I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Associated Countries – Cyprus, Malta and Turkey, as well as the EFTA country of the European Economic Area – Iceland, align themselves with this statement.
Refugees represent one of the most pressing issues facing the international community today. The plight of the world’s refugees is not only a major humanitarian issue, but also an issue of regional stability.
Many of today’s conflicts have resulted in protracted refugee crises with the risk of exacerbation of cross border tension and other possible negative consequences. We need to focus more on refugees of the world – in order to ensure necessary humanitarian aid and to find lasting solutions.
In addressing its important tasks in this regard UNHCR has to adapt to changing circumstances without sacrificing respect for principle. In many ways, the recent 53rd session of the Executive Committee was an indication of the readiness of UNHCR and member states to seek innovative solutions to existing challenges.
The Agenda for Protection is the outcome of the Global Consultation Process that was launched by UNHCR in 2000. It is a statement of goals and objectives and an important inventory of recommended actions to reinforce the international protection of refugees. The EU is firmly committed to take active part in the follow-up. We are looking forward to the further dialogue with UNHCR in this regard. To make the Agenda as effective as possible, we must prioritise and identify responsibilities.
At the recent Executive Committee the High Commissioner drew attention to the need for creating new agreements that would supplement the 1951 Convention and its Protocol and form part of a multilateral framework for protecting refugees and achieving durable solutions, primarily in the regions of origin and especially with respect to burden sharing, responsibility sharing, and achieving durable solutions. The High Commissioner named this initiative Convention Plus.
In addition, during the Executive Committee, the High Commissioner launched an initiative regarding the creation of a Forum that will consist of experts from UNHCR, states and other relevant actors.
The EU takes note with great interest of these interlinked initiatives, which build upon the momentum created by the Agenda, and looks forward to engage in further dialogue with UNHCR on these issues.
The importance of progress towards better burden- and responsibility sharing was prominently reflected in the debate at the Executive Committee 2002. Convention Plus is one element of this. In December, at the European Council meeting in Copenhagen, the EU Presidency will focus further on this issue in a EU context.
The development of effective systems of refugee registration and documentation are core processes to improve the quality and impact of protection and assistance. In the Global Consultation Process, the necessity of an effective registration system, including biometric features, was confirmed, and it has been reflected in the Agenda for Protection. The EU is pleased to note – as indicated by the High Commissioner at the recent Executive Committee – that priority will be given to the establishment of such a system.
Refugee protection is not limited to the enforcement of rights and obligations. It also extends to the ability of refugees to lead a meaningful and dignified life while in exile and to make a positive contribution to their host country and their country of origin if they are eventually able to return home. In this context enhanced self-reliance is a key word.
The European Union welcomes the efforts of the High Commissioner to ensure that more is done to achieve sustainable solutions. This implies an increased emphasis on transitional needs in post-conflict and protracted refugee situations.
In particular, more should be done to secure the sustainability of return and reintegration of refugees in their home areas. The large-scale refugee return to Afghanistan is an important success story, but also a major challenge. To ensure sustainable reintegration and to facilitate further return it is now necessary to step up activities in the area of rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Also, we should strengthen and support integration of refugees in their host communities, while recognising the contribution of the strategic use of resettlement in providing durable solutions for a limited number of cases.
At the same time, we have to address root causes more vigorously. Without conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peace building and confidence building the international community will be continuously faced with protracted refugee situations. Solutions to refugee crises often lie in a comprehensive approach to conflict situations, including regional approaches.
For activities that are more of a long-term nature we welcome the efforts of the High Commissioner to continue strengthening co-operation with all relevant partners, in particular with the World Bank and UNDP aiming at a much more integrated approach to tackle the humanitarian and development issues surrounding refugee situations.
The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD, is aimed at bringing the continent back on the path to peace, stability and prosperity through sustainable development Considerable attention was given at the recent Executive Committee to the scope for including refugee concerns. The European Union believes that this initiative could be useful also in respect of efforts to include refugees and returnees in overall development plans.
About 80 pct. of the world’s uprooted people are women and children. This year’s world Refugee Day was an occasion to pay tribute to the vital role and contributions of the millions of women refugees, who hold their families together in the most difficult circumstances.
Recent allegations of sexual abuse in refugee camps in West Africa were a stark reminder that refugee women and children have an enhanced need for protection. A plan of action prepared by an Inter-Agency Standing Committee task force and addressing a number of prevention, response management and implementation issues has been endorsed by the concerned Heads of UN Agencies. We note that UNHCR has taken steps to initiate necessary preventive action, including the elaboration of a specific Code of Conduct. We also expect other agencies to give the matter the attention it deserves.
Today’s humanitarian crises – and the human suffering and displacement that accompany them – do not only lead to large flows of refugees. Every year millions of people are forced to flee their homes in order to search for a measure of safety within their own country.
Sheer numbers are one reason why IDPs have received so much attention over the last years. The precarious situation under which many IDPs live is another.
The difficulties of reaching internally displaced people in insecure and isolated areas are well known. Sometimes, it is simply not possible for the international society to obtain access to exposed IDP populations.
The gravity of the needs of the displaced populations may differ. But the displaced all tend to have one thing in common: they generally lack necessary protection and assistance. Apart from physical insecurity and persecution, they are often deprived of adequate shelter, food, safe water, medicine and education.
Primary responsibility for the internally displaced rests with the respective Governments. Where Governments do not have resources and capacities to ensure the basic assistance and protection needs of civilian populations, it is incumbent on them, however, to invoke the support of the international system and to ensure that humanitarian organisations have full access to all displaced persons.
The EU wishes to express its support for the continued efforts within the UN system to ensure that the needs of IDPs are met in an effective and comprehensive manner, including most recently the establishment of a special unit for IDPs within OCHA, and through the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, as developed by the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons. The basis for the work of the UN system is the collaborative approach. We appreciate UNHCRs efforts to increase transparency as to the extent of its role.
UNHCR is a uniquely mandated organisation and has an indispensable role to play in favour of the world’s refugees. In view of its mandate it has a special responsibility in relation to the co-ordination of the overall assistance efforts in individual refugee situations.
Nevertheless, UNHCR continues to experience serious financial difficulties. Lack of funding threatens to severely limit the ability of the organisation to fulfil its duties. In view of repeated reductions in the budget the need to counteract the persistent shortfalls have now assumed a degree of urgency.
The European Union recognises the importance of the efforts of the High Commissioner to broaden the donor base and achieve a more equitable burden sharing. We support UNHCR’s efforts to attract additional resources, including complementary funding, aimed at securing funding of its budget.
The extent of the financial support of individual member states of the EU for the work of UNHCR is well known. In addition, the European Commission is providing substantial funds to UNHCR. This brings the European Union as a whole to become by far the largest contributor to UNHCR. The European Commission and UNHCR are engaged in a strategic dialogue, which serves to underline the importance of this partnership.
The magnitude of the tasks in the area of international refugee work makes it clear that we have to proceed on the basis of a well co-ordinated collaborative effort. The European Union strongly welcomes and encourages the efforts of the High Commissioner to continue strengthening co-operation with all relevant partners, including the World Bank and UNDP. It is essential that priority is given to the development of the practical aspects of co-operative arrangements in order to ensure results in the field.
In view of the European Commission’s position as a major stakeholder in UNHCR and the competencies the European Community has acquired in the field of asylum the European Union regrets that it has not so far been possible to achieve consensus within the Executive Committee on arrangements that would better reflect the importance of the Commission’s role through formally according the European Commission an enhanced status in relation to the Executive Committee. We are confident that agreement will be reached at next year’s Executive Committee and note with satisfaction that the endeavours of the Commission and the member states of the European Union enjoy the support of the High Commissioner.
The High Commissioner has indicated his intention to seek the approval of the General Assembly for a completion of the work which he has initiated with a view to define the overall directions for UNHCR’s future work, in particular in relation to governance, funding and UNHCR’s position in the UN system.
It is clear that considerable emphasis is given by the High Commissioner to strengthening UNHCR as a multilateral organisation.
The European Union in this connection would like to repeat the call it made last year on countries that have not yet acceded to or implemented the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1996 Protocol to do so.
As I said at the outset, Mr. Chairman, the issue of refugee movements, as well as population challenges more generally, are high on the international agenda today. In a global perspective, there is every reason to believe that they will remain so in the coming years. To ensure necessary progress, we have to strengthen the established international refugee regime. Progress in this regard is essential to ensure an effective response and to facilitate long-term solutions in order to meet the challenges created by forced displacement.
Mr. Chairman, thank you.