Lubbers: include refugees in development plans

Press Releases, 9 July 2002

9 July 2002

DURBAN, South Africa UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today called for the inclusion of refugees, returnees and host countries in Africa's new economic recovery plan, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Lubbers, who is attending the launch of the African Union in Durban, told African leaders it is crucial that forced population displacement in Africa, including refugee issues, be vigorously addressed in NEPAD's efforts to lay the foundation for long-term peace and sustainable development.

The High Commissioner said he was very pleased that discussions between G8 leaders and African Heads of State in Kananaskis, Canada, last month resulted in a clear reference to refugee work in the G8's Action Plan for Africa. That plan makes explicit reference to programmes aimed at assisting countries hosting large numbers of refugees and to post-conflict recovery. Lubbers said he hopes NEPAD will further incorporate these elements as well.

"UNHCR is mandated by the international community to find durable solutions to refugee problems worldwide," Lubbers said. "However, the governance of these problems has become complex and multi-dimensional. Therefore, I must build effective partnerships with all actors, including government and non-governmental organizations."

There are currently 4.2 million people of concern to UNHCR in Africa, including approximately 3 million refugees affected by protracted conflict situations. In the past few years, however, much progress has been made in finding solutions for the continent's refugees. Tens of thousands of refugees returned with UNHCR assistance to Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Rwanda, for example. And if the peace in their homeland holds, another 470,000 Angolan refugees could also return in the coming months.

"Returning home is one thing, staying home can be quite another," Lubbers said. "That is why it is crucial that the international community work to ensure that refugee returns are sustainable through large-scale post-war reconstruction programmes and projects in countries of origin."

In a recent proposal to World Bank President James Wolfensohn and UN Development Programme Administrator Mark Malloch Brown, Lubbers has suggested that the three organisations strengthen their cooperation throughout the entire continuum of refugee repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Lubbers' so-called "4Rs Plan" is aimed at helping to bridge the gap between "humanitarian" and "development" work a distinction that has been problematic in the past because it fails to recognise the transitional nature of the relief-to-development process. Humanitarian and development actors need to work more closely during this crucial transitional phase, Lubbers said. In a meeting with Eritrean President, Issaias Afewerki, today, Lubbers proposed this integrated approach to the Eritrean leader whose country has received more than 100,000 returnees from neighbouring Sudan since May 2001. Tens of thousands more are expected to follow. The Eritrean leader concurred with Lubbers on the need to pursue such programmes for Eritrean returnees.

In protracted refugee situations, the High Commissioner has proposed a Development Through Local Integration plan in which the needs of refugees are incorporated in the national development strategies of host countries. A pilot initiative is already underway in Zambia. Proposed by the Government of Zambia and supported by UNHCR and several donors, the "Zambia Initiative" takes a holistic approach to linking development to relief assistance and addressing both the needs of refugees and the host population.

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