|The Courier N° 150 - March - April 1995 - Dossier: Refugees - Country Reports: The Bahamas, Guyana (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)|
by Mikael Barfod
The European commission has decided to coordinate under one hat all its actions towards refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees in third countries and to work for a common strategy in tiers area.
In the 1990s, the world has faced an upsurge in human) tartan crises which has put more demands on an efficient and well-coordinated donor response. The Commission responded to the new challenge by creating the European Comrnunity Humanitarian Office (ECHO) in 1992. The mandate of the Humanitarian Office was to improve efficiency and visibility in the delivery of humanitarian aid by coordinating and concentrating resources. Nevertheless. the concentration of
Assistant for policy coordination in ECHO, the European Community Humanitarian Office. resources has not brought together all the services who have traditionally been handling aid to refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees.
The conventional wisdom within the European Commission has been that assistance towards refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees in developing or relatively poor third countries should be dealt with within a regional context by geographical desks largely responsible for development issues. (The one exception to this has been food aid, where a global approach is used which also extends to refugees ) This approach ensured a close relationship between refugee issues on the one hand and development and other regional issues on the other, not least when it came to protracted refugee crises.
However, in recent years, such long standing refugee problems have been overshadowed by a large number of humanitarian crises many of which have given rise to swelling numbers of new refugees. Obviously, the Commission must adapt itself to the increased multitude and magnitude of refugee crises by continuing the coordination efforts which started with the creation of ECHO.
The Community allocated an estimated total of ECU ass million to more than 60 countries of the world in 1994. Since- several Commission services are administering these diverse aid programmes, ' the Commission is obliged to establish a common policy to avoid overlapping, 'black holes' (where no donor provides assistance) or other inefficiencies.
In spite of the diversity of refugee programmes funded by the Community, it is nevertheless important not to lose sight of the similarities. The large majority of actions in this field are implemented through partners often the same partners serving many Commission services - be they Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), United Nations (UN) agencies or other international organisations It is regarded as essential to have a common framework for dealing with these partners in a coherent manner. This is particularly important for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). who received around 30% of all Community contracts towards refugees in 1994.
Total Community Assistance to Refugees, Displaced Persons and Returnees by Region, 1994
Aims of common approach
The first aim is to support the whole 'refugee continuum': relief, care and maintenance, self-sufficiency. resettlement/repatriation, and rehabilitation/reconstruction. Since the orientation of the several Commission services in question emphasises different aspects of this continuum, it is all the more important to ensure, as far as possible, a consistent. well-planned and stable support to a given refugee crisis from the outset.
The second aim is to ensure that assistance to refugees, whenever possible, takes into consideration preventive action to avoid future refugee flows Obviously, the issue of prevention is very complex. since it involves a wide range of policies (for example, targeted development aid; preventive diplomacy; or peace-making and peace-keeping) which fall outside the scope of refugee coordination. Preventive action in the sense of permanent preparedness to furnish on the spot humanitarian assistance can, however, play a vital role. If, for example, there are safe havens created in a country in turmoil and internally displaced persons can find shelter in such such within their own country, well planned humanitarian assistance can help provide the necessary life support for the displaced persons concerned. Thus, it supports UNHCR's declared policy of reception in the region of origin and prevents internally displaced persons from becoming refugees in the sense of the Geneva Convention.
I he third aim is to forge a link between the external assistance toward refugees. internally displaced persons and returnees on the one hand and the Commission's wider suggestions on immigration and asylum policies This new Commission policy maintains that the best way to come to terms with increasing migration pressures is to develop further a comprehensive approach with preventive elements.
The last but certainly not least important aim is to provide a one-stop mechanism where all discussions relating to assistance for refugees, including relevant strategic issues (political options, relations with partners, follow-up, prevention, etc ) as well as specific operational questions will take place. To this effect a Permanent Inter-Service Group (PISG) for assistance toward refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees has been created with effect from January 1995 The group is chaired by ECHO and includes participation from services mentioned above
As soon as the Permanent Inter
Service Group has accumulated some experience and is able to draw on the lessons learned. work will begin to put together a common Community strategy which can be used in negotiations with implementing agencies, not least the UNHCR.
Since the global number of refugees in the world seems to be growing every day, there is unfortunately little chance that the new coordination mechanism will be idle in the foreseeable future.