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Refugee Chief Urges Shift of Focus for Returnees

UN Refugee Chief Urges Shift of Focus to Better Serve Changing Realities of Returnees

New York, Nov 8 2006 5:00PM

The international community must forge a plan to better ensure safety for people who return after fleeing their homes as the movement of populations becomes the 21st century’s key question, the United Nations’ refugee agency chief has told the General Assembly.

“Returnees cannot live on hope alone,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres told the Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee on Tuesday. “Addressing transition problems after wars or conflict ends, and before sustainable development is in place, is not something at which the international community excels.”

Despite fewer armed conflicts in the past year, natural catastrophes, crushing poverty and other forms of insecurity have kept millions on the move, Mr. Guterres said. While applauding the creation of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, he noted that the changing pattern and scale of moving populations have signalled a need for UNHCR to address two major challenges: reassessing its mission and undertaking deep structural and management reform.

“UNHCR only promotes return after minimum conditions are met and we are able to verify that people will be safe following their repatriation,” said Mr. Guterres, who added that in doing so, the international community routinely ignored a simple fact: that returnees need more than hope.

He also pointed out that while illegal migration has not been one of UNHCR’s responsibilities, people in need of international protection were to be found among migrant populations. He said among the agency’s roles was to help create an environment where such people could be identified and afforded protection, including fair treatment of their claims.


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