|New Approaches to New Realities (University of Wisconsin, 1996, 508 p.)|
|Theme TWO: Political, Security, Protection, Civil and Human Rights Aspects|
This paper was prepared by Eva Jensen of InterWorks. In addition to the resources listed in the paper, the following people provided significant contributions:
Constantinos Berhe-Tesfu - directs African humanitarian action for the Centre for Human Environment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Laura Hammond - is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She has completed two years of field research on the integration of Tigrayan refugees in the Humera region of Ethiopia.
Barry N. Stein - Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University. Since 1975 he has taught courses on refugees, displaced persons and exiles and he has published widely on refugee problems in developing countries. He is co-director of the International Study of Spontaneous Voluntary Repatriation.
Ken B. Wilson - is Program Officer with The Ford Foundation with responsibility for Mozambique and Angola. He has researched and published on both social and human ecological issues associated with the African crisis of drought, economic collapse, war and flight and is a former research officer with the Refugee Studies Programme in Oxford, specializing in central southern Africa.
This paper is a synthesis of the efforts of all of those cited above and as such does not express the viewpoint of any single resource, contributor or organization.
The problems of todays uprooted populations are complex and defy simple solutions. Involuntary migrants are often caught in the gap between limited commitments of the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced populations and the limited resources and willingness of less developed countries to address the root causes of flight. In recent years, repatriation, return, and reintegration have become the predominant settlement solution for uprooted populations.
Repatriation refers to the process whereby those who have been displaced across international borders are re-established in their country of origin with a restoration of the bond between citizen and state. In Namibia and South Africa, for example, refugees returned to their country of origin following the establishment of a new government and constitutional structure which provides for their full recognition as citizens and opportunities to participate in civil society.
Return refers to the physical fact of return to place of origin without a bond necessarily being restored between citizen and the state. For example, in Mozambique refugees and displaced persons are returning to more uncertain conditions where a fragile peace has been negotiated and the government is engaged in a reconstruction effort that is supported by international humanitarian assistance. When refugees are forced to return due to coercive events in their country of exile, they usually return without restoration of such bonds.
Reintegration refers to the process of becoming part of the social, political and economic systems operative in the area of resettlement.
These definitions move beyond the more narrow and technical vocabulary adopted by refugee assistance agencies in that they refer not only to persons who have been recognized as refugees, but also those who have crossed international borders without benefit of the recognition of refugee status and those who have been internally displaced. In addition, the definitions recognize the difference between repatriating populations of refugees whose rights of citizenship are restored and populations of self-repatriating or voluntary returnees whose rights may not be recognized or those who return without resolution of the conditions which caused their flight.
Humanitarian assistance programs which have implemented the three preferred permanent or durable solutions historically applied to refugee situations - third country resettlement, permanent integration into communities of refuge, and voluntary repatriation or return to place of origin - have not kept pace with the expanding population of involuntary migrants in the contemporary world. In 1993, an estimated 42.2 million people were forced to flee their homes to escape persecution, violence or disasters. 1994 estimates show an increase of 3 million in that number.
Over the past decade, the number of refugees and displaced persons has increased as the number of uprooted peoples exceeds those for whom durable solutions have been found. The resources of host governments, host communities, and donors who support emergency populations have been stretched as they have provided protection and care and maintenance for uprooted populations, some of whom have been in exile for over two decades.
Third country resettlement is generally used as a safety valve when the absorptive capacity within the region of displacement has been exceeded, or when ethnic or cultural differences between refugees and host country populations could lead to conflict, or when, for any number of reasons, the host community feels the need to exert pressure on the uprooted population to relocate. Third country resettlement takes place mainly in industrialized countries. Given existing immigration quotas, individual resettlement to these countries provides a durable solution for approximately one percent of the refugee population per year (Rogers, 1993; Stein and Cuny, 1994).
Permanent integration into countries of first asylum is not an available option for most refugees and displaced persons. Approximately 90 percent of the worlds uprooted populations live in the less developed nations of the world. Host communities and countries are not in an economic position to integrate large populations of new citizens when their resources are already severely constrained. The presence of refugee and externally displaced populations exacerbates social and political tensions in host countries. However, the root causes of displacement are not easily overcome, which makes repatriation or return difficult. In spite of this, the durable solution of repatriation and return is the only option that exists for most uprooted populations, including the internally displaced who cannot be integrated into the communities to which they fled.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees proclaimed 1992 the year of voluntary repatriation within a decade of voluntary repatriation. Both self-induced and internationally supported repatriation have expanded. During 1992/93 approximately four million refugees returned to their places of origin. For example, people returned: to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran, to Cambodia from Thailand, to Iraq from Iran and Turkey, to Angola from Zaire and Zambia, to Somalia from Kenya, to Ethiopia from Sudan, as well as to Mozambique and South Africa. During the five year period, 1990-1994, almost seven million refugees have returned home (Stein, 1994).
Historically, refugee movements have tended to result in permanent exile of displaced populations. In the 1950s and 1960s refugees were largely seen as a European problem. Post-World War II solutions gave priority to refugee integration and third country resettlement. An important exception was the return of about 200,000 refugees to Algeria in 1962, supported by the governments of France, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Generally, repatriation was considered a questionable solution that required individual initiative and a desire to return. Forcible return was prohibited and considerable efforts were made to ensure repatriation was voluntary.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, refugees and uprooted populations created by anti-colonial wars in Africa were generally recognized by governments, donors and humanitarian assistance personnel as involuntary migrants who would want to return home. In general, repatriation was considered the natural outcome of the successful conclusion of struggles for independence and liberation from colonial rule throughout Africa. While the importance of confirming the voluntary character of repatriation was emphasized, international support for repatriation, return and reintegration was provided as the primary solution to uprooted populations. In the 1970s several independence wars ended and mass returns occurred: to Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Zaire, Cambodia and Zimbabwe.
In Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe third country settlement was the prevailing solution throughout the 1960s and 1970s and early 1980s. International assistance was provided for care and maintenance of refugees in countries of first asylum as they were screened for resettlement.
In the mid-1980s and early 1990s a shift occurred and repatriation was promoted as the preferred solution for refugees, some of whom had been in exile over ten years. Programs were established to support the return of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese who were living in Thailand. In the late 1980s and early 1990s refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua began returning home.
In compliance with its mandate to provide protection and seek durable solutions for refugees, UNHCR established four preconditions for its participation in organized repatriation (UNHCR in Stein and Cuny, 1994, p. 176 and Stein, 1994, p. 3):
· a fundamental change in circumstances causing flight must have occurred
· the repatriation must be voluntary
· an agreement between the host and home countries providing clear and unequivocal arrangements for safe return and settlement must be established
· refugees must be able to return in safety and with dignity, preferably to their places of origin
Most contemporary repatriations fall short of this ideal. While the preconditions represent appropriate high standards for humanitarian assistance, in practice it is not possible to achieve these standards when emergency populations are returning to places where conditions which caused flight have not been substantially overcome. The complexity of problems which force migration are not easily addressed.
Forced migration is caused by internal tensions, conflicts with neighbors, ideological or ethnic conflicts, political repression and persecution, economic destitution or ecological disasters. Uprooted populations are diverse and include classic refugees as well as externally and internally displaced persons. Host populations and those who refuse to flee are impacted by the emergency as well.
Home governments may consider the flight of emergency populations a positive development - a pressure valve for socio-economic stress or effective expulsion of dissidents. Host communities and governments often have economic, political and security interests in minimizing the number of refugees and displaced persons who move into their areas. Immigrant populations are often considered security or foreign-policy risks. On the other hand, sometimes host communities see uprooted populations as an opportunity to generate external assistance for relief and development. For example, in Sudan, the government wants to repatriate refugees who are living in the cities of Gedaref, Kassala, and Port Sudan because they are considered a burden on urban infrastructures. However, money for relief and development is provided for camp refugees and there is less concern for repatriating them.
Donor countries which support humanitarian assistance are increasingly concerned about the rising costs of providing protection, emergency relief, and care and maintenance for uprooted populations. In search of a durable solution, voluntary repatriation is now promoted by many governments, donors, and humanitarian assistance providers as the best solution for emergency populations, with cheaper and shorter-term assistance programs provided to support initial settlement (Allen and Morsink, 1994, p. 3; Harrell-Bond, 1989; Stein, 1986).
Increasing numbers of refugees and displaced persons are choosing to return to their country and place of origin as an alternative to the indefinite temporary situations in which they live. Ninety percent of the seven million refugees who returned home in the 1990s, did so without international assistance (Stein and Cuny, 1994, p. 6). Only 100,000 of the estimated one million African refugees who returned home in the early 1990s did so through orderly and organized internationally assisted repatriation programs (Stein, 1994). Voluntary repatriation is viewed by some as a proactive response of emergency populations who desire the opportunity to establish roots and become settled in a world that offers them less than perfect solutions. Emergency populations are becoming the main actors in voluntary repatriation and they determine when and how they will return. Based on their own criteria, they evaluate their situation in exile and conditions in their place of origin, deciding whether it is safe and better for them to return, to stay, or to go elsewhere.
Although refugees and displaced persons are returning home, their return is not problem free. Many who return are at risk of repeated flight because the political and economic conditions that originally caused their emergency migration have not been resolved. Countless numbers of refugees return home in the face of continued risk, frequently without any amnesty, without a repatriation agreement or program, without permission from the authorities in either the country of asylum or country of origin, without international knowledge or assistance, and without an end to conflict that caused the exodus (Stein and Cuny, 1994, p. 174).
Contrary to common wisdom, there is no return to the status quo. Whatever the cause of flight, it will leave a socio-economic and historical scar in the community. Other changes will be induced by the experience of the flight itself. If people are returning to an area that has been in conflict, for instance, de-mining and reconstruction may be required. Community relations will have to be re-established as stayees, internally displaced, and refugees establish land claims and rebuild their lives.
In order to contribute to durable solutions, the international agencies and organizations that provide protection and assistance to these populations need to understand the context in which repatriation is occurring, the perspectives and motivations and criteria of emergency populations, the role of host and home governments as well as non-recognized entities, their own responsibilities regarding human rights and what their role should be in the repatriation effort.
The factors which influence the attitudes of refugees and displaced persons regarding repatriation and return vary, depending on the context, the circumstances which caused flight and the temporary living situation of the emergency population. These factors include: (De Jonge, 1994; Rogge, 1994; Stein, 1994)
· length of time in exile
· degree of integration in place of asylum
· the level of socio-economic development achieved in exile
· the level of cohesion in the displaced or refugee population
· the pressures exerted by authorities to return
· perception of sufficient protection, security and safety of return
· the measure of physical disruption in place of origin
· the extent to which political, economic or social change has occurred in the place of origin
· the provision of material and moral support for return and integration
· the opportunity to exercise more control over ones life
· economic opportunities promised in the area of origin
The expanding emergency population in the world today as well as the diminishing durable solutions and shift toward an emphasis on voluntary repatriation and return requires careful analysis and creative thought in order to respond to the needs of uprooted peoples and assure protection of their human rights. Protection is often inadequate and voluntary repatriation or return may be motivated by poor living conditions, pressure to leave, or threats or danger in the host country. In other cases uprooted populations that choose to repatriate may be acting out of a renewed position of strength and a desire to return to their communities of origin even though peace has not been established (Stein and Cuny, 1994).
Protection and assistance must be provided in order to protect the returnees and support their move as a durable solution. On the other hand, compromising properly high standards and principles regarding repatriation risks abdication of responsibilities to protect human rights and alleviate human suffering. The distinction between supporting voluntary repatriation and return and promoting repatriation and return as the preferred solution is not always clear. The following review of principles holds up the ideal standards and discusses them in light of contemporary realities. An examination and discussion of best practices follows. Various ethical dilemmas and issues are considered.
1. The essentially voluntary character of repatriation and return should be respected in all cases. No persons should be relocated against their will.
Refugees, displaced persons and victims of disasters flee their places of origin because their safety and livelihood are threatened by circumstances in their place of origin or because they fear persecution or violence. Historically, the voluntariness of return has been emphasized and individuals have been interviewed in order to ascertain their desire and or willingness to return. Voluntariness implies both an informed decision and an unforced act of will. Ascertaining the voluntariness of repatriation requires direct and unhindered access to all of those displaced. When possible, their participation in the development and implementation of return programs may increase their disposition to resettle.
Increasingly, the emergency populations needs are served en masse and solutions are sought for groups. In the past, individual initiative and a desire to return was established prior to any return. While the ideal principle prevails that no one should be repatriated or returned to their place of origin against their will, both the shift to group solutions and the preference for repatriation and return as the best durable solution may compromise this principle. Decisions to return should be made by each individual, though they may be influenced by groups with whom they identify or associate.
2. The basic rights of voluntary return and restored citizenship and human rights should be recognized. International cooperation should be aimed at achieving this objective.
Without the basic right of voluntary return, restored citizenship and recognized human rights, forced migrants remain vulnerable to the forces which caused their original flight. Increasingly, uprooted populations are returning to their place of origin without a change in the conditions which forced them to flee. Citizenship rights are not necessarily restored and the protection of human and civil rights are not assured. State sovereignty rights limit the influence and intervention of international actors and other states. International legal instruments and mechanisms of enforcement are needed in order to protect the human and civil rights of repatriating and returning populations. Constraints or conditions on the provision of aid may have the power to influence government action. However, aid may also negatively influence returnee motivations, movements, and decisions, as people tend to follow aid. On-going civil war in the place of origin makes it impossible to establish guarantees of human and civil rights. The voluntariness of return is particularly important in such vulnerable conditions.
3. All repatriations should be carefully examined for elements of coercion or danger. Refugees and displaced persons need and should have access to accurate information to enable informed decisions about relocating.
Displaced populations should be provided with all available information regarding existing conditions in their country and community of origin and the source of that information in order to enable informed decisions about relocating and reduce the possibilities of coercive or dangerous return. They need to be able to assess the political, military, economic and environmental situation in their place/country of origin as well as the political, economic and social supports necessary for return. Visits by individual refugees or refugee representatives to their place of origin to inform themselves of the situation could be of assistance. Independent human rights groups should have access to refugees before, during and after return in order to assess and assure the voluntariness of their decisions. Spontaneous repatriations should be carefully examined for elements of coercion or dangerous mis-information.
In many situations uprooted populations return on their own rather than waiting for formal action by the UN. In fact, the great majority of refugees and displaced populations who return do so on their own initiative. In 1992 of the estimated 2.4 million refugees who repatriated, approximately 1.7 million did so spontaneously (UNHCR, 1993, p. 107). Some refugees and displaced populations choose to return without the protection of the UN because they fear that by returning through official channels they will be identified by local authorities or residents as returnees, placing them at a disadvantage or at risk (Rogge, 1994, p. 29). On the other hand, individual identity cards for all returnees may provide the documentation they can use to claim rights to residency, land, reconstruction and development assistance, and support.
4. The country of asylum, country of origin and other involved military and political authorities in the area concerned must agree to clear and unequivocal arrangements for the safe return of persons seeking repatriation.
UNHCR takes the lead role in operationalizing this principle as it applies to refugees. The UNHCR statute calls upon the High Commissioner to seek permanent solutions for the problems of refugees by assisting Governments ... to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of refugees, and to provide for the protection of refugees by assisting governmental and private efforts to promote voluntary repatriation. By means of tripartite agreements initiated by UNHCR with the host government and the government of the country of origin, amnesties for political offenses, assurances of safe passage for returning refugees, material assistance to help them re-establish themselves and provisions for an international presence to monitor their safety are negotiated (UNHCR, 1993b). When forces controlling the area to which refugees are returning are not those of sovereign governments recognized by the UN, expanded negotiating bodies must be created to develop a safe plan for repatriation. It is essential to find ways to include non-State entities when repatriation plans are negotiated in a context of conflict, for they may have valuable information on situations and conditions and have an important role in the provision of relief, assistance and protection (UNHCR, 1993a).
In addition, protection and return agreements for displaced populations, both external and internal, need to be established. While the needs of displaced populations may be addressed when refugee repatriation programs are offered, the protection of their rights and support for their return is often neglected. A gap in the international humanitarian assistance network exists when it comes to responding to the needs of displaced populations.
5. Returnees should be allowed and assisted in their return to places of origin - ideally to their former homes, villages and land, if possible, and if that is their preference.
The right to return to ones own country is recognized in a number of international and regional human rights instruments as well as in the domestic legislation of several States, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Repatriation and return assistance should be based on the point of view of refugees and displaced persons and reflecting the priorities and desires of the returnees.
Economic, political or security factors may hinder the return of emergency populations to their place of origin. Negotiations, plans and support for return must address local needs for: safety, political protection, recognition, and inclusion of the returning populations; land and economic opportunities; as well as reconstruction and development assistance which addresses the immediate and short-term needs of the refugees or displaced persons, with a concern for the long-term development objectives of the community and the country. This may include food aid, shelter, health care, etc. Return to places of origin may provide returnees more power, stability and control over their own lives and support the durability of their return. Potential returnees should be informed by their government and involved humanitarian assistance organizations of the negotiated agreements as well as the support and assistance that will be available.
6. Refugees and displaced persons who voluntarily return to their place of origin should in no way be penalized for having left it.
Refugees and displaced persons should be allowed to return in safety and dignity to their homes without any fear of persecution, harassment, discrimination, arbitrary detention or physical threats during or after their return. Viewed as destabilizing influences, people who will place additional stress on limited resources, persons with whom stayees will have to compete (sometimes even as enemies) repatriating refugees and returning displaced populations are not always welcomed home. They may be treated with suspicion and excluded by local populations who are trying to maintain control and security in their own lives. Provisions for monitoring and assuring local recognition of civil and human rights and non-discrimination in political, social and economic sectors must be established. In addition, the receiving community should be involved in the repatriation and return planning process. Local populations can be empowered to receive returnees when they are included in reintegration programs.
7. Authorities at national and local levels of the country of origin, in repatriating and integrating populations, should facilitate their return and settlement and grant them the full rights and privileges of all nationals of the country.
National and local-level authorities should establish and support efforts to eliminate the root causes of flight and create conditions conducive to return and settlement. Nationally and internationally negotiated agreements are meaningless if they are not adopted and implemented at the local level. Returning populations should be provided with the necessary travel documents, entry permits, citizenship and identity papers needed to secure their rights at the local level. Efforts should be made to ensure that they have equal employment and educational opportunities as other nationals.
8. All those who freely decide to return to their place of origin should be given reasonable and appropriate assistance by the country of refuge, the country of origin, international agencies, inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and voluntary agencies to facilitate their return.
The support response that is provided to returning refugee and displaced populations varies. Multiple political, economic, social and environmental needs may exist. The level of assistance that is considered reasonable and appropriate is debated within and among governments, inter-governmental organizations, international organizations and voluntary agencies. However, there is general agreement about the importance of coordinating humanitarian assistance in a manner which will support rehabilitation and development. Though long-term development needs cannot be resolved through repatriation and return programs, return and reintegration assistance must be linked to state commitments to provide for the basic needs of their people and address long-term development needs.
9. In areas where there are both internally displaced returnees as well as returning refugees (who may be from several different countries) it is important to harmonize assistance levels, and jointly manage programs, when possible.
Many returnees are in desperate circumstances and their integration is jeopardized. Pre- and post-return assistance for returnees is needed to support their resettlement. At times, conflict between stayees and returning populations arises because post-return assistance is not available to those who stayed and yet their need for rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance may be as great. In addition, returnees may include refugees from several different countries of asylum and internally displaced persons from different areas in the country of origin. Integrating return assistance with community-based goals and programs of reconstruction and reconciliation is more likely to contribute to positive community relations. Receiving and returning populations should be involved in the planning and implementation of repatriation, return, and reintegration programs. Projects that focus on individuals or single categories of people can be divisive and exacerbate simmering resentments. Post-return assistance should be directed equitably to all in need and linked to long-term development planning.
10. Following major repatriations, governments in the country of asylum should provide refugees who choose not to return because of having become integrated into the host community, the opportunity to apply for permanent resident status or citizenship. Internally displaced persons who choose to remain in the community where they have settled should have the right to remain.
Without the right to a legal process to apply for permanent resident status or citizenship in the country of asylum, the voluntariness of return may not exist. While changes in the conditions which caused flight in the place of origin and supports for repatriation and return may make it possible for many to voluntarily return, some persons may not want to return for social, cultural, economic or political reasons.
Though governments have the right to decide who is granted residency and citizenship rights within their country, requiring mass returns without recognition of individual choice violates the principle of voluntariness.
The decision-making process
In any repatriation or return, the displaced persons should decide when return and reintegration are possible and to be initiated. Unfortunately, in many situations, the interests of the country or place of asylum, the country of origin, non-government entities, and/or the assistance community manipulate the nature or amount of information which is provided to emergency populations in order to influence their decisions. These interests may include:
· the concern of governments, donors or international assistance organizations to phase out assistance in a given area
· the concern to improve relations between countries
· the concern of the government in the country of origin to gain political leverage by repatriating its people or maintain or exaggerate the size, as economic or other considerations dictate
· the concern of the government in the country or community of asylum to reduce the size of its refugee population, or the efforts of non-State entities to establish control of a territory.
These interests often govern the development and organization of repatriation or return operations. Misinformation may aim to discourage return. On the other hand, uprooted people who are eager to return may act on the basis of insufficient or even misleading information that was provided to encourage them to return. They may find that they have returned to an area where water, sanitation or health facilities are insufficient or entirely lacking, access to land is restricted or denied, returnees or employment and economic development opportunities are extremely limited. If returnees are not able to support themselves in their place of origin, they may ultimately regret their decision to return, yet find they can no longer return to their place of exile and refuge.
In reality, the decision-making process is one that involves multiple actors with different and interdependent roles. Governments in both the country of origin and asylum, UNHCR and other UN and intergovernmental organizations, non-recognized or non-State entities, as well as international and local non-governmental and voluntary organizations may be involved. Throughout the process, refugees and displaced persons should have the lead decision-making role about return and international actors should play a facilitating role.
New refugees or displaced persons, aid workers, traders, scouts and fighters are all sources of information for the emergency population. Uprooted persons are likely to have information sources inaccessible to the international community - they know the land, language, people and culture. People rely on social networks as a source of information and they have their own criteria of evaluation and of what they need to know.
While uprooted persons often have a considerable body of information and they are highly alert to getting more and better information, agencies should be aware that information is often very uneven within and between displaced groups. Humanitarian assistance providers should facilitate as much information-gathering and sharing as possible. One of the most useful efforts is to arrange for family elders and leaders of civic society to visit the home areas. The kind of information that refugees and displaced persons feel they need may be too specific and personal to be provided by agencies: the state of their farm, the distribution of their relatives, or whether their rival has been kicked off the village water committee.
An information campaign must be launched to give complete information about what people can and should expect upon return. This should include not only the distribution of printed information and access to available radio broadcasts, but also a series of public meetings in which potential returnees have an opportunity to discuss the return and integration arrangements with governmental, humanitarian and local leaders who are involved in the planning and implementation of the operation. Though the involvement of rebel groups or non-State entities may be problematic, their information may be accurate and they are an important resource to tap. Local leaders should be involved in organizing and distributing information, but they should not be relied on to provide all information to the uprooted population, because information can be distorted by persons who are motivated to serve their own interests in the repatriation process or persons who do not fully understand the operation.
The spread of false rumors about what to expect upon return is probably inevitable. To minimize their damage and prevent people from repatriating with false hopes based on mis-information, it is advisable to monitor and evaluate the spread of such rumors and to seek to clarify them in public meetings if they threaten to give people false expectations. Uprooted populations and humanitarian assistance providers could collaborate on efforts to monitor rumors and evaluate their accuracy. The triangulation of information - obtaining reports from various sources and conducting comparisons and contrasts of those reports in order to evaluate the validity of the information - is a valuable way for uprooted persons and humanitarian assistance providers to assess the risks and needs involved in return and integration. Through public meetings and participatory evaluations, emergency populations can make informed decisions.
Voluntary return to insecure conditions
The voluntariness of return may be compromised by threats, pressure and attacks by the government or factions within the country of asylum or by a reduction in the support services offered to emergency populations. Without adequate protection and support in exile, uprooted populations may be forced to return before it is safe. They may be unable to sustain their livelihoods and establish themselves. Rather than suspending assistance in order to create a push factor, forcing uprooted populations to return, the provision of assistance in potential areas of return can create pull factors which encourage return. Engaging in initial reconstruction efforts, such as clearing mines and establishing safe water and sanitation systems; facilitating the redistribution of land; strengthening health, education and employment sectors in the area of return; and ensuring the availability of essential consumer goods and trade relations so the local economy can be established; not only encourages people to return, but increases the capacity of the area to support returning populations.
While voluntary return is now recognized as the preferred durable solution for uprooted populations, there is a gap between principle and practice relative to voluntary return. Increasingly, involuntary migrants must choose between unsatisfactory options: return to insecure conditions where conflict and poverty prevail or remain in an insecure displacement in exile. A range of actions exist to help returnees: promotion, encouragement and facilitation of return. Stein and Cuny (1994, p. 186) define promotion as an advocacy role to create the conditions conducive to return. Encouragement of return should occur only when there are optimal conditions for return in safety and dignity. Self-induced repatriation or return is facilitated when assistance is provided to refugees or displaced populations who take it upon themselves to return home even in situations the international community considers highly insecure. Coercion involves force or intimidation. Physical force or severe reductions in support services endanger the safety and lives of uprooted persons.
Emergency populations should not have to choose between hunger, disease, insecurity and inadequate support in exile and a return to danger, violence and instability in return. Such return is not voluntary. However, without adequate support or resolution of the causes of flight, refugees and displaced populations are forced to choose between hunger, insecurity, and danger in exile or in their place of origin.
The return process
Self-organized repatriation and return is the most common and usually the most timely and effective. Refugees and displaced persons evaluate their situation in exile, what is happening in their place of origin and whether or not they can return. They will initiate voluntary return if and when they believe it is possible for them to return and when they believe they will be given adequate protection and support. In some cases, people return prematurely and re-enter the context of crisis and vulnerability which caused their initial flight. For example, in 1992, Angolan refugees returned from Zambia to the on-going civil war and instability which they had fled. With adequate and accurate information involuntary migrants can assess their risks and vulnerability better and participate in return and integration operations. International agencies and governments should focus on assisting in accurate assessment of risk and overcoming the constraints on the efforts of refugees and displaced populations. For example, it is important to waive customs levies, in cross-border returns, so returnees can bring their goods, especially small business inventories, animals, carts, household goods, etc. Sometimes it may be necessary to discourage return.
Phased repatriation and return may be required when working with large uprooted populations. In such cases, the displaced return in smaller groups over a longer period of time. The logistics of registering households, transporting people and their goods, receiving them in reception centers, bringing them to their destinations and providing them with the necessary assistance are incredibly complicated. If too many people return at the same time, pressures for support services may exceed the capacities of humanitarian assistance providers, the government in the country of return and local communities to respond to the demands and meet the special needs of the returnee populations.
Although phased return may be warranted, those involved in providing assistance should be careful to maintain consistency in assistance packages to successive waves of returnees. Communication travels between refugee communities and any differences in aid packages are sure to be noticed and resented. Such inconsistency can result in vocal protests and even violence. It is advantageous to return people together as this serves to maximize their social networks and cooperation.
Transit camps may be necessary to facilitate return, however, there are dangers involved in their development and precautions should be taken to assure they do not negatively impact the returnees or the return process. Transit camps are difficult to set up and supply. They may act as breeding points for communicable diseases; they have a tendency to become the focus of agency efforts and investments, rather than the all-important new home areas; and in many cases, they are not really any closer to their area of return than were their refugee camps. It is critical to develop a plan for departure before moving people into such camps. Transit camps should not be used as a place to put people when they move from being the responsibility of one agency to being the responsibility of another. Uprooted populations are then at risk of becoming the victims of inter-agency gaps and conflicts.
It is commonly recognized that the need for protection by international humanitarian assistance providers does not end when uprooted populations return to their place of origin. Returning to places where political conflicts simmer, cease-fires break down, and violence continues, returnees may require protection assistance throughout the return process and in the initial period of settlement. The form and duration of protection will vary situationally, based on several factors: whether or not a change in political leadership has occurred and governmental leadership is recognized as legitimate, the vulnerability of cease-fire agreements, who has the upper hand in continuing conflict, the relationship of the returning population to the prevailing power in the country and in their place of origin, their relationship with other warring factions, the power of authorities in the area of return to control and distribute land and guarantee access to other essential resources, and whether humanitarian assistance providers can operate in the area.
When involved in repatriation efforts, UNHCR is mandated ...to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of refugees, and to provide for the protection of refugees by assisting governmental and private efforts to promote voluntary repatriation. Generally, they negotiate tripartite agreements which include the protection provisions of amnesties for political offenses, assurances of safe passage for returning refugees and provisions for an international presence to monitor their safety, in addition to material assistance to help them re-establish themselves.
Ultimately, however, the government in the country of return is responsible for the protection of returnees. Provisions included in tripartite agreements are means by which the UN, other organizations and governments can pressure authorities to respect and protect the human and civil rights of the returning populations. When non-State entities are in control of the area of return, they must be included in the agreement in order to assure the provision of protection.
In situations where there is no functioning government, international humanitarian assistance providers are the only reliable bodies that can be held responsible. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN are the predominant organizations carrying this responsibility. Other intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, bilateral agencies of donor governments and outside military forces may also become involved in protection efforts.
International peacemaking and peacekeeping forces are increasingly utilized in the protection efforts of repatriation and return programs in order to stabilize situations that cause flight and create uprooted populations. Complex debates about the utilization of such forces occur among providers of humanitarian assistance. Their involvement is generally not a sufficient guarantee of security and protection and is risky and costly. The peace that they create or maintain is rarely sustained and they may be placed in a position where they are forced to act more like soldiers in combat than protection forces.
In situations where returning refugees find that the protection available to them in the country of return is not adequate, they should be allowed to leave again and be recognized as refugees.
When uprooted populations are returning to areas that have been mined, programs of return and reconstruction can be held up because of risks to the returning population and humanitarian assistance personnel. The number and distribution of mines is often highly variable and uncertain. During conflict false information is usually disseminated about the placement of mines. Accurate recording of mine placement is seldom maintained and they are purposely laid in unpredictable patterns. These difficulties complicate programs of return and raise many dilemmas.
However, in areas where anti-personnel mines were scattered in fields - for example, in parts of Angola, Afghanistan and Cambodia - they may be a serious constraint to reconstruction and development. Mines, generally, are not the major problem for returning populations. It is important to study how the risk presented by mines is affecting particular populations, for instance, preventing people from planting their fields or using roads or trade routes. This makes it possible to target risk reduction measures, design public education programs for residents or returnees, and promote successful strategies for coping with the risks presented by mines.
Working with local populations, it is possible to identify many of the real or feared mine sites. Local people usually have some methods of their own for detonating mines. They also establish marking systems for suspected mine sites, detour paths and roads to reduce risk, and instructions which they use to educate each other and their children about mine risks. Programs for mine clearance on national scale should retain built-in flexibility to allow for local priority initiatives, aiming at clearing the access to water, fields, and health facilities.
Those who are supporting or facilitating return programs must take responsibility for assessing the extent of mining operations in areas of return and the risks that returnees face. Return to mined areas should occur only after highly trained personnel have identified the extent to which the area has been mined, isolated and clearly marked such areas, and developed information campaigns for potential returnees. Mine awareness campaigns must include first aid training and safe rescue techniques, for reaching a victim in a mine field is dangerous. In addition, local health facilities in known mine areas should be strengthened in order to treat mine victims. This includes ensuring the availability of blood transfusions, surgical and anesthetic capacities. Health personnel need to be trained to treat mine injuries and amputees, as well as provide training to victims in the care of their wounds once they are able to return home from the hospital. Means for the evacuation of seriously injured people to hospitals with better facilities must also be established.
The only long-term solution to the risks of mine injuries is to remove remaining land mines. However, de-mining is a slow, laborious, dangerous and costly process (one to three thousand dollars per mine). It is a specialist operation, usually carried out manually. Contracting procedures are problematic. There are few specialists in the field and they tend to know each other and may disagree on de-mining methods. In Mozambique nearly a year was added to the de-mining process because of allegations of favoritism towards Royal Ordinance and/or South African companies against Zimbabwean companies and bid-fixing. Specialists must be involved in the development of contracts and evaluation of contract bids. In addition a moral dilemma exists because some de-mining contractors are involved in mine manufacture; they actually may have been involved in laying the mines they now propose to remove. The quality of work needs to be specified, in spite of the fact that it is difficult to assess. Contracts need to spell out the level of clearance, for example 97% or more. In addition, issues of insurance and liability for staff or civilian victims who pass through the area after de-mining must be specified.
Although ensuring the voluntariness of repatriation and return and providing protection for returnees are critical to successful resettlement, the larger task of ensuring that returnees are able to achieve a degree of economic self-sufficiency and social integration is the decisive factor in determining the durability of return. Without development programs that address peoples immediate needs as well as longer-term goals, the prospects for reconciliation and recovery are diminished.
A continued focus on refugees alone will not respond to the majority of todays uprooted populations or adequately address issues of safety, settlement and integration of returnees. Displaced populations, refugees and victims of disasters may all require humanitarian assistance as they seek to establish roots and rebuild their lives. In addition, stayees may require support and should be involved in resettlement efforts. The responsibility to improve conditions in the community or country of origin is increasingly recognized. International humanitarian assistance agencies and organizations are becoming more involved, addressing socio-economic factors that cause flight.
As the primary international agency responsible for assisting emergency refugee populations, UNHCR (1993a, p. 112) recognizes There is a yawning gap between the repatriation assistance made available to returning refugees and the enormous development needs of the areas to which they return. Underdevelopment, chronic poverty and competition for scarce resources can re-ignite conflict, undermine the achievement of a fragile peace and prevent the successful reintegration of returnees. Governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations that provide relief to uprooted populations and those who promote development must coordinate efforts in order to support returnees and their communities with the difficult and prolonged process of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development that is involved in repatriation and return programs.
UNHCR has developed cross mandate programs in an effort to provide a more holistic response to repatriation and return. Through cross mandate operations they are serving the needs of all uprooted populations - refugees, displaced persons, stayees, host communities, and returnees - as well as moving beyond the narrow, emergency relief orientation of assistance towards a more integrated response that addresses long-term development needs. UNHCRs quick impact project (QIP) initiative has become a model for reintegration programs in countries devastated by years of armed conflict and economic decline. Originally implemented in Central America, the projects are now being established in other settings, including Somalia, Mozambique and Cambodia.
QIPs are small projects which attempt to address specific, often urgent, requirements affecting entire communities. They can be completed within a few months at relatively low cost (about $30,000 average).... On their own QIPs are limited, and local in their effect. They cannot rebuild shattered economies, but they can play a useful role as part of a larger plan that aims to do so. They can help meet urgent needs and promote social reconciliation during the delicate period before the benefits of longer-term development become apparent (UNHCR, 1993a, p. 114).
However, the conditions of return assistance usually limit such support to a period of twelve months after repatriation. Such limited assistance is not necessarily an adequate response to the needs of returnees and the local community. Returnees and communities may lose their eligibility for assistance before they have been able to establish self-sufficiency.
In Tigray in 1994, hasty determinations of self-sufficiency on the part of the Ethiopian government resulted in premature suspension of services and assistance to returnees. Following the 1993 harvest, the Relief and Rehabilitation Bureau, the regional arm of the government responsible for early warning and provision of relief, was advised that the harvest in Humera had been successful and that self-sufficiency had been reached. When a severe food shortage developed in the Tigrayan returnee settlements in March and April 1994, government officials at first refused to take seriously requests for emergency food aid on the basis of the earlier assessment. Several adults in one community died of starvation before limited food aid was eventually provided. The relief grain that finally arrived in the village was too little and too late for most people (Hammond, 1994).
At present there are no guidelines for objectively determining self-sufficiency and successful integration. Is success self-sufficiency, parity with the local population, or the achievement of living standards equivalent to those in exile? Such decisions and priorities are often determined by the external interests of intergovernmental organizations, governments, NGOs and voluntary organizations which establish funding levels.
To take another example from Ethiopia, during the 1993-94 repatriation of Tigrayans from Sudan to the Humera area of Ethiopia, calls were issued by the local hospital and regional Ministry of Health for such items as an electricity generator and blood transfusion equipment, in addition to the supplemental drugs that were already being provided by the UN to the Ministry of Health and an indigenous NGO. Such assistance was denied on the grounds that the rest of rural Ethiopia does not have such advanced health care services locally available, so to rehabilitate the returnee population to a level higher than that of the local population would be indefensible. While such reasoning may be justified, rigid adherence to such practices may result in missed opportunities for development.
Initial assistance should focus on smaller and more immediate measures aimed at rehabilitation, which restores self-sufficiency and reduces both the vulnerability of affected populations and the strain imposed upon the receiving areas. Medium-term assistance should seek to further national or regional development goals. The government in the country of return should be centrally involved in the planning and implementation of assistance to returnees.
Assistance should, at the very least, involve ensuring that returnees basic food, land, shelter, water, sanitation, health care, and educational requirements are met. If return involves the establishment of a new community, assistance may include construction of clinics, provision of a regular and reliable water source, assistance with latrine construction, and distribution of food aid for at least the first year. If people return to their home areas, local health, education, water and sanitation services may need to be reconstructed or supplemented to accommodate the returnees. Such integration, while more sustainable in the long-term, requires comprehensive coordination of assistance provision and monitoring activities on the part of all involved actors.
In cases where returnees are agriculturists, it is incumbent upon authorities in the country and community of return to provide the returnees with the necessary land to begin farming or to provide training that will enable both men and women to find suitable off-farm employment. The government should seek assistance from UNDP, FAO and voluntary agencies with expertise in agricultural development to provide the necessary tools, seeds and resources required for agricultural production.
Line ministries, at national, regional and local levels should work together with the international community to ensure that resources are channeled and services delivered to the returnee population in a timely manner. In the long-term, relevant line ministries must carry responsibility for support and development. In the early phases of repatriation and return, such ministries usually require financial and technical support in order to meet the demands of the return and integration. The UN and NGOs should seek to provide assistance, as far as possible and practical, through the line ministries. If the capacity of the line ministries is severely lacking, or if the ministry is not willing to immediately assume responsibility for the returnee caseload, it may be necessary to assign duties to voluntary agencies. In such cases, roles and expectations must be clearly defined and such organizations should work with the line ministries, whenever possible, in order to facilitate a smooth transition and to avoid duplication of services and on-going external assistance. When line ministries are required to establish and maintain reporting and accounting records, they should be trained to assume such responsibility.
Local NGOs may be in the best position to bridge the gap between relief and development because their mandates are flexible to address both relief and development activities. In addition, they may have a history of doing development work in the area. They may be limited by their ability to generate funds to support such efforts. However, in some cases, they are remarkably successful in fundraising because of their grassroots linkages and long-term involvements. Post-return assistance that supports and expands projects run by NGOs can be an effective way to promote rehabilitation. The involvement of returnees and communities in the integration and development planning and decision-making processes is critical. Returnees and stayees assume the bulk of the responsibility of reconstruction and community development.
Repatriation, return, and reintegration is now widely recognized, by the international community, as the preferred solution for uprooted populations. In addition, it is the solution that involuntary migrants increasingly adopt as they seek opportunities for permanent settlement. People are returning to their places of origin, even when the conditions which caused their flight have not changed. In spite of this, it is essential that the voluntary character of repatriation and return is respected. No one should be relocated against their will. Citizenship should be restored to those who return and integration into the area of resettlement should fostered. People should have access to accurate and complete information about their area of origin or other potential area of resettlement that they can use as a basis for informed decision-making about return. All returns and repatriations should be carefully examined for elements of coercion or danger.
Protection to assure safe return should be provided. The country of asylum, country of origin and other involved military and political authorities in the area concerned must agree to clear and unequivocal arrangements for the safe return of persons seeking repatriation. Returnees should be given secure access to land, as well as social and economic support so that necessary basic needs are met and opportunities for future stability and security exist. The country of refuge, country of origin, international agencies, inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and voluntary agencies should cooperate to facilitate and support returnees. Harmonization of assistance, providing support to the uprooted, returnees, and stayees, is most likely to foster community reconciliation, recovery and sustainability.
With most contemporary repatriations and returns occurring in the context of on-going conflict or under conditions of fragile peace agreements, the implementation of national development plans and long-term development efforts will be difficult. Poor physical infrastructure and a lack of trained personnel, resulting from years of neglect and the destruction and losses of war, have severely limited the capacity of local governments, communities and other institutions to efficiently secure international funding and implement programs. The formation of a new government and internal capacities to plan and coordinate is essential for long-term development planning and implementation.
If reintegration assistance is carried out successfully, the countrys entire development process can be greatly enhanced. Returnees, together with stayees, can develop coping and risk-minimizing strategies that help to reduce their vulnerability to disaster or stress-induced migration. Whenever possible, repatriation and return should be seen as an opportunity for development and rehabilitation assistance and it should be integrated with national, regional and local development plans.
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