– CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY –
1. I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States. The Acceding Country Croatia*, the Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Iceland†and Serbia*, the Country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia, align themselves with this declaration.
2. We thank the High Commissioner for his overview and for the comprehensive Report before us. The Agency deserves our praise for its efforts to keep pace with growing demands for protection and assistance arising from new emergencies and protracted displacement alike. We pay tribute to UNHCR’s extraordinary staff and deeply deplore the loss of lives of five UNHCR staff in Afghanistan, DRC and Syria. The EU and its Member States will continue to advocate for greater respect for International Humanitarian Law, for the security of humanitarian workers and their unimpeded access to reach the refugees and others displaced, as well as the communities that host them, in accordance with humanitarian principles
3. As we can not address today all the challenges and problems reflected in UNHCR’s report, we want to assure the High Commissioner that we have taken note of his sobering remarks. The EU and its MS will continue to follow closely and support UNHCR’s humanitarian response not only in crises which are in the spotlight, but in protracted ones as well. We want to point out several overarching issues.
4. Despite the best efforts of the international community and UNHCR the number of refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons remains alarmingly high. New simultaneous emergencies in 2012 are testing UNHCR to the limit. Only this year, more than 700000 people fled from DRC, Mali, Sudan and Syria and millions others were internally displaced. At the same time, solutions have not been achieved for millions of refugees and IDPs in protracted situations. The number of stateless persons is still too high, despite increased efforts by UNCHR and several States. Furthermore, 60 years after the signing of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 50 years after the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, we must acknowledge that in too many instances the principle of non- refoulement is not respected, displaced people are intimidated and attacked, refugee children are unable to attend school. Many stateless persons live in extreme poverty and are denied basic rights and services such as access to education and health care. The threat of violence against women and children displaced by conflict is dire, and the security of humanitarian workers is at risk every day.
5. Can we do more? Can we do better? Around the world we see governments generously hosting refugees, or accepting them for local integration or resettlement. We see governments making major steps to seek solutions for protracted displacement, for example in the Balkans or for the Afghani refugees. We see donors mobilizing to provide UNHCR with the necessary funding to respond to the needs of the vulnerable. We witnessed during UNHCR’s ministerial conference last year an enormous amount of pledges of decisive action to improve the life and dignity of persons of concern. But even with these concrete examples of political will, there’s still room for more and for better.
6. The High Commissioner himself agrees. This is why he is leading UNHCR’s ambitious internal reform aiming to strengthen its response capacity, to make UNHCR better fit to the enormous challenges we face today in the humanitarian scene. The EU and its Member States strongly support these efforts, aiming to strengthen emergency preparedness and response capacities, to reinforce partnerships with agencies and communities hosting refugees, to strengthen the transition from humanitarian to development efforts through enhanced involvement of development actors and to implement the Transformative Agenda. Furthermore, we want to praise UNHCR for its ambitious internal strategies, policies and guidelines launched in the past few years that advance key protection priorities and better address vulnerabilities of the persons of concern. We welcome in particular the new child protection framework, the updated strategy on sexual and gender-based violence and the new education strategy. Addressing the lack of access to education and sexual and gender based violence needs to be made centrepiece of humanitarian operations, as these are among the most serious threats to the displaced women and children who make up 80% of the world’s displaced. These are matters of constant priority for us and we are looking forward for updates on the roll out and impact in the field of these strategies in due course.
7. The EU and its Member States are committed to further develop a common policy on asylum based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Convention. We will show continued solidarity with third countries, in particular by investing in their capacity to deal with protracted refugee situations within their borders. Also, convinced that resettlement is an important tool in providing durable solutions to refugees worldwide, in addition to voluntary return and local integration, we are aiming at increased cooperation regarding resettlement of refugees to Europe, through the recently adopted Joint EU Resettlement Programme.
8. Furthermore, in the European Union we are doing our outmost to provide UNHCR with the necessary resources to allow UNHCR to respond to the needs of refugees and other persons of concern. UNHCR has our full trust and that of other donors as well. This is why the UNHCR has grown into an organisation with voluntary contributions of over 2 billion USD. Given the general context of financial crisis, we welcome the steps taken so far by UNHCR aiming to use more efficiently the resources available. We encourage UNHCR to continue its efforts in this regard, to enhance accountability and oversight, as well as to further strengthen programme control and to introduce organization wide risk management framework. We also encourage UNHCR to continue its efforts to broaden its donor base and further fundraise in the private sector.
9. We hope that the next year’s report will show that the UNHCR and the international community did even more and did even better for the cause of refugees and persons of concern.
10. Finally, Mr Chairperson, we support the draft resolution on the “Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees” presented by Norway under this agenda item.
* Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
† Iceland continues to be a member of the EFTA and of the European Economic Area.