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U.S.: Coordination necessary to deal with refugee issues
December 10, 2010

U.S.: Coordination necessary to deal with refugee issues
The United States is concerned about urban refugees and supports UNHCR’s new efforts in this area. We also remain concerned about the particular needs of women and children, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in humanitarian situations.

(Geneva) December 10, 2010 – Mr. Peter Mulrean, Refugee and Migration Affairs Counselor of the Permanent Mission of the United States of America, spoke at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Dialogue in Geneva. His remarks follow:


Thank you, Mr. High Commissioner, for another interesting and engaging Dialogue. The broader scope was appropriate in an anniversary year, allowing us to take a look at how we addressing current challenges and not just the challenges of 60 years ago. Listening to panelists and breakout sessions yesterday, I was reminded not only how complex the humanitarian challenges we face are, but also how many inherent tensions they contain:

• The humanitarian situation vs. political situation,

• Maintaining international standards and response vs. sovereignty concerns, and

• Huge needs vs. limited resources, to name but a few.

It’s clear that as we look for solutions, we need to take these tensions into account.  For example:

• Humanitarian solutions will work best if approached in the context of the political situation.

• Refugees and other people of concern should be seen in the context of the host populations.

• Priorities must be set in the context of the resources available.

Coordination among all actors is essential. And while we have spoken mostly of states and International Organizations in the past day, we mustn’t forget the important role played by NGOs, as well as the vulnerable people themselves.

The United States echoes the call of UNHCR to all states to seize this anniversary year as an opportunity to demonstrate our individual and our common commitment to these important issues.

This includes acceding to conventions, though we recognize that there are many other positive actions that can be taken short of accession. For example, this can be adjusting national procedures and legislation on asylum or citizenship.

The High Commissioner stressed the importance of resettlement. As this year’s chair of the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement, the U.S. is working with others to promote additional resettlement opportunities, the strategic use of resettlement and enhanced integration outcomes for resettled refugees.

While stressing positive actions, I believe we all should both recognize and support concretely the extraordinary decision by Tanzania to integrate more that 160,000 long-term refugees.

Without wanting to sound reductionist, even short of taking positive action, we could accomplish much by stopping negative action. To give just one example, we must all acknowledge that in too many places incidents of refoulement still occur.  

George Okoth-Obbo yesterday was eloquent in outlining deficits in addressing the needs of even UNHCR’s core mandate populations. This is certainly true for the stateless. The United States is concerned about urban refugees and supports UNHCR’s new efforts in this area. We also remain concerned about the particular needs of women and children, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in humanitarian situations.

On top of these deficits, this Dialogue is now looking at additional situations and populations where protection gaps may exist. This represents a broad and ambitious agenda. We must recall, however, that this takes place in the context of difficult financial times for both host and donor countries.

Financial constraints are not a reason to avoid examining these challenges or adhering to our obligations, but it makes coordination, collaboration and prioritizing ever more important.

I welcome the emphasis of two of the panelists on the complementarity of international legal regimes. We agree that the international human rights framework is an important means of filling some of the protection gaps.  Before considering the development of any new legislation, we should make sure that we are taking full advantage of all existing tools.

Finally, the Assistant High Commissioner raised the challenge of definitions and whether it was time to consider redefining certain issues and approaches. We all know, and heard on several occasions yesterday, that different issues will raise sensitivities and difficulties for different states.

That is no reason to shy away from looking at these issues and seeing whether we can find, working constructively and collaboratively, a way forward.

As we do this, however, I would posit one caveat. Our objective must be to achieve a net increase in protection where there are gaps.  And we must not weaken the protection regimes that are already in place and are so valuable to the lives of those in need. 


Thank you.




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