Cover Image
close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder9. External Relations
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentRelations with Government and Diplomatic Corps
View the documentRelations with the Media
View the documentFunding and Donor Relations
View the documentFormal Written Communications
View the documentAnnexes

Relations with Government and Diplomatic Corps

1. All matters of protocol relating to establishing a new UNHCR presence in an emergency are likely to be handled by the Foreign Ministry in the same way as for other United Nations organizations. However, substantive matters concerning refugees may be handled by another authority, for example the President or Prime Minister's office or the Ministry of Interior. Guidance on the form of written communications with the government is given below.

2. It is important that the diplomatic corps accredited to the country is kept informed of UNHCR's activities from the start of an emergency. An informed and concerned diplomatic corps will be helpful in gaining support for the emergency operation both from the host country institutions and from donor governments for funding.

Briefing Meetings

3. Briefing meetings should start in the early days of an emergency and continue on a regular basis. There may already be a contact group of the ambassadors most interested in refugee matters who could be briefed in the early days of an emergency. Where there is no such group, or to make the arrangements for meetings more formal, it may be appropriate to invite the ambassadors of member states of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (EXCOM) to the briefings (for a list of EXCOM members, see Annex 1).

The aim is to keep Executive Committee : and other immediately concerned Governments well informed while not devoting scarce time to a major protocol exercise.

4. A number of people may be helpful in giving advice on the organization and participants of the meetings, including: the ambassador from the country of the current Executive Committee Chairman may be helpful in advising on the organization of briefings, or the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, or the ambassador of the country currently holding the presidency of the European Union (as a major donor group), or the Organization of African Unity or other regional groups.

5. A representative of the government would normally be present at these briefings. United Nations organizations and NGOs directly involved in the emergency operation should also be invited to attend.

6. Unless chaired by the representative of the Government, the meeting should normally be chaired by UNHCR. Other agencies should be encouraged to give account of their activities. Initially these meetings may need to be held fortnightly or even weekly, but once a month is a reasonable interval once the situation starts to come under control.

7. It may be useful to prepare for briefing meetings by prior discussions with other participating agencies to ensure that there is agreement on the issues and on information such as population figures.

8. If a question cannot be answered immediately, arrangements to follow up on an individual basis with the questioner should be made.

9. These briefing meetings will be important for fund-raising purposes. Representatives of donor governments will form part of the diplomatic corps and will therefore be involved in the meetings. Additional smaller briefing meetings may be appropriate, to deal with particular concerns of a donor, or to respond to a donor mission, or in respect of major protection issues which might require smaller, more discreet, briefings.

10. A useful complementary measure, which might eventually substitute for the diplomatic and other briefings, is a weekly or monthly written report prepared by UNHCR. The standard internal emergency situation report, or sitrep, could be used as the basis for this report (the format for this is suggested in Annex 3 of chapter 8 on implementing arrangements). If the sitrep is to be used in this way the parts which must not be made public should be clearly marked. Other United Nations bodies directly involved should contribute an account of their work. Such situation reports should be given wide distribution in the operations area and to focal points at Headquarters.

11. Implementation of these briefing arrangements will require valuable time and effort. Clearly the priority is to deliver the emergency assistance needed by refugees. However, if those interested do not have a regular source of information on the progress of the operation, UNHCR staff may end up spending even more time on individual briefings.