Presentation by Ms. Wendy Chamberlin, Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Oslo International Donors Conference, 11 April 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a genuine privilege to be here today. This event is both a demonstration of support to a country in reconstruction and a celebration of the end of one of the longest civil wars in Africa. I join other speakers in welcoming the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which has brought so much hope to south Sudan, particularly to the 6.7 million internally displaced and refugees, who may finally be able to return to their homes.
Helping people go home is the single aspect of our work that gives the staff of UNHCR the greatest satisfaction. UNHCR with the help of partner agencies, assist refugees who flee their homes and communities - very literally running for their lives because of war, persecution or other dangers. Indeed, over the 35 year duration of the conflict in south Sudan, UNHCR with the help of some sister UN agencies and NGOs has provided assistance to over half a million refugees in neighbouring countries. Let me be clear, we were only able to play this critical role because of your generous contributions and those of the neighbouring host nations Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Congo, Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic and Egypt.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to south Sudan when the realization was taking hold that the conflict is over. I also visited refugee settlements in Uganda and Kenya where I spoke to south Sudanese refugees about their aspirations for the future. The visit left me with images that I will never forget. Women, children and men of all ages, were struck profoundly by the thought that, finally, after decades of exile they will be able to go home. Families displaced inside Sudan dare to hope that they no longer have to keep moving to stay ahead of the fighting. Refugees I visited in Uganda and Kenya shared their joy and anticipation, but also a sense of uncertainty about what they will find back in their home villages.
Many are cautious, even fearful. They may have left in a hurry and with little choice, but the decision to leave the security of a refugee camp to go back to Sudan is a monumental one. When I met with refugees in the Rhino Camp in Uganda and the Kakuma Camp in northern Kenya, I randomly asked scores of them to tell me the three things that most concerned them about returning home. Nearly all mentioned reliable food and water supply, return of their land, physical security, and schools for their children.
They are right to be apprehensive. UNHCR staff members living in Rumbek and Yei towns in southern Sudan showed me the infrastructure now in place for the return of millions of south Sudan's citizens, both refugees and internally displaced persons. What is needed? In a word, everything. In Bor County, for example, where over 35,000 refugees originate, there is not a single secondary school. Two doctors in the entire county of Yambio, serve some 180,000 inhabitants. Civil servants, teachers, health workers are volunteers and in short supply. Everywhere, people have limited access to safe water, education and health services. Sudanese farmers in the Rhino settlement in Uganda may be comfortably self-sufficient on land supplied by the Ugandan government, but they are worried that large tracts of their ancestral home are polluted with land mines. The international community has started to clear roads and public lands of dangerous ordnance, but farmers don't raise crops on road. Every day, women and children risk life and limb to search for water and firewood in mine infested areas. Jobs must be created to ensure viable communities. The issue of land allocation must be addressed, and mechanisms put in place to resolve disputes stemming from displacement and exile.
Make no mistake, many have already returned despite the harsh conditions. Some 600,000 people - 200,000 non-registered ex-refugees and 400,000 IDPs - have already returned spontaneously to areas of south Sudan. The authorities, UNHCR and our partners expect another 550,000 registered refugees and large number of IDPs to return to south Sudan in the coming years. Our work to assure their return is sustainable has begun and with urgency.
Throughout the world UNHCR works for the day when displaced people can go home, but they must be able to make a life when the get there. If conditions are unsupportable, we have regrettably learned from past situations, refugees take flight again. When they do make the decision to go home, they must be helped in timely manner and effectively and conditions must be in place to make their return viable.
In Sudan UNHCR has a two-prong strategy to help make this happen as part of a collective effort of the UN and other partners. First, we must meet the immediate and urgent needs of spontaneous returnees already coming back to south Sudan and the communities receiving them - through a community based approach. Second, we must urgently prepare for the organised repatriation of hundreds of thousands more people to begin after the rainy season, during the second half of 2005.
What are we actually doing today and what are the visible results of our work? UNHCR has deployed field experienced staff members to key locations, such as Equatoria, to support spontaneous returnees and prepare for returns of IDPs and refugees. In early February, we sent a 14-person team of technical specialists to Equatoria to reinforce staff already stationed in south Sudan. They are implementing community-based reintegration projects in protection, basic shelter, health, water and sanitation, mine awareness, education, reconciliation and coexistence and community services. The types of projects draw on UNHCR's experience in running other large-scale returnee programmes in Africa. Together with partners we are removing the obstacles to return. We are creating the conditions for success.
Unfortunately, funds for immediate and urgent needs for community-based reintegration projects in south Sudan are at present insufficient to ensure smooth transition of the activities implemented under the UN Work Plan to recovery. UNHCR, for example is seeking $60 million for our return and reintegration programme in south Sudan, but so far has received only about $6 million. The authorities and their partner agencies including UNHCR urgently need funds to ensure that minimal conditions are in place by September when large of number of returnees are expected to return home after the rainy season and we plan to start organized repatriation from neighbouring countries. Your support will make the difference for hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions of persons.
UNHCR in collaboration with our UN and NGO partners are rehabilitating 46 schools, 30 in the Kajo Keji area alone; we are rehabilitating hospitals in Yei, Rumbek, and Chukudum; we are doing the same for 33 primary health centres; and teams are putting in 30 bore holes across three districts. We are working to build the expertise of local authorities and income generation schemes to support volunteer teachers, health workers and civil servants. Together with partners, the goal is to lay the groundwork for the repatriation before the rainy season sets in at the end of May. The task is daunting given years of war and destruction of infrastructure. But we have an extraordinarily powerful tool for development, the returnees themselves.
I was enormously impressed with the programmes and skills of refugees we visited in Kakuma. UNHCR partners have administered large scale vocational training programmes and we have identified as many as 500 refugees as trained teachers. These teachers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics will bring valuable skills needed to develop south Sudan. We are currently working with DFID to enter refugees into a skill data bank. Thousands of refugees will soon return to their homeland with desperately needed skills and knowledge. This is a brilliant illustration of the concept of refugees as agents of change. Refugees have been exposed to more opportunities and education while living in camps than they could have otherwise. Many, particularly women and girls, have already taken significant step toward modernization. But even in their success, there are fears and obstacles to return.
During one discussion in Kakuma with several hundred high school age students, a strikingly poised young girl shared her apprehension about returning to Sudan to a country she had never seen, and to a community with no school. More to the point, she said she did not want to leave the refugee camp where her rights were guaranteed and return to traditional society where very young girls were bartered into marriages. She challenged me, "what is UNHCR going to do to protect me from marrying against my will?". Other issues that were raised by women were land rights and opportunities for employment of young people.
This shows the need for widely available education for girls, but also the importance of establishing the rule of law and a judicial system to which civilians can turn in confidence.
All of us gathered here will need to support longer-term reintegration undertakings, including confidence-building programmes, reconciliation, and conflict resolution. IDPs and refugees will postpone a decision to repatriate until conditions are attractive in south Sudan. This would be a setback for both development and peace.