Refugee issues and the vulnerability of people affected by Population movement

Published: 10 November 2004

Chair,

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and our National Societies throughout the world, very much appreciate the work of the High Commissioner and his Office.

In 2003, we noted in our statements at ExCom and at the General Assembly that we were working with UNHCR to develop standard elements for agreement between National Societies and UNHCR when circumstances suggest that cooperation arrangements should be formalised to address severe refugee flows.

This issue was taken further at the 2003 session of the Council of Delegates, which is the organ of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement that brings together all of its components for decision-making. The debate centred on the Movement's action in favour of refugees and displaced persons , and "minimum elements" to be included in related operational agreements with UNHCR.

These minimum elements will address a point, which the High Commissioner himself emphasised in his report to ExCom in 2003. It concerns the importance of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies exhibiting the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, particularly those of independence, neutrality and impartiality, always in balance with our unique auxiliary roles to national authorities.

Chair,

The work done by our National Societies in support of refugees and displaced persons includes support for people living beyond the reach of international organisations. This is particularly relevant for an often forgotten vulnerable population - people living outside camps and protection systems, which are usually the focus of UN meetings.

At ExCom, the IFRC referred the priority it attaches to supporting those who care for non-camp populations and we reiterate that today, as so much of that support needs to come from a variety of organisations, including Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, NGOs and host governments. We hope that this aspect of refugee care and protection will be given higher priority in future.

Chair,

The other point we wish to stress concerns the impact on communities, nations and economies of the millions of people now regarded as either "irregular," "undocumented," or "illegal." These people are in situations of extreme vulnerability and often enter the asylum-seeking process. Those found not to have a valid claim, within the 1951 Convention definitions, may nevertheless be unable to return to their home countries.

They are almost always beyond the scope and care of health and social security systems, putting them at personal risk. As such, they are extremely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, violence, exploitation, discrimination, and xenophobia. They are marginalised, and their dignity is discarded. This is unacceptable.

The paradox surrounding their situation is that whether or not intentional, their exploitation benefits economically the countries in which they are marginalised. Powerful statistics abound show the value of the labour contribution that these people make. However the return to them is often marginalisation and discrimination. In many countries, their contribution is essential to agriculture, industry and other sectors. It is high time that their contribution is properly recognised.

Chair,

We therefore take this opportunity to welcome the consultations now being organised by the Global Commission on International Migration. We believe that one of the preconditions for the solution of the so-called asylum-seekers problem is the need for all governments to determine and enact coherent migration legislation. We ask for legislation, which addresses social and economic needs. Population movement is as old as history itself, and will not end simply because of the legal and administrative hurdles put in place by many countries.

Muc of modern population movement is - not surprisingly - also a product of globalisation and the growth of transnational economic and social interrelationship. Many of our National Societies are, however, trying to cope with the marginalisation of the people whose contributions often make globalisation a valuable reality at the country level. This has to be properly taken into account as the Global Commission's important work proceeds.

The IFRC will, to the extent that resources permit, support the Global Commission's processes, and looks forward to the production of a very important report for the Secretary-General in 2005.

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