Press Releases

    GA/SHC/3801
    10 November 2004

    Refugee Protection, Adequate Financing, Burden-Sharing Among Issues Raised, as Third Committee Holds Discussion with High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers

    NEW YORK, 9 November (UN Headquarters) -- Fears related to economic migrants, human trafficking and the threat of terrorism had made refugee protection a polarizing issue in recent years, acknowledged the top United Nations expert on refugees today, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its general discussion on refugees, returnees and displaced persons.

    To combat that phenomenon, explained United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, his Office had refocused its activities on protection. It had worked to move the agenda forward through provision of substantive assistance to multilateral efforts to preserve asylum space and to address the stages of displacement from countries of origin through methods of transit.  The creation of a second Assistant Secretary-General post at the UNHCR -- to serve as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection -- had also been proposed.

    Another issue, which had been recognized as a root cause for many States’ moves to more restrictive policies, was irregular secondary refugee movements, he added, urging that a concerted attempt to end human trafficking be made. The world must not remain indifferent to the plight of those lured into such illicit channels, but must recognize them as human beings. Additionally, reducing irregular undocumented flows through early registration and permanent solutions would make his Office more effective in combating crime and terrorism, as well as preventing recurrent conflicts.

    Welcoming the confidence expressed for the “UNHCR 2004” process to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate, Mr. Lubbers said he intended to engage in partnerships from a new perspective in 2005 and beyond. Global humanitarian needs remained far greater than the Office’s resources or mandate could cover and that recognition was being built into the Office’s methods of operation.

    His message to developed countries continued to be that a contribution to refugee programmes constituted an investment in a chain of solutions, he added.  Viewing “the refugee problem” in isolation overlooked an integral element in solving the great challenges of the present day, including underdevelopment, insecurity and the threat of terrorism.

    Participating in a subsequent question-and-answer session with the High Commissioner were the representatives of Afghanistan, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guinea, Japan, Netherlands, China, Algeria and Kenya. In response to their questions, Mr. Lubbers expanded on issues related to the link between humanitarian work and development, the need to ensure sustainable repatriation of refugees and the need for greater burden-sharing, including with regard to deployment of peacekeeping troops, among others.

    As the Committee moved into its general discussion, delegations congratulated the High Commissioner on the success achieved by his Office in facilitating a decrease in the worldwide number of refugees in 2004. At the same time, they voiced concern about the need to further address issues related to resolving protracted refugee situations, improving the stability of international financing for the refugee agency and increasing burden-sharing to alleviate the responsibilities borne by both host and donor countries.  Also, the need for continued attention to the situation of Sudanese refugees from Darfur was raised by several delegates.

    Also addressing the Committee today was the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkmenistan, as well as the representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Norway, Egypt, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Japan, United States, Ecuador and Zambia. The representative of the International Organization for Migration also spoke.

    The Third Committee will meet again at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, 10 November, to continue its general discussion on refugees, returnees and displaced persons, as well as humanitarian questions.

    Background

    The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to consider the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/59/12 and Add.1), to be presented by the High Commissioner.

    Also before the Committee is the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/59/317), which contains an overview of developments and activities, regional updates and information about specific areas of inter-agency cooperation during 2003 and the first half of 2004. The year 2003 brought progress in terms of peace processes and prospects for durable solutions in Africa.

    According to the report, the number of refugees in Africa fell 8 per cent in 2003, from 3.1 million in early January to 2.9 million by the end of the year, with the number of refugees continuing to decrease in 2004. However, the situation in the western Darfurprovince of Sudan continued to cause concern, with some 200,000 refugees from Darfur having crossed into Chad and up to 1.5 million displaced persons within the Sudan. Moreover, due to the challenges of HIV/AIDS, sexual and gender-based violence, xenophobia, environmental degradation, and food insecurity, the situation of refugees and displaced persons in many parts of Africa remained precarious.

    Voluntary repatriation continued to be the preferred durable solution for refugees and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strove to achieve this objective wherever possible, continues the report. Dwindling funds for humanitarian emergencies and protracted refugee situations in Africa meanwhile reconfirmed the need for joint planning and pooling of resources to achieve adequate standards of protection and durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons in Africa.

    Statement by High Commissioner for Refugees

    RUUD LUBBERS, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed the confidence expressed for the “UNHCR 2004” process to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate, and said that, in 2005 and beyond, the UNHCR intended to engage in partnerships from a new perspective.  Global humanitarian needs remained far greater than the Office’s resources or mandate could cover and that recognition was being built into the Office’s methods of operation.

    Significant strides had already been made, he noted, including for collaboration with the Departments of Political Affairs (DPA) and Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), highlighting the critical link between forced population displacement and international peace and security. Efforts to account for the physical safety of returning refugees and displaced persons would continue to be expanded.  A more coherent approach to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) would be established and should be viewed as an investment in security.

    Senior staff members had been seconded to DPKO and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), he added.  Furthermore, as a member of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), the UNHCR continued to work to integrate the Millennium Development Goals into its programmes -- particularly goal eight on establishment of a global partnership for development.  His Office had also joined forces with the World Bank to ensure that displacement issues were included in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), and had become the tenth co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also continued to be expanded.

    Financially, the Office’s situation was better than it had been for many years, he noted.  Solid donor support and improved financial management had contributed to greater budgetary stability in 2004.  However, several emergency appeals had still been necessary. The Office would enter 2005 with more supplementary projects to fund than in 2004, which underscored the continued precariousness of the financial situation.

    The emergency in Chad and Darfur, Sudan, remained the largest new crisis confronting the UNHCR, he acknowledged. The Office was working to fulfil its key role in assisting victims of violence, delivering aid and establishing camps and had been given responsibility for the protection and return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Responsibility for internally displaced had also been given to the UNHCR in Myanmar, where the Office’s teams had gained access to border areas in the past year.

    The process of return had already begun on a large scale in Africa, he said, including in Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Eritrea and Liberia. Each operation represented a particular challenge, yet the common element remained the need for post-conflict reconstruction to break the cycle of violence. Additionally, Afghanistan served as a particular example of the need to follow up return with reintegration. More than 3.5 million Afghans had gone home in the past three years; it was essential that reintegration projects made that massive return sustainable.

    Yet many operations remained far from success, he stressed. Insecurity continued to hinder efforts in Iraq and the north Caucasus. Many regions in which UNHCR staff needed to reach people would remain high-risk areas for the foreseeable future.  Accordingly, many measures had been taken to complement the system-wide initiative to improve the ability to operate in a safe way while minimizing risk.

    Protracted refugee situations constituted a different type of obstacle, he added. Solutions to many of the world’s protracted refugee situations remained remote, yet the UNHCR had not given up hope.  However, comprehensive plans for repatriation, self-reliance in host countries and additional resettlement were needed.

    This remained a crucial time for the Office, he stressed.  Refugee protection had become a polarizing issue in the span of a few years, as fears of economic migrants, human trafficking and terrorist threats had dominated much of the public and policy debates in developed countries.  A genuine danger to the institution of asylum could be found behind today’s headlines, which mixed fear about security, migrants and refugees.  To combat that phenomenon, the Office had refocused its activities on protection and had proposed the creation of a second Assistant Secretary-General post at the UNHCR, to serve as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.  That post would contribute qualitatively to the manner in which the Office carried out its protection mandate.

    The protection agenda had also been moved forward through the provision of substantive assistance to multilateral efforts to preserve asylum space and to address the stages of displacement from countries of origin through methods of transit, he added.  Illustrating the initiative, he raised the issue of new European Union border-States, who struggled weekly with arrivals on the Mediterranean Sea.  Any solution to the Mediterranean issue must necessarily include enhanced protection capacity in North African countries, as well as clear policies on how to handle individuals intercepted on the high seas or those who had entered the Union’s member States.

    Another issue, which had been recognized as the root cause of many States’ moves to more restrictive policies, was irregular secondary refugee movements, he added. There must be a concerted attempt to end human trafficking; the world could not remain indifferent to the plight of those lured into such illicit channels. Thus, the first step was to consider the victims of trafficking as human beings; the UNHCR had regularly been denied access to individuals victimized by smugglers. Moreover, reducing irregular undocumented flows through earlier registration and real perspectives for permanent solutions would make the UNHCR more effective in combating crime and terrorism, as well as preventing recurrent conflicts.

    His message to developed countries continued to be that a contribution to refugee programmes constituted an investment in a chain of solutions, he concluded. Viewing “the refugee problem” in isolation overlooked an integral element in solving the great challenges of the present day, including underdevelopment, insecurity and the threat of terrorism. His Office had sought to address the issue of irregular secondary movements through its Convention Plus initiative, which had already delivered tangible results. The next component was to target development assistance. Thus, in the next year, self-reliance activities in Africa would be expanded with the aim of challenging the “warehousing” of refugees and empowering them as individuals.

    Discussion

    Participating in the dialogue following the High Commissioner’s presentation were the representatives of Afghanistan, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guinea, Japan, Netherlands, China, Algeria and Kenya. 

    Mr. LUBBERS, responding to their questions, emphasized the importance of the link between humanitarian work and development. He also stressed the importance of the concept of human security that respected refugees and returnees as individuals and focused on their empowerment. That was what the UNHCR was trying to do in Afghanistan, which was not easy in the face of the security challenges there. He said he hoped to visit Afghanistan in the near future to assist the efforts of the Government in empowering returnees.

    It was crucial to implement sustainable repatriation on the ground, and doing so required the improvement of tools. Critical to that effort was the integration of refugees and internally displaced persons in development strategies. He noted that very few countries had integrated the productive capacities of refugees, and that most still underestimated the possibilities of refugees. He reiterated the importance of defining refugees as capacity and not as a burden, and to ensure they were integrated in national strategies for poverty reduction. He said 2005 should be the year to include refugees and sustainable repatriation as a target of the Millennium Development Goals. To that end, there should be greater collaboration between the UNHCR and the United Nations Development Group.

    Turning to Africa, he said that while the African Union was moving forward with security at the top of its agenda, progress towards new development, led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), was advancing more slowly. There was a need to go beyond meetings and to improve tools to be more effective in making repatriation sustainable. Regarding the resumption of conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, he urged neighbouring countries to avoid involvement in the conflict and to support peace efforts. The challenge in Africa remained great in terms of repatriation programmes and new emergencies. The continent was still very much in flux and needed more stability. It was critical, therefore, to find ways to end conflicts and support peace efforts.

    He noted that there were well-trained armies in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and other countries. If the international community was committed to burden-sharing for peacekeeping, mechanisms must be found for peacekeeping operations to make greater use of African troops. Noting that most development projects in Africa were on a bilateral agenda, he said it was critical to move towards more multilateral approaches in which the UNCHR could work in partnership with others.

    He said Bosnia and Herzegovina represented a “success story” for the UNHCR, adding that the former Yugoslavia could still go the extra mile to deal better with property claims. That part of the former Yugoslavia deserved to be a part of the European Union, an idea that might not be welcome in Brussels.  Still, he hoped economic ties to the European Union would be increased in terms of development support for the former Yugoslavia.

    The donor community had begun to understand that the work of the UNHCR was very important for the world as a whole, in terms of its contribution to efforts towards less recurring conflicts, more security, less human trafficking, less child soldiers, and less terrorism. Thus, every bit of money spent on the UNCHR had double value, he said, urging Member States to see the value of multilateral efforts. Most countries were still addicts of bilateral support. The UNHCR also hoped to increase support from private individuals.

    He emphasized the importance of collaboration, saying protection of refugees was not the monopoly of the UNHCR.  Protection was delivered better in partnership. In western Darfur, his Office was working in partnership with African Union monitors of the ceasefire, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and with NGOs. It was crucial to invest in partnership, as well as training for partnership.

    Regarding the reference in his report to the protection capacity in North Africa, he said North African States should acknowledge the possible presence of refugees in their region. While many were coming as economic migrants, North African States should not exclude the possibility that some were also coming as refugees. There were increasing indications that North African countries were becoming transit countries.

    Lastly, he stressed the need for both earmarked and non-earmarked funds, saying it was important for donor communities to go the extra mile.

    RASHID MEREDOV, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, said his Government had created guarantees for the realization of personal, political, economic, social and other rights of its citizens. It had adopted laws to abolish the death penalty and to prohibit searches in residences. There were no cases of arrest or conviction on political grounds or for religious beliefs.  The law guaranteed all nationalities and ethnicities equal rights and freedoms, with any infringement on those rights to be prosecuted as a felony. The Government had also carried out steps to fulfil its international obligations in the field of human rights.

    Against that background, he said his Government did not comprehend the reasons for tabling another draft resolution on the situation of human rights in Turkmenistan.  Representatives of the countries that had initiated the draft had not visited Turkmenistan. The draft was biased and did not correspond to reality. Allegations of discrimination against some nationalities were based on false information circulated by criminals who were hiding from the law.  Allegations about arbitrary detentions and arrests were also false and not backed by facts.

    He said attempts to table the draft were counterproductive and harmed the development of positive processes in the field of human rights. The use of human rights for political purposes was contrary to the principles of the United Nations Charter. Turkmenistan would resolutely resist any such attempts and urged other Member States to vote against the draft resolution.

    DIRK JAN VAN DEN BERG (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that 2004 had become the “year of going home” as significant numbers of refugees in Africa and Asia had returned to their countries of origin.  While welcoming the overall decrease in the number of persons of concern to the UNHCR, he stressed that there was no reason for complacency. More than 40 protracted refugee situations continued to require urgent attention. Moreover, new situations had emerged, and alerting the international community to such crises in a timely manner required development of better early warning systems.

    The Darfur crisis, in particular, had produced a major new outflow of refugees and internal displacement, he noted. Admitting that the international community had underestimated the complexity and magnitude of the crisis initially, he noted that efforts to save lives and alleviate suffering had since increased. However, humanitarian actors continued to face major challenges in carrying out their work on the ground. The European Union strongly condemned the actions of those responsible for the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law seen in Darfur, and stressed that the Darfur crisis could not be allowed to impact negatively on the situation in southern Sudan.

    Contributions to improve access to protection and durable solutions for refugees had received much attention during his country’s presidency of the Union, he said. European Union Regional Protection Programmes would be developed, following the recommendations of the European Commission, and would address the UNHCR’s “Convention Plus” initiative. One priority of the Union’s efforts focused on achieving more equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing, which required better understanding between States and bridging traditional divides to seek effective means of protecting and assisting refugees.

    The Union had put in place the foundations for a common asylum policy, he noted.  Minimum standards had been defined for reception conditions, procedures and conditions for qualification as a refugee or beneficiary of subsidiary protection within the European Union. An agreement on minimum protection standards to be followed when considering an application for asylum was expected to be adopted in the coming year. Furthermore, the Hague Programme on Strengthening Freedom, Security and Justice, to be outlined in November, would contain the common policy agenda on migration, asylum and integration for the next five years.

    The Agenda for Protection and the “Convention Plus” initiative remained good bases for the UNHCR to engage with its partners, he concluded.  Integrated planning, close coordination and cooperation would pave the way for a successful transition from relief to sustainable development. However, full funding of the UNHCR remained essential.

    WEGGER STRØMMEN (Norway) said that despite the positive developments in the reduction of refugees, there were still 7 million people caught in protracted refugee situations. Norway welcomed the campaign launched earlier this year against the warehousing of refugees in camps. Helping refugees to stay alive was essential, but not sufficient. Protracted refugee situations did not offer refugees a life in dignity. The result was wasted lives and squandered resources.  Moreover, many of the restrictions placed on refugee movement and employment were not in conformity with basic refugee rights, as set out in the 1951 Convention.

    Until refugees ceased to be refugees, he continued, much more needed to be done to alleviate their problems and preserve their dignity. The root causes of the conflicts producing refugees must also be confronted and must figure more prominently on the political agenda. His delegation welcomed the High Commissioner’s decision to make a systematic annual review of all protracted refugee situations with a view to formulating comprehensive plans of action.  There was no doubt that international patience was running out.

    HANY SELIM (Egypt) said there were a number of priorities to be underscored regarding the question of refugees, including the need to ensure adequate and timely provision of financial resources to finance the activities of the UNHCR, particularly in large-scale emergency situations and in Africa. There was also a need to increase non-earmarked funding, to enable the High Commissioner to respond with greater flexibility. Another priority concerned the need to implement the principle of international cooperation in burden-sharing, so as to increase the capacities of countries to provide assistance to refugees and to mitigate the negative socio-economic and environmental impact that large refugee flows could have on host countries.

    Moreover, he continued, while voluntary repatriation continued to be regarded as the best solution to refugee outflows, other options should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Voluntary repatriation could not be considered the only solution in the case of developing host countries, which struggled to meet the basic needs of their own citizens.

    Egypt had always set an example to be followed regarding the reception and treatment of refugees, he stressed. While the number of registered refugees stood at 20,000, there were some 3 million non-registered refugees spread across the nation’s towns and countryside. They constituted a major element of the social fabric and did not suffer from any form of discrimination. Egypt remained committed to working with the High Commissioner and his country representatives, but was also convinced that the country’s role in the protection of refugees would become more useful given its recent accession to the Executive Committee.

    LA YIFAN (China) said that despite the successful repatriation of refugees in 2004, there were still a great number of protracted refugees and new waves of refugees produced by the outbreak of new conflicts. It was necessary for the international community to further strengthen efforts to seek durable solutions to refugee problems. In the context of the Millennium Development Goals, efforts to help developing countries to eradicate poverty and prevent conflicts would contribute to the elimination of the root causes of mass flows of refugees.

    Turning to terrorism, he said that its spread had brought new challenges to the international refugee protection regime, including heightened risks to the personal safety of humanitarian workers, as terrorists increasingly targeted humanitarian operations. China resolutely condemned all terrorist acts targeting humanitarian relief workers. The Convention on refugees, as well as relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, had all explicitly excluded perpetrators of serious crimes from the international refugee protection regime. The exclusion of those criminals must be translated into actual practice.

    ATOKI ILEKA (Democratic Republic of the Congo), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), expressed hope that the decline in the global number of refugees would continue. The situation of refugees and displaced persons remained, however, a major challenge, especially in Africa, even while the consolidation of peace in the SADC subregion had opened windows of opportunity for rebuilding the lives of millions of affected people. He also commended the effort to reinforce cooperation in support of children through the inter-agency guiding principles on that subject, and hoped that greater efforts would be made to integrate displaced persons into programmes addressing HIV/AIDS.

    In addressing the root causes of conflict and building capacity for peaceful settlement of disputes, he looked forward to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the High Commissioner’s report, as well as the initiatives outlined in the framework for durable solutions. He was happy to note that the funding for the UNHCR, planned within the framework of the consolidated appeals process, had improved, saying that, however, more needed to be done to heighten the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond to massive needs. In addition, it was critical that the international community lessen the humanitarian burden placed on host countries who receive large numbers of refugees. He reiterated SADC’s commitment to working with relevant agencies in seeking durable solutions to the question of refugees.

    SHIGEYUKI SHIMAMORI (Japan) said that protection and empowerment were “two wheels of the same cart” of the UNHCR mandate. The protection and assistance given to refugees constituted the core of UNHCR activities until conditions made it possible to undertake voluntary repatriation or resettlement.  With that in mind, his country had contributed an additional $4 million and 700 tents to UNHCR’s provision of assistance to Sudanese refugees in Chad. When that conflict ended, whatever momentum had been generated should be fully utilized to enable the parties to arrive at a durable solution to the refugee issues. At the same time, refugees should be empowered to be self-reliant, with dignity, as important partners in national rebirth. That required respect for the ownership of a country and the consolidation of peace after a protracted conflict, as well as close collaboration with the UNHCR, its partners, and other international organizations and development agencies.

    He called on the international community to ensure a seamless transition from emergency relief to rehabilitation and reconstruction to make possible the reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons. Such a protection-empowerment framework was the core concept underlying human security. National sovereignty was helped by achieving national reconciliation through a community-based approach and the creation of an environment conducive to development. Indeed, development planning and programmes must start at an early stage of humanitarian assistance, so as to quickly and smoothly restore to normal the lives of refugees. His country welcomed the UNHCR’s pragmatic approach towards cooperation with a country with refugee issues. Through the Human Security Trust Fund, Japan was actively contributing to UNHCR’s efforts to strengthen inter-agency collaboration. Japan also considered it important, within the context of reform of UNHCR’s operational capacity, to employ staff from various backgrounds and to diversify its implementing and operational partners.

    JANE HULL (United States) said her country had provided nearly $300 million to the UNHCR in 2004, which testified to its commitment to multilateralism and the UNHCR. While host nations bore primary responsibility for the protection of refugees, the UNHCR was the sole United Nations agency with a mandate to protect refugees.The need for protection applied to children, women, older persons and disabled persons. The United States had provided funding to increase UNHCR’s protection presence in the field.

    Noting that an important aspect of UNHCR’s mandate was to find durable solutions for refugees, she said that the worldwide decrease in the refugee population in 2003 -- due in part to repatriation programmes in Afghanistan, Angola, Sierra Leone and Somalia -- had been good news. Resettlement constituted another successful durable solution. For its part, the United States had admitted nearly 53,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2004 and commended the UNHCR for its increased recognition of the importance of third-country resettlement.

    While welcoming UNHCR’s efforts to find lasting solutions to issues of refugees, displaced persons and other conflict victims in Iraq, she voiced concern about the agency’s operations in Chad. Water shortages, possible breakdowns in the food pipeline and a limited capacity to operate in eastern Chad required continued attention. Moreover, the possible arrival of additional refugees from Sudan could overwhelm the agency’s capacities.

    Concern about food shortages was not limited to Chad, she added. The international community faced a global shortfall of approximately $1 billion in emergency food needs. While the United States had been a leader in the effort to address food shortfalls, it could not continue to bear a disproportionately high share of food aid programming. Other countries must rise to the challenge.

    LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador), noting that his country was party to the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951 and its Protocol of 1967, said his Government had established a commission overseeing the condition of refugees in Ecuador.  Ecuador had taken in refugees from more than 45 different countries, 95 per cent of whom were Colombian. He further noted that there had been an increase in the number of asylum seekers. As a result, there had been social, economic and labour conflicts in the areas that had received refugees, given the shortages and lack of adequate infrastructure to receive foreign nationals.

    He said Ecuador had received assistance from the UNCHR, including support for community projects to better meet the needs of rural communities that had received refugees. The aim of such projects was to mitigate the economic and social impact to host communities and to reinforce the human rights of refugees. To ensure its ability to continue fulfilling its humanitarian duties, Ecuador urged donor countries and organizations to continue their support. That was critical if Ecuador was to be able to respond adequately to the needs of refugees and their host communities.

    BERNARD MPUNDU (Zambia) noted that, despite achievements, challenges in providing protection and assistance to refugees still remained. Issues such as security, rising crime and employment posed serious challenges to the countries of asylum, origin countries and the international community.  Most regions continued to experience refugee outflows during 2003. Zambia currently hosted over 200,000 refugees, mainly from Angola and the Great Lakes Region. Some of those refugees had been in the country for three decades.  Since 2003, Zambia’s Government had primarily been preoccupied with the voluntary repatriation of Angolan and Rwandan refugees. This year, some 43,500 Angolan refugees had been repatriated. Regarding Rwandan refugees, progress had been slow, with only 132 refugees repatriated.  Concerned with the slow progress, Zambia’s Government had initiated consultations with the tripartite Commission to resolve the problem. 

    He said Zambia’s Government had also been encouraged to begin consultations with the UNHCR on the need for a tripartite agreement for the repatriation of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The prolonged hosting of a large number of refugees had not been without problems for Zambia.  With the assistance of the UNHCR, the Government had developed an integrated approach to refugee management, known as the Zambian Initiative, which, among other things, aimed at reducing poverty through community reconstruction, increased food production and improving basic social services. The programme’s success depended largely on a reliable flow of financial support. Refugee management was a shared responsibility. Zambia’s experience had demonstrated the effectiveness of burden sharing.  In that regard, Zambia commended the strong partnerships that continued to evolve in addressing the refugee situation.

    LUCA DALL’OGLIO, Observer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), agreed that one of the challenges that had emerged in recent years had been the effort to preserve global protections for migrants by further clarifying international migration issues. Indeed, the so-called “migration/asylum nexus” reflected the growing awareness that it was often difficult to distinguish between forced and voluntary migration. In addition, reduced or limited access to asylum systems, restrictive immigration policies and strengthened border controls made those mixed migratory flows increasingly common, with both economic migrants and refugees finding themselves using similar modes of travel and methods of entry. Both migrants and refugees were often forced to resort to the same unscrupulous trafficking and smugglings networks, he added.

    In all that, the asylum system might become overburdened, he said.  As a result the capacity to preserve an effective asylum regime was linked with the mutual reinforcement of migration and asylum law and practices. That was where the IOM and the UNHCR intersected more closely, and where a coherent perspective and complementarity of mutually reinforcing efforts was required. To facilitate synergies between the two agencies, a joint UNHCR/IOM Action Group on Asylum and Migration (AGAMI) had been set up in 2001 to address conceptual issues, clarify common concerns and make the most of the respective expertise of both agencies. The Action Group had demonstrated that it could also serve to strengthen partnership in the field.

    A joint regional seminar on Contingency Planning for Mixed Migratory Flows in the Caribbean was underway this week in the Bahamas, he added by example. That meeting aimed to enhance regional cooperation and provide in-depth training on key migration and asylum issues. The participants were expected to review the commitment to expand existing national disaster plans to include responses to mass migration in each country, including for regional and interagency cooperation, together with a renewed interest in improving migration management in all aspects.

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