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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

U.S. Department of State

Providing Protection and Assistance to Refugees

Arthur E. Dewey, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Statement Before the Fifty-seventh Session of the UN General Assembly, in the Third Committee
New York, New York
November 7, 2002

Released by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations

I want to begin by saluting High Commissioner Lubbers and his staff for their hard work and dedication in providing protection and assistance to millions of refugees. UNHCR’s performance, in one of the most challenging years in its history, has been extraordinary.

Nowhere was this more evident than when 2 million Afghan refugees voted with their feet for the future of their country. This marks the largest refugee return in the last 30 years. I have just returned from several weeks in Afghanistan and have met with scores of these returnees. Their opportunity to pick up their lives again is due in large measure to the superb team the High Commissioner has assembled in both Kabul and in Geneva to support them.

AFGHANISTAN

As Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister has said, refugee repatriation is reconstruction. It is certainly the essential base for reconstruction to begin, and to succeed.

Between my two recent visits to Afghanistan, I have seen remarkable progress. But we are constantly reminded of the fragility of this progress and the international community must assure that its partnership with Afghanistan holds firm over what will be a long, and sometimes difficult, road ahead. Security continues to impede the advancement of civil society and humanitarian activities. Building security means a coordinated building of the Afghan army, of police, of the rule of law and -- especially critical -- the building of structures and programs for human rights. Along with donor support for this building process, donor support must continue for humanitarian needs for months to come. It’s not either, or. Our challenge now is to stay the course for both reconstruction and humanitarian need as long as it takes.

REFUGEE SOLUTIONS

Providing refugees with permanent solutions is our ultimate objective. In Angola, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sierra Leone we may hear again the African cry "It’s time for solutions." We express appreciation to UNHCR for all its efforts to facilitate voluntary returns this past year, and to host governments who have provided refugees with local integration opportunities. For our part, the U.S. remains strong in its commitment to refugee resettlement as a solution, a tool of protection, and as a means of responsibility sharing.

There are, however, millions of refugees around the world with little hope of solution. This is because the root causes of refugee flows are all too persistent. And the climate for refugee solutions -- especially through good leadership and good governance -- is all too rare. The High Commissioner has highlighted the need to address these protracted refugee situations. He has rightly said that without solutions for refugees, there is little chance for peace and development in Africa. This holds true elsewhere in the world as well.

FUNDING

In addition to the problem of finding solutions, today, we are hearing of new, or continuing, root causes of refugee flows – from Burundi, from the Central African Republic, from Cote d’Ivoire. UNHCR will again find itself on the front lines of raising resources for these humanitarian battlefields.

In this regard, the United States is concerned that, while UNHCR is doing its part, some of UNHCR’s donor states and regional organizations are not doing theirs. UNHCR is simply not receiving the support it needs to do the job. This year UNHCR presented a "resource-based" budget – as opposed to a "needs-based" budget, in the hope that this would reduce the budget shortfall, minimize painful mid-year cuts, and allow it to better predict and plan its programs for the year. Unfortunately, once again, UNHCR is facing severe shortfalls and is being forced to cut back even its inadequate resource-based budget projections.

Some donors still don’t seem to get it -- that refugee protection and assistance activities are indivisible. Donor funding for refugee protection and assistance must also be indivisible. This is why the United States places nearly all of our refugee funding through UNHCR – as opposed to spreading it around to other agencies that have no mandate for refugee protection. In 2002, we contributed over $255 million to UNHCR, including over $100 million for Africa.

Today I make a plea for multilateralism. None of us can afford to try to play UNHCR. Our task is to make UNHCR play UNHCR and work on behalf of refugees. Multilateralism is our lodestar. Only through a concerted and coordinated approach can we maximize our taxpayers' money, avoid duplication of efforts, and work together as true partners for the benefit of refugees around the world. We must support the multilateral system that is in place to address refugee needs, and not try to supplant it. While a number of other donors have been, and continue to be, generous in their funding, others need to provide their fair share. We call on fellow donors to join us in this multilateral commitment.

I want to take this opportunity to take special note of contributions of refugee-hosting countries. The role you play is vital. You are an integral part of the donor team, and we thank you for your generosity.

PROTECTION

UNHCR has also had to face the allegations of sexual exploitation in West Africa that surfaced earlier this year. Even though UNHCR staff may not have been directly involved, UNHCR is held responsible and accountable for the full range of its operations and for the protection of those under its care. We commend UNHCR for the steps it has taken in response to these allegations. UNHCR’s institutional support of these measures will strengthen UNHCR’s protection capacity. It will enhance its response to the special protection needs of refugee women and children.

These allegations highlight for me the importance of UNHCR’s protection mandate. Increasingly this is not just a legal mandate, but also one of preventing and making provisions to prevent physical and psychological harm to those under its care. The international community, and more importantly the refugee community, counts on UNHCR to provide protection. However, UNHCR cannot provide adequate protection without our support.

The Agenda for Protection, which came out of the Global Consultations, provides a good road map for guiding UNHCR as well as States and other protection partners. We look forward to working together to prioritize and implement the objectives in the Agenda.

REGISTRATION

One of these objectives, which is close to the heart of my Government, is refugee registration. Registration is key to knowing the recipient population and understanding their needs. Refugee registration is also the essential precursor for the solution of refugee resettlement. We look forward to working with UNHCR and other Member States towards accelerating implementation of a standardized registration system.

COORDINATION

In closing, I wish to highlight the importance of coordination. The successful program secretariat structure in Afghanistan is a model for post-conflict coordination, cooperation, capacity-building, and transition. Working in tandem, host government ministries, international and non-governmental organizations, donor states and the World Bank are building a strong foundation for lasting stability and progress. In future situations, the program secretariat structure can be a constructive model.

Mr. High Commissioner, you have our support for the difficult year ahead, and for efforts to generate support among flagging donors in the interest of restoring needs-based, as opposed to resource-based funding. Rest assured, the United States remains your strong partner and will continue to stay the course.


[End]



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