United Nations Refugee Agency’s Services Severely Tested by Syria Conflict, Persisting Crises Worldwide, High Commissioner Tells Third Committee
Sixty-eighth General Assembly
Third Committee 41st & 42nd Meetings (AM & PM)
General Discussion Focuses on Asylum, Uneven Burden-sharing, Internal Displacement, Protection, Statelessness
The limits of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were being severely tested by a combination of the unparalleled emergency in Syria and the persistence of all the other crises around the world, the head of that agency told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today as it began its consideration of refugee-related issues.
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized how unevenly the burden of hosting refugees was distributed around the world, with more than 80 per cent borne by developing countries. In addition, sustaining systems for protecting internal refugees would require enhanced “burden-sharing” support for host countries. For that reason, he explained, UNHCR had recently dedicated a high-level segment of the sixty-fourth session of its Executive Committee to burden-sharing and solidarity with countries hosting Syrian refugees.
A specific focus of UNHCR over the last decade had been protecting internally displaced persons, with fundamental changes having been made to the way in which humanitarian agencies responded to their needs, he continued. The United Nations humanitarian reform initiated in 2005 had brought more predictability to operational programmes, and had helped to reduce both duplications and gaps, while reaffirming in all situations the primary responsibility of States for the protection of the internally displaced. There had also been important normative progress, such as the adoption of the African Union’s 2009 Kampala Convention, the first internationally binding instrument on the rights of internally displaced persons.
Another focus was UNHCR’S work “at the intersection of asylum and migration”, he said, calling for a “pact of solidarity” based on burden-sharing and common but differentiated responsibilities. “There is something fundamentally wrong when so many people must die while trying to reach protection,” he stressed, noting that people fleeing violence and persecution should be able to gain access to protection without having to risk their lives and suffer brutal violations of their rights.
Finding durable solutions for refugees and displaced people remained the ultimate goal of UNHCR’s work, and also its biggest challenge in a global environment marked by many protracted conflicts, he continued. In recent years, the number of new refugees had exceeded that of people able to end their displacement, which only underlined the urgency of reinvigorating the way in which solutions were sought at the country, regional and institutional levels. “Solutions must be seen not as a distinct event, but rather as an ongoing effort throughout the duration of displacement,” he said. A stronger link between humanitarian relief and longer-term development programmes was one of the essential conditions for finding durable solutions and for obtaining more support for those hosting large refugee populations.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, delegates underlined their strong support for UNHCR’s work in the current trying circumstances and asked, among others, about the protection of refugees, women and girls in particular; Syrian refugees; and strengthening of partnerships.
In the general discussion following an interactive discussion between the High Commissioner and delegates, the representative of the European Union Delegation pointed out that one of the ways to preserve the institution of asylum was to share the refugee burden, and that refugees needed both protection and solutions.
China’s representative also stressed the principle of burden-sharing, as well as the need to improve the international refugee-protection mechanism. Côte d’Ivoire’s representative said that eradicating statelessness was one of her Government’s top priorities, while the representative of the Russian Federation cited the question of asylum in relation to stateless ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia.
Zambia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), underlined the importance of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and highlighted the 1996 Memorandum of Understanding between SADC and UNHCR governing the management of refugees in the region.
Afghanistan’s representative said his country knew the refugee experience intimately, as the issue of displaced people had been a central part of its history. After years of violence and brutality had forced more than 10 million Afghans to flee across the globe, the Government was now diligently involved with UNHCR and other international partners in facilitating their return, which constituted the largest repatriation movement in modern history, involving 6 million refugees who had returned since 2002.
The representatives of Liechtenstein and Canada called attention to the humanitarian emergency in Syria, urging that country immediately to facilitate humanitarian relief operations, while Bulgaria’s representative also outlined the challenges his country faced in addressing the issue of Syrian refugees.
Among the delegates underlining the importance of the principle of non-refoulement was the representative of the Republic of Korea, who expressed concern that asylum-seekers and refugees might be turned away and sent back to their homelands.
Participating in both the interactive dialogues and the general discussion were representatives of Norway, Syria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Morocco, Indonesia, Eritrea, Kenya, Bangladesh, Mauritania, South Africa, Angola, Sudan, Belarus, Thailand, Ukraine, Pakistan, Japan, Montenegro, Nigeria, United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt, Croatia, Georgia, Brazil, India, Algeria, Iran, Serbia, Ecuador and the United States. The Committee also heard from speakers representing the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Latvia and Estonia.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 7 November, to take action on draft resolutions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin its consideration of refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons. Before delegates were the “Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” (documents A/68/12 (Part I) and A/68/12 (Part II)), the “Report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” (document A/68/12/Add.1) and the “Report of the Secretary-General on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa” (document A/68/341).
The Committee began its deliberations by hearing an introductory statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Introductory Statement and Interactive Dialogue
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, presented the annual report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the 10-year Strategic Review, saying they took stock of the major evolution in refugee protection over the past decade and explained how such progress shaped UNHCR’s outlook for the future. Noting that the number of persons of concern to the agency had doubled in the last 10 years, he said that by the end of 2013, about 2 million people across the world would have been forced to flee their respective countries — the highest number in any year since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
The last three years had been marked by a quick succession of large-scale displacement emergencies, from Libya and Côte d’Ivoire to Somalia and Mali. In addition, UNHCR was currently confronted with a “huge outflow caused by the tragedy in Syria”, he said. Alongside its partners, UNHCR’s limits were being “severely tested by this combination of an emergency unparalleled in the recent past, and the persistence of all the other crises around the world”.
Turning to the 10-year Strategic Review, he said significant reforms had been carried out and investment made to ensure that UNHCR was up to the increasingly complex tasks entrusted to it. Six factors had been central in boosting its “ability to deliver under growing pressure”: the generosity of host countries and local communities; strong financial support from donors; partnerships; internal reform of the agency; innovation within UNHCR; and the dedication and professionalism of its staff.
Emphasizing how unevenly the hosting burden was distributed across the world, he said more than 80 per cent of refugees today were hosted by developing countries. In addition, sustaining internal refugee protection systems would require enhanced support to host countries for “burden-sharing”. For that reason, he explained, UNHCR had recently dedicated the high-level segment of the sixty-fourth session of its Executive Committee to solidarity and burden-sharing with countries hosting Syrian refugees.
On financial support, he pointed out that UNHCR depended almost entirely on voluntary funding, which had reached unprecedented levels over the past decade, rising from $929 million in 2003 to a record $2.3 billion in 2012. The needs-based budget introduced in 2010 had proven an important advocacy tool for showing the real human consequences of funding shortfalls and for broadening UNHCR’s donor base. Nevertheless, significant funding gaps remained in striking a balance between current emergencies — most notably the Syrian crisis — and persisting humanitarian need elsewhere.
Partnerships had been another crucial factor in UNHCR’s response to emergencies, he continued, adding that old partnerships had been reinforced and new ones forged. The agency currently spent twice as much through its partners than it had done in 2006, working with more than 900 non-governmental organizations, among other entities, around the world. Those partnerships entailed cooperation with the World Food Programme (WFP, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as well as national institutions.
He went on to say that internal reforms had also played a key role in UNHCR’s response strategy. Between 2006 and 2012, headquarters costs had dropped form nearly 14 per cent to 8 per cent of overall expenditures, while staff costs had fallen from 41 per cent to 26 per cent within the same period. The reform process had been accompanied by a heightened emphasis on internal oversight and accountability, he said, describing innovation, as “a crucial tool to do more with less”. However, none of the achievements of the past decade would have been possible without the dedication and professionalism of UNHCR staff, of whom 40 per cent served in non-family duty stations, he noted. That high percentage came “too often with a bitter price”, he stressed, noting that many lost their lives in the line of duty.
Highlighting some of the past decade’s fundamental developments in protection, as well as key challenges ahead, he said UNHCR had concentrated on reducing statelessness; strengthening its fundamental accountability to the people it was mandated to protect; protecting internally displaced persons; and working at the intersection of asylum and migration. “There is something fundamentally wrong when so many people must die while trying to reach protection,” he stressed, noting that asylum-seekers and others were forced to rely on the services of smugglers and the consequent exposure to harassment and exploitation.
Calling for a solidarity pact based on burden-sharing and common but differentiated responsibilities, he said one way to find durable solutions was to strengthen the link between humanitarian relief and longer-term development programmes. Reminding delegates that the principle of giving refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution was a universal value deeply rooted in all major religions and cultures, he urged them to “stand together to protect this fundamental human value for the million of people around the world who depend on it”.
In a first round of questions and answers, delegates asked about protecting woman and girl refugees from sexual violence; addressing the situation whereby Syrian refugees outside the country were receiving twice as much funding as those displaced internally; protecting those refugees from being recruited by foreign organized criminal groups; and further strengthening partnerships under the Delivering as One initiative. Other questions related to humanitarian access to people in need, gaps between requests for resettlement and slow responses as well as global capacity for asylum.
Mr. GUTERRES, underlining the importance of respecting international humanitarian law, pointed out that it was sometimes not possible to reach people in need. He also emphasized the great importance of gender issues and the protection of children, noting that the latter lacked access to education and suffered other negative effects. Gender issues entailed a question of organizational culture, he said, adding that, with support from the United Kingdom and the United States, among others, training programmes had been conducted for managers of international organizations to help enable them to understand the centrality of gender issues.
As for Syrian refugees, he said it was true that they received a larger share of assistance, a situation that required a shift in priorities on the part of donor countries. However, it was also due to the lack of humanitarian access to those in need inside Syria. Lack of basic responses to humanitarian needs would increase the outflow of refugees, he warned. He commended Syria, however, for its hospitality and generosity to refugees from Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere, and stressed that it was now time for the international community to show its solidarity with Syria by addressing its humanitarian needs.
Regarding increased crime in refugee camps, he said some host countries had taken steps to address the issue, with Turkey having invested in security improvements inside the camps. UNHCR was keen to ensure that refugees were protected and it would not permit any kind of illegal recruitment inside the camps, he emphasized. On migration, the agency had submitted a 12-point action plan to the European Union, which contained proposals for increasing capacity for rescue at sea, given the recent tragedy off the coast of Italy.
While it was understood that States must protect their borders, they should also protect people, he emphasized, praising Ethiopia for its exemplary open-border policy. On resettlement capacity, he said it had actually doubled over the past decade, but stressed the need for transit countries to take a non-discriminatory approach. Yet, there was a need to help them avoid problems caused by organized crime syndicates, he noted.
UNHCR had approved a new education strategy, in partnership with Governments, UNICEF, UNESCO and others, he said. While regional cooperation was of key importance, it was also important not to “dump” responsibility for protection from one country to another. Resettlement and voluntary return were not the only solutions to refugee problems, he said, adding that there was a need to improve living conditions. Sudan, for instance, had issued work permits to refugees living in camps. UNHCR, Kenya and Somalia had a tripartite agreement to make refugee returns more successful and attractive. He concluded by underlining that his agency’s core mandate concerned mainly refugees and stateless people, and that UNHCR could not operate in a State that would not allow its entry.
Participating in the question-and-answer session were speakers representing Norway, Syria, Liechtenstein, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Morocco, Indonesia, Eritrea, Kenya and Bangladesh.
SILVESTER MWANZA ( Zambia), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the regional bloc was cognizant of the fact that millions around the world continued to flee their homelands due to insecurity caused by war, genocide, torture and persecution, all of which destabilized economies and affected the momentum towards attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. SADC member countries had not been spared by the mass movements of people since conflicts in Southern Africa had resulted in millions of refugees seeking asylum in neighbouring countries. It was necessary to put mechanisms to facilitate the peaceful resolution of such conflicts, he said. With that in mind, SADC was committed to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and would observe international standards on refugee protection.
Among several efforts in that regard, he highlighted in particular the 1996 Memorandum of Understanding between SADC and UNHCR governing the management of refugees in the region. It committed States to address the root causes of forced population displacement, he said. In spite of that and other positive developments, however, the region continued to see an influx of people seeking safety, he said. In that context, SADC called upon Governments to fulfil their responsibilities towards refugees in a manner consistent with the need to balance international law against legitimate national security and economic interests. Speaking in his national capacity, he said his country had responded to UNHCR’s call to provide “legal stay arrangements” allowing those who so wished to return voluntarily to their respective homelands, while those wishing to remain would be reintegrated into the host community, he said, adding that the Government was working to ensure that all refugees in Zambia were granted the rights enshrined in the relevant international conventions.
IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation, warned that efforts by host Governments to address refugee-related concerns should not result in a restriction on the rights of refugees. On the contrary, they must be protected, against forced return in particular. Ensuring compliance with the principle of non-refoulement, effectively guaranteeing access to asylum procedures and humane reception conditions, as well as increased international cooperation to share the refugee burden should help preserve the institution of asylum. He called special attention to the needs of particular groups of refugees, including vulnerable women, children as well as stateless persons.
UNHCR protection guidelines and strategies targeting those groups should be more speedily and consistently implemented in all refugee situations, he continued, emphasizing that the implementation of such guidelines must remain a priority for UNHCR and all agency staff. “Refugees need both protection and solutions,” he stressed, noting that the European Union and its m ember States contributed almost one third of the funding received so far this year by UNHCR, more than double the amount contributed 10 years ago. This year, the legislative framework for a Common European Asylum System had been completed on the basis of high protection standards for people seeking shelter in the European Union, he said.
ZHANG GUIXUAN ( China) said common efforts by the international community had resulted in worldwide progress in terms of refugee protection, including in Afghanistan, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. However, armed conflict, financial crisis, food insecurity, poverty, natural disasters and humanitarian crises seriously threatened international peace and development. Increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as rising xenophobia against refugees, placed the protection system under severe strain. To tackle those challenges China invited the international community to adhere to the peaceful settlement of disputes, uphold the principles of international solidarity and burden-sharing, and improve international refugee-protection mechanisms. On Syria, he said the fundamental way out of that crisis lay in a political settlement of the situation.
CLAUDIO NARDI ( Liechtenstein) said his country was deeply concerned at the high number of displaced persons, which had severely stretched the emergency response of UNHCR and its partners. While the international community could help with the implementation of durable solutions and provide humanitarian assistance to displaced persons, Member States bore the primary duty and responsibility to ensure that they received immediate, safe and unimpeded assistance as well as access of humanitarian personnel, supplies and equipment. Member States should “simplify and expedite procedures in order to allow humanitarian personnel” to perform efficiently in assisting internally displaced persons, rather than using access for political purposes. Liechtenstein urged all States to provide legal protection to humanitarian workers, and to implement the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol, while protecting internally displaced children and guaranteeing their access to education, he said.
GRIGORY E. LUKYANTSEV (Russian Federation), emphasizing the importance of multilateral cooperation based on internationally agreed instruments such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, said the success of UNHCR could only be achieved in conjunctions with efforts by the international community, which should focus on solving political crises in respect of State sovereignty. Turning to another issue, he said it was of key importance to ensure security in refugee camps through enhanced coordination among all actors. He went on to warn against misuse of the institution of asylum, while underlining the significant role of UNHCR in relation to the question of stateless ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia. In conclusion, he called for increased cooperation, long-term solutions, and more balanced approaches to defining top emergency situations.
EL KHALIL EL HACEN ( Mauritania) stressed that the question of repatriating Mauritanian refugees from Senegal had found “closure”, following the signing of the tripartite agreement between his country, Senegal and UNHCR. In fact, 24,200 refugees had returned and a ceremony had been held for them under the auspices of the President of Mauritania and in the presence of the High Commissioner, who had acknowledged that the authorities had “opted for reconciliation”, he said.
STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the institutional reform initiated by the High Commissioner with a view to enhancing UNHCR’s accountability to the international community. On Syria, he said that despite several measures already in place, his country faced an exceptional situation with the increasing flow of refugees across its borders, including the need for additional facilities and funding to accommodate them. Bulgaria was working closely with several United Nations agencies as well as civil society organizations to address that issue, he said, underlining in particular the importance of European solidarity in efforts to respond adequately to that unprecedented situation. The bloc’s support was crucial for implementing high protection standards for people seeking shelter, he added.
MARIE-CHRISTINE BOCOUM ( C ôte d’Ivoire) recalled that an estimated 300,000 Ivoirians had been refugees in countries such as Liberia, Guinea or Ghana at the end of 2010. For that reason, the President had placed the return of Ivoirian refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as the eradication of statelessness, at the top of his agenda since the beginning of his tenure. He had visited host countries to encourage refugees to return, she said, adding that initiatives had been taken in areas of temporary residence to encourage internally displaced persons to return to their homes. Reintegration programmes for both refugees and internally displaced had been put in place, and cooperation with entities like UNHCR had been strengthened, she said, adding that she was glad to announce that, since May 2011, more than 230,000 refugees had returned, by their own initiative — the majority — and through UNHCR repatriation programmes. In the same spirit, and considering that Côte d’Ivoire had always been “asylum land” for all those in need, Liberian refugees in the country had been given the option of keeping their nationality or acquiring Ivoirian citizenship.
Mr. GRANT ( Canada) said the year had been dominated by a number of complex displacement crises that had tested the capacity of both UNHCR and the international community to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection. Canada’s international engagement on refugee issues was complemented by its domestic actions — including extensive reforms that had come into effect in 2012 — which made the national asylum system faster and fairer. Calling attention to several new and existing humanitarian emergencies, he emphasized in particular the situation in Syria, which had deteriorated steadily over the past year with devastating consequences for its people. Canada was profoundly disturbed by the blatant violations of international law and the reported persecution of religious communities in that country, he said, calling upon the “Assad regime” immediately to facilitate humanitarian relief operations. Identifying and implementing durable solutions to the Syrian and other crises must remain a high priority, he emphasized.
JEREMIAH N. MAMABOLO (South Africa), associating himself with SADC, emphasized his country’s rights-based approach to refugees, saying that they as well as asylum-seekers awaiting determination of their statues enjoyed freedom of movement within South Africa, were allowed to participate in gainful employment and enjoyed access to basic services. At the regional level, he said, strategies for managing managed mixed migration needed assistance to develop standardized biometric-based registration systems to facilitate the sharing of data across countries. Among other things, that would enable young people born into refugee situations more easily to acquire citizenship, he said. In conclusion, he encouraged the options of local integration, third-country resettlement and voluntary repatriation in cases of refugees with multiple nationalities.
ANDREW KIHURANI ( Kenya) said the collapse of Somalia’s Central Government of Somalia in 1991 and the consequent clan conflicts, coupled with the drought and famine of 2011, had generated a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Kenya currently hosted the world’s largest number of Somali refugees, more than half-a-million of whom were documented and half-a-million undocumented. The number of Somali refugees in the country far outweighed Kenya’s capacity to host them, he emphasized, noting that the situation had adversely impacted the nation’s political, security, socioeconomic and demographic dynamics. The refugee camps were vulnerable to infiltration by Al-Shabaab criminals disguised as refugees, posing a growing security threat to Kenya and the region, as demonstrated by the recent terrorist attack in Nairobi, he added. Considering all factors, the repatriation and reintegration of refugees offered the most viable and durable solution, requiring cooperation on the part of refugees, host, origin and regional countries, development partners, other interested countries and all stakeholders.
ISMAEL ABRAAO GASPAR MARTINS ( Angola), associating himself with SADC, said his Government was currently regulating the right to asylum established in national legislation. Regarding Angolan refugees who had left the country during its long armed conflict ending in 2002, he reiterated the national commitment to continue discussions with host countries about Angolans who no longer enjoyed refugee status since 2012 and who had not returned home. Tripartite meetings among representatives of the Angolan Government, UNHCR, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia had led to the creation of the legal and technical conditions to ensure the safe return of Angolan refugees in those countries, he said.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM MOHAMED ELBAHI ( Sudan) said his Government had been generous to guests, ensuring that they had shelter and stability in accordance with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. For many decades, Sudan had hosted large numbers of refugees from neighbouring countries, he added. In 1968, the Government had established a national commission to coordinate activities with UNHCR, but more recently, internal conflict had increased the number of Sudanese refugees leaving for neighbouring countries. Given the State’s primary responsibility, Sudan had adopted legislative and other measures to tackle the root causes of the problem, bringing stability to the Darfur region as well as to Blue Nile and South Kordofan States. Improved security had led to voluntary repatriations, he noted, emphasizing his country’s renewed commitment to cooperating with UNHCR and other entities in line with the principle of burden-sharing. It was vital to move from providing relief to delivering development programmes, he said, calling on donors to support voluntary repatriations and urging the lifting of sanctions on developing countries.
OH HYUNJOO ( Republic of Korea), welcoming UNHCR’s significant progress in responding to both humanitarian emergencies and protracted conflict situations, nevertheless emphasized that significant outstanding challenges and gaps must be addressed. There was a need for greater focus on the agency’s core mandate of protecting refugees, especially the principle of non-refoulement, she stressed. “We are particularly concerned about the persistent risk of refoulement of refugees and asylum-seekers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” she added. There was also a need to strengthen UNHCR’s cooperative partnerships with non-governmental organizations and development agencies in order to avoid duplication and create synergies.
Ms. LESHKOVA ( Belarus) said her country had acceded to the Convention and incorporated it into national legislation. The Belarus Act for Foreign Persons outlined regulations for refugees and granted them temporary protection. The country’s desire to promote national and ethnic diversity without religious or cultural conflict had resulted in a 25 per cent rise in applications for refugee status, she said. Welcoming the recommendation by the Economic and Social Council to increase the membership of the UNHCR Executive Committee from 87 to 94, she said that her country’s new membership of that body was in recognition of its efforts to promote and protect the rights of refugees.
ANDRIY TSYMBALIUK ( Ukraine) said the UNHCR report provided clear insight into recent challenges and trends relating to refugees, and Ukraine was especially appreciative, given the growing frequency and scale of global conflicts and the consequent need for well-coordinated humanitarian involvement. UNHCR activities in securing the protection of refugees was to be commended, he said, adding that the agency should be provided with adequate resources. Noting the continuing cooperation between his country and the agency, he called particular attention to the renovation of a holding facility for refugees in Odessa, which had been carried out within the framework of the UNHCR Regional Protection Programme. Among other steps, Ukraine had adopted a new law that, for the first time, introduced support for protection institutions. Furthermore, the Government had been able to build a national asylum system that conformed to European and international standards in a relatively short time, he said, stressing that European integration was a main priority of Ukraine, and adapting national legislation to European Union standards a part of that process.
MONIA ALSALEH ( Syria) said that, over the decades, her country had received a large number of refugees displaced as a result of hostilities not involving Syria. It had treated them as brothers and sisters, sharing its resources. Today, Syria was experiencing a humanitarian crisis and was cooperating with OCHA, UNHCR, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to find the best solutions for Syrians who had left home as a result of attacks by terrorists financed from abroad. The humanitarian appeal for funding had received only 60 per cent of estimated needs, she said, noting that Syrian refugees were vulnerable to rape, child labour and under-age marriage. Some countries were exaggerating the number of refugees on their territory in order to receive more financial aid, she said, adding that some refugees had been dissuaded from returning home.
MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan), underlining the continuing relevance and important role of UNHCR, said that while the plight of new refugees demanded more immediate attention, protracted refugee situations around the world must not be ignored or left entirely to host countries. Pakistan had hosted millions of refugees over a period exceeding 30 years. Lack of adequate pull-factors in Afghanistan and continuing instability there had discouraged voluntary return, leading to a protracted refugee situation in Pakistan, which had resulted in serious socioeconomic consequences for the local people. Having witnessed the birth of third-generation refugees, Pakistan now called upon the international community to take serious steps for the creation of a safe and conducive environment for Afghan refugees in their homeland, where they could return voluntarily.
Mr. OTAKA ( Japan) said his Government would continue to work with the international community to assist refugees and their host countries even more actively. During the September general debate, he recalled, the Prime Minister of Japan had announced an additional $60 million in humanitarian assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons in Syria and neighbouring countries ahead of the coming winter. That was in addition to its already-implemented humanitarian assistance, amounting to about $95 million for Syria and the surrounding region. Japan had also announced its support for stabilizing neighbouring countries, he said, citing its plans to provide $120 million in loans to Jordan. In dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons, Japan attached great importance to human security and peacebuilding, two essential pillars of its diplomatic policy, he said.
ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL ( Morocco) said that responding to the urgent need for assistance due to conflict or environmental disaster was a collective human responsibility. Recalling the UNHCR report, more than 12 million refugees remained a concern to the agency’s offices in sub-Saharan Africa, underscoring the importance of international solidarity. Morocco was dispatching assistance to refugees following the crisis in Libya, Syria and in the Sahel region. He welcomed efforts made to improve the living situation of refugees. He said that to efficiently protect refugees and meet their needs, UNHCR needed to base their operations on reliable data. For that reason, Morocco strongly urged the Government of Algeria to allow a census of the refugees residing in the Tindouf camps, to assess the humanitarian conditions of the camps.
ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) said that his country knew the refugee experience intimately and that it was an important issue for his country. Years of violence and brutality had forced more than 10 million Afghans to countries across the globe. His country’s Government was involved with international partners, and UNHCR in particular to facilitate the return of refugees. This constituted the largest repatriation movement in modern history, with 6 million refugees returning since 2002. In that effort, international support had been essential for reintegration in a way that was voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. Despite that and other successes, providing necessary services for returning Afghans remained a great challenge, and addressing returnees’ needs on such a large scale required long-term social and economic development as well as capacity-building programmes. It was tragic that some who returned to their homeland seeking a prosperous future faced only despair, he said.
MILORAD ŠĆEPANOVIĆ ( Montenegro) said that his country’s Government had focused on intensifying bilateral cooperation with countries of origin and direct communication with “displaced and internally displaced persons” in the field. His country, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and some international partners, was implementing the Regional Housing Programme, which sought durable solutions to housing issues for those displaced from the former Yugoslavia. His country was also conducting a number of activities to improve the socioeconomic status of refugees and displaced persons, with a special emphasis on the education of Roma and Egyptian children.
USMAN SARKI ( Nigeria), acknowledging the many crises that resulted in a global increase of refugees, said that the situation in several countries, among them his own country, involved increased concern for refugee protection. States were facing challenges, including hunger and starvation due to the displacement of persons. However, UNHCR had “risen to the task” and, as much as possible, had brought the situation under control. As well, acts of terrorism, had become a major cause of displacement of persons both within nations and across borders. For two years, Nigeria had been fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram, whose attacks created displacement problems. While his Government’s efforts to restore peace and stability were beginning to pay off, Nigeria would continue to solicit international understanding and support to defeat terrorism. A durable solution to refugee problems, he concluded, revolved around voluntary repatriation, integration and resettlement. In that regard, the 1961 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1954 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness remained “sacrosanct” and provided “succour”, as the basis for collective action.
RAMADHAN MWINYI (United Republic of Tanzania), associating with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), voiced concern over the 2.8 million refugees in Africa, pointing out that those persons represented one quarter of the global refugee population. The eruption of violence in some parts of Africa, including in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and the ongoing conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile State in the Sudan, were the cause, he noted. At the country level, he appreciated the commitment, determination and support provided by the international donor community towards finding a durable and lasting solution to the protracted situation involving some 35,000 Burundian refugees, living in exile in the United Republic of Tanzania for almost two decades. “The successful and orderly return, conducted in conditions of safety and dignity and in line with international norms and standards, and the eventual closure of Mtabila refugee camp in Tanzania in 2012, will remain a milestone achievement for many years to come,” he added.
Mr. KHALEK ( Egypt), stating that the situation in Syria had created millions of internally displaced persons and refugees, highlighted implications of that crisis on his country. Egypt was currently hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, in addition to Sudanese and Palestinian refugees. Those persons were being protected within his country’s borders, but such efforts alone were not enough, and he called on the international community to step up support to host countries. Turning to the Sahel region, he said that addressing the challenges there, such as food insecurity and the impact of climate change, would require adequate resources. Therefore, UNHCR should be adequately funded. Lastly, he stressed the need to identify inherent causes, urging the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission to work together to support post-conflict countries to achieve sustainable development, which was a precondition for the return of refugees. As well, respect for international human rights and humanitarian laws was essential.
DANIJEL MEDAN ( Croatia) fully endorsed UNHCR efforts to identify the most effective responses to the challenges it had faced over the past year. The High Commissioner’s report had noted UNHCR involvement in facilitating durable solutions in South-East Europe, including through engagement with a regional housing programme. That initiative was the best guarantee towards “closure of the displacement chapter” in that region. His country had passed through profound and enduring changes in the last 20 years, and the “highest standards” of protecting human and minority rights had been achieved. Stating that the time had come to look into the appropriate provisions of the 1951 Convention, he said he supported the High Commissioner’s role in this process. That involvement would guarantee that the invocation of a cessation clause would be conducted in full respect and utmost care for each individual refugee. A timely outcome would be a “rare joint success story” in the context of increasing global displacement.
VAKHTANG MAKHAROBLISHVILI (Georgia), aligning his delegation with the European Union, said that his country had undertaken significant steps in ensuring that its legislation and policies were in line with relevant international standards to safeguard the rights of stateless persons, refugees and internally displaced persons. However, Georgia’s population had suffered from ethnic cleansing, expulsion and human rights abuses in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia at the beginning of the 1990s and as recent as 2008. Moreover, the number of internally displaced persons in Georgia was still rising due to the installation of barbed wire fences and other artificial obstacles along the occupation line. That affected the livelihoods and fundamental freedoms of the local population and had resulted in a humanitarian crisis on the ground. In conclusion, he reiterated Georgia’s readiness to continue its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to seek new approaches in dealing with the issue in concern.
ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA ( Brazil) said his country’s National Committee for Refugees had recently decided to allow the processing of Brazilian visas for those refugees from Syria wishing to apply for refuge in Brazil. In South America, the most serious refugee situation was associated with the decades-long conflict in Colombia, with Ecuador especially generous in hosting the largest number of displaced persons in the region. He said he hoped that the current negotiations between the Colombian authorities and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would put an end to the conflict and enhance the status of South America as a continent of peace and cooperation. He also welcomed UNHCR efforts to increase its capacity to ensure nutrition and food security of refugees through joint collaboration with the World Food Programme.
ARVIND KUMAR SINGH, Member of Parliament from India , said that a large number of the more than 1.1 million people fleeing their countries of origin were hosted by developing countries, which continued to meet their humanitarian obligations, often risking their delicate economies. On the issue of protracted refugee situations, he said there was a need to create the conditions for voluntary repatriation, the most durable solution to that problem. Recognizing the political complexities that limited the implementation of voluntary return, he said bilateral and regional dialogues among the countries involved was necessary to reassure refugees of a safe and stable return to their homelands. On internal displacement, he concurred with the UNHCR report that primary responsibility lay with States and that the agency’s involvement could only complement national efforts.
STÉPHANE BONAMY, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for political efforts to resolve conflicts worldwide., stating that it was a human imperative to reduce the impact of conflicts on civilians. ICRC stood ready to assist the international community in dispatching assistance and support for refugees, as it was granted access where international actors were not allowed. On internally displaced persons, he said that their characteristics varied based on their situation. Some were confronted with danger, while others had relative security, yet were dealing with chronic needs such as lack of adequate housing, education and access to essential services. Moreover, that population was considered a burden by the local community. Therefore, the humanitarian response should be adapted to the different nature of the displacement. Besides providing humanitarian assistance, such as essential goods, reuniting families, and giving care and support to victims of sexual violence, ICRC also focused on enhancing the resilience of the communities vulnerable to violence. Initiatives ranged from repairing rural irrigation systems to distributing seeds to vaccinating cattle, with the aim of a rapid recovery.
MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), pointing out that the year 2012 was characterized by numerous humanitarian crises, expressed concern over emergencies in the Sahel, Central Africa, Syria and Mali. In a demonstration of hospitality, his country was hosting refugees from the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara. Those refugees were waiting for their repatriation through the implementation of a durable solution based on the right to self-determination recognized in relevant United Nations resolutions. Underscoring that Algeria would spare no effort to continue its necessary support to Sahrawi refugees, he called for donors to continue to support UNHCR. Algeria had always responded to humanitarian needs, hosting refugees from Syria, Libya and Central Africa, in addition to providing aid to countries in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.
GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI ( Iran) said his country had improved the health status of the refugee population within its borders, with at least 80 per cent of them benefiting from health insurance that covered secondary and tertiary treatment. Education was provided for both children and adult refugees, he said, noting that 320,000 Afghans attended school and 8,000 were university students in Iran. The Government had always supported voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity, which was the inalienable right of refugees, he said, adding that it also favoured resettlement. However, only 1,272 Afghan refugees had left Iran within the framework of resettlement, and the total number of resettlement cases from 1999 to date stood at 12,000 individuals, while the average birth rate of refugees in Iran was 40,000 annually.
ARAYA DESTA ( Eritrea) said his country’s people, who had suffered the denial of self-determination, two wars of aggression, the occupation of their sovereign territory and illegal sanctions, now faced an additional assault on their human rights and their struggle against organized human trafficking. That barbaric crime was the latest tool in ongoing attempts to drain Eritrea of its human resources, destroy its economy, impoverish its people and foment a crisis. He reiterated that collaboration between origin, transit and destination countries was vital, adding that Eritrea was coordinating closely with Egypt, Sudan and other countries.
MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia), associating himself with the European Union, said his country was home to the greatest number of internally displaced persons in Europe and had been identified in 2008 as one of the five countries in the world with the problem of protracted displacement. However, the more than 290,000 internally displaced persons living in Serbia in 2003 had been reduced to 70,000 primarily due to local integration, he said. “One of the preconditions for sustainable return is the full respect for the rights of national minorities in the countries of origin, including their right to use their language and scripts, as well as an efficient implementation of laws at the local levels,” he stressed. The solution to protracted refugee situations in the region was ensuring full respect for the rights and needs of refugees, in both origin and receiving countries, he said, adding that it could not be resolved through administrative measures such as setting arbitrary deadlines.
ANDRÉS FIALLO ( Ecuador) said that people requesting asylum enjoyed special protection in his country, including legal and humanitarian assistance and assurances of non-refoulement. Refugees were not subjected to sanctions if they entered the country illegally; rather, they were guaranteed the right to food, housing and basic services. Ecuador had historically cared for refugees since the 1970s, when tens of thousands had arrived after fleeing military dictatorships in Latin America, giving it the largest recorded number of asylum-seekers. Institutional structures adapted to handle the issue of refugees included dedicated directorates within the Foreign Ministry and specific training for the armed forces, he said, adding that they faced no restrictions on mobility because they were not confined in camps and had the same rights and duties as citizens. Since the State had invested more than $60 million in care for refugees, Ecuador was gravely concerned about the reduced budgets of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
TEKEDA ALEMU ( Ethiopia) said his Government had enacted the National Refugee Proclamation in July 2004 with the aim of establishing a legislative framework to administer the situation of refugees and returnees in the country. As a matter of principle, and in discharging its responsibility, Ethiopia had undertaken a number of activities aimed at providing protection, security and safety for refugees and displaced persons. Seeking a long-term solution to their plight and an improvement in their living conditions, the Government, together with UNHCR, had launched an “out-of-camp” scheme that allowed refugees to live in different camps within Ethiopia, and those without a criminal record to live outside the camps in any part of the country, he said. Moreover, the Government had created favourable conditions, allowing thousands of refugees to continue their studies in universities and institutions of higher learning so that they would be productive citizens when they returned to their homelands.
ANDREW KENT ( United States) said his Government had donated more than $1 billion dollars to UNHCR for its activities around the world. Acknowledging that this year had been a challenging one, with several humanitarian crises unfolding, he stressed the need to deliver adequate support to those who needed it most. In particular, the Syrian crisis had stretched the capacity of UNHCR. He emphasized the need to strengthen existing partnerships and develop new ones. Of critical importance was coordination and strong communication among different agencies in order to meet the challenges. He urged UNHCR to strengthen its organizational capacity by shifting to a more performance-based human resources policy, including the adoption of indicators to ensure that results were more measurable.
AMY MUEDIN, International Organization for Migration, described how her agency and UNHCR worked together tirelessly, complementing each other in discharging their respective mandates. An example of such collaboration was their co-leadership for an initiative in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. IOM was also helping States setting up external voting electoral processes for refugees so that they could participate in elections from abroad. The two agencies also worked side by side in resettlement programmes, with IOM working directly with refugees to help them relocate. Together, the two entities had helped a large number of refugees begin a new life.
KIERAN D. MERCER, observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that his organization was assisting those in need regardless of race, religion, class or creed. In recent years, he noted that the challenge of providing refuge to those displaced had grown, both in scale and complexity, coinciding with the financial crisis. In addition, that crisis had been regionalized, placing pressure on already under-resourced areas and overwhelming local support services. In response to those trends, the Order empowered host communities through training and infrastructure development. On protracted refugees, he said responsibilities lied with the international community to reverse the trend by ensuring resettlement and repatriation initiatives. With financial constraints set to characterize the nature of humanitarian efforts in the future, he welcomed the commitment by UNHCR to develop partnerships with other humanitarian actors.
AJAY MADIWALE, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), underlined the Societies’ continuous cooperation with UNHCR, noting the 2007 global operational agreement between them. Recalling IFRC’s world disaster report, he said that over 70 million were displaced worldwide. They were fleeing refugee camps and moving towards urban centres. He called on humanitarian actors for innovative ways to address their needs. Recognizing the strain refugees put on host countries, he applauded the generosity of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in assisting refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria. For that reason, he emphasized the need to assist the host country as well as the refugees, as shown by IFRC’s cash transfers projects in Jordan and in Italy where humanitarian auxiliaries were assisting the refugee centres in Lampedusa. Highlighting the funding gaps in humanitarian budgets, he said that the burden of displacement could not be carried only by the displaced persons and the host country.
Right of Reply
The representative of Latvia, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to the statement by the representative of the Russian Federation on the presence of stateless persons in her country, saying Latvia was a State party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as well as the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and in conformity with both. Latvia had granted special status to citizens of the former Soviet Union residing in her country, noting that non-Latvians had the same rights and status as citizens. To encourage their naturalization, the Government had simplified the citizenship process, she said. Overall, Latvia protected and respected the human rights of all, irrespective of where they came from, she concluded.
The representative of Estonia, also responding to the Russian Federation’s statement, emphasized his country’s commitment to finding a lasting and durable solution to the large groups of non-citizens remaining on its territory since independence in 1991. The Government had encouraged them to apply for citizenship and simplified the naturalization procedures, resulting in a reduced number of non-citizens. Persons of indeterminate citizenship, however, had the right and opportunity to travel within the European Union without a visa, and to the Russian Federation, as well as to vote in local government elections.
For information media • not an official record