Report of CCR delegations to:

1. UNHCR Pre-ExCom (24-26 September 2003)

2. European Council on Refugees and Exiles (27 September 2003)

3. Irish Refugee Council (27 September-1 October 2003)

4. UNHCR ExCom (29 September-3 October 2003)

4 November 2003



Palais des Nations, Geneva, 24-26 September 2003
CCR delegation: Francisco Rico-Martinez and Andrew Brouwer

The Pre-ExCom meeting, which is between UNHCR and NGOs, took place over three days. This meeting consisted of an opening plenary session with Erika Feller, Director of the Department of International Protection (the High Commissioner, who was supposed to speak, was very ill), followed by a day and a half of working sessions on a wide range of topics such as human rights and refugee protection, protection in the region of origin, staff security, internally displaced persons (IDPs), durable solutions, and more. There were also a number of "side-meetings" held to discuss specific issues, to release books or videos, etc, organized by NGOs themselves in co-ordination with ICVA. There were regional sessions as well, in which NGOs and UNHCR regional representatives could discuss issues of concern. Following the working and regional sessions there were plenary sessions including one with Dennis McNamara, UNHCR’s Inspector General, one with Erika Feller, and a closing address by Kamel Marjane, Assistant High Commissioner. In addition to the two of us, other Canadians were present representing CCR members, including Denis Howlett and Fikre Tsehai.

The regional session on the Americas, attended by Francisco, was very disappointing. The director of the Americas Bureau, as is becoming usual, avoided discussing any of the issues of interest for Canada, such as: safe third country, the USA-Canada administrative agreement to share information about refugee cases, interdiction, separated minors, state security vs. human security, and detention. The presentation of the director of the Bureau was, in some parts, an attack on the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers as guaranteed to them by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Refugee Convention (e.g. restricting refugee participation in political activities in host countries). After this frustrating experience, it is very clear how privileged we have been in Canada in the last four years and today with the quality of the staff at the UNHCR office in Ottawa.

During Pre-ExCom CCR representatives were involved in numerous activities in addition to the formal sessions. The most important were:

- We took the lead in the preparation of the two substantive NGO statements (the NGO Statement during the General Debate and the NGO Statement on International Protection). These statements are read aloud to the gathering of governments by an NGO representative during ExCom, and printed copies are distributed to States. The main goal of these statements is to influence the positions of the states present at ExCom. This year, we ensured that the statements emphasized the critical issue of access to asylum.

- We hosted a "side-meeting" on interception. (This had been planned in advance, in collaboration with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA).) The meeting, intended for sharing of information about interception practices and to build links and partnerships, was very well-attended (about 30 NGO representatives from around the world) and lively. One of the outcomes was a commitment to establish a listserve to share info and resources about interception, and to develop transnational collaborative strategies to fight/reform interception practices by states. There was also good discussion about developing international legal strategies and about the possibility of a civil society initiative to monitor interception practices. We (i.e. CCR) agreed to take the lead on these issues. (The e-mail list was launched November 2, 2003.)



(Biannual General Meeting) World Council of Churches, Geneva, 27 September 2003
CCR delegation: Andrew Brouwer

ECRE is an umbrella organization of European national refugee-serving organizations. They held their Biannual General Meeting between Pre-ExCom and ExCom. I was invited to participate in one of the sessions, which was designed to help ECRE develop its position on interception (an ECRE representative had just 4 months earlier participated in CCR’s day-long workshop on interception).

There was a very interesting opening plenary which consisted of comments by a range of speakers including representatives from: UNHCR (Erika Feller), European Council, ECRE (Peer Baneke), the Netherlands (minister responsible for immigration), Kenya (ambassador). The interception session was also very interesting, attended by representatives from Italy, Sweden, the UK, France, the Czech Republic, Australia and Canada. I was asked to make an opening presentation on the Canadian experience and to present some ideas or recommendations for the way forward for ECRE, since both the CCR as an organization and I personally have already done some work on interception issues. In addition, CCR presented a set of proposed safeguards for refugee protection, which were well-received by the group. There was much comparing of state practice during the session, and recognition that the fundamental refugee protection/access to asylum issues were the same in each context.

The next step is for ECRE to develop, based on the workshop, position statements/platforms on the component elements of interception. These will be shared with ECRE members as well as with CCR. George Joseph (ECRE’s Chair, I think) was interested in further collaboration with CCR on interception opposition. (Peer Baneke also mentioned to me that he would like to talk to us about resettlement issues, I imagine in the context of Canada’s forum on the strategic use of resettlement).


3. IRISH REFUGEE COUNCIL (Annual General Meeting)

Dublin, 27 September - 1 October 2003
CCR delegation: Francisco Rico Martinez

I was invited, as a past president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, to address the Irish Refugee Council’s Annual General Meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Afterwards the Council invited me to visit Limerick and Galway. The Irish Refugee Council is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Ireland does not have a long history of receiving asylum-seekers and refugees. For instance, the first Refugee Act, which incorporates both the Convention and the Protocol into Irish law, was adopted in 1996 and has already been amended twice (in 1999 and in 2000). Civil society has been forced to develop its instruments in a hurry under prssure from increasing numbers of asylum-seekers and the closing-door policies of the government. The NGOs are building a tradition of hospitality every day in a very closed society.

The issues and challenges that the refugee advocacy community faces over there are similar to those that we face here in Canada, such as: the increase in the number of refugee claimants; serious concerns about the lack of recourse for rejected refugees; safe countries and the domino effect; the lack of policies to address separated children seeking asylum; barriers to education for asylum-seekers; the length of the refugee process; carrier sanctions and interdiction.

The differences between the two countries, however, are also profound. Asylum-seekers are dispersed all over the country, in temporary communal accommodation on full-board and reduced social welfare payments. Many of these larger centres are situated on the edges of towns or suburbs, leaving asylum-seekers segregated from mainstream society, both physically and emotionally. The policy was introduced nationwide under the Irish government’s objective to process all asylum applications within a 6-month period. However, there are currently asylum seekers who have been accommodated in such centres for more than 18 months.

Moreover, for the next municipal election in Ireland, all residents of legal voting age, including asylum-seekers, will be eligible to vote, regardless of their immigration status. And yet, most asylum-seekers are not entitled to work.



Palais des Nations, Geneva, 29 September – 3 October 2003.
CCR representative: Andrew Brouwer

I was CCR’s only representative at ExCom this year and served as the official NGO representative on the Government of Canada delegation. The government delegation was headed by Diane Vincent (Associate Deputy Minister) for the first 2 days; after that Bob Orr, Director General of Refugee Branch, played the role of head of delegation. Also on the delegation was Jean-Guy Fleury, Chair of the IRB (a full list of the delegation is attached).

As a member of the government delegation, I was able to give some input into Canada’s contribution to the General Debate (by way of a statement read by the head of delegation) and Canada’s Statement on International protection, likewise read out by the delegation head.) In addition, I was invited to attend the daily delegation meetings held at Canada’s Permanent Mission to the UN, some cocktail parties (!) and, after much insistence, a bilateral meeting with Erika Feller, Director of UNHCR’s Department of International Protection. I was excluded, however, from the many bilateral meetings that the Canadian delegation had with other governments and with senior UNHCR personnel (except for the bilateral with Ms. Feller, as noted). In fact, these bilaterals appeared to be the main focus of the government delegation’s attention.

The ExCom session itself is a weeklong series of meetings and briefings focused around a plenary session of UNHCR Executive Committee's 64 constituent governments. NGOs are entitled to observe and, to a very limited extent, participate. Indeed, the only official interface between the NGOs and the Executive Committee occurred in a debrief of the Pre-ExCom conference, and in the presentation of the NGO statements. There are four opportunities for NGOs to make statements at ExCom. All four statements are drafted and delivered through the co-ordinating body of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). This year, Francisco and I decided in advance to seek to play a central role in the drafting of the NGO statements during Pre-ExCom and ExCom, and in the end we drafted the NGO Statement on International Protection (based on contributions and suggestions from a wide range of NGOs) and contributed substantially to the NGO General Statement.

The ExCom plenary meetings themselves are often quite dull. However, there were certainly some interesting statements. One was by Jan Egeland, of OCHA. He spoke right after the High Commissioner on opening day, and he was compelling. Apparently the very fact that he was there addressing ExCom was highly unusual and somewhat controversial. His speech focused on the need for better co-ordination and development of a common humanitarian agenda among various UN bodies, NGOs and other partners. He chastised states for denying access to refugees and argued forcefully that combatants need to be held accountable for their actions under international law. He reminded ExCom members of the "forgotten crises," calling for the targeting of humanitarian assistance solely according to need. As he put it "It hurts as much to be displaced in Congo as in Kosovo." He also argued for more sustained attention to transition situations, and said it is unacceptable to allow peace negotiations to collapse. He also argued that humanitarian assistance must not be seen as a substitute for political action and long-term development assistance. (Some good speeches were also made by the High Commissioner and by Erika Feller, as well as by some states. However, I have not attempted to summarize these. UNHCR speeches are I think all available on the website.)

Unsurprisingly much of the "action" takes place in the smaller meetings and in the corridors. This where governments do their bilateral deal making, but it is also the time when NGOs can make and strengthen links with other NGOs with shared interests, both to share information and to develop co-ordinated strategies. This community building/networking activity was in my view one of the most important outcomes of the trip.

Prior to ExCom, CCR’s international affairs committee had identified a number of outcomes and issues to focus on at Pre-ExCom and ExCom. The rest of this report is organized around those items.  

Desired general outcomes

The three desired general outcomes were the same as were suggested for the 2002 ExCom delegation. They were achieved with varying degrees of success. It should be borne in mind that the delegation consisted, for most of the meetings, of just one person (there were two delegates for the first day and a half of Pre-ExCom only).

Building awareness of the CCR and its positions internationally

Unlike in previous years, we did not have promotional materials to distribute at Pre-ExCom, ECRE or ExCom. This was a very unfortunate oversight and should be avoided in the future. As well, after the 2nd day of Pre-ExCom we had only one representative for the rest of the meetings in Geneva (Francisco flew to Dublin to meet with the Irish Refugee Council). This made it more difficult to maintain a significant presence than might have been the case if we’d had more people there. Nevertheless, Francisco and I were able to raise CCR’s profile by hosting a side meeting on interdiction during Pre-ExCom and by taking responsibility for the substantive NGO statements, which required that we meet with a wide range of NGOs to discuss their priority issues and how they might be reflected in the statements. After Francisco left I continued to hold such meetings, formally and informally, with NGOs, both in relation to the statement and on issues of mutual concern to share information and assess opportunities for collaboration (especially re interdiction, safe third country, and returns). I also organized a meeting for NGOs to meet with the Chair of the IRB.

Building networks with/knowledge about other relevant NGOs

Both Francisco and I devoted much of our energy to developing new relationships and maintaining and strengthening existing ones with NGOs as well as UNHCR. CCR already has a good deal of respect among the many NGOs who already know of the organization and who know Janet and/or Francisco. Good relationships were made/nurtured particularly with Australian, US and European NGOs, largely because of the similarity of some of the concerns and priority issues. While there was a difficult session with some regional UNHCR staff, the relationship generally between UNHCR and CCR is a good one, and CCR is known and enjoys a good reputation generally within the institution, as far as I can tell. I met with a variety of UNHCR staff, primarily around interception but also some other issues of concern relating to the Canadian situation.

Developing relationships with the Canadian government

The government delegation consisted of several senior officials who were new to their positions in the government. In particular Diane Vincent, Associate Deputy Minister and head of the delegation, had been in her job for just weeks prior to coming to ExCom. Her prior position was with a different government department altogether. Bob Orr, the new Director General of Refugees was likewise relatively new to his position. Jean-Guy Fleury, Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), had been in the post for about a year. This newness meant that there was some room for establishing/developing new relationships with the individuals in question. I had formal and informal discussions with each of these persons as well as with Elissa Golberg of DFAIT, not to mention a number of conversations on "CCR issues" with Bruce Scoffield, Paula Thompson, and Oscar Jacobs. In particular, I organized the following meetings with members of the Canadian delegation:

An issue that came up repeatedly and caused some friction was the exclusion of the NGO representative (me) from bilateral meetings organized by the Canadian delegation. This is an issue that requires further discussion with Canadian government representatives before the next ExCom session, as well as the need for sharing of conclusion drafts and Canada’s positions in advance of ExCom.

One tradition that was not repeated this year was the meal for Canadian NGOs hosted by the Canadian delegation and normally organized by the NGO delegate. There were only 2 or 3 Canadian NGOs at ExCom this year, so it was decided that it was not worth organizing. Janet and I tried at the last minute to organize a breakfast meeting for the Canadian delegation to meet international NGOs and NGOs from other countries to discuss interdiction, but it was too late to change the delegation’s schedule.

I also facilitated a discussion with a former CIC official, Gerry Van Kessel, now Co-ordinator of the Inter-governmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies in Europe, North America and Australia (IGC), Peer Baneke of ECRE and Richard Williams of the British Refugee Council. The goal of the meeting was to facilitate communication between NGOs and IGC. This could be an important move, and CCR should consider doing what it can to develop this dialogue.

Developing connection with ICVA

As noted, CCR played a leading role in the development of the NGO statements. This helped to further solidify the CCR’s relationship with ICVA, as well as with other NGOs involved in the drafting process. Francisco and I offered to get CCR more involved in Pre-ExCom planning for next year, in part because we think the round tables could benefit from being structured more closely along the lines of CCR’s consultations, ensuring more time for group discussion rather than simply panel presentations, and a focus on strategy building rather than solely information sharing.

Issues of concern

In addition to the short summaries here, it is worth reading the NGO statements as well as Erika Feller’s summary of the debate on international protection. Links to these documents are provided at the end of this document.

Interception: As noted, Fransisco and I hosted a very well-attended and productive side-meeting on this subject during Pre-ExCom. A list-serve is being developed and plans are underway to develop transnational/international litigation strategies. I participated in a working group session on interception at the ECRE meeting, and put the issue front and centre in the NGO Protection Statement as well as the general statement. I discussed the issue in detail in a meeting with the Director General of Refugee Branch as well as in conversation with the ADM. I also raised it in an NGO bilateral with the Erika Feller, and strongly encouraged UNHCR to develop monitoring mechanisms to assess state practice in this area. As well, I discussed the issue in the context of the draft, and later finalized, ExCom Conclusion on interception with Volker Turk, UNHCR Director of Protection Policy and Legal Advice, and Grainne O’Hara, UNHCR focal point on interception, and offered to provide assistance in the drafting of safeguards and training materials as well as monitoring mechanisms. Unfortunately, one of our key (albeit perhaps unrealistic) goals – to get revisions to the proposed language on state responsibility in the ExCom Conclusion – failed despite numerous and varied attempts. The government of Canada insisted very strongly that the specific language on responsibility allocation be in the text. The next step for UNHCR on interception is to develop guidelines on safeguards, pursuant to the Agenda for Protection. The guidelines are to be accompanied by training materials. Erika as well as Volker encouraged NGOs to contribute to this. We have a number of key NGO allies on this subject. Among them I think are Berta Romero at RCUSA, Wendy Young at the Women’s Commission, Eleanor Acer at LCHR, Richard Williams at BRC, James Thomson at the National Council of Churches in Australia, Margaret Piper, and others.

Agenda for Protection: This continued to be a reference point for many discussions of refugee issues and planning for UNHCR. It is clear, though, that the sheer breadth of the document and the recognized need for setting priorities leaves enormous latitude for UNHCR and states to pursue the most convenient goals while ignoring those that might be less popular…

UK Proposal: This topic, and related discussions about various forms of "protection in the region," dominated much of the debate among NGOs. NGOs continue to be very concerned that this idea will be used to further cut off access to asylum in the industrialized countries of the world, locking down refugees in the south. Canada continues to avoid criticizing the idea in any significant way.

Effective protection: This was a hot topic at Pre-ExCom, and was the subject of one of the roundtable sessions there. Unfortunately, neither Francisco nor I was unable to attend that session. I did incorporate the issue in the NGO statement, highlighting some of the points made in an ECRE report on the subject. UNHCR was urged by NGOs to further develop an expansive definition of the term. Detention: There was discussion of detention in a variety of fora. NGO concerns about the increasing use of detention by many states were highlighted in the NGO statements. I gather there are plans for an international meeting on detention, as proposed last year by the WCC, but I don’t have details.

Statelessness: NGOs were the only party (there might have been one state) to raise the issue of statelessness during the ExCom debate on international protection. Erika pointed this out and thanked NGOs especially for doing so. I also raised the issue of statelessness with ADM Diane Vincent and DG Bob Orr, as well as with Bruce Scoffield, and gave each a copy of a recent report on statelessness published by UNHCR Canada. None of the government representatives were very receptive.

UNHCR Geneva recently distributed a survey on statelessness to states. An interim report on the (incomplete) results of the survey was available at ExCom.

Security in camps/sexual exploitation: This was also a hot topic during Pre-ExCom and ExCom, but unfortunately well beyond my area of knowledge or ability to engage. I had planned to connect with a CARE Canada representative on this issue, but that person apparently did not attend the meetings.

Other observations/suggestions

There seemed to be a huge dominance of Northern/Western NGOs, reflecting the parallel dominance of ExCom by such states. There also seemed to be a recognition among many NGOs and UNHCR that there needs to be better representation from NGOs of the South. UNHCR apparently does fund some NGOs to come, but I gather there are questions about just how representative those NGOs are – from what I heard they are selected on a pretty ad hoc basis. I also understand the ICVA at one stage had a fund to bring NGOs to Pre/ExCom. This may be worth looking into, with an eye to resurrecting it.

An issue being discussed in the corridors was the establishment of a new "Global Commission on Migration." This was set up at the initiative of the Secretary-General of the UN, and is apparently being led by a group of around 5 states, including Sweden, Switzerland, Philippines, Mexico and another country.

The role of NGOs in ExCom is up in the air. A decision was taking at this ExCom meeting to extend NGO participation for another year, but to review the future role of NGOs in the context of discussions around UNHCR 2004. There was talk at ExCom by the HC and by Erika about expanding the role of NGOs, but the language of the ExCom "Decision" can be considered ambiguous and there is a risk that it could go the other way.

The Executive Committee decided finally to remove the time limit on UNHCR’s mandate, in recognition of the fact that the refugee problem that the institution was established to address has persisted for half a century, and isn’t going to be completely resolved in the short term.

UNHCR has submitted a draft monitoring plan re the Safe Third Country agreement and is waiting for a response.

Convention Plus continues to mean all things to all people, as far as I can tell. However, according to Erika Feller, capacity building and improving protection in the region of origin are two areas of focus. These must not however become exercises in burden shifting, as noted by NGOs as well as Erika Feller. As well, the High Commissioner and Erika Feller noted the importance of linking development assistance to repatriation efforts to ensure that repatriation is a durable solution.

List of people we talked to and/or collaborated with in Geneva

Erika Feller
Volker Turk
Grainne O’Hara
Stephen Wolfson
Hope Hanlan
Peter Weineke


Berta Romero, Refugee Council USA

Wendy Young, Women’s Commission
Mariette Grange, ICMC
Rachel Brett, Quakers
Pia Oberoi, AI Geneva
Eve Lester AI HQ
George Joseph, Caritas Sweden
Melanie Teff, JRS Rome
Richard Williams, British Refugee Council
Eleanor Acer, Lawyers Committee for HRs
James Thompson, National Council of Churches in Australia
Eileen Pittaway, Asian Women’s Human Rights Council/ UNSW Centre Refugee Research
Christine Bloch, JRS
Marit Sorheim, Norwegian Refugee Council
Margaret Piper, Refugee Council of Australia
Elena Ivanovski, Australian Council for Community Legal Centre
Manisha Thomas, ICVA
Ed Schenkenberg, ICVA
Tony Morris, Australian Catholic University
Phil Glendenning, Edmund Rice Centre

Gerry Van Kessel, IGC

The Canadian delegation to ExCom 2003:

Head of Delegation:
Diane Vincent, Associate Deputy Minister, CIC

Alternative Head of Delegation:  
Bob Orr, Director General, Refugees Branch, CIC


Jean-Guy Fleury, Chair of the IRB
Louise Marchand, DG Int’l Humanitarian Assistance, CIDA;
Susan Gregson, Director, HRs, Humanitarian Affairs and Int’l Women’s Equality Div, DFAIT;
Bruce Scoffield, Director, Policy Dev and Int’l Co-ordination, CIC;
Elissa Golberg, Deputy Director a.i., Humanitarian Affairs and Int’l Women’s Equality Div, DFAIT;
Natalie Patenaude, Snr Prg Officer, Int’l Humanitarian Asst, CIDA
Andrew Brouwer, Member of the Executive Committee, CCR
Bill Lundy, Counsellor, Head of Humanitarian Affairs Section, Permanent Mission of Canada to the Office of the UN at Geneva;
Leslie Norton, Counsellor, Humanitarian Affairs, Permanent Mission
Oscar Jacobs, Attache, Policy Dev and Int’l Protection (sic), CIC
Paula Thompson, Special Adviser to the Chairperson, IRB


The final UNHCR report on ExCom, which includes the new conclusions, can be accessed on the UNHCR website at:

The text of the NGO statements can be accessed on the ICVA website at: