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Dalziel’s Speech to the UNHCR Executive Committee

Dalziel’s Speech to the UNHCR Executive Committee

Mr Chairman, It is a pleasure to represent New Zealand as a first time member of the UNHCR's Executive Committee, and to offer you our congratulations on your election as chairman. Although New Zealand has had a long association with UNHCR, through our refugee resettlement programme, and has been an observer at ExCom meetings for many years, it was only last year that we began to take steps to join ExCom.

Last year was a significant year for New Zealand in terms of refugee related issues, and we believed that the time had come for us to strengthen our role in the ongoing policy discussions that are designed to ensure that the principles of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol remain meaningful in what are rapidly changing times. I agree entirely with the High Commissioner's sentiment that it would be a mistake to misinterpret the outcome of last December's Ministerial meeting. I was only persuaded to shift from my view that a fundamental re-write of the Convention was required, by those whose experience with developing United Nations' conventions and resolutions far outweighed my own, and who counselled me that valuable time would be lost if we were to be backward looking rather than forward looking. And it is on that note that I record New Zealand's strong endorsement of the new approach, called 'Convention Plus'. It is the way forward.

I believe we must work to encourage more nations to become signatories to the Convention, and I believe this can be achieved by increasing the responsiveness of the Convention by adjusting the framework to reflect the needs of source countries, countries of first refuge, transit countries and receiving countries, in order to ensure durable solutions and an equitable system of burden sharing and responsibility sharing.

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I want to pick up on the question that has been raised about the resources that could be made available to UNHCR, both in financial and human resource terms, if we are to seriously think through the issues of secondary movements, people smuggling, destination selection and the costs of what is essentially a dual system of mandating refugees.

When I listen to other countries' interventions I note that the problems we face in New Zealand are on a much smaller scale - some countries host a number of refugees that would almost match our entire population. However, that being said, there are lessons that can be learned from the New Zealand experience.

For many years now New Zealand has been the victim of thousands of manifestly unfounded claims, which have effectively clogged up our system of determination and appeal. In our first term in office the NZ government was able to reduce the first level determination backlog by more than 80%. However, members may be interested in knowing that even in a small country like ours, the New Zealand Refugee Status Appeal Authority has estimated the potential cost of the appeals backlog that has developed as a result at NZ$30 million. Although I consider the figure to be somewhat over-stated, as there was also a significant cost associated with the first level backlog, it makes the point about the level of resource that is potentially diverted from refugee resettlement programmes, which ought to be the priority of a receiving country.

I was very heartened to listen to the High Commissioner's response to the question from Australia about proposals to simplify procedures for asylum seekers because it does occur to me that many countries would find relief from a system that identified countries as improbable source countries.

I think this is the point that Australia makes when it is suggested that resources could be freed up for the work that UNHCR does if member states were not faced with significant additional burdens imposed by those who seek to abuse the system.

I make it clear, that I am speaking only of abusive claims, and agree with the High Commissioner that there must be a mechanism to ensure that genuine claims can be identified. However, there is an issue around burden sharing and responsibility sharing for receiving countries that has not been mentioned here.

When UNHCR makes determinations in various countries, third country resettlement is the last option; for spontaneous asylum seekers beyond the country of first refuge it is the only option, and the concept of burden sharing and responsibility sharing may have to be re-considered in light of this reality.

For New Zealand many of the issues we are discussing today came to a head in what has become known as the Tampa crisis. New Zealand became involved at the request of the Australian Government, with the support of UNHCR, and for the first time we agreed to bring non-mandated asylum seekers to our country in order that their claims would be determined there.

This event, which occurred only 12 months ago, has raised New Zealand's awareness of the issues that are the subject of Convention Plus, and has heightened our desire to contribute to the solutions.

This is why New Zealand was an active participant in the Bali Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling held in February, co-hosted by Indonesia and Australia. As a follow up to the Conference, New Zealand is coordinating an expert group working to build closer regional and international cooperation against people smuggling, and would appreciate any opportunity to contribute to the proposed "Forum" mentioned in the High Commissioner's address.

Since the Bali Conference New Zealand has focused on alleviating regional resettlement pressures. Part of our annual quota has been allocated to mandated refugees in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, in order to relieve pressure in countries along the people smuggling route. By demonstrating that legal asylum channels work, even late in the chain, we hope to offer an alternative to people smuggling. New Zealand has recently passed severe penalties for people smuggling, people I call the traders in human misery.

Unlike those original people smugglers who over 50 years ago now, risked their lives to smuggle people out of dangerous war zones or away from persecution, who acted out of a spirit of altruism and humanitarianism, today's people smugglers find themselves in an enormously profitable market, often arranging the passage, but not caring whether the destination is even reached.

We have also agreed to take some refugees from Nauru and Manus, some mandated by UNHCR, the remainder determined by the Australian authorities. The acceptance of refugees determined by another country is also a first, and one that offers the potential for some of the multilateral outcomes that could be sought for the future. It is my view that countries that have high quality refugee status determination systems could be thought of as an international resource that could be called on to increase UNHCR's capacity as required.

Mr Chairman, We hope that New Zealand's decision to seek membership of the Executive Committee confirms to you our desire to be closely involved in efforts to develop constructive and sustainable solutions to the global refugee problem. We welcome efforts to revitalise the Convention system through improved implementation, as well as the commitment to prevent the weakening of the protection it provides to genuine refugees through abuse of the international asylum system by those with manifestly unfounded claims and by the actions of people smugglers. We live in a very different world than that of 1951, when countries first gathered to design a global approach to refugee issues. New Zealand is committed to playing a role in meeting the challenge that lies before us, and thank you, Mr Chairman, for the opportunity to make this intervention.

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