There has been a great deal of work done at this session of the General Assembly on issues at the heart of the world's humanitarian agenda. Some is structural, such as the establishment of new organs like the Human Rights Council and the Peace-building Commission.
Both of these were mentioned as clearly relevant to UNHCR in the statement delivered by the Secretary-General to the Executive Committee (Excom) on 6 October 2005. Some of the relevance has to do with agency interaction, through bodies like the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. And some involves the place of civil society in the work of the international community, as evidenced by consideration of the Cardoso Report's observations on the relationship of civil society to the United Nations.
There is still, however, not a great deal of coherent discussion in the United Nations system of the issues of population movement. This is despite the acknowledgement of their urgency by nearly all governments and regional groups.
For this reason, I will set out some of the basic issues as they appear to us, speaking as the international representative of the worldwide network of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and on behalf of the vulnerable communities we serve.
There is now increasingly a call for our National Societies to accept responsibilities in the field of population movement. The call is not just from vulnerable and marginalised people, but more and more often from governments and international agencies which see Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as equipped to take on responsibilities for certain conditions of up-rooted people living in an irregular situation.
This is why it is timely to restate some positions.
Mr. Chairman, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies can only accept responsibilities which are in conformity with the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
This means, in this context, that their priority will be to protect and assist vulnerable people, including refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), undocumented migrants and victims of smuggling and trafficking.
It also means that Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies provide their humanitarian support to people without discrimination of any kind, and irrespective of their legal status.
In some countries, among their greatest concerns are those people "living in the shadows" - those marginalised by the fact that many governments have still not adopted migration policies or legislation which makes it possible for migration (including economic migration) to take place in an orderly manner.
Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies enjoy the right to dialogue with the public authorities in their countries on matters of humanitarian concern. This is because of the auxiliary status conferred on them by the Geneva Conventions and reaffirmed by the United Nations General Assembly on several occasions.
This positioning is at the heart of the urgent wish of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to see governments find new ways of addressing population movement in a holistic manner.
We applaud the efforts of UNHCR and other organisations with mandates in this field. We also noted with pleasure that the Secretary-General touched on this in his address to the Excom on 6 October 2005, and that he has encouraged States to carefully study the report of the Global Commission on International Migration in preparation for the High Level dialogue on Migration to take place during the General Assembly Session next year.
The IFRC will be working towards a substantive contribution to that dialogue.
The next regional congress of European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to be held in Moscow in 2006, has identified migration as one of the two key issues for the European region.
The other is health, which shows just how relevant migration is for us and our National Societies.
Mr. Chairman, Time does not permit a more exhaustive examination of these issues, so I will limit myself to those directly relevant to refugees.
We are increasingly concerned about the propensity of governments to see the establishment of camps as the standard solution to respond to an influx of asylum seekers.
Our experience is that camps, far from resolving issues or providing management solutions, often create a wide range of problems both for individuals and communities.
UNHCR does a great job at limiting the effects of camp life on people, but there are nevertheless continued reports of protection risks, violence (including gender-based), mental health problems, developmental challenges for children, dependency on external assistance, and the loss of human dignity for the persons themselves.
We urge all governments to see camps as a last resort, and to spend more effort in partnership with UNHCR and relevant regional organisations to find better ways of addressing the needs of the people, including, perhaps, community-based solutions.
The IFRC is working closely with its member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world to bring these and many other issues of concern to the attention of governments.
Generally, we find the response to be sympathetic and helpful. But in too many cases the debate is allowed to depart from its base by the eruption of other concerns related to central population movement. An example of this is the way the Trafficking debate has developed.
While I will not go too deeply into this issue today, permit me to state our concern that despite agreement of all governments and institutions that trafficked people must not be criminalised, there are countries where the handling of victims of trafficking rackets leaves much to be desired.
Trafficking and smuggling, although very different before the law, are both population movement issues which have become of increasing concern in recent years. In both cases, one of the root causes is the all too frequent absence of coherent migration legislation in many countries.
Trafficking is an example of an issue handled well at regional levels, and I will mention two such regions where we have been productively connected: the Asia-Pacific region via the Bali Process and the Europe region through the OSCE and the energy of Dr Helga Konrad.
We have been fortunate in the IFRC to draw on the excellent resources and expertise of our member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to spearhead some of our efforts, and in that context I pay tribute to the work of the Danish Red Cross, which has provided inspiration and facilitation for our work in Europe.
There are, of course, other root causes of trafficking and other forms of population movement.
One such is poverty. We have said on many occasions that work towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals will have a rapid impact on people's need and desire to move. As such, we would like for this issue to be highlighted when the Dialogue on Migration takes place at the next session of the UN General Assembly.
Mr. Chairman, There are many other issues which cannot be addressed, for lack of time.
I do, however, want to close with a caution. The Secretary-General's speech to Excom and many of the points made around the establishment of the Peace -building Commission will lead some observers to continue seeing refugee issues as mainly arising from conflict contexts.
We, therefore, wish to take this opportunity to recall that the majority of the world's displaced persons are not refugees within the meaning of the 1951 Convention, but have moved because of natural disasters.
One needs to do no more than take note of the terrible disasters which have been witnessed in the world in the last year to see what I mean.
UNHCR has done a fine job addressing these situations, and its staff has worked well with the IFRC and our member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
We want to make this cooperation easier and better in the future, and hope that by the next time we speak on this issue, we will be able to report the finalisation of an agreement with UNHCR on the way the Office of the High Commissioner will work with National Societies when emergencies strike.
We are, like UNHCR, an organisation built to meet human needs in the most critical emergency situations. We share a lot, and work well together, and in that spirit, welcomed Mr Guterres when he took up his appointment as High Commissioner recently.