Oral Report on Implementation of the Agenda for Protection by Mrs. Erika Feller, Director, Department of International Protection, UNHCR, to the 26th Meeting of the Standing Committee (Geneva, 4 March 2003)

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Agenda item 3: International Protection

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This Standing Committee has requested that I take this early opportunity to provide a brief oral report on implementation of the Agenda for Protection, in anticipation of a more detailed written progress report in June. I say "early" because, of course, the Agenda was only formally endorsed a few months ago, so there can be no realistic expectation that we are here today to present all details of its full implementation. My interim report is also not designed to supplant, but rather to complement, the presentations by the Directors of UNHCR's Regional Bureaux, who will present to you the details of the protection and solutions problems and challenges in their respective regions. Under item 5 you will, in addition, receive reports on two issues which figure prominently in the Agenda for Protection; that is on safety and security issues, not only as they affect UNHCR staff, but also refugees and their communities, as well as on the economic and social impact of massive refugee populations on host developing countries.

Just as the Global Consultations on International Protection were conceived as a "three-track" process, one can present follow-up of the Agenda for Protection along three tracks.

Clearly the "first" is the operational or field track. The Agenda has become an important platform on which UNHCR's own protection strategies and interventions, region by region, down to the country level are increasingly built. The High Commissioner formally requested Bureaux Directors to ensure that the Agenda for Protection informed their priorities and planning for 2003 and beyond.

To help ensure this, the Department of International Protection has been working actively to promote organization-wide ownership and commitment. The Agenda for Protection has now been specifically factored into the annual instructions regarding country operations planning and reporting, as well as the reporting requirements for the Annual Protection Reports. We have included Agenda priorities more specifically in our protection learning programmes, particularly in a new thematic learning programme being launched this year. The Agenda has been the subject of numerous briefings sessions in Geneva – including with NGO partners such as the International Rescue Committee and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies – as well as in field locations. We have also issued a pocket-sized version of the Agenda for Protection, available to you today, which is intended to make the document more user-friendly. The interest generated by this version is so high that we are going into a second printing, not least to meet Government, NGO and other partners' demands.

Mr. Chairman, that the Agenda is becoming a living tool in UNHCR's operations is attested to by the wealth of information that my Department has received, with appreciation, from the Regional Bureaux as well from individual country offices, on how they have moved forward with implementation.

The Americas Bureau carried out an in-depth review of their planned activities for the year against the Agenda for Protection, establishing a clearly articulated set of protection priorities in response. For Africa, the Regional Bureau, in cooperation with the African Union, has recently completed a first review of national protection capacities in selected African countries, in follow-up both to the Agenda for Protection and the July 2000 Comprehensive Implementation Plan. The study, which will be shared with you in June, is an important contribution to adopting a more strategic approach to protection capacity and institution-building on the African Continent. In furtherance of Agenda goals 3 and 4, UNHCR's Emergency and Security Service, with whom DIP's relations have been strengthened, has a number of important initiatives to enhance refugee security through increasing in-house expertise and capacity in refugee security management. The recent deployment of Canadian police officers to Guinea is an innovative example of partnership possibilities to improve camp security. Also UNHCR's involvement in the DPKO/DPA assessment mission in Côte d'Ivoire is a positive development in the spirit of the refugee security objectives of the Agenda.

The Regional Bureau for Asia has established a matrix indicating the three highest priority areas relating to the Agenda for each UNHCR office in the region. The Agenda has also been used to inform a regional meeting of protection officers in the Asian region held earlier this year, as well as a strategic planning session involving all UNHCR representatives sponsored by the Asia Bureau in Geneva. The Regional Bureau for Europe has responded similarly. By way of example of one specific initiative, UNHCR is co-sponsoring a conference in follow-up to last year's Global Consultations Budapest Regional Meeting, which focused on the legal and practical aspects of return of persons not in need of international protection, application of the "safe third country" notion and readmission agreements. Co-sponsored by the Czech authorities, the Prague follow-up conference, to be held on 7 and 8 April, will take stock of regional, sub-regional and cross-border cooperation mechanisms capable of strengthening and facilitating implementation of the Budapest Conclusions and the 1951 Convention.

In the CASWANAME region, there has been an extensive country-by-country analysis of the links between the Agenda and the country programmes. I will defer to the Bureaux Directors for a more detailed overview of the main elements of their strategies to further implementation of the Agenda in their regions.

The "second track" of implementation is the inter-governmental-centred follow-up of the Agenda for Protection at the Geneva level, notably through the Executive Committee and its Standing Committee, serviced particularly by the Department of International Protection and other units at UNHCR Headquarters. The Secretariat has shared with you a matrix entitled Implementation of Aspects of the Agenda for Protection: Revised Tentative Schedule, which contains a timeline for ExCom Conclusions, guidelines, studies and the like, that are part of the Headquarters-based follow-up. The revised matrix now takes into account the views expressed during a first round of consultations with States and other partners on follow-up of the Agenda, held in November of last year, as well as the annual planning meeting held last December. We have noted the concern of many delegations that UNHCR was perhaps overly ambitious in its planning and have, as a direct result, spread follow-up activities over a three-year period, through to 2005. We will, of course, need to remain flexible enough to take on new issues and adjust to certain activities taking longer than initially anticipated. We hope that the matrix now adequately reflects shared priorities for action at the Geneva level.

As part of our own follow-up efforts, DIP sponsored an expert roundtable in Lisbon in December 2002 on the topic of "effective protection" in the context of secondary movements of asylum-seekers and refugees. The question of what constitutes "effective protection" in a third country usually arises in the implementation of what is variously referred to as the concept of first country of asylum, "safety elsewhere" or the "safe" third country concept. The objective of the roundtable was to identify the principles, grounded in law, around which capacity-building, burden-sharing and return arrangements can be built. The Agenda for Protection recognizes that a more articulated understanding of what constitutes "effective protection" is indispensable to devising strategies in all these areas and to further current policy thinking on how to responsibly manage mixed movements of people that are challenging the asylum systems of many countries. Planned ExCom Conclusions for 2003 on protection safeguards in interception measures and State responsibility to accept and facilitate the return of nationals determined not to be in need of international protection will also be relevant to current reflection on asylum and migration.

I am pleased, as well, to report that, among our other releases, are new UNHCR Guidelines on Cessation, as well as a thematic compilation of General Assembly and ECOSOC resolutions relevant to UNHCR's Mandate and work. The latter has been made available to you today. Well under way is our work to elaborate core procedural standards for UNHCR's own refugee status determination processes. These should enhance due process as well as the integrity of refugee status determination under the Office's Mandate.

In follow-up to the Agenda, we are currently surveying activities of States to reduce statelessness and protect stateless persons. Findings will be reported to this Committee in June. Also, as called for in the Agenda, we are making a concerted effort to enhance resettlement as a durable solution, in parallel with making it a better tool of protection. Mechanisms and systems are being put in place to bridge Headquarters policy development and field implementation. We have established two regional hubs for resettlement processing in Africa, closely linked to the Headquarters-based Resettlement Section, so as to improve management and performance in resettlement processing. The Working Group on Resettlement, chaired by Canada, will be playing a role in Agenda follow-up during 2003. Following a meeting in November 2002, at which the Working Group set its priorities among the tasks assigned to it by the Agenda, its next meeting later this month will explore more strategic use of resettlement, including within regions affected by refugee movements.

Turning to registration and documentation, Project Profile and the Population and Geographic Data Section completed a global baseline survey on registration practices in January of this year. By the end of March, UNHCR will have finalized the first draft of the new Handbook on Registration, which will bring UNHCR procedures in line with the standards laid out in ExCom Conclusion 91, the Agenda for Protection and the High Commissioner's five commitments to refugee women. Revised standards will include recommendations on appropriate methodology for interviewing and registering women and children at the point of entry, for recording and updating information about special needs, as well as verifying information provided. Furthermore, major registration-related activities are currently underway in support of the planned Angolan repatriation, returns to Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Nepal, Ghana, and the emergency in the Central African Republic and contingency planning for the Middle East.

Turning more specifically to the protection of refugee women and children, we are strengthening efforts to ensure that staff at all levels of the Office understand the link between the Agenda and the High Commissioner's five commitments to refugee women, as well as related priorities for refugee children. Working with colleagues from the Division of Operational Support, we have ensured that age and gender concerns are properly reflected in the Annual Protection Reports and country operations planning processes. We continue to provide practical assistance to the field to address sexual and gender-based violence, notably through direct participation in inspection and investigation missions, and through training activities involving Government, UNHCR and partner staff. We have, for example, recently conducted such training for offices in Côte d'Ivoire, South Africa and Zambia, as well as Nepal. We ensure briefing – as last week, for example – to UNHCR Senior Regional Advisers on Refugee Children as to how they can use the Agenda to develop strategies to meet the protection needs of children. We also routinely provide specific briefing on the protection needs of women and children for protection staff participating in the SURGE, Resettlement and Refugee Status Determination deployment schemes.

Revised guidelines on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have undergone extensive field testing with internal and external stakeholders in over 32 countries. They are supplemented by a Step-by-Step Guide for Protection Officers: Prevention and Response to SGBV, which will be issued shortly.

Mr. Chairman, the "third track" of Agenda implementation might loosely be termed "tools development", further to the ambition, clearly emphasized throughout the Global Consultations process and articulated in the Agenda, of building upon and buttressing the 1951 Convention. During the December 2001 Ministerial Meeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention, States Parties reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Convention and its 1967 Protocol fully and effectively. They did, though, also recognize that the international protection regime has to be further developed, in a way that complements and strengthens the basic Convention framework.

This is the rationale underpinning the High Commissioner's "Convention Plus" initiative which, as the Assistant High Commissioner mentioned, will be the subject of a consultation next Friday. The essence of "Convention Plus" is the development of special agreements or arrangements which will promote fairer burden-sharing, make durable solutions more accessible within a shorter time framework and reduce migratory pressure on asylum systems. The Forum is the process through which Governments will come together to work on these special agreements. You will recall that the Agenda for Protection requested UNHCR to continue to provide a forum for high-level and participatory dialogue on protection issues.

We have frequently been asked to explain the link between "Convention Plus" and the UNHCR 2004 initiative. Let me just say a word on this. The Global Consultations on International Protection was an "outward-reaching" process that examined the protection challenges currently facing us, jointly and severally. UNHCR 2004 was more of an "inward-looking" process intended to generate reflection about whether UNHCR is properly structured and positioned, mandated, tooled and governed to meet these challenges. Where both initiatives converged is, not least, in the "Convention Plus" process, which is about better international cooperation, reinforcing the asylum regime and retooling both States and UNHCR, in the context of these challenges, to fulfil responsibilities to refugees.

As is clear from the foregoing – and as we had hoped and fully expected it to be – the Agenda for Protection is not an abstraction. It has proved to be directly relevant to the management and resolution of today's asylum dilemmas, at least from UNHCR's perspective. Its focus on resolving protracted refugee situations is clearly apparent in regions of Asia and Africa, where refugees have been languishing in camps, occasionally for decades. The Agenda's encouragement to engage in capacity-building in first asylum countries is especially significant in the context of renewed emphasis on readmission, burden-sharing and comprehensive plans of action. Activities focused on burden-sharing respond to the strains on the international system for refugee protection caused by resurgence of compassion fatigue and moves to re-craft asylum systems globally.

As I have been known to stress to this committee, the Agenda for Protection is not only for UNHCR. It calls for follow-up action by States, who are ultimately the principal providers of protection. Attaining many of the Agenda's objectives hinges on your resolute follow-up. We look forward to hearing from you about how you have ordered your own priorities for action and where your governments are presently working on implementing the Agenda. This will, of course, assist us to marshal our collective efforts more effectively and to report on the follow-up activities of UNHCR, States and other partners in June.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.