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Security Council, following briefing by High Commissioner for Refugees, calls for increased resources to meet Africa's substantial needs

News and Press Release
Originally published
Noting with concern the shortfall in funding for refugee and internally displaced persons in Africa, the Security Council this morning called on the international community to provide such programmes with the necessary financial resources, taking into account the substantial needs in the continent.

In a statement read out by its President, Richard Holbrooke (United States), following a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, the Council also underlined the unacceptability of using refugees to achieve military purposes in the country of asylum or in the country of origin. It also condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians and practices of forced displacement.

As it also condemned recent acts of deliberate violence in Africa against humanitarian personnel, the Council underlined the importance of safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to civilians in armed conflict, including refugees and internally displaced persons.

The Council also expressed its grave concern that the alarmingly high numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa did not receive sufficient protection and assistance. While noting that refugees were protected under various international and African regional instruments and initiatives, it noted that there was no comprehensive protective regime for internally displaced persons and that existing norms were not being implemented. The Council emphasized that national authorities had the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction.

The Council also stressed the need address the root causes of armed conflict in a comprehensive manner, in order to prevent those circumstances which lead to internal displacement and the outflow of refugees. It also noted with concern that the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons and other affected by conflict were women and children. It stressed the need to intensify efforts to meet their special protection needs, including their vulnerability to violence, exploitation and disease, including HIV/AIDS.

When she briefed the Council this morning, Mrs. Ogata said there was no established mechanism for assistance to or protection of internally displaced persons. Donor governments were very reluctant to allocate resources for programmes in fragile, insecure areas. For example, UNHCR activities in Angola had to be drastically curtailed because of insecurity and lack of funds.

She warned against isolating the internally displaced as a separate category, saying the root causes of displacement did not fundamentally differ. The most important thing, she said, was to devise comprehensive mechanisms and regionally based solutions to protect people fleeing from their homes because of persecution and violence. She added that upholding the refugee rights often had unwarranted consequences because armed groups frequently infiltrated refugee populations. She again insisted on two security priorities: the need to build an effective law- enforcement capacity everywhere; and the need to provide systematic support to regional peacekeeping."

Statements were also made by the representatives of Namibia, Malaysia, France, Jamaica, Canada, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Argentina, Mali, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, China, Netherlands and the United States.

The meeting was called to order at 10:44 a.m. and adjourned at 1:26 p.m.

Council Work Programme

The Security Council met this morning to consider "humanitarian assistance to refugees in Africa" and to hear a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata.

Statement by High Commissioner

SADAKO OGATA, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said in the last few years, the pattern of refugee crises, especially in Africa, had significantly changed. Increasingly, people were seeking refuge as internally displaced people in safer parts of their own countries. The difficulty of having access to large numbers of people in insecure and isolated areas was compounded by the complexity of assisting civilians in their own country, where their own State authorities, or rebel forces in control, were frequently the very cause of their predicament. Hundreds of thousands of people at risk in war areas such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Angola and Sierra Leone -- a majority of them internally displaced -- were not accessible to humanitarian agencies.

Another complex aspect of refugee crises was that the security, socio- economic and natural environment of countries were severely affected by large, forced population movements. Countries which generously hosted refugees paid the highest price. War-induced, mass population movements had also contributed to the spreading of conflicts, as was the case in Central and West Africa, she said.

"There can be no solution to refugee crises -- and especially no voluntary repatriation -- if wars that force people to flee are not stopped", she said. "Conflicts, in turn, will not be resolved unless some basic power sharing problems are addressed." In some regions of Africa, controlling natural resources -- oil, diamonds, wood -- appeared to be a more pressing concern, for governments and rebel groups alike, than the welfare of people living in embattled areas. The relative ease with which arms were trafficked between countries all over the world meant that conflicts were continuously supplied. "The worst pages of colonial history seem to live again in situations in which people struggle to survive, while small groups benefit from Africa's wealth and enormous resources are wasted in pursuing war."

There were no effective conflict resolution mechanisms in Africa, she said. On the contrary, armed groups waging war against governments were often openly supported by other governments. Inputs to turn war into peace or to consolidate peace, as in Rwanda and Liberia, were often timid and piecemeal. "Can we speak of any substantive reconstruction programme, like those generously funded by governments in Kosovo or East Timor, in any African country today?"

She said that, with human displacement having become a military objective, upholding the rights of refugees often had unwarranted consequences, because armed groups frequently infiltrated refugee populations. "Clearly refugee crises cannot be resolved in a vacuum", she said, adding that the "Month of Africa" should be an opportunity for the Council to seek more decisive measures to address such problems as the indiscriminate struggle for resources, the uncontrolled flow of arms, the lack of conflict-resolution mechanisms, and weak support to post-conflict situations. "From UNHCR's perspective, I would also like to insist once more on two security priorities: the need to build everywhere an effective law enforcement capacity, and the need to provide systematic support to regional peacekeeping."

While the situation was critical in many parts of Africa, nowhere did the war and violence more affect millions of exhausted civilians than in Central Africa, she said. There were unresolved and closely linked conflicts in or around at least seven countries: Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda. Refugee movements there had occurred almost uninterrupted since independence and had worsened in the last few years. She drew the Council's attention in particular to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola.

In the last quarter of 1999 alone, 30,000 new refugees from Burundi had fled to the United Republic of Tanzania, bringing the total number of Burundi refugees there to 300,000. The number of internally displaced people had also increased, with an estimated 300,000 people in "regroupment" sites as a result of a government policy. "Although we understand the government's security priorities, people must be 'regrouped' only on a voluntary basis, access by humanitarian agencies to 'regrouped' people must be granted and the internally displaced outside the sites must also be assisted." She added that the government must also give fuller and clearer guarantees for the security of humanitarian staff.

Most important, she continued, the Arusha peace process must be revitalized and strengthened. In welcoming the appointment of Nelson Mandela as facilitator, she said, "If Arusha fails, we can only expect more violence and inevitably, more forced human displacement in Burundi, with unpredictable consequences for the stability of the entire region."

The real risk in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was that the Lusaka Agreement would not be implemented, she continued. The consequences of the protracted war were already a humanitarian tragedy. In spite of all the difficulties, UNHCR continued to support the repatriation of Rwandans; 36,000 had returned through Goma in 1999. Yet, over 130,000 Congolese had fled abroad, a large majority to Tanzania. Although nobody could really estimate the total, millions were probably internally displaced. In spite of their urgent humanitarian needs, there could be little or no access to those internally displaced, unless hostilities ended and peacekeepers were deployed to protect humanitarian operations.

It was crucial that the Council provide more decisive support to conflict resolution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said. The priorities were clear: stop the conflict; deploy peacekeepers; obtain full access to all people with humanitarian needs, particularly the displaced; and start reconstruction and development. Furthermore, the efforts of the Secretary-General's Special Representative to establish a United Nations presence throughout the country must be supported.

The humanitarian crisis in Angola was perhaps the worst in Africa, she continued. There were 370,000 Angolan refugees in neighboring countries, and the outflow continued. Zambia already had 200,000 Angolan refugees and since it also hosted other refugees, particularly Congolese, it was now one of the largest asylum countries in Africa. From 1 to 2 million were internally displaced and there were up to 10 million landmines.

In all three countries, renewed population movements were a clear consequence of unresolved and sometimes worsening conflict, she said. There was no established mechanism for assistance to or protection of the internally displaced. Donor governments were very reluctant to allocate resources for programmes in fragile, insecure areas. For example, UNHCR activities in Angola had to be drastically curtailed, because of insecurity and lack of funds. She warned against isolating the internally displaced as a separate category, saying the root causes of displacement did not fundamentally differ. The most important thing was to devise comprehensive mechanisms to protect people fleeing from their homes because of persecution and violence, and comprehensive regionally based solutions to their predicament.

In West Africa, there were more reasons for optimism, although some of the complex, conflict-related displacement problems persisted, she said. For the 450,000 Sierra Leonan refugees, mostly in Guinea and Liberia, the objective was voluntary repatriation. While UNHCR was tentatively planning for the return of up to 170,000 refugees in the course of 2000, conditions in Sierra Leone must improve. Adequate pressure must be put on the signatories of the Lomé Agreement to abide by its provisions. Peacekeepers and military observers must be swiftly deployed to field locations. Also, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programme must be given the necessary resources and implemented as swiftly as possible. The Security Council could play an important role in those areas. Moreover, the rehabilitation and reintegration of amputees, particularly children, was a very important priority that needed to be adequately supported.

In Liberia, UNHCR was promoting capacity-building programmes for the local administration and police. Broader programmes were need though throughout the country, she said, adding that resources for rehabilitation and development were woefully lacking.

She said that attempts to resolve refugee problems in the Horn of Africa were conducted against a background of ongoing political tensions. She cited the civil war in Sudan, internal unrest in northern Uganda, war between Ethiopia and Eritrea and an unsettled situation in Somalia. The Horn of Africa was another example of a situation in which UNHCR humanitarian efforts would be much more effective if they were carried out in the context of broader political initiatives. She expressed the hope that the Council would strengthen its support for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) initiative towards the resolution of the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, as well as encourage and support the regional efforts to bring Somalia back into the fold of nations.

The end of acute emergency situations should allow the international community to adopt broader, regionally based peace-building approaches, she continued. In West Africa, UNHCR was planning to promote such an approach to address, for example, the negative consequences of refugee movements on the economy and the environment. The Council should promote regional initiatives, following, for example, the model Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.

"The success of the 'Month of Africa' will depend on how rapidly and effectively your discussions here in New York will be translated into concrete action in the field", she said. "The plight of the Africans has become so critical that I hope the Council will be able to put aside differences and devise concrete measures to address it."

"What is provided to refugees in Africa, including food and other basic survival items, is far less than in other parts of the world", she continued. "This is unacceptable. I hope that the 'Month of Africa' at the Security Council will prompt the international community to address seriously this grave imbalance in material assistance.".


MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said that over the past year, it had become clear that the international community treated refugees in different ways according to which part of the world they came from. Africans were not asking for special treatment, but only that all refugees be treated in the same manner.

Some had argued that African countries should care for their own refugees, he said. While the continent had a responsibility to address its own conflicts by inculcating a culture of peace and democracy, African conflicts had an external dimension. Those external forces should begin to help make peace in Africa.

He said that African countries were already paying a very high price. Most of those hosting refugees were either among the least developed countries or, as in Namibia's case, had only just themselves emerged from conflict. In accordance with international principles, they could not turn away those in need.

It was important that arms producers halt the irresponsible flow of arms to disgruntled elements and rebel movements that were destabilizing many African countries. Similarly, those who continued to sustain rebel movements by buying diamonds and other natural resources from rebels and their supporters were responsible for the soaring number of refugees and internally displaced persons.

With respect to the selectivity of the media in dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons, he said that some cases seemed to have been completely forgotten, while others received both media coverage and the necessary resources.

HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) said no one could deny that that Africa's refugee problem was one of great magnitude. The numbers escalated daily and the issue would not go away in the near future. However, Europe and Asia also shared the same problem and collectively they posed a tremendous challenge to the international community. While various reasons had been given for the cause of refugee movements in Africa, the unresolved political crisis was the root of the problem.

He said conflicts caused a massive exodus of peoples. Despite efforts by the international community, a permanent solution was elusive. Because of the large numbers of refugees, resettlement in third countries had limitations. Many African governments and their societies had rendered assistance to refugees arriving in their countries. However, most of those host countries were confronted by their own parallel socio-economic crises and could ill afford the luxury of hospitality.

He said for Africa to resolve the refugee crisis, it required sustained support from the international and donor communities. In recent times, such support had been lacking. He noted with concern the reduction of UNHCR support to Africa due to diminishing resources and hoped that situation would improve. The issue of protection of and access to refugees was of paramount importance. Violations of human security were also unacceptable and must be condemned. Humanitarian assistance must be political in nature and based on principles of neutrality, he said.

ALAIN DEJAMMET (France) asked the High Commissioner for the rate at which refugees in West Africa were returning to their home countries, specifically those from Sierra Leone returning from Guinea and Liberia. He also asked for more detailed information about the humanitarian impact of the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. France was disturbed by details of that situation.

France would appreciate the High Commissioner's ideas on the "regroupement" policy in Burundi, he said, noting that the policy had previously been attempted in neighbouring Rwanda. France was concerned because both countries had serious security concerns. Referring to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he stressed that refugees' access to humanitarian assistance must be protected. Too many people had died in that country because assistance had not been accessible.

Responding, Mrs. OGATA said that the early return of refugees from Sierra Leone's neighbours, particularly Guinea, would depend on the early deployment of peacekeepers. In Ethiopia, the problem was localized, but there was the possibility of spillover in Somalia. Regroupement was a touchy issue dealt with in 1997, she said. Governments should provide security throughout the country, rather than through regrouping.

PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) said the most compelling challenge that lay ahead was the repatriation, settlement and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons into societies. Equal attention needed to be given to the security of refugees and the need for allocation of resources to assist host governments to fund refugee programmes. Another challenge faced by the international community was the need to strengthen compliance with international law. It was regrettable that, often, the international instruments meant to address refugee problems were not adhered to by the parties in conflict.

She said that the actions of African regional and subregional organizations to address the problem of refugees and displaced persons could not be underestimated. In addressing the same issues, the Council must continue to urge Member States to take measures to address the root causes of conflict. It must also urge Member States to recommit themselves to the relevant refugee instruments. Refugee protection in Africa through asylum, protection and security must also be strengthened. Durable solutions, including voluntary repatriation and reintegration of refugees, must be provided. Support must also be given for the consolidation of the reintegration process. "We must assist in building Africa's capacity to respond to refugee and internal displacement", she stressed.

She said that, while considerable attention was given to the humanitarian aspect of the refugee crisis, the security problems created by the flow refugees could not be ignored. "We regret that in some instances, refugee camps are potential pools for rebel recruitment and pose a threat to the peace and security of communities", she said. The health status of refugees was also a cause for concern. What was also deplorable was the fact that refugees and internally displaced persons were increasingly deprived of necessary amenities, such as food, water and shelter due to obstacles encountered in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In response, Mrs. OGATA said that maintaining security in refugee camps was one of the greatest difficulties faced in Zaire in 1996. The UNHCR did its best to assist host Governments with that issue in the camps. However, since most refugees were the victims of and fleeing from internal conflicts, it was often difficult to maintain the civilian character of camps. It was more difficult to get international police than peacekeepers, and the former were needed more.

MICHEL DUVAL (Canada) said that internally displaced persons did not benefit from the same protection given to refugees. African host countries with weak infrastructures could be submerged and drowned by the influx of refugees. As such, he conveyed his thanks to the many such countries that had always taken in those persons from neighbouring States who were fleeing war. It was important that such countries continued to provide a safe haven. More solidarity, however, needed to be demonstrated in that respect. The rights of the displaced must also be protected under international humanitarian law.

He said population movement gave rise to political crises. The international community must look at the effects of the refugee crisis everywhere. The Council also had an important part to play in that respect. The international community must continue to encourage reconciliation and reconstruction, so that displaced persons could return home. Also, he added, the countries of origin of the refugees and displaced persons had roles to play. He wanted to know what was being done to address the issue of displaced women and children, especially with regard to education .

Mrs. OGATA said UNHCR wanted to augment a system where refugee children, especially girls, could receive secondary education. Regarding temporary refugees, it was important for them to be given opportunities for education, so that when they returned to their countries of origin they could be useful citizens. Children should not be deprived of proper education, she stressed.

SAID BEN MUSTAPHA (Tunisia) said that the issue of refugees had been one of great importance in the OAU. That body's Council of Ministers had set up a committee to deal with the issue and had travelled to several countries to gather first hand information.

He said that the first international conference on refugees, held in 1998, had been aimed at enhancing means of mobilizing resources to help refugees and attenuating the burden on host States. The 1999 OAU Summit had made a similar appeal in Algiers. The political, human and social needs of the refugee situations must be addressed.

VOLODYMYR YEL'CHENKO (Ukraine) highlighted two new factors which made the refugee issue more difficult: the gradual loss of host country tolerance caused by massive refugee populations staying on for prolonged periods; and donor fatigue -- the ever-growing reluctance of donor countries to provide assistance. While the first should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, the second was of a more general nature and required a coordinated approach and a solidarity commitment on the part of the donor community.

It was increasingly evident that humanitarian assistance alone could not solve the political problems that caused internal displacement and refugee outflow, he said. Only political solutions to conflicts ensured durable solutions to refugee problems and sustainable peace. That was precisely the area in which the Council must make a meaningful contribution and where its primary responsibility lay in solving refugee problems.

He drew the Council's attention to cases when refugees and internally displaced persons became themselves a source of instability and renewed strife, thus spreading conflict to new territories. Large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons in camps and settlements often contributed to the depletion of local resources and destabilization of labour markets, thus causing tensions with local populations. The refugees could also become easy targets for opposition or rebel groups recruiting new members.

Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) asked Mrs. Ogata to elaborate a bit more on the issue of access to internally displaced persons and refugees, UNHCR's responsibilities in that area and the difficulties encountered in getting through governments and reaching the people who had to be helped. Other issues that should be looked at were the strengthening of law enforcement capacities and support for regional peacekeeping. He said it was the duty of the wealthier countries to give assistance. He stressed that governments were not doing enough and, while remedying misery was being addressed with "prop-up" efforts, there was no handle on the tap through which the misery was flowing.

He underscored that there was no effective conflict-resolution mechanism in Africa. Armed groups waging war were often supported by other governments. The responsibilities for refugees had to be shared by UNHCR mechanisms and African governments. Discussions had to focus on bold new steps, if there was to be any affect on the misery in Africa. In the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had had a huge impact in producing freedom and better standards on the continent. Why was there no such mechanism in Africa? Without structure, strengthened initiatives and frameworks to bear the burden of what UNHCR and others were doing in Africa, everything would collapse, he warned.

He said if there was no follow-up to the debate, with further discussion on issues raised today, nothing would be achieved. Mrs. Ogata's suggestion of a refugee education trust was an idea that should be expanded, he added.

ARNOLDO MANUEL LISTRE (Argentina) asked what could the Security Council do to deal with the recurring crises? Solutions to national problems had to be found to eliminate the accompanying refugee problems, he said. The causes of conflict had to, therefore, be addressed.

He said the report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict contained various recommendations that could provide guidance for the Council. Many of them should be implemented as soon as possible. The protection of refugees also involved guaranteeing access to and protection of humanitarian workers. What measures could be adopted to enhance the security of humanitarian workers? he asked.

He said that it was clear that any action undertaken needed resources in large measures. Such resources were provided for Kosovo and East Timor. But, as had been pointed out, those resources were not always available when it came to some African countries. Too many times sufficient funds were not available.

CHEICKNA KEITA (Mali) said that the Security Council's credibility was at stake. The Council must reaffirm its commitment to Africa in terms of the United Nations Charter. Mali was deeply concerned by the deep intensity of armed conflict on the continent, especially the fratricidal one between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It was high time the Council became involved by taking concrete action.

He said that the exodus of refugee populations could seriously jeopardize international peace and security. Mali condemned the increasing number of attacks on refugees and the growing recourse to the use of force against United Nations personnel by parties to armed conflicts.

ANWARUL CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that there must be adequate protection and assistance for both refugees and displaced persons. There was a need to address the particular difficulties in providing humanitarian assistance to displaced persons in situations of armed conflict.

Stressing the need for special protection of women and children, he said their needs would have to be met, considering that they were the majority among refugees and displaced persons and were particularly vulnerable to violence, exploitation and disease. He added that, while the protection of displaced persons and the provision of humanitarian assistance were the primary responsibility of the States concerned, there had been attempts at formulating guidelines by the United Nations for assisting those people.

SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation) agreed with the OAU initiative on refugees and displaced persons on the need to address the root causes of conflicts that put them in that position. The Russian Federation was ready to support concrete actions by the African countries themselves. It was up to the Security Council to stand behind the African initiatives.

SHEN GUOFANG (China) said his delegation wished to express its deep sympathy for the tragic plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa. As many speakers had stated, conflict and refugee problems were rooted in political instability, and economic and social problems. The international community needed to take effective measures to help African countries and economies. That point h