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Chief Calls For Aiding Internally Displaced People

Facing ‘Moment Of Truth,’ UN Refugee Chief Calls For Aiding Internally Displaced People

Facing what he called a “moment of truth,” the head of the United Nations refugee agency today called for fully expanding its mission from assisting those displaced from their countries to also helping the tens of millions uprooted within their own homelands. And he appealed for concerted international action to preserve the institution of asylum.

“Both by choice and out of necessity, we face three major challenges simultaneously,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres told the opening session of the week-long annual meeting of the agency’s governing Executive Committee in Geneva.

“The first is a reassessment of our mission. We must remain faithful to our mandate while meeting the demands of a changing world, shifts as consequential as the international community redressing one of its greatest failures, the neglect of internally displaced persons.

“The second is the pressing need for a deep structural and management reform, which is absolutely indispensable if we are to build a stronger, more effective organization able to generate and direct more resources to the people we care for. The third challenge is a renewal of our top management, affecting, over one-and-a-half years, 10 members of the Senior Management Committee,” he added.

In addition to its original mandate of protecting the world’s refugees, UNHCR had now become a fully-engaged partner in a new joint approach to help the estimated 24 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide, Mr. Guterres told delegates from 70 member nations.

The new approach had already been instrumental in the return of more than 300,000 IDPs in Uganda, “transforming a dramatic humanitarian situation into a potentially remarkable success story,” he said. UNHCR was also reassessing its IDP work in Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Caucasus and Côte d'Ivoire.

“We are now part of the collective response by the UN system and the broader humanitarian community, and in that context have assumed leading responsibility for... protection, emergency shelter and camp coordination and management,” he said. “Lessons learned from ... four pilot countries – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Somalia – will guide us in the future.”

Despite some progress, an estimated 2 million IDPs in Sudan's Darfur region remain in desperate need of protection and assistance. “Faced with a situation like Darfur, the role of organizations such as ours is severely constrained,” Mr. Guterres said.

He underscored the pressing need for deep structural and management reform within UNHCR itself, a process he said was “absolutely indispensable if we are to build a stronger, more effective organisation” able to focus maximum resources on the people it cares for.

This includes efforts to lower fixed costs, such as those involved with staff and administration, to ensure that maximum resources go to beneficiaries. Possible measures include moving field support staff closer to the point of delivery and relocating some Geneva-based activities.

UNHCR’s budget of about $1 billion a year is unable to provide enough help to refugees wanting to repatriate or to provide basic medical treatments. “We cannot accept that money that should be spent on the people we care for is spent unnecessarily on the organisation,” the High Commissioner said.

He stressed the urgent need to preserve asylum and oppose all forms of refoulement – or forcibly returning refugees. International refugee law must be respected and “cannot be superseded by national legislation, extradition treaties, or redefined by bilateral arrangements,” he declared.


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