Statement by Douglas E. Mercado, United States Advisor, on Agenda Item 41: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in the Third Committee of the 64th Session of the General Assembly

Douglas E. Mercado
United States Advisor 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
November 3, 2009




AS DELIVERED

Thank you Mr. Chairman, a key goal for the United States is endorsing political stability, human rights, and progressive socio-economic conditions worldwide in order to prevent and minimize global refugee flows and displacement, as well as working through implementing partners to protect and assist those in situations of displacement as a result of conflict.

We reaffirm UNHCR’s noble purposes, we share the organization’s objectives, and we believe that UNHCR is heading in the right direction in terms of its mandate and its programs.  As we noted at UNHCR’s Executive Committee, the United States believes that protection of persons around the world who are victims of persecution or armed conflict should be at the center of foreign policy and national security decision-making.  Most importantly, there is a moral imperative – and the simple policy goal of saving and safeguarding lives.  With UNHCR’s populations of concern expanding, we face increasing diversity in protection needs.  Refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, IDPs, and other victims of conflict and abuse each present distinct protection needs, requiring a range of responses drawing upon human rights law, humanitarian law, and refugee law.  As UNHCR broadens the scope of its mission to attempt to assess needs more comprehensively, the protection challenges grow more complex and require greater depth of understanding and expertise.  The United States supports this global approach that addresses a variety of populations and circumstances, but believes that protection of conflict-affected populations must remain a priority. 

Policy makers involved in humanitarian response – and our colleagues in UNHCR – must not only be there to provide assistance to the displaced after conflict has emerged, but must also engage in efforts undertaken to prevent displacement and strengthen norms for the rights of those displaced by conflict.  We must ensure that their interests are a central part of the policy debate, and that the root causes of displacement are addressed.  Our vision of responsible humanitarian response also includes a critical role for humanitarian diplomacy, a vital component of protection.  We strongly support UNHCR efforts to engage governments – donor governments as well as those hosting refugee and displaced populations – on fundamental issues of principle, such as freedom of movement, minimum standards relating to food, shelter and health, and protection against violence to refugees and displaced persons. 

Finding durable solutions – voluntary return, local integration, and resettlement – is one of the best investments we can make in advancing the security and welfare of refugees and other conflict victims.  The humanitarian community’s work to achieve durable solutions and provide protection for the world’s victims of conflict is inextricably linked to humanitarian assistance efforts.  Meeting basic assistance needs such as food, shelter, health care, and water and sanitation at internationally-accepted standards, saves lives, reduces suffering and promotes human dignity.  At the same time, the United States strives to move beyond care and maintenance toward increasing refugees’ self-reliance, especially for those in protracted refugee situations.  It is time to make genuine progress on resolving these situations worldwide.  Nearly 10 million people – over 60 percent of the world’s refugees – have been displaced for more than five years, and approximately eight million have lived as refugees for more than a decade. 

Mr. Chairman, in the months and years ahead, the United States will continue to fulfill its commitment to protecting vulnerable populations at home and overseas while providing diplomatic and financial support to UNHCR’s protection work around the world.   The United States remains the single largest donor and a strong supporter of the work of the High Commissioner for Refugees and anticipates continued progress on ongoing reform efforts that focus on effective management of UNHCR’s humanitarian programs, greater transparency and accountability, and better standards of care and protection for beneficiary populations. 

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PRN: 2009/260