Report of CCR delegations to:
1. UNHCR Pre-ExCom (24-26 September 2003)
2. European Council on Refugees and Exiles (27 September
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.)
2. EUROPEAN COUNCIL ON REFUGEES AND EXILES
(Biannual General Meeting) World Council of Churches, Geneva, 27 September
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
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
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
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
4. UNHCR EXCOM
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
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
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
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
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:
- Meeting with Diane Vincent, Bob Orr, Fikre Tsehai, and Wendy Young,
to discuss resettlement, safe third country, statelessness and automatic
- Meeting between Jean-Guy Fleury and Paula Thompson and NGOs, including
reps from Australian, American, European and international organizations,
to hear about refugee status determination in Canada, the IRB, the threats
against it, recent changes under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,
etc. It was also a good opportunity for the Chair to hear concerns and experiences
in other jurisdictions. There was some excellent input on the dangers of
teleconferencing refugee status determination and detention reviews from
a number of NGOs who could discuss their experiences.
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
- Meeting with Bob Orr. This was a fairly intense discussion for an hour
or so on a range of issues including interception, safe third country, the
proposed overhaul/Refugee Appeal Division (RAD), automatic landing and statelessness.
We also discussed the relationship between the delegation and the NGO rep,
and the need for more info sharing including re the ExCom conclusions.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
of people we talked to and/or collaborated with in Geneva
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
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
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:
Diane Vincent, Associate Deputy
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
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
UNHCR report on ExCom, which includes the new conclusions, can be accessed
on the UNHCR website at: http://www.unhcr.ch/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tbl=EXCOM&id=3f8d03ad4&page=exec
The text of the NGO statements can be accessed on the ICVA website at: