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Sharing responsibility: Humanitarian Aid annual conference in Basel

23.03.2012

With the motto "Sharing responsibility" and in the presence of Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, Humanitarian Aid and the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit have held their annual conference in Basel. Manuel Bessler, the Federal Council's new Delegate for Humanitarian Aid, chaired the conference for the first time. He and Federal Councillor Burkhalter explained plans to further develop Switzerland's humanitarian aid work. Other speakers included the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Guy Morin, President of the Executive Council of Basel-Stadt.

In his speech, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) thanked Humanitarian Aid staff and members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit for their efforts to help people in need. "You were always there when you were needed – in Libya, Liberia, the Philippines, Haiti, Darfur, Pakistan and Fukushima. And you have run considerable risks to accomplish your mission."

Federal Councillor Burkhalter explained the new emphasis in Humanitarian Aid, as set out in the 2013-2016 Federal Council Message to Parliament on international cooperation. He stressed the importance of increasing Switzerland's influence on humanitarian decision-making within the international community. He also mentioned plans to develop risk prevention measures for natural disasters, which are on the increase as a result of climate change.

In his opening address, Manuel Bessler explained the motto for this year's conference – "Sharing responsibility". "This refers to a human and ethical responsibility, since we all live on the same planet and share the same space with limited resources." He also mentioned the key points of the new Humanitarian Aid development strategy, based on the existing values of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality.

This includes a commitment to protect civilians in armed conflicts. "Our efforts will be intensified in the fields of operations and advocacy as well as in global humanitarian forums." This also includes involving the needy in delivering aid, conducting follow-up activities and preparing evaluations. They should be empowered to take their futures back into their own hands. Switzerland is also endeavouring to achieve a greater presence – and that includes a personal presence – in international humanitarian organisations, which are growing in importance. But partnerships with other humanitarian players should also be forged in bilateral, direct activities as well. Further details on these and other aspects will be available by the end of the year.

The conference organisers also used three presentations to illustrate the specific involvement of Humanitarian Aid of the Confederation. The first example involved the current crisis in the Horn of Africa, focusing on internationally coordinated local aid for refugees. The second example looked at the situation in Colombia and showed how Humanitarian Aid is working together with civil society to help protect victims. And the third example illustrated Humanitarian Aid's efforts during the upheavals in the Arab world.

In a podium discussion, the SDC Director-General, Martin Dahinden, and the Curator of Fondation Beyeler, Ulf Küster, discussed an unusual approach to the subject of aid. They talked about the role and function of art in overcoming the pressures generated by war and disasters. Art is able to impart consolation, identity and memories, Küster explained in his introduction.

Pupils of class 9B at the Rudolf Steiner School in Basel also made a presentation. They have had a lively exchange on Facebook over several weeks with a class in Nairobi which was set up by Humanitarian Aid. They discussed in great depth the subject of "Living in refugee camps" and the challenges this poses.

The annual conference also included a meeting between Didier Burkhalter, Martin Dahinden, Manuel Bessler and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres. Subjects discussed included cooperation between the UNHCR and Switzerland, the UNHCR's needs, the restructuring within the Office of the UN High Commissioner, and the situations in the Horn of Africa and Syria. The relationship between Switzerland and the UNHCR was described as excellent. Switzerland is one of the organisation's 15 most important donor countries.

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