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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder19. Voluntary Repatriation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentUNHCR's Role in Voluntary Repatriation
View the documentConditions For a Voluntary Repatriation
View the documentOn Route
View the documentOn Arrival in Country of Origin
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

UNHCR's Role in Voluntary Repatriation

5. UNHCR's role in voluntary repatriation includes the following:

i. Verify the voluntary character of refugee repatriation;

ii. Promote the creation of conditions that are conducive to voluntary return in safety and dignity;

iii. Promote the voluntary repatriation of refugees once conditions are conducive to return;

iv. Facilitate the voluntary return of refugees when it is taking place spontaneously, even if conditions are not conducive to return;

v. Organize, in cooperation with NGOs and other agencies, the transportation and reception of returnees, provided that such arrangements are necessary to protect their interests and well-being; and;

vi. Monitor the status of returnees in their country of origin and if guarantees given by the country of origin are adhered to. Intervene on behalf of the refugees if necessary.

6. UNHCR should maintain objective and up-to-date information about the situation in the country of origin. Personnel on the ground should stay in close touch with refugees' thinking on the possibility of voluntary repatriation, and keep the refugees and concerned governments informed accordingly.

7. A distinction should be made between "promotion" and "facilitation" of voluntary repatriation. Repatriation should only be promoted when it appears, objectively, that the refugees can return in safety and with dignity1 and the return has good prospects of being durable. UNHCR can promote voluntary repatriation without being in charge of organizing all aspects of the return movement. Frequently, members of a group will make their own arrangements for return, with or without assistance from UNHCR.

8. When UNHCR does not consider that, objectively, it is safe for most refugees to return, but even so refugees indicate a strong desire to return voluntarily and/or have begun to do so on their own initiative, UNHCR must be careful not to promote the repatriation, but may take some steps to facilitate it.

UNHCR must make clear to the authorities and the refugees that support for such repatriation is based on respect for the refugees' free decision to repatriate and cannot be interpreted as an indication of adequate security.

9. Facilitating repatriation can, depending on the circumstances, include providing information to the refugees, advising on the limits of UNHCR protection and material assistance during and after their return, negotiating amnesties, establishing a presence in the country of origin and monitoring their treatment. The issue of material assistance requires careful handling, so that assistance is not interpreted as a pull factor nor as promotion of repatriation by UNHCR.

10. Where there is a mass spontaneous repatriation in conditions where UNHCR does not consider that, objectively, it is safe for most refugees to return, and in emergency conditions, Headquarters advice should be sought to define UNHCR's role in such circumstances.

1 "Safety" means legal safety, physical security and material security or access to land or means of livelihood. "Dignity" includes the concept that the refugees are treated with respect by national authorities including restoration of all their rights.