Indeed, UNHCR’s primary responsibility is to provide international protection to refugees and to seek “permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting Governments and, subject to the approval of the Governments concerned, private organizations to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of refugees, or their assimilation within new national communities.”
Throughout the history of refugee protection, the vast majority of those forced to flee their country have sought asylum within their home region. It is a natural phenomenon that refugees, believing their exile to be only a temporary necessity, wish to find sanctuary in countries geographically close to their own and, if possible, where cultural and linguistic affinities that facilitate a positive and welcome reception exist. These host countries, however, are often the least able to cope with the presence of large refugee populations even with the support of donor governments, UNHCR, and other actors.
Most refugees dream of going home. However, the sad reality is that millions of refugees around the world have little hope of ever returning home. Some cannot because their countries are engulfed by endless conflict or because they fear persecution if they were to return. Even if refugees want to go home and conditions have changed sufficiently to allow them to try to return, the situation can be extremely difficult. Destroyed infrastructures need to be rebuilt. Many refugees were actually born in exile. In other words, they have never seen the ‘homeland’ they are returning to and life there may be difficult. There are other deep social, economic, political, and religious obstacles to overcome.
Achieving durable solutions to refugee problems requires the cooperation of States in accordance with the principles of international solidarity and burden and responsibility sharing. Quite naturally, the onus is on the more developed States to demonstrate a much greater degree of solidarity with those low-income countries where the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees are to be found by:
- Pursuing liberal admission policies towards those refugees arriving on their territories;
- Providing financial and technical assistance to support the establishment of functioning asylum systems, reception capacities, and viable integration programmes in counties where these are acutely needed;
- Establishing or strengthening resettlement programmes and other admission pathways (e.g. scholarships, humanitarian visa, private sponsorships, employment visas, etc.) for those refugees who are unable or unwilling to remain in the country of first asylum; and
- Mobilising concerted efforts in peace-making and peace-building to help create conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation.
The three durable solutions that UNHCR pursues are: