Human rights will be pillar of new Egypt, says UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Osman El Sharnoubi, Friday 1 Apr 2011

'Humanistic vision' of new Egyptian officials crucial for Libya refugee situation, says Guterres

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres held a press conference in Cairo after a two day visit where he met Egyptian officials and public personalities.

Guterres opened the press conference by expressing his gratitude to the Egyptian government and people for their welcoming attitude and for keeping the borders open for refugees fleeing across the Libyan-Egyptian border.
Guterres stressed that keeping open borders for refugees is the most precious contribution for refugee protection and hoped the international community would express the same level of solidarity with Egypt as it has with the refugees.
Guterres then shed his identity as UN representative and addressed the audience as a Portuguese "citizen of the world", recalling his experiences in Portugal's Carnation revolution and comparing it to Egypt's 25th of January revolution.
Mentioning the "enormous economic and social challenges" of the time, Guterres invoked the importance of international solidarity, insisting that the Egyptian "democratic revolution" bears a great importance for the whole world, not just Egypt.
On the situation in Libya, the pressing topic of the conference, the High Commissioner clarified that aside from the political and military aspect of the issue, he was more concerned with the humanitarian crisis.
The High Commissioner shed light on the humanitarian plight of refugees displaced by the conflict in Libya, and the ones trapped in areas where fighting has been rampant, adding that he was personally moved by the stories of Egyptians trapped in Misrata.
He said that it was absolutely essential for humanitarian access to be available to everyone in need.
Guterres asserted that his visit to Egypt represents a new relation between the United Nations and Egypt, saying he "found a humanistic vision" in Egyptian officials that was very important for the refugee situation in Libya.
"I'm sure refugee protection will be a cornerstone in Egyptian politics," Guterres said, referring to policy changes in post-25 January Egypt.
He then assured that the UNHCR will be working closely with Egypt for refugee protection, and that the UNHCR will strengthen Egyptian efforts so as to lighten the burden on the Egyptian economy that aid to refugees may incur. 
When asked to comment about the state of human rights in Egypt and other Arab countries, the High Commissioner said he was "extremely encouraged" that human rights would be a pillar of Egyptian policy, since it was an integral part of the demands of the 25th of January revolution.
In an inquiry about steps towards improving the humanitarian crisis in Libya -- by the international community and Libyan neighbors -- Guterres highlighted the necessity of access to people in need of humanitarian assistance, saying this is currently the highest priority.
The final question Guterres was asked before the end of the press conference was about Palestinian refugees -- whether the changing political map in the region would lead to a build up of pressure on the international community and especially Israel that the status of Palestinian refugees be addressed.
Guterres said that the UNHCR works with Palestinian refugees outside of the Middle East but that a sister agency -- the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) -- works with Palestinian refugees in the region.
However, Guterres mentioned that it was an important part of the UNHCR's job to make sure that Palestinian political refugees in Libya would be resettled elsewhere so as not to become double refugees, insisting the UNHCR is committed to their protection.
While in Egypt, Guterres met with the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Social Solidarity.
He also met with Mansour al-Essawy, the Minister of the Interior, to discuss the protection for refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt.
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