UN: EU Statement on the Office of teh United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UN 61st Session; III Committee, Agenda Item 41: Office of teh United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
New York, 7 November 2006

Statement by Mr. Lasse Keisalo, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union

Mr. Chairman,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the EFTA country Liechtenstein, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

Mr. Chairman,

The EU expresses its appreciation to the High Commissioner, Mr. António Guterres for his comprehensive and informative report on the work of his office during 2006. The EU commends all UNHCR's staff for their outstanding work and dedication to the protection and assistance to persons of concern to UNHCR.

We highly appreciate the courage of humanitarian personnel who often work in very difficult circumstances. The EU wants to express its deepest condolences for the loss of humanitarian workers who devoted their lives to the valuable work for refugees.

As previous years, this year has been full of challenges for UNHCR – challenges related to new emergencies, new responsibilities and to protracted refugee situations.

The EU is deeply concerned about refugee situations in many countries and strongly supports UNHCR’s efforts to find durable solutions to these situations. It remains a great concern that worldwide some 23 million people remain internally displaced as a result of violence and armed conflicts. The EU is also concerned at the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and at the security problems facing humanitarian actors assisting the population there. As regards to all crises situations, the EU underlines the importance that all parties should grant free and secure access to humanitarian personnel to the affected population.

The principle of non-refoulement should be respected in all circumstances. The EU expresses its concern that the number of refoulement cases has increased lately. Refugees and asylum seekers should not be returned forcibly to their country of origin. The EU emphasizes also that UNHCR should be able to monitor the voluntary return process. In this context, the EU regrets that UNHCR's office in Tashkent in Uzbekistan was closed last April. We underline that UNHCR should have access to all Uzbek refugees who have returned to Uzbekistan.

Mr. Chairman,

In spite of many regrettable developments, we have also witnessed positive trends. The global refugee population is at its lowest since 1980. Large numbers of refugees and IDPs have been able to return home, especially in Africa and Afghanistan. Thousands of refugees have repatriated to Southern Sudan after the signing of the peace agreement last year. Furthermore, the return of Liberian and Ugandan refugees is underway and the return of Congolese refugees continues. This is just to mention some of the positive examples.

The EU recognizes the invaluable contribution of many refugee hosting countries, in particular the contribution made by many developing countries hosting refugees in protracted refugee situations. The development of the concept of Regional Protection Programmes by the European Commission aims to support these efforts by improving the protection of refugees as close to home as possible and to find durable solutions.

The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the foundation of international protection. We urge those who are not parties to the Convention to ratify it and state-parties to fully implement it. This is crucial to safeguard the right to asylum. To this end the EU has placed the objective of protecting refugees at the heart of the development of a Common European Asylum system. UNHCR has played and will continue to play a key role in developing asylum systems, including in Europe. The EU would also like to underline UNHCR´s crucial role in preserving and developing international refugee law.

Mr. Chairman,

Next year, there will be a wide debate on the future of the EU Asylum Policy around a comprehensive Green Paper. The results of that debate will set out the roadmap for the EU work towards the achievement of the Common European Asylum System, comprising a common asylum procedure and uniform status for those who are granted asylum or subsidiary protection, by 2010, as demanded by the Hague Programme. The contribution of the High Commissioner to that debate is essential.

While the number of asylum applicants has fallen sharply in the EU, the number of irregular migrants has increased. The EU would like to further enhance co-operation with UNHCR in developing means to identify from larger migratory movements those in need of protection. In this context, the EU recalls that it will issue by the end of the year a paper on reinforcing the southern maritime border which will also address protection and asylum related issues. Finding sustainable solutions for all those concerned is a key priority for the EU. At the ministerial level meeting on migration and development held in Rabat on 10-11 July Mr. High Commissioner presented UNHCR's "10-Point Plan of Action" which addresses mixed migratory movements. The EU expresses its support to this initiative. We are looking forward further discussion on UNHCR's role in mixed migratory flows. The EU is also looking forward to the organisation of an EU-Africa ministerial meeting on migration and development in Libya on 22-23 November.

Migration and development were discussed at the UN High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development on 14-15 September. In the context of migration and development dialogue, the movement of refugees is a special case as refugees enjoy a special legal status in accordance with international law. Protection of refugees in mixed flows should form an integral part of migration policy in order to be sensitive to the protection needs of people on the move. This is an immense challenge for the protection regime now and in the years to come.

Mr. Chairman,

Reform efforts are currently ongoing to strengthen the UN system. Whilst a lot of work has been carried out to improve the humanitarian response, more still needs to be done. The humanitarian reform agenda is of great importance to the EU. Together with others, we hope to make progress to improve the efficiency of the international response to humanitarian emergencies. The cluster leadership approach is an important tool to strengthen exchange of information and coordination. The EU welcomes UNHCR's role as a cluster lead in the clusters of camp coordination and camp management, protection and emergency shelter in conflict-related internal displacement situations. The key issues are in this context - as in all UNHCR's work - the effective coordination with other UN agencies, the Red Cross movement, non-governmental organizations, host countries, donors and other relevant partners. As the cluster system is relatively new, the EU will follow closely the success of the new mechanism as well as the evaluation of it at a later stage.

Furthermore, we understand that UNHCR needs additional resources and further capacity, such as for staff training, to fulfil its involvement in protecting and assisting IDPs. While we express our support for UNHCR’s new involvement, we want to underline that UNHCR’s core mandate in assisting and protecting refugees should not be undermined by its expanded role. The EU supports the ongoing efforts to strengthen the inter-agency and country-level responses to the protection and assistance needs of IDP's.

Mr. Chairman,

The EU is deeply concerned at all instances of racist and xenophobic attacks. The EU stands firmly against intolerance, xenophobia and exclusion. The EU wants to remain a place where refugees can rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.

The EU is an active proponent of international humanitarian law and universal human rights. Human rights should be respected in all situations.

The EU appreciates the adoption of a number of important decisions and conclusions during the last ExCom. Conclusions were adopted on Women and Girls at Risk and on Identification, Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and Protection of Stateless Persons. The EU highly appreciates UNHCR’s efforts to mainstream age and gender into all its programmes from the very beginning of the planning phase. In this context, the EU warmly welcomes the conclusion on Women and Girls at Risk which addresses the situations of the most vulnerable groups. As regards to the conclusion on the statelessness, the EU supports UNHCR's activities in protecting stateless persons who are often the most forgotten group and encourages the UNHCR to continue their work in identifying, preventing and reducing statelessness all over the world.

Annual decisions on administrative, financial and programme matters and on the programme of the work of the Standing Committee in 2007 include a number of important action points which require further consultations with the ExCom, e.g. on the UNHCR's structural and management change process, on the investigation options for extending the input of NGOs into the work of the ExCom and on Supplementary Programme Budgets vis-à-vis certain internal displacement situations. The EU is looking forward to these consultations.

As regards to the structural and management change process inside UNHCR, the EU welcomes this initiative, which aims to make UNHCR more efficient and cost-effective. The EU emphasizes that the reform process should be transparent and the progress of the reform should be consulted continuously with the Executive Committee as well as with the UNHCR Staff.

In addition, the EU welcomes and supports the draft resolution under this agenda item on the Office of the UNHCR, as well as the one put forward by Costa Rica and Estonia deciding to increase the number of members of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from seventy to seventy-two states and requesting the Economic and Social Council to elect the additional members at its resumed organizational session for 2007.

Mr. Chairman,

Close cooperation and coordination are keys to effective and successful action. The EU appreciates that UNHCR works closely with many different partners – both inside and outside the UN system. In this regard, the EU expresses its appreciation to the non-governmental organizations as implementing partners of UNHCR’s operations. The EU wishes to encourage UNHCR to engage NGOs even further throughout the whole programme cycle. The EU would also like to highlight the important ongoing efforts to strengthen the humanitarian coordinators, a process we urge UNHCR to continue to support.

The EU believes that UNHCR's funding should be adequate, predictable and sustainable. The EU Member States are committed to continue discussions with UNHCR on how to achieve this goal. In this context, the EU supports the efforts of the High Commissioner to broaden the donor base and enhances private fundraising, in order to achieve a more equitable burden sharing.

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.