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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder2. Protection
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentProtection in Emergencies
View the documentInitial Actions
View the documentPhysical Safety of Refugees
View the documentEmergencies as a Result of Changes in Government Policy
View the documentOther Persons of Concern to UNHCR
View the documentDurable Solutions
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Emergencies as a Result of Changes in Government Policy

78. A special type of protection emergency can occur as the result of a sudden change, for whatever reason, in government policy towards persons of concern to UNHCR already on its territory. Those affected may include both persons known to UNHCR and recognized as refugees, and others who have hitherto neither formally requested asylum nor made themselves known to UNHCR, but who may nevertheless fall within the High Commissioner's competence.

79. The action to take in protection emergencies of this type will vary greatly in each case and only very general guidance can be given. Accurate information, a UNHCR presence where needed, and a clear and consistent policy in defence of the rights of the refugees will always be required. The guidelines that follow must be modified as necessary in light of the actual situation. Some of the considerations discussed in the previous sections may also be relevant.

80. UNHCR should immediately try to identify and if possible establish a list of persons who are, or may be at risk but were not previously known to UNHCR staff. This list must be constantly updated. Sources of information include the diplomatic community (some persons may approach or even seek asylum in embassies), the ICRC, the national Red Cross or Red Crescent society, churches and NGOs. Care should be taken to ensure the confidentiality of individual cases when establishing contacts with Embassies. Early identification, and, if possible registration of, these new cases by UNHCR can often be a very important source of protection.

81. UNHCR must maintain (or in the case of a new regime establish) close and continuing cooperation with the authorities. If the country has acceded to the relevant international instruments, these obligations remain binding, whatever new policies may be adopted. If the country is not a party to any of the refugee instruments, the Statute and universal instruments must be invoked.

82. The government is, of course, responsible for the physical security of the refugees. Every effort must be made to encourage the government to protect refugees, particularly during any periods of civil tension. The immediate aim is that refugees should be able to remain in safety in their present country of asylum. Respect of the principle of non-refoulement is of paramount importance.

83. There may be circumstances in which movement of the refugees to another country is necessary as a last resort. Such moves are quite different from large-scale resettlement as a durable solution. They may be necessary either as a result of a direct request from the government or where no other way of protecting the refugees exists. Immediate approaches to potential countries of asylum must be made at both local, embassy, and Headquarters levels. Receipt of resettlement offers may have an important influence on the government's attitude towards the refugees. Operational partners must be identified. In addition to locally-based NGOs, the assistance of the ICRC (for example, with travel documents) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) may be sought.

84. In extreme and tense situations where refugees lives were threatened, there were cases where some form of "safe Haven" for refugees have been established. However, UNHCR's experience with "safe havens" demonstrated that refugees often could not be provided with adequate protection and continued to be exposed to high risks. It is therefore not recommended to formally establish "safe havens".