I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
The European Union wishes to congratulate the High Commissioner, Mr. António Guterres, for his complete, detailed and instructive report on the work of his office during 2007.
We would also wish to thank the High Commissioner and all UNHCR staff, especially the personnel working on the ground, for their courage and commitment, in many occasions putting at risk their own safety. Finally, we would like to express our deepest respect and sympathy to all those who lost their lives working for the protection of refugees.
This was another demanding year for UNHCR as, for the first time in five years, we witnessed a disturbing increase in the number of refugees to almost 10 million. In addition, the number of internally displaced people continues to rise to a worrying 24 million worldwide, mainly as a result of violence and armed conflicts.
The EU congratulates all delegations for their hard work during last Octobers EXCOM and welcomes the adoption of a number of important decisions that will certainly contribute towards strengthening cooperation on international protection and assistance. In particular, the EU welcomes the conclusion adopted on Children at Risk. Children, including the specific needs of girls, constitute a group with special needs and vulnerabilities and as such should be among the first to receive protection and assistance. The debate on NGO participation in the EXCOM was also enlightening. The EU appreciates the important work of NGOs in alleviating the dire situation of refugees and IDPs around the world and sees them as crucial UNHCR partners.
The EU welcomes and supports the draft resolution under this agenda item on the Office of the UNHCR. We are also pleased with the result of the negotiation process, held in Geneva, under the coordination of Denmark on behalf of the Nordic countries. This draft, while presenting a balanced overview of UNHCR activities, emphasizes the relevant work already undertaken by the Office in the field of international protection and in seeking permanent solutions for refugees. The text also underlines recent efforts carried out by UNHCR in order to strengthen its capacity to adequately respond to emergencies.
The EU acknowledges the important role of UNHCR in the protection of IDPs. We are deeply concerned with the current situation of internally displaced people in Iraq as well as the situation of Iraqi refugees abroad and we would like to acknowledge the solidarity shown by the refugee-hosting countries in the region, especially Syria and Jordan, for their work in providing relief to almost 2 million Iraqis.
Regarding the situation in Sudan, we regret the continuing security problems faced daily by humanitarian personnel. The EU remains deeply concerned with attacks by armed groups to humanitarian workers in the province of Darfur and other neighbouring regions of the country and we call on the Government of Sudan to ensure security conditions and to entrust the UNHCR with the authority for the overall protection and camp coordination for IDPs. The adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1778 establishing a multidimensional presence in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic is welcomed by the EU and we are confident that this will help create better security conditions in the region.
The EU fully supports the UNHCR in its role as leader of the Protection Cluster. The EU also welcomes the fruitful partnership engaged by the UNHCR with other international organizations in the context of the cluster approach, notably in the areas of protection, emergency shelter and camp management. The EU stresses the importance of partnerships in all the clusters that UNHCR is responsible for, both with NGOs and with the International Federation of the Red Cross, as well as agencies such as the International Organization for Migration.
The EU strongly supports the UNHCRs structural and management change process currently underway. This will certainly maximize UNHCRs responsiveness to the needs of its beneficiaries, not only by locating staff and services closer to the point of delivery, but also by channeling more of its resources into operational activities through reduction of administrative and headquarter costs.
The EU looks forward to participating in the High Commissioners Dialogue on Protection Challenges, which will be held in December, and welcomes that this initiative will focus on protection in the context of mixed population movements and also on the framework of the 10 Point-Plan of Action. Secondary movements, both north-south and south-south, can become a major protection problem, with high risk of creating regional tensions, and the EU therefore stresses the importance of discussing this issue in the appropriate fora.
The EU is pleased with the suggestions and proposals made by the UNHCR in response to the Green Paper on the Future Common European Asylum System, which intends to establish a common asylum procedure by 2010. The establishment of a Common European Asylum System emerged from the idea of making the European Union a single protection area for refugees, based on the full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention and on the common humanitarian values shared by all Member States. We count on UNHCRs additional constructive inputs in this process.
Before I conclude, Mr. Chairman, let me congratulate the High Commissioner, Mr. António Guterres, for his dedication and efforts in placing on the international agenda some of the most urgent humanitarian crisis and for his dynamic work in alleviating the needs of refugees worldwide. We look forward to our continued fruitful cooperation with UNHCR.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.