Index of "Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Press Releases and Statements"
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U.S. Department of State
96/10/07 U.S. Statement by Ambassador Phyllis Oakley: The Pursuit and
Implementation of Durable Solutions
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
U.S. Statement to the 47th Executive Committee of the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees, Phyllis E. Oakley, Assistant Secretary of
State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, October 7, 1996
Mr. Chairman, Madame High Commissioner, Distinguished Colleagues:
Congratulations to Ambassador Mchumo of the Republic of Tanzania on his
election as chairman of the Executive Committee. I would like to
express our special thanks to Ambassador Esper-Larsen for steering us
successfully through the first year of the new EXCOM format and,
particularly, for taking time from his new assignment to participate in
the inter-sessional Standing Committee meetings. Although this week
will be a test of the new EXCOM, I am confident that the new procedures
will result in a more focused and thorough discussion of issues. I
would also like to congratulate the Government of Ireland on its recent
election to the Executive Committee.
Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Ogata, delegates, may I turn now to our theme -- "the
pursuit and implementation of durable solutions."
Solutions are not born in isolation. Solutions are the result of
intensive efforts to build peace -- peace between nations, peace between
neighbors, peace among people. Mrs. Ogata has said that we have to be
more imaginative and daring in pursuing solutions. Permanent solutions
require comprehensive approaches -- approaches which integrate
political, human rights, security, and humanitarian concerns. UNHCR,
under Mrs. Ogata's outstanding leadership, has developed innovative,
comprehensive approaches to address the complex problems of population
Let me discuss some of those approaches.
The United States joined the call in 1993 for UNHCR to take the lead --
together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- to address
refugees and other migrant movements in the countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States through a Regional Conference held
last May. The Program of Action adopted includes specific actions for
the countries of the CIS, which are grounded in internationally-accepted
principles of human rights, refugee and humanitarian law. The
prevention of unnecessary future displacements of people is a key goal
of the Program of Action. Implementation will also go a long way to
protect and assist those displaced and -- more germane to our topic-- to
identify permanent solutions. My government just contributed $1.5
million to the first appeal for CIS Conference follow-up issued jointly
by UNHCR and IOM. We encourage other governments to support efforts to
implement this unique approach.
June 30th marked the end of the Comprehensive Plan of Action for
Indochinese Refugees. The CPA was a truly multilateral 7 year effort.
It broke new ground in cooperation among countries of origin, countries
of first asylum, and donor and resettlement countries, where all
participants helped bear the burden of a regional problem.
We all know that voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution.
There is nothing better than for people to be able to return to their
homes. UNHCR just marked the end of one of the most successful
repatriation operations in history -- the return of over 1.5 million
Mozambicans from neighboring countries in southern Africa. However,
repatriation is not a permanent solution unless there are opportunities
for refugees and displaced persons to reintegrate into their home areas.
We should think of repatriation in expansive terms. It is not only
movement, but a package of actions -- sustainable development, a
community-based approach, and a focus on returnee communities.
We believe that humanitarian organizations like UNHCR can contribute to
refugee reintegration. However, success depends on the political will
of the countries involved and sustainable development actions. In this
regard, I salute the revitalization efforts of the Horn of Africa's
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (or IGAD). The upcoming
November IGAD Partner Meeting offers one opportunity for collective
discussion and renewed commitment to solve refugee issues in the Horn of
The need for a comprehensive approach is amplified when we look at the
complexity of population movements today. Individuals leave their
homes, communities, and countries for many reasons -- some flee armed
conflict or human rights abuse, some seek economic opportunities, and
others seek to escape drought. It is becoming difficult to
differentiate between those who cross an international border to escape
persecution and those who flee persecution within their nation's border.
The High Commissioner is called upon more and more frequently to use her
good offices and provide assistance and protection for those who need it
whether refugees or internally displaced. But let us remember she is
the High Commissioner for Refugees, and refugees should continue to be
her primary concern.
UNHCR's senior management is undertaking an ambitious task in reviewing
"measures to ensure a constant focus on durable solutions and
disengagement." We applaud this foresight. UNHCR is currently caring
for 26 million individuals of concern. In an environment of increasing
needs, and diminishing resources, UNHCR is obligated to think through
ways to conclude operations through solutions, such as local integration
or third country resettlement, in addition to repatriation.
UNHCR's review of the Mozambique operation demonstrated that through
advance planning and early discussions among key actors, the
humanitarian community can succeed in assuring a smooth disengagement.
For just as it is important for UNHCR to devise comprehensive
strategies, it is also essential to close out UNHCR's role at a planned
time. We encourage UNHCR to extend the cooperation with UNDP to design
general frameworks for collaboration or Memoranda of Understanding in
order to routinize the success of operations like Mozambique.
As UNHCR senior management leads the international community toward
durable solutions for the millions of refugees in the world today, we
are reminded that the framers of the international refugee conventions
had the foresight -- and the optimism -- to provide for an official
recognition that a refugee situation had been solved -- the cessation
clause. Thankfully, there are situations where refugees no longer have
a well-founded fear of persecution. We believe that it is time to
consider invoking the cessation clause in areas that are on their way to
resolution. As UNHCR focuses on permanent solutions and disengagement,
this is a tool that should be used more effectively, but without
sacrificing the right of those who continue to fear return to have
individual claims considered.
The Great Lakes region of Africa is an example of a region that presents
UNHCR and the international community with sharply drawn challenges.
The existing Rwandan camps are unacceptably militarized; first asylum is
under threat; and turmoil and killing are on the rise throughout the
region. The longer the refugees remain in the camps, the greater their
risk of being pulled into the widening turmoil.
We need to break an intolerable and unsustainable status quo. The
international community has to take some risks, to design a coordinated
strategy, and to urgently pursue durable solutions. While the
international community will continue to help, the countries of refugee
origin and asylum in the region must take greater responsibility as
well. Resources are limited and diminishing. Prompt, voluntary, and
orderly repatriation of Rwandan refugees is needed despite the risks
that always come with large movements of people. We must continue and
augment traditional efforts to encourage voluntary repatriation.
Together with other concerned governments, we are also suggesting a
series of measures in the Great Lakes region, including camp
consolidation, targeted application of the cessation and exclusion
clauses, and phasing out assistance to existing camps that are too close
to borders, while providing viable alternatives for those who continue
to fear return. These are issues to be discussed urgently with regional
governments, donor governments, and organizations -- all those who
strive to bring peace and justice to this troubled area.
In another part of the world, UNHCR is nearing completion of durable
solutions for Guatemalan refugees. We welcome Guatemala's commitment to
reintegration and Mexico's generous offer of permanent resettlement. We
are confident that the challenges of sustainable integration will be met
in both countries.
A solution which deserves special note is third country resettlement.
Resettlement is an important tool of protection. Granted, the numbers
resettled each year are dwarfed by those in countries of first asylum.
Resettlement is sometimes the only option to ensure an individual's
protection; furthermore, it provides the opportunity for a person or
family to begin to build a future. We are particularly encouraged by
UNHCR's efforts over the past year to increase attention to resettlement
programs, including the practice of regular consultations with
interested governments and NGOs. For our part, we will continue to work
actively to resettle UNHCR-referred cases, and to maintain our generous
levels of worldwide resettlement of refugees.
Coordination and cooperation among governments, international
organizations, and non-governmental organizations are key elements in
the search for solutions. The United States enthusiastically supports
efforts undertaken in the last year to examine the coordination of
emergency humanitarian assistance through ECOSOC resolution 1995/56.
We view the Inter-agency Standing Committee (IASC) as the best existing
mechanism to facilitate quick, effective response to complex
emergencies. However, for the IASC to work, participating agencies must
"own" the process. We hope that UNHCR will be flexible and creative in
considering new approaches to revitalize the IASC and improve
coordination. In this regard, we will continue to look for mechanisms
by which governments can be better informed concerning the work of the
Protection is fundamental to any comprehensive approach. Providing
protection for persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution is
the responsibility of every government here today. It is the legal duty
of all parties to the Convention and/or Protocol relating to the Status
of Refugees. The High Commissioner is mandated to keep a close watch on
the state of protection of refugees in the world. Disturbingly, Mrs.
Ogata has reported severe threats to refugee protection, including cases
where some countries are forcibly returning people to countries where
they have been persecuted or tortured. There are confirmations of
substantial loss of life owing to such flagrant abuse of the right of a
refugee to seek and enjoy protection. We must seek to maintain and to
strengthen the humanitarian principle that refugees must not be returned
to persecution or torture, either from within the territory of a
receiving state or from its border. Similarly, we should seek to
encourage these protections for those in flight from armed conflict.
We must ensure that our policies -- and more importantly, our practices
-- meet both our legal and our moral responsibilities to protect people
Over the coming year we will engage in discussions on how to extend
additional, more effective protection to others who need it -- though
they may not be refugees in the technical sense. The United States
suggests that we examine protection of unaccompanied children who have
crossed international borders in the context of these UNHCR discussions,
as well as other for a where unaccompanied children are on the agenda.
Although the term comprehensive approach has been used in geographic
terms, appropriate responses to the needs of children requires its own
comprehensive approach, to include protection of children as set forth
in many international conventions.
We have often talked about getting away from the rhetoric on refugee
children and translating policy and talk into action. EXCOM has
endorsed the policy and guidelines for refugee children as sound bases
for programming. The United States contributed generously in 1994 and
1995 to create a Regional Support Unit for refugee children. The Unit
was designed with maximum flexibility for UNHCR to choose a location in
any region of the world where the needs of refugee children are
greatest. The Great Lakes region was chosen as the first region for the
RSU. The time is right to evaluate its use as a starting point in an
assessment of progress in implementation of the Guidelines on refugee
UNHCR has recognized that women are an integral part of any solution.
We are particularly impressed with the active leadership the Deputy High
Commissioner has provided this year to chair the internal Reference
Group on Refugee Women. From all accounts, this mechanism is turning
rhetoric into action. Now is the time to turn to UNHCR's operational
partners, in particular, NGOs. In order to ensure that UNHCR's NGO
partners are implementing UNHCR policy and guidelines on the ground, and
with the expressed interest of several NGOs, the United States
Government has funded a position at the Women's Commission for Refugee
Women and Children to assist NGOs to incorporate UNHCR's guidelines in
Last year, we urged UNHCR to establish an Initiative Fund for Refugee
Women in order to allow the organization to explore new, innovative ways
to involve refugee women in planning and implementation of UNHCR
programs. I am pleased to report that my Government has contributed
$200,000 to this fund and we hope to see results of its use over the
next few months. Only through the active involvement of women in every
stage of UNHCR activities can solutions truly be permanent.
President Clinton announced at the Lyon Summit that the United States
would contribute $5 million to create the Bosnia Women's Initiative
(BWI) under the auspices of UNHCR to provide opportunities for women in
Bosnia-Herzegovina to become full participants in the economic recovery
of their country. BWI aims to empower women through innovative
programming and will be implemented by NGOs from the region led by women
to benefit women. UNHCR plans to appeal to governments to contribute to
BWI; we strongly second UNHCR's call for contributions as tangible
support for permanent solutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I plan to travel
to Bosnia and Croatia at the end of this week to lend support to the
Women's Initiative and to meet with major donors, the World Bank, and
others to urge that they also give high priority to programs that
While I am on the subject of contributions, I am happy to report that
with the conclusion of our financial year, U.S. contributions to UNHCR
in 1996 have surpassed 1995 by nearly $30 million. We provided almost
$254 million to UNHCR this year for General and Special Programs. Our
contributions to UNHCR's General Program total over $98 million and our
contributions to UNHCR's operations in the Great Lakes and the former
Yugoslavia predictably top the list for Special Program contributions
with $60 million for the Great Lakes and $57 million for the former
Yugoslavia. And the U.S. Agency for International Development
contributed more than $10 million to UNHCR programs.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to recognize the ambitious
changes currently underway in UNHCR. My Government is tremendously
impressed with UNHCR's proactive efforts to "change management" and
reform the organization to respond more efficiently and effectively. We
welcome the involvement that UNHCR staff members at all levels have had
in "Project Delphi." The Deputy High Commissioner and his colleagues on
the Change Management Group who have worked feverishly over the past
few months to construct Project Delphi's action plan deserve special
acknowledgement. This plan is now resulting in concrete changes in the
way that UNHCR does its business. We encourage UNHCR to continue its
dialogue with governments as the action plan is implemented.
As part of that dialogue, the United States has recognized the High
Commissioner's efforts to bring more women into the organization through
preferential recruitment procedures. That said, we could not help but
notice that, aside from the High Commissioner herself, there is only 1
other woman among the 18 proposed senior managers. We hope this is only
a temporary distortion of the High Commissioner's recruitment strategy.
I would like to close my remarks by paying my own personal tribute, and
that of my Government, to the thousands of UNHCR staff members who work
everyday to find solutions for the plight of the world's refugees. Our
thanks to them and to you, Mrs. Ogata. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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