Annual UNHCR meet ends with call to help world's most vulnerable people

News Stories, 10 October 2008

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
The ExCom team at the closing of the annual meeting of UNHCR's governing body.

GENEVA, October 10 (UNHCR) High Commissioner António Guterres wrapped up the UN refugee agency's annual Executive Committee meeting on Friday with a reminder that support for the world's most vulnerable and disadvantaged people is an investment in the creation of a better life for all.

"We have heard a lot this week about income, costs, expenditures and disbursements," Guterres told delegates from 76 member states at the end of the UNHCR governing body's five-day meeting.

"But I would like you to leave Geneva with another word in your mind: investment. The resources that you so generously provide to UNHCR certainly enable us to support some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. But they also represent an investment in the creation of a more peaceful and prosperous world."

The High Commissioner said supporting the world's displaced and stateless people not only makes a tangible difference in their lives, but can also provide an important contribution to the attainment of broader objectives.

"When we provide protection and solutions we facilitate the task of maintaining international peace and security," he said. "When we provide protection and solutions we create the conditions for sustainable development. When we provide protection and solutions we advance the cause of human rights and gender equality. And when we provide protection and solutions we promote a context in which migration can be more effectively and equitably managed."

The Executive Committee approved UNHCR's 2009 annual budget of US$1.275 billion, with an additional US$535 million for supplementary programmes.

In a press conference later Friday, Guterres said we live in a world in which humanitarian needs are growing, citing climate change, environmental degradation, economic disparities, competition for increasingly scarce resources and open conflict.

"My strong appeal to the international community is that those humanitarian needs not be forgotten," he said. "We have witnessed in recent weeks decisions for hundreds of billions of dollars to be used to rescue financial systems. And it is very probably something that needs to be done. But it will be a disaster if it will undermine the capacity of states and people around the world to go on providing increasing humanitarian aid that is absolutely crucial."

Guterres said "we are speaking of peanuts" when comparing humanitarian financial needs with the huge amounts being spent on financial rescue packages worldwide. If those relatively small humanitarian expenditures were to be reduced, it would have dramatic consequences not only on UNHCR but on all humanitarian organizations.

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Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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