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50th anniversary of the UNHCR - Dalziel Speech

Hon Lianne Dalziel Speech Notes

50th UNHCR Anniversary

Function to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UNHCR – the UN refugee agency
Beehive Foyer
Parliament Buildings

Good morning and welcome.

Thank you for joining us today to mark the 50th anniversary of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is exactly 50 years ago today, since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Statute of the UNHCR. The Statute outlined that the UNHCR was to assume the function of providing international protection for refugees, working with governments to achieve this.

There are many events planned around the world to recognise this anniversary, and, of course, New Zealand is the first country in the world to host a commemorative event.

Every two years a global report is prepared by UNHCR but this year's Global Report is particularly special because it recognises 50 years of providing humanitarian assistance to the world's refugees.

More importantly, this book acknowledges the struggle of many people who, over the last 50 years, for reasons of persecution, conflict and human rights violations, have been forced to seek refuge in another country.

While in some ways, today is a celebration of the international humanitarian work in this area, it is also a sad reflection on the state of the world, that 50 years on, we still have a need for the UNHCR.

These mixed feelings are best described in the book's foreword, written by the present High Commissioner, Sadako Ogata, where she said:

"As we enter the new millennium, the fact that the world still finds a need for the UNHCR should serve as a sobering reminder of the international community's continuing failure to prevent prejudice, persecution, poverty and other root causes of conflict and displacement.

But If the longevity of the UNHCR as an organisation is nothing to celebrate, the courage of the tens of millions of refugees and displaced people who have survived over the past 50 years certainly is. Often losing everything but hope, they are amongst the great survivors of the 20th century and they deserve our respect."

This book is very much a tribute to those who were forced to flee, as well as to those who offered them protection. As Kofi Annan observes in the preface to the book,

"This book is a tribute both to the courage demonstrated by millions of displaced people and to the dedication and commitment of all those who have worked to protect and assist them over the last half century."

When the UNHCR was first established it was originally set up for just three years to re-settle around one million refugees from World War II. It began it's work with 33 staff and a $300,000 budget.
Half a century later, UNHCR has 5000 staff in 120 countries, a budget of $1 billion a year, and more than 22 million refugees in the world.

New Zealand is proud to play a role in this humanitarian work, and recently this Government has undertaken formal steps to become a member of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner's programme.

We also place a high priority on maintaining an effective relationship with UNHCR in addressing refugee resettlement.

New Zealand is only one of a small number of countries that accept refugees for resettlement each year. Our formal refugee settlement programme evolved from the 1944 arrival of about 650 Polish refugees. Since then, we have welcomed refugees from countries all over the world. The circumstances that led to their resettlement have been tragic if not horrific. Those who have resettled in New Zealand have added a welcome diversity to our communities.

Today we offer refuge to up to 750 displaced people annually. This may seem a small number, but for the size of New Zealand's population it is not insignificant, and it doesn’t include family members who arrive later under the family sponsored categories, nor asylum seekers who are granted refugee status in New Zealand each year. Our overall commitment, when these refugees are included, is actually over a 1,000 refugees a year. We are extremely grateful that UNHCR has facilitated the use of the programme this year to assist in reuniting family members.

Although New Zealand has been involved in resettlement programmes for many years, it has been my view that we could do better. The relationship that has been developed here in New Zealand with the Tripartite consultations, I believe has established a very strong partnership between central government and the NGOs.

Cabinet has recently approved an overarching framework for refugee resettlement in New Zealand, and I am confident that this will assist the whole of government approach that is necessary to support positive resettlement outcomes.

I am very keen for NZ to be involved in the UNHCR's review of the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. While the core principles and values of the Convention will continue to be upheld, it is a timely opportunity to look at the Convention 50 years on, that anniversary occurring next year.

One issue many countries would like addressed is the need for increasing the sharing of resettlement responsibilities with other nations.

So, thank you for coming today to celebrate the courage of those who have lived through the conflict and the persecution, commemorate those who did not, and acknowledge UNHCR for its role, as well as all of those New Zealand agencies and volunteers who have helped refugees rebuild their lives here over the past five decades.

But there remains a challenge to us in the 21st Century, to seek to address the causes of international conflict and displacement. Again, in the foreword, Sadako Ogata says it all. And I give her the final word:

"During my time as High Commissioner, I have repeatedly attempted to highlight the link between human displacement and international peace and security. It is vital that the international community continue to seek lasting solutions to problems of human displacement. Those who ignore them do so at their peril. History has shown that displacement is not only a consequence of conflicts; it can also cause conflict. Without human security, there can be no peace and stability."

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