UNHCR chief begins three-day visit to Russia; displaced Chechens top agenda
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, today began a three-day visit to the Russian Federation, where he plans to meet with high-ranking officials and visit programmes for displaced people in Ingushetia on the border with the republic of Chechnya.
The visit, Mr. Lubbers’ first to Russia since becoming High Commissioner one year ago, will focus on the protection of refugees in Russia and the link between asylum and migration in the country, the UN agency said.
The High Commissioner is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, whose department took over responsibility for refugee and migration issues earlier this year.
Mr. Lubbers also plans to travel to the Northern Caucasus to visit tent camps, host families and spontaneous settlements for the 150,000 displaced Chechens in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, where many are spending their third winter. An additional 160,000 people are displaced within Chechnya itself.
Although the UN agency does not operate in Chechnya itself, it helps the displaced Chechens through legal and psychological counselling centres, provides shelter materials and improves water and sanitation facilities in the tent cities.
Meanwhile, the UN agency today welcomed a decision by Canada’s Supreme Court curbing the circumstances in which suspected terrorists could be deported to countries where they may face torture, but said the ban should be extended even to cases that involve “exceptional circumstances.”
UNHCR intervened in the case of Manickavasagam Suresh – a Sri Lankan accused by the Canadian Government of having ties to the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and wanted to deport – linking the principle of forcible return contained in the 1951 Refugee Convention to the 1984 Convention Against Torture.
While the court said Mr. Suresh deserved another hearing, it also ruled that some deportations might be allowed in “extraordinary circumstances” even if the deportee faced the threat of torture.
“In UNHCR’s view, the prohibition of return to torture contained in Article Three of the Convention against Torture is not subject to exception,” the agency said in a statement. “The non-derogable nature of that provision makes it all the more important for the international community to develop mechanisms which allow suspected terrorists and other dangerous individuals to justice.”