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Historical archive

Status of Refugees

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development

Statement by Ms. Erna Solberg in Geneva 12 th> of December 2001.

Minister of local Government and Regional Development Ms. Erna Solberg

Status of Refugees

Ministerial meeting of states parties to the convention relating to the status of refugees, Geneva, 12 December 2001

Madam chairperson,

The institution we are celebrating today has developed from a small secretariat to a strong agency that protects refugees allover the world, provides relief to people in need and safeguards of the standards enshrined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Although it is worrying to see that the need for refugee protection is as great today as it was 50 years ago, it is comforting to see that UNHCR has developed into a strong and healthy body. I would like to commend High Commissioner Lubbers for his tireless efforts to uphold protection standards and to explore ways to make his Office more focused and efficient.

This 50th anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to assess the quality of the international regime for the protection of refugees. I agree with UNHCR that in the course of these 50 years the 1951 Convention has proved its relevance, effectiveness and flexibility, despite the ever-changing environment. The Convention will, however, only be an efficient tool as 1ong as the states parties are fully committed to its implementation. I am happy to see that so many colleagues from other countries have reaffirmed their commitments in this regard.

Even though the 1951 Convention is central, we must bear in mind that international refugee law go beyond the wording of the Convention itself. The Convention must, for instance, be supplemented by decisions of the Executive Committee and by international customary law. Some principles are binding on all states; most important among these is the principle of "non-refoulement", which prohibits the retun of refugees to a place where his life or freedom wou1d be threatened.

Refugee protection predates and goes beyond the 1951 Convention. In 1921 Fridtjof Nansen was appointed as the League of Nations' first High Commissioner for Refugees. One of Nansen's main objectives was to help refugees to stand on their own feet as soon as their essential needs had been met. The solutions were the same as those we use today: repatriation, resettlement and local integration. Fridtjof Nansen undoubtedly contributed to setting the standard for future action on behalf of refugees and paved the way for the 1951 Convention.

The preamble to the 1951 Convention notes that the granting of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries and that a satisfactory solution cannot be achieved without international cooperation. It does not, however, specify how such cooperation should be brought about. Therefore, it is essential that states are willing to engage in such cooperation and that UNHCR provides the necessary coordination.

The current situation in Afghanistan demonstrates the need for such international cooperation. The Afghan refugee problem, for one, cannot be solved satisfactorily by merely insisting that neighbouring countries not return any refugees. The obligations of neighbouring countries pursuant to the Convention need to be complemented by international cooperation in a broad sense. I am happy to note that UNHCR is playing a pivotal role in coordinating international support for Afghan refugees.

I am pleased to see the progress being made in the global consultations on international protection. In addition to highlighting questions of interpretation relating to the Convention, the consu1tations have focused on protection challenges that are not clearly covered by the Convention. How to deal with mass outflow situations has been one central issue. I have noted UNHCR 's assurances that the Convention is sufficiently flexible to be applied effectively even in situations of large-scale influxes. I'll bear that in mind. Nonetheless, I believe that large-scale influxes call for practical national tools, stich as temporary protection schemes. The challenge is to make them fully compatible with international protection standards.

About a month ago, Norway hosted a regional meeting linked to the global constiltations. The focus was on resettlement of refugees as a multifaceted tool for international protection and a durable solution. The meeting produced a set of conclusions, including a recommendation that more states that are able to do so offer resettlement opportunities to refugees. By doing this they will be demonstrating a willingness, through international cooperation, to go beyond the obligations of the 1951 Convention to provide protection and solutions to refugees. They will also be helping to create a more equitable and predictable refugee protection regime­Norway and the other Nordic countries remain committed to refugee resettlement, but would like to see new states join as resettlement partners. In this respect, it was heartening to leam that Brazil joined the states offering resettlement quotas a couple of weeks ago.

Finding durable solutions is a major challenge. Apart from seeking durable solutions, emphasis should be put on how to address root catises, and how to create conditions that will facilitate voluntary return.

Effective protection under new and challenging circumstances requires a sharpening of the tools at UNHCR 's disposal. Mixed flows pose new challenges. Better registration of refugees is important in this respect. So is the provision of doctiments, in partictilar for vulnerable groups. Indicators of gender and children' s situation must be reported in mid-term reviews and global reports. I would like to stress the need for a clearer focus on the protection of the most vulnerable refugees. Norway will continue to emphasise the necessity of mainstreaming issues and considerations relating to women and children. We will encourage UNHCR to ensure that mainstreaming is monitored.

At this fiftieth anniversary we can look back at considerable progress.

However, this progress must be safeguarded and developed. I welcome the UNHCR's proposal that we build on the experience of the global consultations. Norway looks forward to participating in the development of the agenda for protection. In partictilar, it is important to pursue issues like universal accession, complementary and temporary protection, strengthened implementation, preferably by sharpening existing tools (not new mechanisms) and, finally, combating xenophobia and racism and promoting respect for refugees.

Thank you.

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