The statement was held on November 9th, and went as follows:
The 2003 Report of the High Commissioner for Refugees provides a solid and concise basis for discussion of a number of aspects of the refugee problem and the plight of refugees. Hopefully, it will also help to raise the profile of refugees on the agenda of the United Nations. We would like to take this opportunity to follow up the lead taken by UNHCR and others and focus on those refugees whose appeals for more help have gone unheeded for far too long by the international community.
In spite of the positive developments that have considerably reduced the number of persons of concern to UNHCR, there are still seven million people caught in protracted refugee situations. And the duration of these situations has increased significantly over the past few years. Too many children and young adults have known no other home than a refugee camp. This sorry state of affairs cries out for action. Norway, for one, welcomes the campaign launched earlier this year against the warehousing of refugees. This is one way of increasing international awareness with a view to bringing this completely unacceptable situation to an end more quickly.
In his paper last June on "Protracted Refugee Situations", the High Commissioner stated that camps save lives in the beginning, but waste these same lives as the years go by. Of course, helping refugees to stay alive is essential, but it is not sufficient. While at best giving them a minimum of "care and maintenance" and physical protection, we have failed to offer these fellow human beings a life in dignity, or even the prospect or hope of such a life. This is "not an investment in the future", to quote from the paper, and "can only ensure that such situations are perpetuated, not solved". The consequences are wasted lives, squandered resources and future problems.
There is little doubt that many of the restrictions placed on refugee movement and employment are not in conformity with basic refugee rights as set out in the 1951 Convention. Refugees are being denied the right to live a free, dignified, and self-reliant life while waiting for a durable solution that in many cases does not materialize. This should be of far more concern to the international community than it has been up to now. We must rouse ourselves from our comfortable inertia, and stop regarding it as inevitable that refugees are used as pawns in frozen conflicts and have their basic human rights and dignity violated.
As an organization whose work is to be of a "humanitarian and social and of an entirely non-political character", according to its Statute, UNHCR has taken an active lead in identifying and promoting durable solutions for refugees. Norway would like to reiterate how much it appreciates the High Commissioner’s clear statements that durable solutions for refugees are an intrinsic part of his protection function, and UNHCR’s practical efforts in following up these statements.
UNHCR’s unique protection mandate on behalf of the international community places the High Commissioner in a special position to exercise international leadership in refugee matters. We welcome the High Commissioner’s active use of this position to mobilize a broad international partnership that can not only meet urgent protection and assistance needs but also bring about durable solutions for refugees. Provided that it succeeds in permeating the UN family from headquarters to field, the partnership approach will give better results for refugees and ultimately help to bring their refugee existence to an end. UNHCR deserves recognition for its pioneering and catalytic role in developing innovative concepts that induce the various actors to pool their efforts to the benefit of refugees, host countries and – in cases of return - countries of origin.
Convention Plus is already a success in progress, and its "Framework for Durable Solutions" holds great promise even for protracted refugee situations. Norway supports the basic idea of targeting additional development assistance to refugees and refugee-hosting communities. Such assistance can give long-term refugees more meaningful lives by allowing them to develop their productive capacity and thus preparing them better for a durable solution. This approach also benefits the economy of the host countries and can play a part in poverty reduction and in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. It should therefore provide incentives for host countries to cooperate with donors and international financial institutions.
Even if we are successful in improving the daily lives of refugees and empowering the refugee population to the extent that the warehousing terminology loses some of its applicability, this cannot be a substitute for durable solutions. We must not be satisfied until refugees cease to be refugees. Until then, much more can and must be done to alleviate the problems they are facing, to "preserve their human dignity and channel their unused human potential", to quote from UNHCR’s report. At the same time, the international community must work at a number of different levels to address the specific refugee situations. We cannot expect to resolve the problems faced by refugees without also tackling the root causes of the conflicts that produced refugees in the first place.
The international community should receive the full and active cooperation of all parties involved in producing refugees. In violating the fundamental human rights of their fellow citizens, these parties also create unwanted burdens, in particular for neighboring states. The international community should be less hesitant than it has been traditionally about placing the refugee issue on the agenda in its relations with the parties concerned. UNHCR has identified almost forty protracted refugee situations. These bear witness to a widespread failure of those in power to live up to their responsibilities, and to the fact that they have been able to get away with this for too long, at a terrible cost to millions of human beings.
We welcome the High Commissioner’s decision to make a systematic annual review of all the protracted refugee situations with a view to formulating comprehensive plans of action when conditions are suitable. It is to be hoped that increased world attention will cut down on the warehousing of refugees and induce those responsible for refugee situations and in a position to influence developments to make fresh efforts to end these situations by dealing with the underlying political problems. There must be no doubt that international patience is running out.
As the European Union said in its statement earlier today, a joint effort is needed to provide access to durable solutions for more refugees, and the debate on the root causes must figure more prominently on the political agenda. UNHCR has a key role to play here and can also count on Norway’s continued support in its efforts to play it actively and wisely.