UNHCR 58th Session of ExCom
Statement by Deputy Secretary Atle Leikvoll
Let me start by expressing our full support for UNHCR’s work and its important mandate. Facing multiple challenges, we are convinced that the organisation is now moving in the right direction. I am glad to note that UNHCR’s funding situation has improved this year, and I hope this can be read as increased donor confidence.
Since we met in this committee one year ago, climate change has moved to the very top of the international agenda. Climate change will negatively affect the livelihood of millions of vulnerable people. Environmental issues have been and will continue to be a contributing cause of conflict. UNEP’s recent Post-conflict Environmental Assessment of Sudan indicates that in Darfur there is a very strong link between land degradation, desertification and conflict. According to the predictions of the International Panel on Climate Change the international community will have to prepare itself for more such climate-related conflicts in the future. And with conflicts come displacement. UNHCR will therefore have to start preparing for a situation where the number of displacements could increase considerably, possibly also in regions not previously affected by humanitarian crises. Norway would be prepared to support UNHCR in conducting a survey on how best to prepare for such a development.
While we have witnessed a steady decrease in the number of refugees in recent years, this positive trend was reversed last year. With the increase in refugees flowing out of Iraq, the number of refugees has again come close to 10 million. This demonstrates the volatility of the global refugee situation, a point that I also underscored in reference to the possible consequences of climate change.
Although progress has been made in finding durable solutions, we are concerned by the high numbers of refugees in protracted situations. We have been encouraged by the work done to find holistic solutions in several of these situations. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that efforts to find durable solutions should not compromise the refugees’ right to return to their home countries when they so decide. We are particularly concerned that this right should be extended to the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
The value of our efforts is measured in the field, where refugees and internally displaced persons often live under very difficult circumstances. The situation in and around Darfur continues to pose a serious protection challenge to UNHCR. We are deeply concerned about the millions of displaced persons in Iraq and its neighbouring countries. The Emergency Relief Coordinator’s report from the DRC and the gender-based violence in this and other crises must be vigorously addressed.
Let me take this opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable contribution made by many developing countries in affected regions that have borne the immediate impact of the majority of refugee situations. Norway would like to highlight UNHCR’s protection mandate in these crises, which we strongly support.
Over the last couple of years, much needed reform has been a principal concern to the UNHCR. Progress has been made and we would like to commend the High Commissioner and his staff for their efforts so far. We attach particular importance to the decentralisation and regionalisation process aiming at maximising the available resources for the beneficiaries in the field. In this regard, I would like to underline the need to pay due attention to developing clear and concise accountability, reporting and decision-making lines between the different levels in the organisation.
Furthermore, Norway believes that the reform process in UNHCR should provide an excellent opportunity to promote gender equity in the organisation. The UN has approved guidelines to ensure that there is gender equity at all levels in the UN by 2010. UNHCR should use the decentralisation and regionalisation process to achieve the goals of the approved Policy on Gender Equity. We encourage UNHCR to come back to the next session of the Standing Committee and report on the progress achieved.
Turing to humanitarian reforms in a broader context, we are pleased to see that the Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, has become an effective instrument in providing funds more rapidly and predictably to both new and forgotten crises. UNHCR is one of the organisations that have benefited from the Fund. Norway, as a key contributor to the CERF, would encourage other donors to continue supporting the fund, thereby strengthening its donor base.
On the roll-out of the cluster approach, we believe that it has contributed to an improved humanitarian response. The real-time internal evaluations carried out by UNHCR during recent months have provided a lot of valuable feedback that will help to strengthen the organisation’s work. We are pleased that the evaluations found that the IDP operations have not had a negative impact on UNHCR’s work on behalf of refugees. Some important challenges were identified, among them the need to improve the human resource capacity and deployment routines. We encourage UNHCR to address this as a matter of priority and more generally to step up efforts to implement the cluster approach at the field level.
To end where I started, Norway has been a staunch supporter of UNHCR and its important mission, and we will remain so in the future.
I thank you Mr. Chairman.