Magazine article UN Chronicle

Fighting the Odds: UNHCR Faces Unprecedented Needs on Four Continents

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Fighting the Odds: UNHCR Faces Unprecedented Needs on Four Continents

Article excerpt

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recently faced "unprecedented needs on four continents", President of the General Assembly Samuel R. Insanally told a special UN donor meeting on 10 November in New York.

Citing voluntary repatriation efforts over the past 12 months in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Mozambique, he said that more than 2.4 million refugees had returned to their countries. Still, the overwhelming trend remains one of flight caused by nationalistic, ethnic or communal tensions."

In light of the "complexity and urgency" of the global refugee crisis, the Assembly, in adopting resolution 48/113, asked Member States, UN bodies and international organizations to submit recommendations to the UN Secretary-General on the appropriateness of convening a UN conference for the comprehensive consideration and review of the problems of refugees, returnees, displaced persons and migrants. That text was among six resolutions relating to refugees adopted by the Assembly on 19 and 22 November.

The world body acted on the recommendation of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), which had reviewed a 51-page UNHCR global report. That document (A/48/12) covered events from 1 January 1992 to 31 March 1993 - the "most difficult and demanding" period since its creation, UNHCR said.

Among the greatest lessons of late was the "importance of political initiatives in resolving the causes of refugee problems", the report stated. Humanitarian assistance "cannot be a substitute for political solutions", it said.

Stark reality

At a press conference in Geneva on 8 October, High Commissioner Sadako Ogata warned that the responsibility for the "agony in Bosnia and Herzegovina" lay with the political and military leaders. No amount of humanitarian assistance could overcome that "stark reality", she stated.

While the primary role of UNHCR has traditionally been to assist refugees in their countries of asylum, the report said that recently the agency has focused more attention on ensuring that people are not "forced to flee from their homes in the first place".

While its mandate does not extend to the internally displaced, UNHCR has increasingly undertaken, at the request of the Secretary-General, humanitarian action for that category, with a view to prevention". …

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