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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

On Route

Organized Repatriations

55. Identify sources of emergency assistance already available along the routes of return (medical facilities and potable water sources). Where sufficient assistance is not already available there will be a need to establish temporary "way-stations" for rest and overnight accommodation, food distribution (prepared food or cooking facilities), first aid stations, water points, etc. The form and degree of assistance required will, in part, depend on the means of transportation used by the returnees. Other issues for consideration include availability of fuel and facilities for vehicle repair.

56. A considerable UNHCR presence will be required to monitor and verify the voluntary nature of return, to assess needs and to coordinate with offices in the country of origin and asylum. They should provide up to date information on numbers, needs and likely routes to be used.

Mass Spontaneous Repatriations

57. Where UNHCR is providing assistance in mass spontaneous repatriation, the same issues need to be considered as above. However, providing the assistance to a large unorganized mobile population will present challenges, and there will be additional protection concerns. The following steps should be taken:

General Arrangements

Establish or strengthen positions on the routes (way-stations) for the provision of protection and assistance for the mobile population. Factors determining location of way-stations include, availability of water and mode of transportation of the refugees. If the refugees are traveling mainly on foot, the distance between the way stations en route should be closer to one another than if the refugees are traveling mainly in vehicles;

Establish a visible UNHCR presence at way-stations using flags, UNHCR stickers and other visibility material. Ensure that UNHCR staff can be clearly identified, particularly those in mobile teams;

Designate which UNHCR office will have responsibility for which sections of the route;

Make arrangements to support UNHCR staff living temporarily at way-stations by providing tents or other accommodation, drinking water, cooked meals, etc.;

Establish mobile assistance along the routes, between way-stations;

Install fax, PACTOR or other means of written telecommunication at UNHCR temporary offices along the route;

Equip all UNHCR vehicles with communication equipment;

Arrange for a common radio channel through which all organizations involved can communicate;

Put one experienced radio operator and/or technician in charge of coordinating the telecommunications along the whole route;

Have debriefing meetings in the evening and allocate tasks for the following day;

Introduce a single common numbering system for all vehicles;

Communicate the daily movement plan through staff meetings, bulletin boards and daily sitreps;

Provide information to the refugees on the location of way stations, etc. through the placement of signs along the route in languages that the refugees understand, through announcements on local radio stations and announcements using megaphones;

Make preparations for reception in the country of origin - at the border transit centers, and in likely districts of return, e.g. prepare the local population, as well as local government, and negotiate reception and treatment at the border;

Establish or strengthen a presence in the country of origin to facilitate integration and monitor treatment of returnees.

Protection and material assistance

Set up temporary water tanks with tapstands at way-stations (e.g. using bladder tanks);

Fill water tanks by pumping from local sources or tankering, ensuring adequate treatment of the water;

Preposition sufficient quantities of water treatment chemicals at way-stations and/or water collection points;

Establish mobile water maintenance teams;

Arrange for water tankering and refilling of water tanks at night if necessary;

Fit water tankers with distribution taps for mobile water distribution;

Provide refugees with small jerrycans (2-5 liter) which can be carried easily;

Demarcate defecation areas (or trench or other latrines) at way-stations, designate people to encourage and control their use;

Identify teams for cleanup of defecation (or latrine) areas, during their use and to restore the area following the end of the population movement;

Preposition lime for cleanup of defecation areas;

Reinforce existing hospitals and health centers which are on the routes with staff and supplies. Establish health facilities at way-stations and mobile health teams in between the way-stations. Ensure that there are adequate supplies of Oral Rehydration Salts with health centers and mobile health teams;

Try to prevent refugees concentrating in one area to avoid transmission of epidemics;

Preposition high energy biscuits or other convenient food (preferably types requiring little or no cooking) and distribute them at way stations;

Position staff with responsibility for unaccompanied minors at all way stations;

Establish mobile teams to identify and collect unaccompanied minors;

Ensure that staff responsible for the care of unaccompanied minors are highly visible;

Clearly define which types of people are to be considered "vulnerable" for the purposes of the population movement and ensure that all the organizations involved are using the same criteria for identification and care;

Arrange separate transport to collect vulnerable persons, and their families.

Travel Formalities

58. Immigration formalities: Every effort must be made to avoid the need for individual or family clearance to repatriate by the country of origin before movement. Not only would this create major practical problems and delays, it would also be contrary to the spirit of any properly comprehensive general amnesty. If individual travel documentation is required at all, the registration form should suffice.

59. Customs formalities: Customs formalities are generally waived or simplified in repatriation operations but this should be checked well in advance. Special arrangements may be needed where the refugees wish to repatriate with personal possessions such as vehicles or livestock.

60. Health formalities: Health requirements (vaccination certificates, etc.) should not exceed those required for normal travelers. Extra vaccinations, e.g. cholera, typhoid, are sometimes requested on the grounds that without them the refugees would pose special health hazards. Where vaccinations are required, WHO'S advice should be sought and if necessary they can be conveniently recorded on the registration form if the refugees are not already in possession of individual vaccination cards.