Cover Image
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 Arrival in Country of Origin

61. The principle of return in safety and dignity does not cease to apply once the return movement is completed, but applies and should be monitored until such time as the situation in the country of origin can be considered stable, national protection is again available and the returnees are reintegrated into their community.

Registration on arrival

62. In certain situations, in particular in an emergency repatriation, it may be the case that no repatriation registration was undertaken in the country of asylum. In this case a system should be set up to register the returnee population to facilitate UNHCR access to all returnees in the different areas of return. In some circumstances, a returnee card may be appropriate.

Monitoring and UNHCR presence

63. A UNHCR presence is vital for returnee monitoring. Presence by other appropriate organizations, and liaison with them, is also important. The purpose of monitoring is to assess whether national protection has been effectively restored and extended to all returnees. The basic principle is non-discrimination - that returnees are treated the same as the resident population and are not targeted or discriminated against in any way. Monitoring should cover general conditions (human rights violations, and security, food security, access to basic facilities and property, freedom of movement, honouring of any guarantees), as well as random individual monitoring.

Reception by resident population

64. Where the return is spontaneous there may be less time to make preparations in the country of origin. Steps should be taken as soon as possible to prepare the resident local population for the arrival of the returnees to promote acceptance and integration if necessary.

Material Assistance

65. Material assistance and protection are interlinked and should be usually reinforcing. The provision of material assistance to returnees enhances the possibilities to monitor this population and is important in making return a lasting solution. Where assistance is given without discrimination on a community basis it can also help with acceptance of the returnees and integration. The question of the nature and degree of assistance programmes in the country of origin, as well as the length of time UNHCR should remain involved in the country of origin, are covered in more detail in the references listed below.

Access to land and property

66. Property is a key resource for returning refugees - either in terms of access to accommodation and return to one's home, or as a means of livelihood. Resolving this can be very complex, but must be addressed if the repatriation is to be successful and durable. UNHCR can play a role through negotiating with the authorities to protect the legitimate rights of returnees.


(Please refer to chapter 23 on staff safety for safety advice on mines.)

67. The presence of landmines on main routes of return and in returnee settlement areas poses tremendous danger for repatriating refugees and is therefore a major protection concern to UNHCR.

The need for return "in safety and dignity" means that UNHCR cannot promote the voluntary repatriation of refugees in patently dangerous situations with the risk of injury or death.

68. Within the UN system, issues relating to mine clearance are primarily the responsibility of the department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO). Where necessary UNHCR may help fund minefield surveys and demarcation, but involvement in actual mine clearance is exceptional and requires approval from Headquarters. The focus is therefore on less costly measures that lead to immediate risk reduction for the refugees like mine awareness campaigns. The danger of mines should be considered from the earliest stages of planning a repatriation.

69. The following activities should be considered:

Identification of return routes and potentially dangerous areas of return and landmine survey:

UNHCR should obtain reliable information on areas seriously affected by the presence of landmines and discourage refugees from traveling to or through such areas. While a landmine survey is a national responsibility, UNHCR may also be able to contribute information obtained through its presence in the country of origin as well as through interviews with refugees in the country of asylum. DPKO have a database on mines which includes country specific information on estimated numbers and types, and progress in clearance.

Repatriation method: The presence of mines may have an impact on the proposed repatriation method - for example it may be necessary to encourage refugees to repatriate by means of UNHCR organized transport rather than returning spontaneously.

Mine awareness campaign: If landmines are a factor, then mine awareness campaign should be part of the mass information campaign prior to departure in the country of asylum, and continue in the country of origin. Ensure that the campaign reaches all sectors of the population - both men and women should be involved with the planning and training activities of the awareness campaign. The campaign must be sensitive to levels of literacy, roles in society, and culture. It should cover: existence, appearance and danger of landmines, how to avoid injury, safe rescue procedures, and recognizing warning signs.

Demarcation (marking mined areas) and mine clearance. UNHCR should ensure that returnee areas and routes of return are included as priorities in national demining and demarcation plans. Returnees and local population must be taught about the demarcation signs used.