I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union, the Candidate Countries, Bulgaria, Croatia* and Romania, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro and the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, align themselves with this statement.
We wish to thank the High Commissioner for his elaborate report on the work his office carried out in 2004. The EU is pleased to note that UNHCRs funding situation has improved slightly and that the Office continues to take measures to strengthen the organisations management. These steps are crucial in an environment that remains challenging. We encourages UNHCR to remain focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations world wide.
The EU would like to pay tribute to the High Commissioner, all UNHCR staff and the staff of UNHCRs implementing partners for their continuing hard work and true commitment towards protection and assistance of persons of UNHCRs concern all over the world. Their security and that of all other humanitarian workers remains an important concern. Again this year we mourn those committed men and women who lost their lives in carrying out their humanitarian work.
The year 2004 has become the year of going home. Significant numbers of refugees in especially Africa and Asia went back home: others are getting ready to repatriate later this year. The EU welcomes the continued decrease in the overall number of persons of concern to UNHCR over the past year. There is no reason for complacency though. There are close to 40 protracted refugee situations, which require urgent attention.
In addition to the protracted situations, new crisis situations have emerged. To alert the international community in a timely manner of these crises, better early warning systems are needed. The Darfur crisis produced a major new outflow of refugees and internal displacement. Initially, the international community did not sufficiently acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the crisis. Although, the international community has increased drastically its efforts to save lives and to alleviate suffering, humanitarian actors still face major challenges in carrying out their work on the ground.
The EU strongly condemns the actions of those responsible for the violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law and widespread violence including sexual abuse that caused the displacement in Darfur. More than 200.000 refugees crossed the border into Chad and the EU would like to commend the Government and people of Chad for its important role in providing protection and assistance to the refugees.
Mr. Chair, the international community can not tolerate the Darfur crisis to impact negatively on the return of refugees and IDPs to Southern Sudan and similarly, can not tolerate lack of progress in establishing peace and stability in the South to protract the situation in Darfur.
The EU is also seriously concerned about recent developments in the Great Lakes region, such as the ruthless attack on the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi. It is actively engaged in efforts to improve the situation, so that voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity and sustainable reintegration can be guaranteed.
*Croatia continues to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process
The EU welcomes the positive developments in other parts of the world like Angola and Liberia. Since April 2002, some 250.000 refugees have left their host countries in the region to return to Angola. Another 3.7 million IDPs have returned to their areas of origin. In West-Africa, one of the largest voluntary repatriation efforts in the region has started a few weeks ago. The three-year programme is aimed at promoting and assisting with the return of some 340.000 Liberian refugees who are scattered throughout the region, before the end of 2006.
The EU calls on all states that are involved in armed conflicts to protect refugee populations and facilitate access to such populations.
The EU would like to underline the need to strengthen the respect for and implementation of international humanitarian law, refugee law and human rights law. The donors who participate in the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative (GHDI) have also made a strong call for this These donors endorsed a set of principles and good practices of humanitarian donorship at a conference in Stockholm, last year, that were confirmed in Ottawa ,last month. One of the objectives of good donorship is to include the protection of civilians and those not longer taking part in hostilities within the definition of humanitarian action.
The European Council of Thessaloniki requested the European Commission last year to draw up a Communication on how the EU can contribute to improving access to protection and durable solutions. This document that was presented in June 2004, is receiving a lot of political attention during the Dutch Presidency.
It focuses on closer co-operation within the European Union on resettlement, on reinforcing protection capacities in regions of origin and on achieving more equitable sharing of responsibility. EU Regional Protection Programmes will be developed, initially on a pilot basis, aimed at addressing protracted refugee situations in close partnership with third countries concerned, UNHCR and, where relevant, other international organisations. Such Programmes would address UNHCRs “Convention Plus” initiative and would set the foundations for “special agreements” along the lines envisaged by the High Commissioner.
As said, key focus of the EUs efforts is achieving more equitable burden and responsibility sharing. This requires a better understanding between states and bridging traditional divides in order to seek jointly the most effective ways to protect and assist refugees. A joint effort is needed to provide access to durable solutions for more refugees, to put the root causes debate more prominently on the political agenda, to deal with the interests of returnees, refugees and host communities more coherently and to spend financial means available as effectively and efficiently as possible. An open and intensive dialogue is needed to make headway in addressing these questions. The EU is of the opinion that UNHCR should play a key role in this.
Alongside the EUs external policy on asylum and refugees, the EUs common asylum policy is evolving as well. The EU has by now put in place all the foundations for a common asylum policy, based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Geneva Convention. European Community instruments have defined the minimum standards on reception conditions, procedures and the conditions to qualify as a refugee or as a beneficiary of subsidiary protection within the EU. An agreement on minimum procedural standards that must be followed when considering an application for asylum is expected to be adopted next year. Furthermore, an agreement has been adopted on how to decide which EU Member State will be responsible for determining an asylum application. The EU is concerned that asylum procedures are abused for migratory purposes and stresses the need to keep a clear distinction between the notions of ‘asylum’ and ‘migration’.
In the agreed Constitutional Treaty of the EU, provision has been made for a fully fledged common asylum system and to achieve this the EU will outline the so-called The Hague Programme on Strengthening Freedom, Security and Justice in the EU during the European Council in November. This Programme contains the policy agenda on migration, asylum and integration for the next five years. The further development of a EU common asylum policy will go hand in hand with a better reflection of refugee issues in the EU’s external policies and the strengthening of partnerships with countries of first asylum.
The EU welcomes the adoption of a number of important decisions and conclusions during the last EXCOM. Conclusions were adopted on international protection, on international co-operation and burden and responsibility sharing in mass influx situations, and on legal safety issues in the context of voluntary repatriation of refugees. Decisions were taken on administrative, financial and programme matters, and on the working methods of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioners programme and its Standing Committee. The last decision allowing for a strengthened participation by NGOs, in the work of the Committees. These conclusions and decisions will contribute towards strengthening co-operation on protection and assistance matters world-wide.
The report of the Joint Inspection Unit on UNHCRs management and administration were also discussed at EXCOM, as were the reports of the ACABQ and the Board of Auditors. Some of the recommendations in these reports had already been implemented by UNHCR, others warrant closer scrutiny and will be subject of further discussion the coming period. The EU will actively participate in the discussion on these issues, which may have a strong impact on the future functioning of the office.
The EU is of the opinion that partnerships remain crucial for UNHCR. The EU believes that UNHCRs framework for durable solutions, the Agenda for Protection and Convention Plus provide a good basis for UNHCR to engage its partners. Integrated planning, close co-ordination and co-operation between and among partners will subsequently pave the way for a successful transition from relief to sustainable development. In this respect the EU welcomes UNHCRs membership of the UNDG and support for the Emergency Relief Coordinator. The EU also attaches the highest importance to inter-agency collaboration mechanisms, such as the IASC. Last but not least, the EU welcomes UNHCR acquiring partnership status with UNAIDS in 2004.
The EU attaches great importance to systematic monitoring and reporting on all aspects of gender and age mainstreaming, including full implementation of the SGBV guidelines. We follow the implementation of the action plan that was developed in response to the recommendations on the three evaluations on refugee women, refugee children and community services closely and welcome the appointment by the High Commissioner of a senior gender advisor. We believe this reflects the importance UNHCR attaches to gender mainstreaming.
For the effective functioning of UNHCR world wide, full funding of the UNHCR budget remains essential. We therefore encourage UNHCR not to give up on its efforts to strengthen and broaden its donor base. The EU is confident that donor participation in the formulation of country operations plans, as well as in UNHCRs budget consultations will contribute to more predictable and better funding. The EU encourages UNHCR to continue to work towards needs based programme planning, while taking the realities of likely resource levels into account in the budget that UNHCR eventually presents.
The EU welcomes the steps UNHCR has taken towards results based management and encourages UNHCR to set a clear timeframe for its implementation.
The extent of the financial support of individual Member States of the EU is well known. Individual EU Member States provided substantial contributions to the 2004 budget and if these contributions are combined with the funding provided by the EC, the EU as a whole is by far the largest contributor to UNHCR.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I wish to underline that the EU will not just in financial terms, but also politically remain a staunch supporter of UNHCR. We wish the High Commissioner and his Office the very best in the execution of their mandate.