Sixty-third General Assembly
37th Meeting (AM)
Warn Future Displacement Could Be Due Not to Political Strife, But Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, Adding to Complexities of Issue
Delegates to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today stressed the need for innovative and enduring solutions to the problem of refugees -- whether through voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement -- amid worry that food shortages and natural disasters would create more refugees, and so further complicate the situation in unforeseen ways.
New global threats, such as environmental degradation and climate change, added to the complexity of the displacement issue, said the representative of Bangladesh. In the coming years, more people might be forcibly displaced not because of political strife, but due to the effects of climate change, requiring new strategies to be devised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In addition to its current involvement, the UNHCR should play a larger role to complement the United Nations' ongoing peacekeeping and peacebuilding work, while Member States, the donor community and civil society should enhance their support for the agency.
Zambia, which had been hosting refugees for over four decades, was currently home to approximately 87,000 people fleeing the fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by refugees from Angola and smaller numbers from Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia, its representative said. As with most host countries, the Government of Zambia was concentrating its efforts on voluntary repatriation, but the persistent challenge of Angolan refugees -- whose situation was being made worse by constraints on the ability of the World Food Programme (WFP) to support the feeding programme of vulnerable refugees, who were mainly Angolan -- had led the Government to consider other solutions, including local integration. The Government was currently holding discussions with the UNHCR on possible solutions to the problem.
Noting that a high number of displacements in Africa had been due to war, the representative of Kenya suggested that humanitarian initiatives begin incorporating conflict prevention or conflict resolution strategies into their overall plans. He noted with encouragement that 300,000 refugees had been able to return home after the consolidation of peace and security in Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. Meanwhile, he said the international community should support peacebuilding efforts by African States in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, recalling the Secretary-General's recommendation for greater collaboration between States, particularly in terms of commitments by the donor community to increase post-conflict and development aid to Africa.
Offering a view from Central Asia, the representative of Iran said that his country had hosted almost 3 million Afghan refugees over the past three decades, granting them residence permits and providing them with access to health, education and welfare services normally available to citizens. But assistance to Afghan refugees was being provided at a time when Iran was facing its own economic challenges, leading him to express hope that conditions in Afghanistan would pave the way for a more timely repatriation of Afghan refugees to their home country. A joint programme of voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees and displaced persons, signed in 2002 by the Governments of Iran and Afghanistan and the UNHCR, had already been extended five times to continue repatriation attempts.
Iran's representative added that the responsibility of receiving refugees should not be limited to one State, with others feeling no commitment to share the responsibility, especially in terms of financing. Although voluntary repatriation should always be considered as the preferred solution to the problem of refugees, the importance of resettlement in third countries should not be overlooked.
The representative of Afghanistan confirmed that around 3 million Afghans still remained in Pakistan and Iran, and that the Government's main objective in the next year would be to improve conditions for voluntary repatriation. The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, in partnership with the UNHCR, was providing land to landless returnees, as well as legal and employment assistance. But, the deterioration of the security situation caused by the terrorist activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaida had created difficulties for refugee return and restricted humanitarian assistance. An appeal for funds had been launched in January to address that issue, but only 32 per cent of the needed amount had been received.
Presenting a view of the refugee situation in Europe, Serbia's representative said his country was housing up to half a million refugees and displaced persons, comprising 5 per cent of the total population. Some 209,000 internally displaced were from Kosovo and Metohija, which was under interim United Nations administration. Serbia made every effort to make sure the internally displaced were provided a decent life, but it was an international responsibility to ensure full implementation of Security Council resolution 1244, which contained a key provision on the creation of conditions for a safe return. A lack of progress on that issue meant that only a few thousand had been able to return.
The representative of Malta, a small island State that received some 2,500 "boat people" this year already, compared to 1,700 that arrived last year, said his country believed in the principles of shared responsibility and had continuously requested assistance from European and other countries, as well as from the UNHCR. In addition, international obligations must be better implemented to protect and assist legal and genuine migrants, while stopping illegal migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings -- instances of "irregular" migration that Malta was particularly vulnerable to. Welcoming the "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum", Malta looked forward to working closely with countries of origin and transit to resolve migration-related problems.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the Republic of Korea, Yemen, Morocco, Thailand, Pakistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Liechtenstein, Algeria, Switzerland and Mauritania. Observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also made statements.
The representative of France spoke in the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 6 November, to hear the introduction of a number of draft resolutions and to take action on five draft proposals.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion on the Secretary-General's report on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions (for background, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3934).
JUNG JIN HO (Republic of Korea) expressed gratitude to all staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for their dedication to the cause of refugees. His country shared the concerns of other nations over the protracted refugee situation in several parts of the world, and welcomed the General Conclusion on International Protection adopted by the Executive Committee, which emphasized the significance of durable solutions, such as voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. There was also an urgent need to address the recent upsurge in "mixed migration", and factors such as climate change, food shortages and natural disasters that introduced complications to the refugee issue. He said he was encouraged by the enhanced cooperation among States, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in addressing problems arising from mixed migration, such as human trafficking.
He said the Government strongly supported the Office's efforts to reform its structure and management, including the streamlining of Headquarters and its "outposting" to Budapest in an effort to bring down administrative costs as a proportion of total expenditure. The regionalization and decentralization process was expected to strengthen management accountability by locating decision-making closer to the field. He was also glad to see noticeable progress in results-based management, with the introduction of "FOCUS" software and piloting of the Global Needs Assessment in 2008.
He stressed that the protection of refugees and other people of concern was a non-political, humanitarian act, not to be viewed from a security perspective. In that regard, he expressed concern over the repeated report of forced return by countries on the grounds of security reasons. The principle of non-refoulement should be upheld by all countries and should remain one of the foremost priorities in their refugee policies. He also expressed concern over the re-characterization of asylum-seekers and refugees that ran the risk of narrowing the concept of refugees. His country was pushing forward an amendment to the immigration control act, aimed at improving the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, and facilitating the asylum system. The Government was also planning to introduce a refugee support centre in the near future.
WAHEED ABDULWAHAB AHMED AL-SHAMI ( Yemen) said that wars, instability, extreme poverty, and other crises had led many people to move from their countries of origin and to look for other homelands, with a view to finding greater peace and stability. Despite efforts exerted by the international community to tackle that issue, the number of refugees in the world was increasing in a manner that was cause for concern. Redoubled efforts were needed to meet that challenge and to find effective solutions for such movement. Yemen had been among the first countries to ratify the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and was committed to implementing its responsibilities in that regard. Since the early 1990s, Yemen had been suffering from a flow of refugees, as a result of the political, economic and social situation in the Horn of Africa, especially in Somalia. Indeed, the rates of smuggling refugees from that region had tripled in the previous year, from August 2007 to August 2008.
Continuing, he said that Yemen had received those refugees and had tried to meet all their basic needs and rights, such as their right to health, work and education. In addition, it had also tried to find solutions for the root causes of the problem. For instance, it had tried to help find a viable political solution to the ongoing conflicts in Somalia by hosting a number of meetings and conferences in an effort to bring together the various factions in that country. However, Yemen faced a number of challenges due to the influx of refugees from that region, both economic problems and social ones. In closing, he praised the efforts of the UNHCR and expressed his delegation's support for the ongoing reforms of that Office. He also urged States and donor countries to improve the support that they could offer countries that hosted refugees.
SAVIOUR F. BORG ( Malta), aligning himself with the European Union, discussed the issue of illegal immigration in the context of the Mediterranean and its serious effects on Malta. His country recognized that migration could and should be a positive contribution to the development and cultural wealth of countries, and better management of those flows could promote closer ties between countries of origin, transit and destination. By implementing international obligations to protect refugees and displaced persons -- while preventing illegal migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings -- it would be possible to protect and assist legal and genuine migrants.
He said more needed to be done to protect men, women and child refugees from discrimination, trafficking and exploitation, as well as from human suffering. The loss of life caused by the precarious methods used to cross the Mediterranean Sea was a tragedy that could no longer be accepted or tolerated. Unregulated human trafficking across the Mediterranean was a well-known phenomenon that had a negative impact on genuine refugees and persons qualifying for lawful humanitarian status. Malta was more vulnerable to those challenges, due to its position and exposed coastline, and an "unprecedented increase" in the influx of irregular migrants that had been rescued from the sea or landed in Malta had made its share of responsibilities more difficult to bear. The number of boat people arriving since 2002 totalled 11,448 and, so far this year it had already received 2,522 such people, compared to 1,702 through the end of last year.
He pointed out that Malta had the highest number of asylum applications per capita in Europe, as well as the highest acceptance rate. Since setting up the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees six years ago, Malta had received 7,851 applications for refugee and humanitarian status. Indeed, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and as a member of the IOM, Malta was committed to its obligations in terms of receiving and assessing asylum-seekers. However, Malta's ability to cope with the challenge was constrained by a lack of human and financial resources, and its limited absorption capacity as a small island State. For that reason, the country had continuously requested assistance in tackling the problem through the principles of shared responsibility from European and other countries, and from the United Nations refugee office. Welcoming the "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum", Malta looked forward to working closely with countries of origin and transit and, within the context of the European Pact, to resolving problems faced by various countries, including by Malta itself.
HAMID CHABAR ( Morocco) said that humanitarian action, in today's world, was being constantly solicited and humanitarian workers were often exposed to all sorts of dangers. As such, he asked the Committee what needed to be done to make humanitarian assistance as effective as possible, for workers and populations under protection alike. The cardinal principles of the UNHCR were more relevant now than ever before, and it was essential for the Office to be able to fulfil its mandate. Indeed, it would be considered "morally unacceptable" for that mandate to be hindered for political or ideological reasons. As such, the mandate of the UNHCR must be fully respected, in conformity with its statutes and relevant international conventions.
However, he continued, the social and humanitarian activities of the UNHCR were still not separated from "political connotations". That was why his country continued to call for the separation of civilian populations and armed elements, in situations of armed conflict and in relation to humanitarian aid. In addition, he drew attention to the ongoing need for a comprehensive census of refugee populations. The UNHCR should not be denied the right to conduct such a census in host countries, since, without concrete information, the Office would not be able to organize the most effective aid and assistance. Host countries had a responsibility to allow, without delay, a census of relevant populations. Nowhere in the world did refugees want to remain refugees indefinitely. Thus, voluntary repatriation should be encouraged and efforts made to ensure the process happened in a reasonable period of time. In conclusion, he expressed his delegation's support for the work of the UNHCR and its willingness to help limit any pressures that might harm its programmes.
LAZAROUS KAPAMBWE (Zambia), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADD), said he was concerned about the continued increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide, due to extreme deprivation, environmental degradation, climate change, conflict and persecution for a second consecutive year. He welcomed, however, the progress made in achieving durable solutions across the African continent and the continued decrease in refugees since 2001. He noted that the 12.7 million internally displaced persons in Africa accounted for half of the world total. It was a disturbing trend which required the concerted efforts of the international community.
He said Zambia had been hosting refugees for over four decades and was currently hosting approximately 87,000 refugees. They came primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo followed by Angola, along with smaller numbers from Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia. Zambia had concentrated its efforts on voluntary repatriation due to the continued peace and relative stability in the region. He gave an update on the repatriation exercise and noted that, while repatriation was voluntary, conditions for return should be sustainable and in accordance with the criteria set by the UNHCR. Zambia continued to face the challenge of a residual caseload of Angolan refugees some of whom were vulnerable and not self-reliant. While voluntary repatriation was the preferred durable solution, there had been discussions between the UNHCR and the Government of Zambia to consider other durable solutions, including local integration.
He said there was a looming food crisis, due to the inability of the World Food Programme (WFP) to continue with the feeding programme of vulnerable refugees, mainly from Angola. The development was unfortunate and would create gaps in basic provisions and services to vulnerable refugees. It was imperative that the UNHCR did not allow the situation to deteriorate. Zambia remained committed to its international obligations under the refugee conventions to which it was a State party.
SLAVKO KRULJEVIC ( Serbia) said the problem of refugees and internally displaced persons was "very much present" in his country and, for that reason, the Government had assigned significant financial resources, including those made available through international support. "That support was highly appreciated and, unfortunately, still very much needed", he added. Further, the United Nations refugee office had listed Serbia in the group of five countries with a protracted refugee situation, and had pledged its support to Serbia accordingly. There were 98,000 registered refugees in Serbia, but if the count was expanded to include those who had received Serbian citizenship, but not had their "rights fully reinstated in the countries of origin", that number rose to 300,000.
With more than 209,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, the Serbian province under interim United Nations administration, the number stood at half a million, or more than 5 per cent of the country's total population, he added. Further, 8,200 people were living in "collective centres", and some of them had been living in such places for more than 15 years. The situation of the 40,000-strong Roma community was "extremely difficult", since they lived in temporary settlements without basic conditions for normal life.
He said that, in terms of assistance provided to refugees and internally displaced persons by his Government, it had sought to provide two options: to make it possible for them to return home; or to integrate locally. Voluntary return was thought to be the best, durable solution. Serbia staunchly advocated the implementation of the Sarajevo Declaration as a way of addressing those issues at the regional level and, for that reason, strongly believed that returnees had all their rights restituted in countries of origin -- including the rights to occupancy, tenancy, property, labour or pension -- or were compensated. Most signatory States had met their obligations, but some had not, which had accounted for a delay in the Sarajevo process.
Serbia had made every effort to make sure that internally displaced persons were provided a decent life, he said. But, it was a duty of the international presence in the area to ensure full implementation of Security Council resolution 1244, of which one of the key provisions was the creation of conditions for a safe return. The return of only a few thousand was due to a lack of progress in that field and, indeed, it had been estimated that only 17,000 internally displaced persons out of nearly an estimated 230,000 had returned to Kosovo. Also, Serbia was hampered by considerable financial strictures, being a country of transition. For that reason, assistance from the international community was considered indispensable.
SEYED MOHSEN EMADI ( Iran) said that, during the past three decades, his country had hosted almost 3 million Afghan refugees, granting them residence permits and providing them with access to the same basic health, education and welfare services that all Iranian nationals were privy to. Such assistance took place at a time when Iran was confronted with economic challenges and despite inadequate international assistance. The massive influx had negatively affected the socio-economic situation in Iran, and he expressed his country's hope that the conditions in Afghanistan would pave the way for the repatriation of Afghan refugees to their home country, in a timely and promising manner. In 2002, Iran signed the first joint programme of voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees and displaced persons with the Government of that country and the UNHCR. That programme had been extended five times in an effort to continue repatriation efforts.
Turning to the situation in Iraq, he said that the needs of Iraqi refugees in Iran should not be overlooked by the international community. Iran had proved its "extreme support" for refugees and displaced persons, generously hosting them and implementing programmes for voluntary repatriation. In light of such efforts, the international community should make good on its commitments and extend greater help to Iraqi and Afghan refugees and displaced persons. Though voluntary repatriation should always be considered as the preferred solution to the problem of refugees, the importance of resettlement in third countries should not be overlooked. The responsibility of receiving refugees should not be limited to one State, with others feeling no commitment to sharing the responsibility, especially in terms of financing.
PORNPAN MAH ( Thailand) said that, for over three decades, the UNHCR had stood beside Thailand, "shouldering the burden of refugees and displaced persons with us". Thailand had faced the challenge of "mixed migration", hosting 130,000 displaced persons, while managing 2 million to 3 million illegal migrants. Such a situation mirrored the challenges that many countries faced, namely, how to strike a balance between legitimate protection, humanitarian concerns and national security. At present, the international community was facing a global economic upheaval, and the accompanying global rise in the price of staple foods had already had an alarming impact on refugees and displaced persons. As a host country of displaced persons in protracted situations, Thailand had tried to do its part to respond to the expected shortage in food supplies for temporary shelters. She urged countries to donate funds for those food supplies and, overall, to fulfil their international commitments in that regard.
Turning to the issue of resettlement, she said that her Government fully understood that phenomenon, since Thailand was part of the largest UNHCR resettlement programme in Asia. While focusing on resettlement as a durable solution, the international community should also concentrate on prevention and solution measures in the countries of origin, to address the root causes of the issue. To that end, the international community and the UNHCR should support efforts that were already under way to promote the political, economic and social conditions in countries of origin, such as development and income-generation projects. The largest share of the burden of displacement had always been, and was still being, shouldered mostly by developing countries, including the least developed countries. Now, as the global community braced for an economic downturn, it was time for the international community to step up efforts to assist developing countries.
SULJUK MUSTANSAR TARAR ( Pakistan) noted that the number of people displaced due to conflict and natural disasters, which had risen alarmingly in the past year, demanded urgent attention from the international community. States had a common responsibility to ensure transparency, neutrality and impartiality in coordinating humanitarian responses to the problem. Indeed, the problem of refugees must be seen in the context of the humanitarian needs of refugees, as well as the socio-economic and political realties of host countries. In addition, the protracted presence of refugees in any country entailed various consequences that needed to be fully appreciated and compensated. Efforts to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems and socio-economic structures must be redoubled. The United Nations refugee office must give assistance to host communities adversely affected by the presence of refugees. The global rise in food prices and the effects of climate change had further impacted the ability of developing States to provide for the requirements of huge refugee populations within their borders, and new international initiatives were needed to target malnutrition and disease among refugees. Hopefully, the UNHCR would cooperate with the host Government to develop programmes to address such concerns.
He said Pakistan had hosted the largest refugee population in the world since the 1980s, which, at its peak, had stood at 4 million people. In February 2007, the Government of Pakistan, in coordination with the United Nations refugee office, had completed its first registration of Afghans in the country. Over 2.1 million had been registered, or 10 per cent of the global refugee population. While Pakistan respected the principles of voluntarism and repatriation, the returns must be sustainable. It was important to create a pull factor for the voluntary return of Afghan refugees, including through "individual and family return packages". In addition, rehabilitation and sustainable reintegration of Afghan refugees into their own society would contribute greatly to regional stability. At the same time, the international community must share responsibility for the maintenance of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, as international funding for that purpose had shrunk since 2002.
SEIF ALI IDDI (United Republic of Tanzania) noted his country's long history as host for refugees from neighbouring countries and raised deep concerns about the increasing numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons. The international community must address the causes of conflicts and increase efforts in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding, because of the high number of internally displaced persons affected by conflict. More support for the UNHCR was called for, including assuring the safe and unhindered access of its personnel, as well as an increased focus on extreme deprivation, environmental degradation, and climate change, all newer and more complex causes of displacement.
In Tanzania, efforts to find a durable solution to the refugee problem had been made between its Government, the UNHCR and the donor community to develop a comprehensive durable solution strategy, with its basis on voluntary repatriation, naturalization and local integration. He expressed appreciation to the donor community and the international community for the positive responses in the early stages of funding that strategy, and he urged them to fulfil their Supplementary Appeal commitment and to contribute to funding for the process of local integration.
He acknowledged and fully supported the work of the High Commissioner and the international community in efforts to find a durable solution to the protracted caseload of the 1972 Burundi refugees. After the signing of the Arusha agreement, there was now an enabling environment in Burundi to warrant the return of the refugees to their homeland. To that end, the Government intended to close, by the end of the year, one of the remaining two refugee camps hosting them. The Government was currently undertaking the huge task of naturalizing 218,000 Burundian refugees, representing 79 per cent of the refugees who came to Tanzania in 1972. By the end of October 2008, 153,000 application forms for naturalization had been submitted by refugees -- 89 per cent of those who had registered for naturalization. For the 45,000 refugees, or 21 per cent, who opted to repatriate to the country of origin, 22,000 had already returned home.
He said the report on Burundi had captured a very salient feature -- land constituted one of the major challenges that impeded effective reintegration in that country. Repatriation and reintegration were interlinked in any sustainable programme, and Burundi faced a challenge of opening up more State land in order to increase absorption capacity and make the repatriation process sustainable
GÜNTER FROMMELT ( Liechtenstein) noted with great concern the high number of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide at the end of 2007 – 63 million -- half of whom fell under the responsibility of the UNHCR. Their situation had been exacerbated by the global financial, food and energy crises, and the looming economic slowdown. Finding durable solutions was a key concern, and a lack of funding for the most basic humanitarian needs could divert attention from long-term thinking. As such, he urged the Office to continue its work on the three approaches outlined in the report.
Voluntary repatriation was not a possible solution, and he thus supported effective regional approaches, with higher priority given to internally displaced persons throughout the United Nations system. Liechtenstein had worked closely with the UNHCR in Geneva and, for years, had contributed -– financially and by secondment -– to its activities. On the theme of protection, he looked forward to the adoption of a conclusion on the issue of international protection, highlighting also the principle of "non-refoulement". Encouraged that the principle was gaining recognition among non-States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention, he noted with concern ongoing violations.
Calling the High Commissioner's efforts to streamline the Geneva Office and strengthen field operations a "sensible undertaking", he said the fact that contributions were mostly voluntary complicated planning. Given that, boosting bilateral and multilateral cooperation was essential.
ZACHARY D. MUBURI-MUITA ( Kenya) noted with concern the rise of displacement in Africa in 2007 due to armed conflict, and expressed the belief that the time had come for African Governments, subregional and regional organizations to take decisive action to address the root causes of conflicts before they resulted in a humanitarian crisis. In that context, peacebuilding and the resolution and prevention of conflicts ought to be integrated into the overall humanitarian strategy. Initiatives by African States in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, in that regard, should be provided with full international support, in line with the Secretary-General's recommendation for greater collaboration between States, particularly in terms of commitments from the donor community to increase post-conflict and development aid to Africa. For its part, Kenya would continue to play a role in the search for peace in Somalia and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the Sudan.
He said that, as a signatory to the Geneva Convention and the 1969 African Union Convention governing refugee problems in Africa, Kenya respected the provisions regarding the granting of access to genuine asylum-seekers and facilitating the delivery of assistance to refugees. In addition, the Kenyan Government was supportive of African Union efforts to produce a draft convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons. It was collaborating closely, as well, with the United Nations refugee office to manage the situation of refugees in the country, whose population stood at over 265,000 people. Among the constraints faced by Kenya were small arms smuggling and the threat of terrorism triggered by the situation in Somalia.
Turning to the violence experienced by Kenya after the recent election, during which 300,000 people were displaced, he said the Government had been able to help 280,000 people return voluntarily to their homes, in cooperation with development partners, the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Kenya was deeply appreciative for the personal interest of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as the generous support provided by the Panel of Imminent African Persons. Believing that voluntary repatriation, local integration and third country resettlement was the most durable solution to the refugee problem, Kenya was encouraged to note that 300,000 refugees were able to return home after the consolidation of peace and security in 2008 in Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and other countries. Plans that allowed Burundian refugees to reintegrate and remain in the United Republic of Tanzania were particularly notable.
SALIMA ABDELHAK ( Algeria) said that the increase in internally and externally displaced persons, due to conflict, environmental issues or other economic or humanitarian reasons, had resulted in a more diversified group of refugees. The UNHCR was being asked to do even more work to respond to the changing needs of refugees, and its work had become even more complex. That complexity necessitated greater coordination and collaboration among States, the UNHCR and other relevant international agencies to ensure an effective response. While welcoming the voluntary return of a certain number of refugees, as mentioned in the report, she stressed the need to find lasting solutions for the reintegration of those populations and said supplementary efforts must be made to guarantee the safety of those persons.
For three decades, Algeria had welcomed refugees from the Western Sahara and she expressed her delegation's appreciation for the support that the UNHCR had given her country in that respect. Algeria was committed to meeting the needs of those refugees, currently living in camps in Tindouf, a region that, itself, was a difficult one to live in due to the climate. In April 2008, the UNHCR had facilitated the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Algeria and the World Health Organization(WHO), aimed at improving the support and assistance for those living in the camps. She expressed her country's hope that the memorandum would be extended beyond its initial 18-month period, in order to guarantee food rations to the most vulnerable groups of persons within the camps. Those refugees depended on international humanitarian aid. Currently, the camps were self-managed by the refugees themselves who, despite enormous difficulties, did all they could to provide health and education services to the camp population. In closing, she thanked all States and organizations that had helped support those refugees and called on all parties to help find a more sustainable solution to their problem.
TAREQ MD. ARIFUL ISLAM ( Bangladesh) said the world was seeing "widespread flouting of international law and a flagrant violation of refugees' rights". New global threats, such as environmental degradation and climate change, added to the complexity of the displacement issue. In the coming years, more people might be forcibly displaced not because of political strife, but due to the effects of climate change. The United Nations refugee office must devise strategies to address such challenges, which had already "significantly ameliorated" the situation of refugees in Bangladesh, especially with regard to identifying, preventing and reducing statelessness. It was hoped that the Office's second dialogue on protection needs, scheduled for next December, would contribute to resolving the protracted refugee situation in Bangladesh.
He said that Bangladesh and the United Nations refugee office had agreed to reactivate the tripartite mechanism with Myanmar to complete the voluntary repatriation of the remaining 27,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. New identity cards were introduced by the United Nations refugee office, which were recognized by the Government as valid identity documents, and had brought noticeable protection benefits, particularly for refugee women. It was heartening to note that the UNHCRwas striving to devote more of its resources to the field; he said he believed the world refugee population would benefit from the decentralization and regionalization of the Office's work. In addition to its current involvement, the refugee office should play a larger role to complement the United Nations' ongoing peacekeeping and peacebuilding work. All Member States, the donor community and civil society were urged to enhance their support for the United Nations refugee office, in light of the growing scale and complexity of forced displacement, particularly due to climate change.
ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) said the UNHCR was providing "precious support" to the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in protecting and supporting refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons and in creating conditions conducive for their voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return and reintegration. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, more than 5.4 million Afghans had returned, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. Some 3 million Afghans, however, still remained in Pakistan and Iran. Afghanistan's main objective in 2008-2009 would be to improve conditions for voluntary repatriation and for integration. In that regard, he underlined the importance of the provision in the tripartite agreement that stressed the need to facilitate voluntary repatriation from Iran and Pakistan.
He said the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, in partnership with the UNHCR, provided such assistance as: shelter for the most vulnerable families; allocation of land to landless returnees; legal and employment assistance; and assistance to women and girls. The deterioration of the security situation caused by the terrorist activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaida had created difficulties for refugee return and restricted humanitarian assistance. The situation was compounded by the global rise in food prices, the current drought and the approaching winter. A joint appeal had been launched in January to address that issue, but only 32 per cent of the needed amount had been received. An estimated 540,000 refugees would return over the next two years. Afghanistan and the UNHCR would co-host an international conference on return and reintegration on 19 November in Kabul to address those issues and to mobilize additional resources.
JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY ( Switzerland) said that the primary responsibility for the protection of refugees lay with States, and he welcomed UNHCR efforts to devise instruments and approaches to strengthening the reception and protection capacity of countries confronted with large refugee flows. Switzerland had been active in that area and had developed a "regional protection" concept, with a view to contributing to more rapid and more effective protection of refugees in their region of origin. In regard to the negotiation process for the general conclusion on international protection, he said several significant advances had been made, such as the integration of age, gender and diversity criteria, as well as the clarification of the role of the UNHCR in relation to internal displacement. The Executive Committee's conclusions were particularly important and they would help to fill certain gaps in the area of protection.
Tens of millions of persons, displaced within their own country, had a specific and increasing need for protection, he continued. In recent years, the UNHCR had intensified its engagement on behalf of internally displaced persons. Concerning the protection and assistance on behalf of civilian populations in the event of non-international armed conflict, he recalled the specific mandate granted to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and called upon the UNHCR and the ICRC to pursue a "clear and constructive" dialogue in Geneva, as well as in the countries of operations. Since 2007, the number of refugees throughout the world had increased, especially in urban areas. New and adapted responses were now required, especially in terms of identification, registration, aid delivery modalities and protection. One of the new challenges that would inevitably and urgently affect the international community was the impact of climate change and, in closing, he expressed his Government's determination to include that issue in its humanitarian and development activities.
DOMINIQUE BUFF, the Observer Mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said, in the previous few months alone, hundreds of thousands of civilians had fled their places of residence, "forced out" by their fear of armed violence, and the ICRC provided a wide range of services aimed at protecting and assisting such persons. Displacement was often a very concrete consequence of violations of international humanitarian law, such as deliberate attacks against civilians. Internally displaced persons were often cut off from their usual support and their vulnerability was, thus, increased dramatically. However, greater concern for internally displaced persons should not come at the expense of other people at risk, and any discussion that emphasized the plight of those persons should not be interpreted to imply that those who had not been displaced were comparatively safer. Overall, there was no single solution to the plight of internally displaced persons, and it was necessary to develop innovative responses to deal effectively with the specific needs of internally displaced persons, those hosting internally displaced persons, and those left behind.
The ICRC had a legal mandate to ensure the protection of internally displaced persons and to provide them with assistance, he continued. However, the demands far exceeded the response capacity of any one organization, and the ICRC welcomed the increase in the number and diversity of humanitarian actors protecting and assisting people at risk. Continued efforts would be required to ensure that such increases translated into tangible results at the field level. The two challenges facing humanitarian actors working in situations of armed conflict or violence were the need to better understand increasingly diverse and complex environments, and the need to deliver an effective response to a multitude of needs. In 2007, the ICRC and its Red Cross/Red Crescent partners had provided assistance and protection to 4.1 million displaced people and returnees in 27 countries. In that context, the UNCHR and the ICRC had complementary mandates and a long tradition of cooperation, enriched by a close operational dialogue. The challenge now was to push that dialogue even further, in search of enhanced results for people at risk. He also drew attention to the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, an important network in the general humanitarian effort. To enhance that Movement's contributions in the area of internal displacement, the ICRC was helping to draft a policy on internal displacement to reinforce the available capacities of the Movement in emergencies.
LUCA DALL'OGLIO, Permanent Observer, International Organization for Migration, said that, as highlighted in the report before the Committee, the causes of displacement and human mobility were becoming increasingly intertwined. The lines between economic and political reasons for moving had become harder to distinguish, and traditional notions of voluntary and forced were becoming more nuanced. Movements caused directly or indirectly by climate change and environmental degradation further added to the complexity of an already complicated landscape. The growing global challenge was how to successfully and humanely manage migration, while ensuring international protection for refugees, and one area where the UNHCR and the IOM worked together was on the issue of asylum. The two bodies created and co-chaired the Mixed Migration Task Force, as part of their work on the "protection cluster" in Somalia, which was recognized by the United Nations refugee office as a model of good practice. It had held a regional workshop on mixed migration flows in May, in Sana'a, Yemen, and would hold a second in Dakar, Senegal. In December, the IOM Council would hold a session devoted to a discussion of mixed migration flows from a migration management perspective.
He said the two bodies also worked together in the field, along with other organizations. For example, their work with the Italian Red Cross and the Italian Government, in Lampedusa, Italy, was often cited as a model for assistance to migrants reaching Italian shores from across the Mediterranean Sea. The two bodies were also working closely in the "camp coordination and camp management cluster", with the IOM taking the lead in situations resulting from natural disasters, while the United Nations refugee office took the lead in situations of conflict-induced displacement. Further, the IOM was also offering to host workshops on displacement resulting from climate change, environmental degradation and population movements, to which it had devoted considerable policy and research efforts. In addition, it valued its participation in the resettlement working group and would seek to support the growing number of countries willing to participate in international burden-sharing efforts in any way it could.
MICHAEL SCHULZ, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the IFRC recommended on 30 November 2007 that the movement embarked on a strategic initiative in humanitarian assistance and protection for migrants, irrespective of their legal status. As a result, the IFRC was undertaking to develop a global policy on migration for its national societies. He said the move would enhance the predictability as to what they could do in providing assistance and protection for migrants, including asylum-seekers and refugees. A new advisory board of senior experts from 16 national societies had met on 24 September to embark on the initiative.
He noted that the IFRC had a long-standing tradition of work with migrants and the UNHCR. Based on reports from their global network, the multiple global crises in recent months had affected migrants and particularly women via unemployment and other vulnerabilities. In their auxiliary role, the national societies depended on the respect of public authorities for the humanitarian prerogative to assist migrants, irrespective of their legal status. Humanitarian principles could not be applied selectively. He agreed with the High Commissioner's concern about the increasing difficulties for asylum-seekers to claim asylum, especially if they were part of "mixed population movements". The IFRC fully supported specific legal and institutional regimes with regard to different categories of concern. It was with a sense of complementarity and partnership that Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies would pursue an encompassing approach, focusing on needs and vulnerabilities.
The need for complementarity and partnership was underlined by the UNHCR's Note on International Protection, which pointed out a number of cross-cutting protection risks that affected people on the move regardless of their status. Xenophobia often put foreigners at risk of discriminatory administrative practices, exploitation in the labour market, human trafficking and other abuses.
ABDERRAHIM OULD HADRAMI ( Mauritania) said his country had worked in close cooperation with the UNHCR to meet the requirements of the Geneva Convention and its Protocol, and to implement its obligations into national policies. Such efforts were aimed at improving assistance provided to refugees in the country, to further protection measures for those persons, and to raise overall awareness on refugee issues. Mauritania continued to work towards the ongoing return of refugees from Senegal and Mali, in cooperation with the United Nations. Recently, the Government of Mauritania had signed an agreement for the return of refugees from Senegal and, in accordance with that agreement, it had undertaken all the necessary arrangements to ensure that the return took place in an environment of safety and security.
Right of Reply
The representative of France, responding to the representative of the Sudan, said that her Government would hope for a radical change on the part of the Sudanese Government, so that it would: cooperate with the International Criminal Court with respect to the case involving Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb; move towards a settlement in terms of the Darfur crisis; cease hostilities and secure the safety of humanitarian workers; ensure the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID); and ensure the normalization of relations with Chad. In addition, France urged a political solution to the crisis, under the joint mediation of the African Union and the United Nations.
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