- The Chairperson of the Executive Committee, Her Excellency Ambassador Suraya Dalil (Afghanistan), opened the meeting.
II. Adoption of the Standing Committee Work Programme for 2018
- The Committee adopted the agenda for the meeting (EC/69/SC/CRP.1/Rev.1) and the 2018 work programme (EC/69/SC/CRP.2) as presented.
III. Regional activities and global programmes
A. Regional updates
The Assistant High Commissioner (Operations) described the global displacement situation resulting from both new and worsening crises, highlighting the gap in financial resources which, in some countries, had led to difficult living conditions and gaps in key services. He drew attention to the heavy burden faced by the major host countries. Despite this, they increasingly provided access to national services and adopted inclusive policies, even when the resources to meet national requirements were limited.
He also addressed the issue of fraud and corruption, with allegations having recently surfaced in Kenya and Uganda, and highlighted some of the measures the Office was taking in response, in close cooperation with the concerned governments and partners. While this issue would be discussed in greater detail during the discussion on the work of the Inspector General’s Office (see paragraphs 42-47), the Assistant High Commissioner assured the Committee that UNHCR took these allegations very seriously and that it was taking all the necessary administrative, management and investigative measures to address them.
The Director of the Africa Bureau updated the Committee on UNHCR’s operations in sub-Saharan Africa, where the largest proportion of displaced persons in the world was hosted. He highlighted the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the ongoing conflicts in the Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan.
He also drew attention to the chronically underfunded operations in the region. The 2018 budget, which presently stood at $2.8 billion, was currently only funded at 5 per cent. The World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners were facing similar challenges; 2 million refugees across 9 countries had their food rations decreased last year, with further cuts expected in 2018. With this in mind, finding new ways of working was not a choice but a necessity, and African governments were to be applauded for demonstrating strong leadership in applying the comprehensive refugee response framework (CRRF).
The Committee expressed concern about the rising number of new refugees in the region, including those fleeing to Uganda from South Sudan. The increasing displacement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, recurring violence in the Central African Republic and the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin were also cause for alarm.
Food insecurity across the continent was a problem, and ration cuts in some countries, including Rwanda, were posing enormous challenges. There was a call for strategies to be developed to address the regional dimensions of the Central African Republic and the Mali situations. Allegations of corruption in the Uganda refugee operation were also raised. The concerned delegation conveyed that the allegations were being taken very seriously and outlined the measures being taken by the Government to address accountability and transparency, to strengthen the refugee response in the country and to initiate investigative and disciplinary actions. While noting the need for the allegations to be fully addressed, the Committee stressed that this issue should not divert attention away from the important work being carried out in the refugee operation in Uganda, including the support from the host communities and the Government’s progressive refugee policies.
Several delegations highlighted the importance of addressing the situation of refugees with special needs, including women at risk and victims of sexual and genderbased violence (SGBV). Preventing SGBV should be considered life-saving and, therefore, a priority area. The need for a strong protection lead in situations of internal displacement and effective coordination in a number of operations, including in Cameroon, was also stressed. While asylum space remained strong on the continent, UNHCR was called on to continue advocating for the principle of non-refoulement.
Member States called for increasing attention to political solutions and addressing the root causes of conflict, including socioeconomic factors. Humanitarian assistance must also be accompanied by development assistance. As one delegation put it, complementarity between the humanitarian, development and peace and security pillars was vital to addressing the refugee crises in the region. Several delegations referred to the important work being done to integrate refugees in national health and education systems, such as in Djibouti, and to expand livelihood opportunities. Emphasis was also placed on self-reliance and skills training, which were important in the context of return and successful reintegration.
Delegations applauded the continued generosity of host countries and communities, as well as the important steps taken in Africa towards the implementation of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, including the application of the CRRF in countries such as Ethiopia. The CRRF offered an important opportunity to help find durable solutions for refugees and garner greater support for host communities. The burden of hosting large numbers of refugees had serious financial implications on the national resources of developing countries in Africa. It was, therefore, crucial that the needs of refugees and receiving States be supported equitably by the international community.
With respect to solutions, UNHCR’s efforts to bilaterally engage with host countries was welcome, and the Office was urged to continue supporting voluntary returns. This had to be accompanied by reintegration projects and development assistance so that returns would be sustainable. In line with the commitments made under the New York Declaration, resettlement and complementary pathways should be further explored.
Initiatives to support local integration, including in Zambia and more recently GuineaBissau, were also highlighted. Support for ending statelessness was also conveyed, including in the context of the expected adoption of a protocol to the African Union Charter on the right to nationality and the eradication of statelessness in Africa.
The Committee echoed the concern that UNHCR’s operations in sub-Saharan Africa remained underfunded, despite hosting the largest number of persons of concern. This compromised the quality of protection and assistance afforded to refugees, with gaps in critical areas such as shelter and education. While African countries continued to keep their borders open to refugees, these efforts should be matched by commitments from the international community. Finally, tribute was paid to UNHCR staff working in the region, and attacks on humanitarian workers were condemned.
In relation to food insecurity, the Director highlighted the importance of joint fundraising and advocacy efforts by UNHCR and WFP. With respect to the funding gap and prioritization, he spoke about the importance of ensuring that the critical needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were also considered alongside those of refugees. In response to the call for increased coordination in Cameroon, the Deputy Director of the Bureau recalled that UNHCR and the Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had agreed on an arrangement under which UNHCR would provide leadership for the mixed situation. Today, however, with more IDPs than refugees in the country, it was agreed that OCHA would assume coordination for the IDP response, while UNHCR would maintain leadership for the refugee response.