioner's statement had been informative, analytical and factual. Mr. Guterres always told the truth, even if it was inconvenient. Norway considered that to be real leadership. He noted that internally displaced persons had much weaker legal rights than refugees and stateless people, and it was of the utmost importance that the international community, including the UNHCR, intervene to protect them. In that respect, the recent adoption of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa was a positive development. It provided a comprehensive regional framework governing the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons before, during and after displacement. He encouraged all African Union member States to sign and ratify that Convention and to implement it nationally, and said his Government was prepared to support that process.
Turning to the approximately 8 million people who had lived as refugees for more than a decade, he said those people typically lived in camps under harsh conditions, deprived of the rights most of the world took for granted -- such as the right to move, work and shape their own future. Trapped in protracted refugee situations, they were kept passive and not able to show their added value to society. They needed not only more attention, but protection. To that end, Norway appreciated the discussion that took place at the Dialogue on Protection Challenges last year and supported efforts to reach a conclusion on protracted refugee situations this year. He hoped a consensus could be reached in ongoing talks in Geneva. Regardless, the High Commissioner should continue to take the lead and raise the issue with Member States, affected States, populations and development actors.
MONZER SELIM (Egypt) pointed out that, although the report of the High Commissioner for Refugees that was before the Committee reflected a number of achievements, Egypt remained concerned about the negative effects of the international crises, the most recent of which was the international financial crisis, as well as the negative impacts of climate change resulting in an increase in the number of refugees. Those factors, along with others, jeopardized and constrained the availability of resources to finance UNHCR activities, further underscoring the necessity to maintain the sustainability of pledged contributions, and the need to increase them in order to enable the UNHCR perform the duties and functions expected of it under its mandate.
Taking note of the Commission's contribution to the provision of protection and assistance to internally displaced persons in the context of inter-agency coordination in that field within the United Nations system, he however re-emphasized that such activities needed to be consistent with relevant General Assembly resolutions and within a framework of cooperation and complete transparency when working with Member States.
Also, the world was witnessing an exponential increase in the number of internally displaced persons as a consequence of natural disasters, drought and armed conflicts, he said. Those numbers could well multiply as a result of climate change, if coordinated efforts did not address the root causes. That serious problem required increased attention from the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and development institutions, so developing countries could continue their pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals. Further, any solution should not be at the expense of the original mandate of the UNHCR.
He outlined a number of prime objectives he said were necessary to intensify international action in the care and protection of refugees, returnees and displaced persons. Among them he listed: consolidation of international efforts towards the elimination of the inherent cases of conflicts in the world; addressing the protection of refugees within the context of promoting the respect of International Refugee Law; implementing the principles of international solidarity and effective partnership in sharing the burdens and responsibilities of protecting and supporting refugees; and securing appropriate conditions that encouraged the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. The refugee problem was, first and foremost, a humanitarian issue, but it had political and economic roots. A "holistic humanitarian vision" was needed in dealing with the problem, one founded on international legal principles and that enhanced the possibilities of uprooting the causes for asylum-seeking.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said her Government had assumed its primary responsibility for providing assistance to displaced persons. It provided protection through a solid legal and policy framework. The Constitutional Court and the Government had developed indicators that allowed progress and challenges to be assessed. In line with the Court's recent decisions, the Government and indigenous communities had begun consultations on a national programme to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples affected by displacement. In addition, it had begun consultations to elaborate safeguards for 34 groups of indigenous persons, aimed at strengthening their protection against violence and displacement. The office of the presidential counsellor for gender equity had recently adopted a guideline on gender.
She said the presidential agency for social action presented the annual report on its activities, which stated that, since 2006, State investment in comprehensive assistance to the displaced amounted to $500 million. A similar amount was guaranteed for 2010. The capacity to provide humanitarian assistance had also been strengthened, by an increase in the budget from $23 million in 2007 to $80 million in 2008. In support of durable solutions, the presidential agency supported 75,000 families through income-generating programmes and that number was expected to reach 100,000 by the end of 2009. Several hundred thousands were given cash transfers and, to preserve land ownership, 3.2 million hectares of land were being held under special protection by the Government.
She said the number of displaced persons had gone down compared to 2002, as a result of the decline in violence and crime. The UNHCR report did not reflect that decline, nor did it reflect the number of people who had been returned. As for the work of the UNHCR, she stressed the importance of strengthened cooperation with States, in line with States' international obligations.
AIDA A. EL-MAGIED ( Sudan) said her country had, over the course of four decades, opened its doors to refugees from neighbouring countries. In that, it had become an example for brother countries based on its heritage, which encouraged it to be generous to visitors. But the camps in Sudan's east, as well as the central provinces, were facing reductions in services. She stressed that any discussion of refugees should not forget the refugees being hosted by other countries. For its part, Sudan's Government of National Unity had adopted appropriate legislation, including a policy on refugees, based on its commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and other international conventions. The Sudan had developed that policy on the basis of the firm belief that the primary responsibility rested on the State. Moreover, refugees should live in dignity and freedom throughout all phases of displacement. That included women and children.
She said that the problem of displaced persons and refugees was being addressed, despite the limited financial resources available to build and provide services. She, thus, appealed to donor countries to bolster the programmes aimed to support refugees. The Sudan remained true to its responsibility and kept its doors open to brother countries. It was also working to consolidate its efforts to strengthen the means of protection. It would also work towards strengthening the implementation of the Geneva Conventions and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. She underscored her country's current efforts to organize implementation of the 1974 Regulation of Asylum Actto ensure the return of refugees.