Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1998
In the last decade, UNHCR has strengthened and refined its abilities to handle increasingly large and complex emergencies. Today, standby teams of experts can be deployed to any part of the world within 72 hours. Stockpiles have been built up to provide food, shelter and medicines to refugees in Central Africa or Central Asia with a minimum of delay. Agreements are in place with traditional partners and governments to provide backup support whenever needed.
But what happens when the shooting stops and those same people we helped survive flight and life in a camp, want to begin rebuilding their lives? Refugees and displaced persons often return to a devastated landscape without homes, schools, clinics or jobs, yet their successful reintegration into society is KEY to post-war reconstruction and reconciliation. UNHCR has a vital interest in ensuring that all returning refugees are quickly and successfully reintegrated, but the question of what UNHCR's overall role should be in this process has become a major point of discussion within the organization and the larger humanitarian community.
UNHCR's primary objectives are clear; to ensure that all returns are voluntary, safe and sustainable. The organization plays a vital 'bridging role' in that most vulnerable period in the life of a returnee between the time he or she first reaches home with only modest emergency supplies to sustain them, until development agencies can help them become self-sufficient.
UNHCR's most ambitious programme in this field was in the early 1990s when it allocated $100 million for a series of so-called quick impact projects (QIPs) to encourage Mozambique refugees to reintegrate. The operation's immediate aims were successful and UNHCR is planning a follow-up study of the longterm sustainability of the QIPs (see cover story).
There is no doubt, however, that reintegration policies need strengthening and fine-tuning. Benefitting from the lessons of Mozambique and the need for early planning and closer cooperation between agencies, UNHCR and the World Bank recently adopted a "Framework of Cooperation" based on the belief that shared experiences and resources will help war-torn societies. To strengthen respect for human rights and the rule of law, UNHCR is forging alliances with organizations such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and grass-roots human rights groups.
The reintegration of a society destroyed by war is a long and fragile process. There is no single recipe for success. What is clear is that, having improved ways of handling emergencies in the last few years, humanitarian and development communities must now pay increasing attention to ensuring that millions of displaced people such as those currently fleeing fighting in Guinea Bissau, get a fair chance to rebuild their lives once the shooting stops.
Source: Refugees Magazine issue 112 (1998)