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As Conflicts Multiply, World Community’s Capacity to Respond to People Uprooted by Violence Being Tested in ‘Unforeseen Ways’, Third Committee Told

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Sixty-seventh General Assembly
Third Committee
32nd & 33rd Meetings (AM & PM)

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Presents Report; Some 40 Speakers Express Strong Support for Agency’s Work, Professionalism

As new conflicts multiplied in 2011 - especially in Africa and the Middle East – the collective capacity to respond to people uprooted by violence and persecution was “being put to the test in unforeseen ways” amid increased demand for humanitarian relief and an uncertain operating environment, the United Nations top refugee official told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres issued a strong appeal for support for his Office, whose budget was already stretched. Whereas the biggest humanitarian emergencies in the years prior to 2010 had stemmed from natural disasters, the most significant situations in 2011 and 2012 were refugee emergencies, requiring UNHCR to assume a global coordination role and step in as a provider of last resort. “This puts enormous pressure on our human and financial resources,” he said.

To be sure, he said that in Côte d’Ivoire, the Horn of Africa, Libya and Yemen, an average of 2,000 people crossed borders daily in search of refuge – higher than at any time in the last decade. So far, more than three quarters of a million people had fled as refugees from Mali, Syria, Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those situations were “radically” testing UNHCR’s ability to deliver on its mandate. The millions of people who had been stateless for generations also required solutions. Their plight could be resolved in the next decade by working together.

“We live in dangerous times,” he said, with growing numbers of people forced to flee in search of refuge. The roots of the crises lay, in part, in demographic, climatic and social trends. But, they also stemmed from the absence of an effective global governance system and unclear power relations.

Such pressures – demands rising, with resources remaining at the same level - had not forced the agency to choose between emergency response and care for those living in protracted exile, he said. It had, however, required it to strike the right balance between those equally compelling needs. In the coming year, UNHCR would work with States to address protection gaps and reinforce its own capacity with an updated strategy to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR would also invest in robust measures that enabled his staff to operate safely around the world.

When the floor was opened for questions and comments, delegates from around the world underlined their strong support for UNHCR’s work and professionalism in the most trying of circumstances. Many drew attention to their country’s financial support to the Geneva-based body, saying that UNHCR also must regularly evaluate its performance, and further strengthen its organizational capacity by pursuing a human resources policy.

Many other delegates outlined the precarious situations of refugees and internally displaced persons, both in their countries and among those seeking refuge elsewhere around the world. On that point, Afghanistan’s representative said Afghan asylum seekers awaiting safe refuge in other countries were often attacked by xenophobic and racist gangs. At home, the country was struggling to absorb the nearly 6 million people who had returned home, 60 per cent of whom lacked basic services like healthcare and education.

Similarly, Kenya’s delegate said his country was home to the world’s largest camp, with more than 600,000 refugees. Kenya had repeatedly asked UNHCR to formulate a lasting solution to the Somali refugee problem, as it had housed those refugees for the last 20 years and the strain was apparent.

Cameroon’s delegate recalled the sacrosanct principle that refugee care should be shared by the host Governments and the international community.

Responding to those comments, Mr. Guterres underlined the importance of Afghanistan’s voluntary repatriation plan, expressing hope that a concentration of action and investment would allow Afghan communities to better handle those returns. Afghans also had become global refugees and had often fallen into the hands of criminal gangs and smugglers. “They have not always found the protection they deserve,” he said. UNHCR was working with Governments to ensure their safety.

Addressing performance issues, he said support from the United States had been crucial to UNHCR’s survival, especially its resettlement programme. UNHCR was also engaged in the transformative agenda of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to improve the humanitarian response through greater predictability, accountability, responsibility and partnership. It also had changed its training programmes and financial rules in order to increase its ability to deliver quickly.

He rounded out his comments by echoing the need for shared responsibility in ensuring that refugees and internally displaced persons were cared for and afforded all of their inalienable human rights.

Speaking in the general discussion on the report of the High Commissioner was the Director of Multilateral Affairs Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya.

The representatives of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liechtenstein, Senegal, South Africa, India, China, Thailand, Russian Federation, Japan, Egypt, Kenya, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Angola, Sudan, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Korea, Morocco, Ukraine, Ireland, Iraq, Montenegro, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan also spoke.

A representative of the European Union also spoke.

Also speaking were representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Myanmar, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iraq.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 8 November, to continue its consideration of the report of the High Commissioner for Refugees.