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Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré.Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Call for a stronger UN presence in Somalia

Last updated: 05.10.2011 // In a statement under the General Debate at the 62nd session of UNHCR's ExCom, Norway called for a stronger UN presence in Somalia, and urged UNHCR to seek new methods to reach out to the increased number of displaced people in South Central Somalia.

Also highlighted was the need for an increased focus on assistance and protection in people’s home villages, and not merely to establish more refugee camps.

Read the full statement below by Gry Larsen, the Norwegian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Chairman,
Mr High Commissioner,
Distinguished delegates,

I would like to thank the High Commissioner for his statement this morning, in which he laid out the broad scope of the accomplishments made during the past year and the challenges that lie ahead.

Mr Chairman,

Allow me to start on a happy note. This year we are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention. This Convention has unquestionably been one of the most successful international instruments ever, creating a protection regime worldwide that most nations respect, to the benefit of millions of people fleeing persecution or other threats to their lives.

I would like to commend UNHCR for making the refugee and statelessness conventions relevant, dynamic and successful instruments of protection.

Mr Chairman,

Looking back at the year that has passed since we last met in this Committee; we see that UNHCR’s response capacity has been tested repeatedly. The operations in Libya, West Africa and the Horn of Africa, just to mention a few, have all demonstrated the need for robust and flexible emergency response mechanisms embedded in a solid preparedness capacity.

While we have witnessed great achievements and timely delivery of crucial humanitarian assistance, we have also seen instances of slower or more inadequate responses. Now, the good news is that UNHCR is able to evaluate and reassess its approaches and its capacity with the aim of constantly improving and fine-tuning the way it operates. To ensure its position as one of the leading international humanitarian actors, we encourage UNHCR to continue its efforts along these lines.

Mr Chairman,

In terms of global refugee numbers, we cannot be satisfied with the current state of affairs. UNHCR’s slogan this year is “One refugee is one too many”. The numbers speak for themselves, and although they are not increasing globally, there are unquestionably too many. At the moment I am particularly worried about the situation in the Horn of Africa.

The scale of the current famine is growing from one day to the next. 750 000 people could die over the next four months if relief operations are not scaled up. The human suffering behind these numbers is beyond comprehension. Hosting large number of refugees can often be a challenging task. Still, the hospitality demonstrated by Kenya and Ethiopia sets an example for the world community. They have our full sympathy and support.

Allow me to underline, however, that the best response to displacement is not merely to establish more camps, but to increase assistance and protection in people’s home villages. This is the only way to prevent further displacement. It is therefore of vital importance to ensure a stronger UN presence by means of free and unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of Somalia. On this note we also encourage UNHCR to seek new methods to reach out to the increased number of displaced people in South Central Somalia, who are extremely underserved.

On a related note, it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure a safe environment for protection. We are fully aware of the difficulty of reconciling the need to ensure the safety of both local and international staff with UNHCR’s mandate to protect and assist the most vulnerable, especially in highly insecure areas.

But even as we do our utmost to protect humanitarian workers, we must shift our security posture from considering when to leave a situation to figuring out how to stay. We trust that UNHCR will continue to pursue this approach.

Mr Chairman,

Interagency cooperation benefiting IDPs represents an important part of UNHCR’s overall workload. In this context, leadership and coordination are key components. We therefore rely on UNHCR to do its part in further strengthening the interagency response system – working closely with the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms Valerie Amos, to address remaining gaps in leadership and accountability.

Another key priority for Norway is the unblocking of protracted refugee situations. In order to unblock such situations and pave the way for durable solutions, there is first and foremost a need for sustained political engagement. To support and stimulate political processes it is of the utmost importance that UNHCR works close with host governments and development actors such as UNDP and the World Bank, as well as the donor community.

In our view, the so-called Transitional Solutions Initiative (TSI) provides an excellent framework for these actors to ensure that humanitarian and development agendas mutually reinforce the objective of finding solutions. Norway has supported the TSI in Eastern Sudan. We look forward to continued engagement in this field, and we encourage other, host and donor governments, to embrace the potential the TSI has to offer.

Mr Chairman,

I would like to raise an important issue that looms in the horizon as we speak of refugees in the sense of the 1951 Convention, namely displacement as a result of natural hazards, including those where climate change plays a role. The number of displaced in this category is staggering and increasing. Currently there is a lack of an appropriate protection framework for this group. The broader impact of this situation is likely to be felt both by host communities and by the international community as a whole.

In this backdrop, Norway believes the international community needs to engage in a debate on how to tackle these challenge. This is why we arranged the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement earlier this year. The conference produced a set of principles which suggests approaches for appropriate follow-up in terms of mitigation, preparedness and response. My government is keen to work with interested states, UNHCR and other relevant partners in pursuit of this important agenda as we move forward.

Mr Chairman,

Given the rapidly changing environment for humanitarian action, we now need strategic partners and strong advocates for humanitarian principles and action more than ever. On this note, let me conclude by reiterating Norway’s strong support for the High Commissioner and his office.

Thank you.

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