By Ambassador Steffen Kongstad
UNHCR 64th Executive Committee 2013, General debate 2 October, 2013
Firstly, I wish to thank the High Commissioner and the neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees for the High Level Segment of this ExCom session. That was a politically important and timely event. We will continue to engage in the dialogue on burden-sharing and the role of development actors in humanitarian emergencies.
The constraints on humanitarian access and lack of protection of civilians in Syria are key factors exacerbating the refugee crisis. It is crucial to allow for and facilitate full and unimpeded access to all parts of the country, whether cross border or cross line, to reach those in need.
Lack of humanitarian access and failing protection is in general, and well beyond Syria, a growing problem. This is of great concern, and we must all support unimpeded access for principled humanitarian action.
UNHCRs real-time evaluation of the Syria refugee response pointed to some clear gaps and weaknesses in the field regarding leadership, accountability and coordination. We appreciate that UNHCR has started to redress these issues. There are lessons to be learned for overall humanitarian response, particularly the approach to partnership and coordination. It is a useful basis for a dialogue with other UN agencies and the implementing partners. Complementary response and coordination structures, in accordance with respective mandates, work well as long as there is a common understanding and proper guidance to the field.
While Syria is on top of our agenda, other humanitarian crises still need our attention.
Norway is a longstanding supporter of the response by UNHCR and other humanitarian actors to the protracted Afghan refugee situation. For Afghan refugees to return in large numbers, they must be assured that there is a safe place to live and a sustainable income. The Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees must be part of Afghanistan’s national plan for economic development. Durable solutions for returnees and IDPs should be included in this plan, taking into account their movement towards urban areas, and solving issues relating to housing, land and property. Particular attention should be paid to the inclusion of women in the process.
The crisis in Eastern Congo continues to cause immense human suffering and represents a challenge to all actors involved in the protection of affected populations. The choice of sister Angelique Namaika as this year’s Nansen Refugee Award Winner is most pertinent and very timely. It reminds us of the great needs of women and children exposed to horrendous violence on a daily basis.
There has been progress in parts of Somalia, but the security situation in the South is still very fragile and this raises concern when it comes to safe return. A priority for Norwegian humanitarian and development assistance to Somalia is to improve the living conditions in South-Somalia to prepare for the return of the IDPs and refugees. We appreciate the High Commissioner’s global initiative on solutions for Somali refugees.
We have great concerns for the plight of an increasing number of IDPs, in particular caused by the Syria situation. There are very serious protection concerns and lack of access to basic services. IDPs are primarily the responsibility of their own governments. But Norway believes that the UN, in particular through the work of the Inter Agency Standing Committee, should lead the humanitarian community in improving its response to the needs of IDPs. We welcome the High Commissioner’s Protection Dialogue on this topic later this year.
Unlocking protracted refugee situations, in which more than 7 million persons live today, is a key priority. All people have a right to a life in dignity.
We recognize the contributions by countries hosting large refugee populations and still keeping their borders open.
We need a shift from short term “care and maintenance” to self-reliance and increased political engagement. Investment in education, health assistance and livelihood opportunities for displaced persons and bringing displaced populations and host communities into development plans, is necessary. We welcome UNHCR’s initiatives to work closely with host governments and development actors, as well as with other member states, to strengthen efforts for durable solutions. This is key to achieving sustainable return or alternative solutions where return is not possible. The Transitional Solutions Initiative provides one possible model.