60th session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, address by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva, 28 September – 2 October 2009
Thank you for giving the ICRC this opportunity to update the 60th UNCHR Executive Committee its approach towards internally displaced persons (IDPs) and certain challenges in this regard.
Forced displacement continues to represent one of the most daunting humanitarian challenges of today. The impact is felt by many millions IDPs, but also by countless host families and resident communities. In the last few months, armed conflict and other situations of violence have cost the lives of thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
ICRC accordingly welcomes initiatives aimed at better responding to the plight of the displaced, amongst which the up-coming Special Summit of the African Union in Kampala. ICRC had the opportunity to contribute to the elaboration of the draft African Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, due to be adopted by the Special Summit.
To secure access to civilian populations experiencing direct attacks on their communities, living under general insecurity or tangled in tight curfews and military controls has been a daily challenge for many humanitarian organisations, including the ICRC. It is sometimes the greatest challenge.
Official camps containing huge populations are sometimes only the tip of the iceberg. The needs are frequently greatest outside them, especially in host communities where residents, often struggling themselves, provide most IDPs with food and shelter. Beyond the camps with their health care and medical services, food distributions and water supplies, security and shelters, be yond the reach of most humanitarians, the most vulnerable fend for themselves. Among them are those who have chosen to stay, caring for scant but precious resources, or for the ill, handicapped, and elderly who are physically unable to escape. And when access to them is restricted, as frequently happens in conflict, crises and dramatic needs go unseen and unassisted.
This is why the ICRC seeks to establish a dialogue with all parties concerned in situations of armed conflict, reminding them of their obligations to respect and protect civilians and civilian objects. In doing so, it endeavours to mitigate the impact of armed conflict on civilians and thus helps prevent conditions that force people to flee their homes. In parallel, ICRC seeks to strengthen the resilience and self-reliance of affected communities, allowing them to remain in their homes, through a variety of services, such as the provision of health posts, medicines, clean water, seeds and tools and if necessary food assistance.
ICRC also puts major emphasis on protecting and assisting those who have been uprooted. The ICRC and the rest of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have developed a combination of humanitarian responses and come to the aid, each year, of several million displaced people with varying needs and vulnerabilities, in acute emergencies and in protracted situations. In 2008 alone, some 3.7 million IDPs benefited from ICRC's activities. ICRC does so not because IDPs enjoy a particular status or belong to a particular category, but in recognition that they often face acute risks, both in terms of dangers and economic hardship.
ICRC considers that it can contribute to the overall humanitarian response given to people and communities affected by displacement and is committed to cooperate with other humanitarian acto rs, possessing the necessary expertise and capacity to the extent necessary to achieve efficient operational complementarity and a strengthened response for people affected. This collaboration takes place at the multilateral level – in Geneva and in the field - in the context of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and its subsidiary bodies to which the ICRC is a standing invitee. Similarly, in the field, while not taking part in the cluster approach, the ICRC has an ongoing dialogue with major humanitarian actors – UN and non-UN, with which it coordinates in a action oriented and reality based manner. Bilateral dialogue with UNHCR also takes place in a more structured manner, notably through annual high-level meetings, where specific situations or themes are discussed.
Given the new responsibilities entrusted to UNHCR in the context of the cluster approach in regard to internally displaced persons, our two organizations are increasingly often active in the same contexts, for the same beneficiary groups. In addition to our daily contacts in the field, it will thus be necessary to pursue and intensify our dialogue, with a view to ensure that we adopt a truly complementary approach, based on the comparative advantages of each.
Besides seeking to avoid duplication and unmet needs, our coordination and dialogue should further aim at finding ways of operating so that we work in a mutually reinforcing manner, for the benefit of those we seek to protect and assist. ICRC looks forward to continue our privileged dialogue and cooperation.
Thank you Mr Chairman.