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close this bookBASIN - News No. 10 July 1995: Reconstruction and Resettlement (Building Advisory Service and Information Network, 1995)
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Resettling and reintegrating refugees in Eritrea

Summary

The Eritrean government has adopted an “enabling” role in its task of resettling and returning refugees by providing them with training in building materials production and construction techniques, and with supervision for the construction of their own shelter. It is hoped that this will help to reintegrate and rehabilitate the refugees while increasing the economic potential of Eritrea’s rural areas.

Context

After the massacre in Rwanda last year which left around one million people dead (a figure just confirmed by a Rwandese human rights organization) and uprooted many more people who are now spread over many refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and with a similar tragedy now threatening in Burundi, one tends to forget all the other conflicts in Africa which are still rendering millions of people homeless and destitute and will create enormous problems for the different governments when the time comes to repatriate and resettle the returning refugees.

One country where around 750,000 people were uprooted during 30 years of a finally victorious liberation war is Eritrea. More than 500,000 Eritrean refugees stayed in Sudan. About 250,000 Eritreans were displaced in their own country and forced to leave their villages but stayed on in other locations inside Eritrea during the war.

The war ended in May 1991. As a result of a referendum held two years later Eritrea became an independent state. It now faces the challenge of repatriating and reintegrating the large number of refugees and displaced persons, in addition to demobilizing thousands of fighters from the liberation army (EPLF).

As a result of the prolonged war, the infrastructure which was well developed in Eritrea before the war was destroyed, and with it huge amounts of material and natural resources (e.g. the forests). The lowland regions of Eritrea, where most of the returning refugees are supposed to be settled, suffered the highest destruction and damage. Although the land is arable savannah region where groundwater is available, most of the roads, health centres and schools were destroyed. The area lies within the Sahel zone which has a dry and rather fickle climate with poor rainfall and regularly faces severe droughts, although most of the soils are fertile in this region.

An “Enabling” Strategy for Resettlement

The Eritrean government, faced with other problems as well, has nevertheless decided to adopt an “enabling” rather than a “providing” role in the context of resettling the returning refugees, displaced persons and demobilized fighters. This attitude and determination to “help themselves” is a direct result of the liberation war. There the Eritreans learned to support themselves against all odds and in the face of a formidable military power, which was internationally assisted by the Soviet Union, the Cubans, the East Germans (of the former German Democratic Republic) and in the initial stages also by the USA and other Western countries. This self-help attitude, which is also well developed among the refugees, has been recognized as the basis for a successful resettlement and reintegration programme which the Commission for Eritrean Refugee Affairs (CERA) is now planning to implement with external assistance (amongst others from the Federal Republic of Germany).

In the context of the resettlement programme the difference between the providing and the enabling strategy can be explained as follows:

The “providing” strategy means that the required housing units for the returning refugees, displaced persons and demobilized fighters are put up by government and “delivered” to the beneficiaries. The costs for such a project, if funding were to be provided by donors, would amount to the total costs of the houses (including materials, involving contracting firms with their skilled and unskilled labour, transport, technical and managerial supervision, and project management).

The “enabling” strategy means that government is enabling the beneficiaries to build their own shelter facilities with only the provision of inaccessible building materials. The costs of such a project would include costs of some building materials, training, technical and managerial supervision, and transport. Both training and supervision costs are reducing during the project implementation, as the technical capacities and know-how of the beneficiaries and project executing agency are strengthened.

The project for resettling around half a million returning refugees, thousands of displaced persons and integrating the demobilized fighters in this process has therefore been planned in a way that ensures full participation of all beneficiaries.

The project realizes its main objectives of resettling, reintegrating and rehabilitating refugees, displaced persons and demobilized fighters in the social and economic life of Eritrea through:

- formulation of an enabling strategy for implementing the project,

- construction of affordable shelter facilities at different sites based on a participatory approach,

- planning and implementation through on-the-job training courses for self-help building activities by the beneficiaries; mobilization and organization of the involved groups,

- optimum use of existing materials, identification of locally available resources for the production of building materials and introduction of improved, appropriate construction methods,

- design, demonstration and construction of different suitable house types, based on woodless construction principles, together with the beneficiaries,

- formulation of appropriate specifications and standards for the production and use of locally produced building materials and construction methods.

It is envisaged that, based on the participatory approach and an enabling strategy for implementing the programme with support from the Eritrean government, the project also contributes to the development objectives of Eritrea in two ways:

- returning refugees, displaced persons and the former EPLF-fighters participate in the national reconstruction process and can seize this opportunity for reintegration into the society in order to lead a decent life,

- technical skills and know-how will be created and small-scale local industries established for the production of building materials such as improved adobe bricks, lime for building, window and door frames, thereby reducing the amount of foreign exchange required for the import of building materials which cannot be produced in the country.

Demonstration and Training

In the preparation stages of the programme, different demonstration houses were put up at a settlement site near Mansura in the lowlands. These houses, constructed with adobe bricks and covered with corrugated metal sheeting on timber trusses, turned out to be very expensive. Moreover, the local masons produced inferior bricks and plastered the walls with a rather thick layer of sand-cement plaster which is unsuitable for an adobe brick wall. As a result it was realized that extensive training would be required for the correct production of adobe bricks on the one hand and for construction with these bricks on the other.

Masonry and carpentry skills training is presently offered in Eritrea by the Otto Benecke Foundation and other non-governmental organizations which are active in shelter provision.

However, considering the huge demand for low-cost housing (not only in the context of refugee resettlement and reintegration), training courses for professionals, building contractors, technicians and also decision-makers would be advisable, especially for technological capacity building in the area of utilizing available resources for the production and use of alternative building materials. During the implementation of the resettlement project, relevant courses can be organized and offered for the benefit of those who are or will be involved in shelter construction.

Looking Forward

It is anticipated that the beneficiaries of the resettlement project will eventually constitute a manpower potential that can play a decisive role in the economic development of Eritrea’s rural areas. Through on-the-job training in building materials production and construction techniques which the groups involved will receive during the resettlement period, some of them can afterwards use their acquired knowledge for strengthening the local building industry. Their know-how will also be needed in the neighbouring communities, where schools, clinics and other necessary facilities will have to be built or re-built. Direct benefits for employment and income generation are derived from training the refugee groups and also from establishing small-scale contractors and building enterprises for production of building materials with suitably trained people from these groups. In addition this means that the neighbouring communities will benefit directly from the refugee resettlement programme. The living standards in the villages near the settlements will also improve.

The programme will be closely monitored during its implementation and evaluated at regular intervals by Eritrean professionals. In the initial stages external expertise will be needed only for planning, organizing and conducting the required training courses for trainers and the involved beneficiaries. Thereafter the project will require short-term expertise from outside Eritrea only for specific subjects such as the preparation of didactic training materials, introduction of improved lime kilns for the production of building lime, appropriate manual extraction and dressing of natural stone, or the introduction of ferro-cement technology for the construction of rainwater receptacles (cisterns). In a way, this means that returning professionals amongst the refugees can also participate fully in the programme and benefit from it.

by Hannah Schreckenbach, WAS