Refugees, displaced persons and related humanitarian questions

Published: 8 November 2006

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) commends the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for its continuing efforts to provide protection and assistance to asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced populations.

We are impressed by the determination shown by the High Commissioner to address protection issues, and to prioritise them within his Office.

We see this prioritisation as a key to the development of a solid base for a robust IDP protection framework which will meet today’s and future challenges.

We in the IFRC, with our worldwide network of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, will be glad to bring our experience to the table with UNHCR as this work proceeds.

In this context, we are grateful to the High Commissioner for highlighting the importance of strengthening the ‘respect for international protection principles and strengthening of protection capacity’.

Experience has taught us that capacity building at the national and local level is a powerful tool that saves lives and provides protection in emergencies. We therefore strongly support UNHCR's initiative which recognises that empowerment without capacity building will not help governments to assume their protection responsibility.

The renewed emphasis on capacity-building is a welcome step, and it will do much to ensure that governments are in a position to discharge their protection responsibilities and through that to ensure the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

Our own work on capacity-building support for our members, and that of many other organisations with civil society aims at similar objectives. This is why it is so valuable for governments to cooperate closely and maintain dialogue with humanitarian actors on issues relating to refugee protection and displacement.

Dialogue with Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has its own special context. They are the auxiliaries to their public authorities in the humanitarian field, yet their large, strong and trained volunteer base makes them ideal partners in cases relating to protection for refugees, IDPs or migrants.

Indeed, there is much value for governments in ensuring that dialogue channels are open to their Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies. Our experience – especially with regard to asylum seekers, trafficking and irregular migration – is that vulnerable groups would often rather seek the assistance and support of a local Red Cross or Red Crescent branch than approach the authorities.

Chair, One thing which many countries regrettably have in common is insufficient resources devoted to status determination.

This can put people with a well founded fear of persecution at risk to be returned to a country from where they have fled. It also plunges people into uncertainty and an inability to plan the livelihoods of themselves and their families. We therefore welcome UNHCR's efforts to increase its assistance to a number of countries to strengthen their capacity to conduct refugee status determination.

This is consistent with the drive for universality for the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol and for careful and consistent action in implementation.

It is also consistent with the need for modern refugee legislation in all States to take account of the new demands emerging from the humanitarian crises resulting out of the migration – asylum nexus.

This challenge has been registered as of the highest priority in dealings between governments in Africa and the Mediterranean region, and their work together deserves study and support around the world.

The Mediterranean region has recently highlighted a problem which has been common in many regions for many years. It is a matter of particular concern for the IFRC and its members – the circumstances of people who travel in extremely harsh and dangerous conditions, without documents or support.

These are people in a state of extreme vulnerability. Our members go to extraordinary lengths to bringing life-saving assistance to them, but it is an environment often made more difficult because of the marginalisation of the people or the reluctance of some governments to accord them the most basic attributes of human dignity.

The IFRC and its membership share many of the concerns identified by the High Commissioner in his reports.

One important point, often minimized, is the fact that the mixed flow of migrants contains a number of people with a genuine and well-founded fear of persecution.

In 2007 the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, to be held in Geneva, will take up a number of issues arising from these global migration challenges.

It is of particular concern to our members that States maintain procedures which enable persons to have their asylum claims received and processed in a normal, humane and culturally sensitive fashion.

It is simply not permissible for persons who have valid asylum claims to be expelled from countries to which they have fled without even being informed of their rights to seek asylum.

We therefore especially welcome UNHCR’s commitment to support governments to establish functioning, effective and sustainable national refugee status determination procedures.

Chair, The High Commissioner has noted on several occasions the lack of access to assistance faced by marginalised people within his mandate. This extends, in many cases, to inadequate attention to the discrimination which such people too often face.

Finally, we would like to conclude with the note that the IFRC and its membership - as one of the main implementing partners to the UNCHR - put great faith in the age, gender and diversity mainstreaming strategy implemented by the UNHCR.

It coincides well with IFRC’s intention to scale up competence and skills development for gender equality within the disaster management area.

Our Appeal for 2006/2007 includes a global programme containing both structured gender training as well as scholarship scheme specifically targeting senior managers at National Societies involved in emergency response and recovery.

We also believe that through empowering women we will protect them and help them protect themselves from gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, trafficking, diseases, discrimination and differential impact of disasters.

We will return to this subject in discussions with UNHCR and our partners, for it is an issue which we must all address.

Map