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Homeland Security

Press Conference on Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 31 Ocotber 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today concluded a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at strengthening further their already existing joint cooperation in combating human trafficking, migrant smuggling and criminal abuse of refugees in key areas of their work in Latin America, the Gulf of Aden, Afghanistan and bordering countries, and North Africa.

The Memorandum of Understanding, signed at a Headquarters press conference by UNDOC Executive Director Yury Fedotov and UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres, marked the first formalized cooperation agreement between the two United Nations entities.

Speaking to correspondents immediately following the signing, both United Nations officials said the agreement called for increased coordination in the exchange of information between their two agencies, and for the setting up of a coordination mechanism, where appropriate, in specific country situations and in areas of shared concern, such as protection safeguards in relation to border management. Enhanced information sharing would be aimed at identifying areas of operational cooperation, they said.

Mr. Fedotov welcomed the accord, saying it would streamline the mutual work of both entities: “UNODC’s mandate in combating organized crime is complimentary to UNHCR’s work of protecting refugees. As we have often seen with human trafficking and migrant smuggling, criminals prey on society’s most vulnerable.” He said refugees, in search of a better life, often and easily became victims of such crooks, drug dealers and criminals in general, and it was thus important that coordinated assistance was offered to those who needed it the most.

UNHCR’s Mr. Guterres noted that his Office’s work in protecting refugees and others in need of international protection was increasingly challenged by insecure and unpredictable environments, new forms of violence, human trafficking and smuggling and other threats to the safety and well-being of refugees and their ability to access asylum.

Asserting that there was need for a better balance between protecting national security and combating transnational crime on the one hand, and international refugee protection principles on the other, he expressed hope that further cooperation between his Office and UNODC would lead to better understanding of the interplay between those issues and strengthen their capacity to address them.

According to the two officials, the agreement built on shared efforts — past and present — between the two organizations, and covered migration management issues, health-related work in refugee camps, as well as expanding joint activities within the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, or UN.GIFT.

Responding to questions, Mr. Guterres drew attention to parts of Latin America, where organized gangs were creating situations that forced people also to flee.

He explained that the evolving nature of conflict had embedded crime more deeply in situations of conflict. Refugees, in turn, were increasingly becoming victims, not only of traditional persecution by States, but also victims of persecution by all kinds of actors, in particular criminal actors. “Indeed there is a bigger and bigger linkage between criminality and the reasons that force people to flee and victimize refugees and other displaced people,” he said.

To a further question, both officials explained that the new arrangement was not aiming to fight criminality among refugees or within refugee camps, but rather to protect them from criminal elements who often took advantage of their situation.

Asked about the reported weekend air raid on a “refugee camp” inside Somalia, Mr. Guterres said although there were conflicting reports about exactly what had happened, the targeted area was in fact not a refugee camp, but a camp of people displaced inside Somalia, over which UNHCR had no direct mandate. The refugee agency was currently dealing with refugee camps for Somalis inside Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. Consequently, the agency did not have adequate information about what happened. However, the protection of civilians needed to be a key element, and in that regard, he appealed to all actors in the Somali situation to place that high on their list of concerns.

Mr. Fedotov, responding to a question concerning the level of cooperation between his Office and Afghanistan, specifically on the issue of poppy growing, said his Office was in fact going to launch a new regional programme for Afghanistan and neighbouring countries as early as next month. With that programme in place, for the first time UNODC would address opium cultivation and production in Afghanistan, which regrettably continued to grow despite all international efforts, via a regional perspective.

He added that he was hopeful that the new regional programme would empower the agency to do more to help the Afghan Government to reduce the production and develop alternative crops in that country. That was not only important for Afghanistan but for preventing illicit drug trafficking across borders, which was becoming more violent and more destabilizing for the entire region.

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