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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary-General of the Organization for African Unity, at the OAU/UNHCR Regional Meeting on Refugee Issues in the Great Lakes, Kampala, 9 May 1998

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary-General of the Organization for African Unity, at the OAU/UNHCR Regional Meeting on Refugee Issues in the Great Lakes, Kampala, 9 May 1998

9 May 1998
Refugee Principles:Burundi Refugees in Tanzania:Rwandans Abroad:Security:Rehabilitation of Refugee-Affected Areas:Reintegration:Concluding Remarks:


The two-day OAU/UNHCR Regional Meeting on Refugee Issues in the Great Lakes, hosted by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, took place in Kampala on May 8-9 with the participation of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe.

The Kampala meeting was the first time governments in the region have discussed refugee issues since the Bujumbura Conference of February 1995. Today, governments are operating in a changed environment following the massive refugee returns in 1996-1997. Discussions have been very useful and lively, and the following points were discussed:

Refugee Principles:

Delegations reaffirmed their support for refugee principles, in particular those embodied in the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, which remains a cornerstone of Africa's asylum policy, going beyond the confines of the 1951 Geneva Convention, and reflects the hospitality of African governments towards the continent's refugees.

Burundi Refugees in Tanzania:

The tripartite mechanism set up in March of this year was recognized as a useful tool for resolving refugee-related problems between Burundi and Tanzania. Participants in the meeting indicated that consultations between States should take place when refugee problems arise and that the model of tripartite mechanisms is practical and useful.

Rwandans Abroad:

Delegations recognized the mixed nature of Rwandan groups still in exile. There is broad agreement on the necessity to implement a mechanism for screening and excluding those persons who are not refugees. For those Rwandans who are excluded from international protection, there is a general agreement that criminals identified among them should be brought to justice. Bona fide refugees should be protected and assisted. Local integration and return should remain an option, an alternative that requires that adequate resources be given to countries of asylum and origin.

The Rwandan government should be involved in tripartite repatriation-related discussions, as that government has long indicated that it welcomes all Rwandans who are abroad to return home and assist in the reconstruction of their country.


A consensus was reached that the mixed nature of camps in the Great Lakes region have at times constituted a threat to security. Equally significant, there has been broad agreement that humanitarian agencies alone cannot confront security problems in the refugee camps. UNHCR can and does provide some material support to police forces in the form of equipment, vehicles and other assistance and training to enhance security in refugee camps. However, there was broad agreement on the need, in extreme cases, for international intervention in refugee situations to ensure that the civilian character of camps is maintained and respected. A strong view was expressed that interventions by countries in the region are better suited to these situations than traditional multi-national peacekeeping forces. This concept was forcefully expressed by President Museveni in his keynote address and should be further explored by countries in the region in consultation with the OAU and the UN.

Rehabilitation of Refugee-Affected Areas:

A consensus was reached that refugees should not receive "exclusive assistance." The needs and sensitivities of host communities should be addressed, as this will reinforce asylum and facilitate protection of the refugees themselves.

In this area it was agreed that donors must be more responsive to the needs of host communities and work to alleviate pressure on the local environment and infrastructure affected by refugee populations. Assistance to refugee-affected areas is not a new concept, but should be revived and repackaged to ensure that host community needs are addressed.


We have seen a consensus that the reintegration phase is crucial, both for returnees and communities of origin and that comprehensive and broad reintegration assistance works to prevent further refugee outflows. In this respect, two problems were clearly identified by participants. First, there is a need to convince donors that resources allocated to the reintegration of returnees, "reinsertion packages," are extremely important to help refugees return to their communities of origin, to assist these communities in receiving returnees, and also to stabilize areas of return and prevent further refugee outflows.

Second, delegations indicated that the responsibility of UNHCR in providing support and assistance during the initial phase of reintegration in order to address urgent needs should be acknowledged and supported financially by the donor community. The length of this involvement will depend on the specifics of the situation. It was agreed that seeking resources for the reintegration of returnees is the responsibility of governments in close cooperation with UNHCR and the OAU. In this light, a conference on the "gap" between emergency relief and development would be useful.

Concluding Remarks:

We would like to acknowledge the importance of the UN Secretary-General's report on "the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa." Some of its conclusions and recommendations are relevant to refugee issues discussed in this meeting. They deserve the attention of the international community and should be followed-up as a matter of priority.

We would like to thank all participants for their commitment to resolving issues of concern and for bringing their frank views to this meeting. We believe that the discussions have brought about renewed support for the responsibility of host countries to provide international protection as well as acknowledging the rights and obligations of refugees. It has also brought into sharper focus the legitimate security concerns of states.

We must also thank the warm hospitality of our host, President Yoweri Museveni. This gathering would not have been possible without his personal support over the past months and his enthusiastic encouragement for the concepts of asylum that have brought all of use together in Kampala.

The participants agreed to entrust the OAU and UNHCR with the follow-up to the process begun at this meeting, including cooperating with broader regional and international fora and institutions.

Sadako Ogata
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Salim Ahmed Salim
Organization for African Unity

9 May 1998