Report of CCR delegation to Pre-ExCom and ExCom
UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
25 Sept 2002 - 4 October 2002
The CCR delegation was composed of CCR President, Kemi Jacobs, and CCR representatives, Catherine Balfour and Alistair Boulton. Other Canadians were present representing CCR members, including Heather Macdonald, Marnie Hayes, Elsa Tesfay Musa, Mulugeta Abai and Fikre Tsehai.
Pre-ExCom is three days of meetings (25-27 Sept 2002) between UNHCR and NGOs. This meeting consisted of an opening plenary session with the High Commissioner for Refugees and Erika Feller, Director of the Department of International Protection, followed by a day and a half of working sessions on topics such as staff security, the Role of NGOS in Protection, IDPs, Reception of Asylum Seekers, and regional sessions. The final plenary consisted of a summary of the more than twenty workshops, and a facilitated discussion between NGOs and the limited number of States who attended this initial debrief. ExCom is a weeklong series of meetings and briefings focused around a plenary session of UNHCR's constituent governments. NGOs are entitled to observe and to a very limited extent, participate. Indeed, the only official interface between the NGOs and the States occurred in a second early morning debrief of the Pre-ExCom conference, and in the presentation of the NGO statement which was developed by NGOs during the three-day meeting.
CCR delegates attended all of PreExCom and most of ExCom. In addition, delegates pursued informal meetings with individual UNHCR and government officials as well as other NGOs throughout the two weeks. This summary consists of:
- A summary of the desired outcomes of CCR participation in the ExCom
- A synthesis of their observations, grouped according to theme
- An analysis of the benefits derived from participation in the Pre-ExCom and ExCom
- Tips for future participation
After extensive consultation with CCR members who had previously attended ExCom, the 2002 CCR team identified the following as desired outcomes of their participation:
- Building awareness of the CCR and its positions
- Building networks with/knowledge about other relevant NGOs
- Consolidating relationships with the Canadian government
- Build/explore support for CCR initiatives – as Focal point for the ATC, and for a role of supporting new resettlement countries
- Creation of initial contacts with strategic governments
SYNTHESIS OF OBSERVATIONS
Protection (or its opposite)
The High Commissioner's introductory remarks were wide-ranging and positive but unclear in some particulars. The roadmap is set out in the Agenda for Protection. But while gratifying that countries have renewed their commitment to the Convention, the High Commissioner stated it is clear that the Convention alone does not suffice and that what is needed is the "Convention Plus." This concept was quickly taken up by attending governments but nobody seemed entirely clear what it meant. The High Commissioner's remarks say only:
By [Convention Plus] I mean supplementing the Convention in areas that it does not adequately cover.
The "Plus" concerns special agreements for improved burden sharing, with countries in the North and South working together to find durable solutions for refugees. It concerns comprehensive plans of action in cases of massive outflows. It concerns agreements on "secondary movements", defining the roles and responsibilities of countries of origin, transit, and potential destination, with regard to asylum seekers. It concerns better targeting of development assistance in regions of origin, helping refugee-hosting countries to facilitate local integration, and enhancing post-conflict reintegration. And it concerns multilateral commitments for resettlement. (High Commissioner's Opening Statement, at p. 8)
So, it contains a lot, almost all of it inchoate. Some clearly positive things, like bridging the gap between humanitarian relief and development, a theme repeatedly emphasized by the High Commissioner who was explicit in his desire to make UNHCR a true multilateral agency (and able to tap into funds of other UN agencies and regional and international development banks). And some potentially less positive things, like agreements on secondary movements. Convention Plus was applauded by everyone from the north - Australia's Philip Ruddock, Canada's Michel Dorais, who acknowledged needing to deal with the "hard choices" referred to by the Australians, USA, Netherlands et al.
Governments from the south tended to express more enthusiasm for the potentialities of the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). UNHCR has lobbied hard to have incorporated into NEPAD a plan to deal with the continent's refugees and internally displaced. Canada expressed strong support for the NEPAD initiative, including money, with the promise of more money provided benchmarks are set and reached. The private sector too insofar as it can be said to be represented by the World Economic Forum supported NEPAD, impressed by its design by leaders of region rather than outsiders, jettisoning of the sovereign border defence to human rights abuse, commitment to measurable targets and innovative mechanisms, such as peer review. African NGOs appear to be reserving judgment, and expressed some concern about the lack of involvement of civil society in its development.
The sexual abuses of refugee children in West Africa received considerable attention from speakers at the plenary. Most governments appeared content that UNHCR's response, set out in its new voluntary Code of Conduct, was adequate. At the Canadian NGO breakfast, Canada agreed with an NGO representation that the issue was primarily one of management and accountability and that the mechanisms to discourage abuse already existed but had to be exercised. A new booklet, the Code of Ethics, was launched at the meeting; this guide outlines parameters for UNHCR personnel in relation to various aspects of working with refugees and NGO partners, and all UNHCR staff will be required to sign the Code.
According to the HCR, the total number of refugees in the last year declined about 2 million from 22 to 20 million. This was due principally to spontaneous repatriation of large numbers of Afghanis. But Sierra Leoneans also began to return, as did Eritreans, East Timorese, Bosnians and Croatians and internally displaced Sri Lankans . Representatives of the UNHCR also reported that the prospect for Sri Lankan refugees in India is good as are large-scale returns to Angola and, more doubtfully, to DRC. Less positive reports were given on the situations in Uganda, where refugee settlements continue to be attacked, Rwanda, which has expelled Congolese refugees, Liberia, again in turmoil, and Ivory Coast.
In South America, the overwhelming concern is Colombia. UNHCR is considering opening a mission in Panama to assist with Colombian refugees fleeing there. Problems with the treatment of refugees in the Venezuelan border area continue.
In North America, USA NGO delegates asserted that civil rights of, inter alia, refugees, had been significantly diminished since September 11 (2001), the diminution of rights at the Appeals Board being the latest development. All NGOs agreed that September 11 aggravated an already inadequate protection situation. They also expressed concern about the Safe Third Country agreement with Canada and, while not confident it could be defeated, appeared committed to continuing to work with their politicians to increase opposition to the agreement.
Similar concerns about the Safe Third Country agreement were expressed
by CCR's president, as were concerns about the increasing public perception
of a link between terrorists and refugees. The principal aspects
of Canada's new Immigration Act were also related, in particular the delayed
implementation of the appeal.
Resettlement received high priority in the High Commissioner's introductory remarks and in UNHCR's Agenda for Protection, the document encapsulating the conclusions of the Global Consultations process. A senior consultant, Phyllis Coven, has been seconded to UNHCR from USA's Immigration and Naturalization Service to work alongside Eva Demant, UNHCR's new Chief of Resettlement Section . Ms. Coven's remit is to operationalize improvements to the resettlement identification and processing system in Africa. New money from the USA will allow the creation of a number of new resettlement posts in Africa.
The long anticipated electronic submission system for resettlement cases, ERISS, is apparently dead. UNHCR has opted to pursue one rather than parallel registration systems. The chosen system is PROFILE. The High Commissioner confirmed that registration represents a very high priority for UNHCR and enjoys strong support from USA and the European Union.
The United Kingdom announced in plenary that it has created a resettlement program but gave no details on numbers or mechanics of referral. A former Canadian government official as well as a former ECRE staffer described this development as negative, undoubtedly the thin end of an asylum tightening wedge.
The new resettlement Integration Handbook was introduced and distributed, receiving perhaps its most unlikely praise from Australia's Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, who was keen to have Australia's contributions to the document, including funding, acknowledged.
Craig Sanders, coordinator of the NGO unit at UNHCR, confirmed that CCR's proposal for funding as a focal point for the Annual Tripartite Conference looked good and will likely be approved. It is awaiting formal sign-off by Judith Kumin of UNHCR Ottawa and Eva Demant, the new Chief of Resettlement Section, Geneva.
UNHCR's Inspector General, Maureen Connelly, is retiring. Dennis McNamara has been named as her replacement.
The High Commissioner basically stated that jobs for life at HCR are
over. In-between assignments personnel, formerly known as "floaters,"
will be required to do short term missions. The agency needs and
intends to recruit new staff.
Several other themes/patterns emerged during the course of the meetings; these are highlighted below:
- Many of the ‘northern’ states spoke of the need to protect the integrity of their asylum systems. Paraphrased, this translates into an increase in the barriers that will be faced by asylum seekers, as Americans and Canadians copy strategies implemented by ‘fortress Europe’. The ‘war against terror’ has become a convenient scapegoat that has allowed many western countries to make it more difficult for refugees to seek asylum in their countries.
- Australian NGOs turn out en masse to protest the treatment of asylum-seekers there, and spoke out during the NGO conference about the conditions faced by people seeking refugee protection there. They brought powerful video footage of their detention system, and showed it on several occasions at sessions which they organized before the NGO sessions started; they have promised to send a copy of the video to the CCR.
- While the NGO conference was attended by many NGOs from Europe, Africa and the Americas, the European and American NGOs were most vocal. Thus, while countries in the south host most refugees, the concerns and issues of the NGOs providing services to them were not always heard.
- The main interface between the ExCom and PreExCom meetings is the NGO statement which is developed by NGOs and presented at the ExCom general assembly. The nature of this statement has changed greatly over the years, evolving from a series of general platitudes into a hard-hitting statement that provides a critical analysis of the major issues affecting refugees and IDPs, and making recommendations for action by states. (the NGO statement is attached to this report)
- This year, the need for regional input into the NGO statement was stressed, and over the course of the NGO PreExCom meeting, representatives from the US, Africa, Europe, South America and Asia provided the drafting team with critical issues in their regions. The finished product was eventually presented by a representative from the south, and reflected the combined input of NGOs from various parts of the world.
- UNHCR expressed interest in alternatives to detention. Beth Ferris of the World Council of Churches said they are seeking funding to hold an international forum on detention next year. Perhaps Canadian research bodies could be persuaded to support this initiative.
- Representatives of both USA and European NGOs expressed enthusiasm
for the idea of attending CCR meetings, particularly those held in the
east. They likewise encouraged CCR participation at various of their
meetings. ECRE, for example, always hosts a weekend conference in
Geneva between Pre-ExCom and ExCom. The registration fee is modest
and participation at the meeting should be encouraged for CCR's delegates
to next year's ExCom.
BENEFITS DERIVED FROM PreExCom AND ExCom PARTICIPATION
The CCR had identified 4 key outcomes it hoped to achieve from participation in these meetings. They were achieved in varying measures.
- Building awareness of the CCR and its positions
Promotional materials on the CCR and on current positions on the Safe Third Country agreement were distributed at the conference. CCR was also fortunate to have a relatively large team of representatives who participated both in the general assemblies and in the workshops which were part of the PreExCom session. As a result, the CCR continued to be visible, and most of the issues flagged by the team did make their way into the NGO statement to the ExCom. Various members of the CCR team also organized separate meetings with relevant UNHCR officials, (Regional Director of the Americas, the new Director of Resettlement, the Gender Unit) as part of the strategy to build awareness of the CCR and to promote its positions on key issues.
- Building networks with/knowledge about other relevant NGOs
This was perhaps the most effective part of the initiative. The CCR was able to connect with NGOs from all parts of the world who are involved in refugee protection and advocacy. The meeting provided a unique opportunity to learn about critical issues in various parts of the world, and identified allies who might prove useful when advocating on international issues, or when seeking first-hand information about international situations. One particularly useful resource was ICVA’s NGO handbook, which provides a listing of all of the NGOs in their network.
- Consolidating relationships with the Canadian government
It is somewhat ironic that as Canadians, the CCR and CIC tend to have a much better relationship when they meet at international fora than in domestic arenas, and Geneva was no exception. While there was not much formal interface, the Canadian delegation, through the NGO liaison, provided the NGOs with their statements prior to their delivery, and there was some limited opportunity for input. The Consulate hosted the delegation to a breakfast, but unfortunately, as there was a misunderstanding about the date, many of the delegates had already departed.
- Build/explore support for CCR initiatives
As support for Canada’s role as the focal point for the ATC had been solicited prior to the meetings, the meetings merely provided an opportunity for an update about the process. Given the strong support for this role, it appears to be just a matter of time before approval for this initiative is finalized. Promotion of the idea of having the CCR and CIC explore a shared role in supporting new resettlement countries had already been sought at the September round table with CIC, and a letter of intent has been requested from the CCR.
- Creation of initial contacts with strategic governments
Given the context of the meetings, this was an unrealistic goal. At the same time, however, the statements made by many of the countries present were documented, and CCR representatives were able to obtain speeches that indicate the ‘position’ of many of these countries vis-à-vis refugee protection.
In conclusion, CCR participation in the PreExCom and ExCom meetings is important, as this is THE major international forum that addresses our key mandate – the protection of refugees. Given its relevance to the CCR mandate, it is important that the CCR team establishes clear desired outcomes from participation (it is a significant cost to the organization) and much of the organization required to make this an effective initiative must be done prior to arrival in Geneva.
TIPS FOR FUTURE PARTICIPATION
- Participants should contact ICVA months before the actual meetings,
so as to be advised of relevant developments (meeting dates, registration,
development of NGO agenda)
- Contact should also be made with ECRE, as this important European umbrella group also meets around the same time;
- Early contact should be made with the UNHCR-NGO liaison person
- Early contact should also be made with the CIC NGO liaison person, so that key concerns can be addressed.
- CCR should encourage ICVA to initiate a process whereby NGOs in the various regions can flag key issues before arriving in Geneva
- CCR should work with ICVA to encourage greater transparency in the PreExCom process, and ensure that equity and equitable representation are core foundations of the NGO PreExCom meeting.
- CCR and CIC should continue to meet before departing for Geneva, so that roles, expectations and key objectives of each partner can be clarified. Follow-up activities/initiatives in the post-Geneva period should also be explored.
- CCR reps should be briefed by previous delegates as well as the office on what to expect, including practical items like accommodation and transportation. "Mandat International" is a wonderful gem in Geneva, offering cheap accommodation, affordable dinners and a shuttle to, and from the ‘Palais’ and the delightful company of other NGO delegates, many from the South and East.
- As participation in PreExCom and ExCom are important vehicles for
progress in the strategic direction of building international networks,
CCR should continue to attend these meetings;
- Key outcomes should be identified by each of the working groups at the Spring consultation and September working group meetings, so that strategic meetings can be set up well in advance;
- Continuity is a key component of effective participation at these meetings, and the CCR should build this continuity into its participation;
- CCR should work with ICVA to increase transparency and equity in its processes – particularly vis-à-vis the PreExCom meetings;
- Contacts made during the meetings should be ‘massaged’ so as to strengthen the CCR’s international linkages;
- Key contacts with various UNHCR officials and bodies should be renewed annually at these meetings.
- Allies for key CCR positions should be identified for future reference.
Among the documents made available (all of which are publicly available for those interested in obtaining a copy) were:
- Thematic compilation of ExCom conclusions
- HCR Handbook for Emergencies
- The new resettlement Integration Handbook
- Mid-year Progress Report (HCR), explaining among other things Executive Office's 2004 initiative
- Compilation of "Australia's contribution" to interpreting the Refugees Convention (picked up primarily to prevent it falling into the hands of others)
- Canadian DFAIT report on possible role of military in refugee camp security (a similar project is being piloted for police)
- Project Profile (registration and population data management strategy) report by Deloitte and Touche
- Excellent, recent HRW reports on (1) systematic use of rape in eastern DRC, (2) USA civil liberties abuses post Sept 11, (3) EU green paper on return of illegals
- Excellent AI report on the "Pacific Solution"
- Useful ECRE paper on Safe Third Countries
Bilateral Resettlement Issues
Canadian Council for Refugees
1) New Law (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act Implemented 28 June 2002)
Act and Regulations formalize various existing resettlement policies and pilots
a) Urgent Protection (72 hours)2) Numbers
b) Broadened definition of family (emotional-financial interdependence)
c) One Year Window of Opportunity (for follow-on dependants)
d) Non-applicability of, inter alia(i) establishment criteria for urgent and vulnerable cases (and relaxes for all other cases to 5 years from 1)
(ii) medical inadmissibility for excessive demand cases (serious contagious diseases still a bar)
(iii) processing and Right of Landing fees
a) Government-sponsored (i.e. cases which UNHCR and approved referral agents refer) remain at 73003) Possible Initiatives
b) Privately sponsored unlimited
- Sponsorship Agreement Holders ; Group of Five ; Corporations
- Some tension between these and HCR-referred cases where HCR active (cases generally require HCR recognition as refugee but may be promoted where would not meet HCR’s resettlement criteria)
a) establishment of common form (joint RRF-IMM8)4) Other
b) clarification responsibility for highly specific photos now required (embassy to bring camera meeting specific requirements on field visits?)
c) lobbying on unaccompanied minor pilot, which has stalled
d) encouragement of more decisions based on dossier only (already possible for urgent cases)
e) explore possibilities re group referrals and role in private sponsorship cases
f) ensuring consistently high quality submissions (avoiding pressurized referrals)
NGOs, UNHCR and Canadian government enjoy very positive views of each other so initiatives plausible
NGOs seeking to expand Canadian candidates on ICMC deployment roster;
the proposed training in Calgary in November is thus very useful.
53rd Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
NGO Contribution to the General Debate
2 October 2002
This NGO statement is delivered on behalf of ICVA and is the result of a consultation with a wide range of NGOs. While it cannot reflect all of the views of the many different NGOs represented here, it does present issues and concerns on which there is broad agreement.
We come to this Executive Committee (EXCOM) meeting in the face of an
ongoing protection crisis. Borders are closing to refugees in many parts
of the world, whether through interception or interdiction, legislative
measures, or the use of police or armed services. Many asylum-seekers are
finding that instead of the protection sought, they are being treated as
if they were criminals and, in some cases, are being detained indiscriminately
and in violation of international human rights standards. For many, asylum
is an empty promise and effective protection and durable solutions are available in too few situations. Unless there is a compelling strategic interest for intervention, we are all too often seeing situations where developing countries, hosting the majority of the world's refugees, cope on their own with inadequate resources – a lack of resources that seriously compromises protection. Yet, it is in the long-term interests of all States to ensure that refugees are effectively protected and that durable solutions are found.
We have watched States that were previously upholders and champions
of human rights, discard these values in favour of short-term political
and strategic ends. This is doing long-term damage to refugees themselves
and social cohesion more widely. Policies and practices that illustrate
this short-sightedness include: closed and guarded borders to prevent access
to asylum-seekers; screening practices that deny fair and efficient refugee
status determination (RSD) procedures; restrictive interpretations of the
Convention; denial or prejudicial limitations on appeal rights; expansion
of grounds for detention; the provision of restrictive temporary protection
(including the denial of family reunion and the
right to travel); and other forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of race, religion, ethnic or national origin, or other status such as health (including HIV/AIDS status) and disability.
UNHCR and Funding
For UNHCR to carry out its protection and assistance mandate effectively, States must provide UNHCR with the required financial support. Likewise, the comprehensive implementation of the objectives of the Agenda for Protection largely depends on the political and financial will of States.
It is of great concern to NGOs that UNHCR's significantly reduced programme
budget means that standards, such as the Sphere Standards, so carefully
crafted in consultation with operational
partners, cannot be met. For example, there is not enough adequate shelter to provide for privacy, safety, and dignity. In addition, there are not enough resources for registration or protection needs identification. This results in a further erosion of social structures, which in turn can lead to further violence in refugee and host communities. Where UNHCR is inadequately funded, the complex task of providing refugee protection is undermined, not least by serious personnel shortages. NGOs call on States - as major donors - to ensure that sufficient resources are provided to UNHCR to enable it to fulfil its mandate.
Agenda for Protection
As noted during the June session of the Standing Committee, NGOs welcome the Agenda for Protection and welcome the reaffirmation by States of their commitment to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees during the Global Consultations process. We agree with UNHCR that the Agenda is not a blueprint for solving all protection problems, but it is an important tool in combating the negative measures that inspired the Global Consultations in the first place.
NGOs stand ready to fulfil their responsibilities in monitoring and reporting on its implementation, as well as to play their part in undertaking actions to operationalise the Agenda.
We have heard conflicting views of what "Convention Plus" might be.
Therefore, this issue requires clarification and elaboration. If, however,
this initiative seeks to prevent movements of refugees
from countries of first asylum where they are not safe and their human rights are not protected, the "Convention Plus" initiative may unnecessarily curtail the right to seek and enjoy asylum. The
initiative may also allow States to shirk their responsibilities under the Convention towards refugees who arrive spontaneously. The priority should be to provide the best quality protection to refugees, irrespective of where they are or how they arrive. NGOs wish to emphasise that it is critical that human rights standards, including social, economic, and cultural rights, which States are responsible for upholding, remain at the core of follow-up to the Global Consultations.
We would also emphasise that developments and processes such as "Convention
Plus," as well as "UNHCR 2004," should not deflect attention from, or compromise,
the implementation of other aspects
of the Agenda. Moreover, recognising that some of the most compelling contemporary forms of racism and xenophobia are against refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, as acknowledged in the Agenda for Protection, we would urge States to ensure complementary follow-up in the context of the World Conference Against Racism.
During discussions in the UNHCR-NGO pre-Executive Committee Consultations, NGOs felt that a concrete step forward in implementing the Agenda for Protection would be the setting of standards for the public evaluation of States Parties' compliance with their obligations to refugees. Such standards, which would refer to the 1951 Convention and other instruments relating to refugee protection, could be established by UNHCR and States through the Executive Committee.
In this respect, and taking account of our earlier comments on "Convention Plus," NGOs welcome the proposal of the High Commissioner to set up a Forum for discussion on the implementation of the Agenda for Protection. We look forward to participating in the discussions on the mechanism and its operation and to active involvement in the Forum.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
There remains a pressing need, amongst others, to address the obstacles, threats, and attacks not only against IDPs themselves, but also against those who offer humanitarian aid. In Colombia, for example, on conservative estimates, an additional 168,000 people became displaced in the first six months of 2002. At the same time, more than half of the world's 25 million IDPs are in Africa, with large numbers in Angola and Sudan. It must be stressed that UNHCR is only working for a small proportion of IDPs world-wide.
We appreciate the recent openness with which UNHCR has shared information
on its role and esponsibilities for the IDP populations with which
it is working. We strongly urge that, in the near future,
there be a more predictable articulation by UNHCR of the IDP situations in which it will become involved. In many cases, even if three green lights appear, UNHCR seems to see yellow or red. We encourage UNHCR to collaborate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and development organisations in carrying out its work with regard to IDPs.
Women and Children
While progress in the implementation of UNHCR's Guidelines for Refugee
Women and Refugee Children has been made, there are still major gaps in
their application. For women and children, particularly girls, the gap
between standards and practice continues to threaten their lives and the
lives of their families and
communities, including increasing their vulnerability to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. As the evaluation on the impact of UNHCR's activities in meeting the rights and protection needs of refugee children shows, a community-based approach is essential for child protection to work. NGOs look forward to discussing the plan of action for the implementation of the recommendations of the evaluation.
Sexual Violence and Exploitation
Women and children continue to be at the greatest risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. We welcome the appointment of a focal point to coordinate actions in the wake of the West Africa study, as well as follow-up evaluations relevant to it. Child protection, however, must be institutionalised throughout the organisation, for example by strengthening the critical link between community services and the Department of International Protection. As the High Commissioner pointed out in his address to EXCOM, the number of female staff in the field must be increased in order to improve the protection of refugee women and children.
It must be recognised, however, that sexual violence and exploitation cannot be separated from the range of protection issues facing refugees and displaced people. While we are committed to working towards the implementation of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's (IASC) Plan of Action, we believe that additional steps are required if this serious issue is to be effectively addressed. We must ensure that the prevailing culture of sexual violence against refugees and IDPs in camps and urban areas is put to an end. Rape, child sexual abuse, and the exchange of food for sex must not be tolerated and perpetrators must be brought to justice. The common elements for codes of conduct developed within the inter-agency context are vital in furthering the accountability of humanitarian organisations and their staff.
A number of NGOs have continuing difficulty with the lack of reference in many codes to the fact that sexual relationships between humanitarian workers and beneficiaries must not occur. Where an imbalance of power exists in a relationship, consent cannot be assumed and humanitarian workers have heightened obligations.
Addressing the question of onward movements must start from the presumption that people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, move. The international community must not lose sight of the fact that refugees are entitled to protection whatever their location: in a refugee camp, in an urban area, in a neighbouring State, or in another country of asylum. They are also entitled to seek protection. Conclusion 58 of this Executive Committee provides clear recognition of this fact.
Nevertheless, the onward movement of asylum-seekers and refugees in
search of effective and durable protection has become a key preoccupation
of many States, particularly as States, such as Australia and certain States
in the EU, make assumptions about the reason behind, and motivation for,
such movements. Many States are responding in the name of combating
smuggling and trafficking by closing, or threatening to close, their borders
and taking measures that prevent refugees from seeking asylum.
Meanwhile, they give too little attention to addressing the causes of continuing movement that arise from a lack of adequate protection in countries of first arrival. As long as refugees are unable to obtain
effective protection, his/her movement - no matter how many borders may need to be crossed - should be regarded as primary, not secondary movement.
In addressing the causes of onward movements, States must look at their
role in responsibility-sharing. Industrialised States are host to a small
proportion of the world's refugees. Developing countries,
on the other hand, struggle to host the vast majority. No industrialised State in this room would wish to see developing countries forego their international obligations, but unless there is greater active responsibility-sharing (including through the increased availability of resettlement), we will not see any enduring changes. Refugees will continue to be compelled to look beyond countries of first arrival for effective protection.
Responsibility-sharing and building protection capacities can minimise the need for onward movement, but it will not eliminate it nor will it result in change overnight. Responsibility-sharing must, however, never be viewed as a means by which States can trade off their international obligations through the provision of financial resources to developing countries. Moreover, quick fix unilateralism, or indeed bilateralism, is no substitute for true responsibility-sharing.
Where is the Protection Focus?
NGOs are concerned that measures that should have a protection orientation are being manipulated to serve State-centric purposes. For example, in some regions, including Eastern Europe and the Asia Pacific, the training of border officials has been designed either to prevent people from leaving a country of first arrival to seek protection elsewhere, or to prevent the entry of onward movers. At the same time, there is little focus on ensuring the application of human rights norms, seeking solutions to protection needs, or guaranteeing refugees' entitlements.
Registration is an important tool in protection. However, biometric
data collection, retina scanning, and electronic tagging, are amongst a
variety of methods now being explored by a number of States not for protection
purposes, but for the monitoring of the onward movement of refugees. We
consider that these initiatives raise serious questions about the civil
and political rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants and could
jeopardise their ability to secure effective protection. Therefore, we
examination of such practices, with input from NGOs, refugees, and human rights organisations.
NGOs are concerned about the continuing development of practices designed to deter and punish asylum-seekers, and which have enormous human and financial costs. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention constitutes a prohibition on States imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry. Article 31 does not provide for collective penalisation, such as we have seen in the "Pacific Solution" implemented by Australia.
We also note with grave concern the increased use of administrative detention, without adequate safeguards, in particular in the United States and the United Kingdom.
We condemn detention that is mandatory, arbitrary, and without judicial
review and which does not comply with international human rights law and
standards, or UNHCR's Guidelines. In particular, we
highlight the mental health impact and developmental impact of detention, especially on children.
Resettlement remains a vital protection tool in securing durable solutions for refugees. It can never be seen as a substitute for the granting of protection for refugees spontaneously seeking protection, whether in neighbouring States or elsewhere, especially given that less than 1% of the world's refugees (and, by another estimate, 0.22%) are able to access resettlement as a durable solution.
NGOs are deeply concerned at a growing trend of playing off resettled refugees (the "good" refugees) against asylum-seekers who embarked on their own search for protection (the "bad" refugees). International law clearly recognises that the latter is a legitimate means of seeking protection, to which resettlement should serve as a complement.
We are also concerned to note that the last year has witnessed the impact of delays and freezes in the processing of refugees in need of resettlement clearance, the non-fulfilment of quotas (in part attributable to inadequate referral mechanisms), and the reduction of intakes. In certain cases, as has been documented, the failures of the resettlement system are putting lives at risk. We therefore urge States, in cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs, to give effect to their commitments to resettlement. This must take full account of the substantial and constructive consultations that have taken place over the last two years, highlighting in particular the need to review UNHCR's emergency resettlement procedures and States' role in giving effect to them. At the same time, we would caution against portraying the current resettlement system as being a panacea against secondary or onward movement.
Prevention and Preparedness
During the debate on international protection in recent years, a central theme has been the prevention of root causes of refugee flows. It is widely recognised that the most common root cause of large-scale
refugee movements is armed conflict. With this in mind, and, for example, in light of the current tensions in relation to Iraq, it is essential that States take all possible steps to prevent the causes of flight. In any case where conflict ensues, States must commit to ensuring that measures are in place to respond effectively and in a timely fashion. Such measures include ensuring that the right to seek asylum is preserved, that there is access to territory and effective determination procedures, that the principle of
non-refoulement is scrupulously observed, and that refugee camps are located and resourced in such a way as to ensure both effective protection and access to adequate humanitarian assistance. In this
regard, we would also highlight that the current crisis in Liberia and neighbouring countries demands urgent attention. Not only must the humanitarian character of asylum be ensured, but the range of
factors that contribute to the root causes of that conflict must also be addressed.
Throughout the world, States have responded to the events in the United
States with tightened immigration and asylum policies and rushed through
with draconian legislation. States have publicly
equated the so-called "war against terrorism" with the fight against illegal migration, as, for example, seen in Spain. Others have equated asylum-seekers with terrorists, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. This equation has been made not only without (or without having to disclose) evidence, but also without giving those so branded any opportunity to rebut the allegations.
UNHCR and the Role of NGOs
While acknowledging and supporting the pivotal role of UNHCR and highlighting the importance of UNHCR-NGO partnership in responding to the current protection crisis, we are mindful of the significant constraints under which UNHCR functions.
NGOs have an important role to play, not only as operational partners, but also in monitoring compliance of States with their obligations under international law. There is a pressing need to strengthen the capacity of NGO partners and civil society in asylum-countries, who have responsibilities for the reception of the majority of refugees. We emphasise that NGOs from refugee-producing countries, with experience and knowledge indispensable to finding solutions, need to be included in consultations and operations. We are also mindful of the importance of strengthening NGO capacity where UNHCR offices are being scaled down or phased out.
The provision of accurate and timely information is essential to ensure that affected populations are able to make informed decisions about their future. The provision of such information is a right and not a privilege. This is true not only in the field, but also at UNHCR's headquarters where we are concerned that the new information unit based in the Department of International Protection has neither the resources nor the capacity to provide access to country and other information vital to the protection of refugees. For example, it has been some time since the RefWorld CD ROM, an invaluable tool to States, UNHCR, and NGOs alike, has been updated. Furthermore, access to UNHCR's library, covering research and policy issues, is essential so that we can learn from past mistakes. May we issue a plea to you, as States, to ensure that UNHCR is adequately resourced to deliver on this important and pivotal role that only UNHCR can play.
You, as member States of this Executive Committee, are bound to ensure
that UNHCR is adequately resourced to deliver on its mandate. Currently,
you are only partially addressing the protection needs of millions of unprotected
people in the world, the majority of whom have little prospect for a durable
solution. States' actions and policies that blatantly violate core principles
of the 1951 Convention
are incompatible with the participation of those States in EXCOM, whether party to the 1951 Convention or not.
It is critical that the EXCOM does not lose sight of the fact that you
are bound to ensure delivery on the full spectrum of the international
obligations that you have, not only to refugees on your territory, but
also those elsewhere.
Some of you say that you have hard choices to make. There is no choice
about human rights. They are not expendable legal niceties, nor a lifestyle
option. They are the bare minimum agreed by States
as necessary to protect the safety, dignity, and integrity of all individuals from excesses and abuses of power.