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Repatriation and Reintegration in Africa meeting

Briefing notes

Repatriation and Reintegration in Africa meeting

13 February 2004

While we often cite our concerns about specific refugee problems in Africa, UNHCR believes there is now cause for cautious optimism about resolving some of the most protracted refugee and displacement situations on the continent. For the first time in many years, we see multiple possibilities for the potential repatriation of up to 2 million of refugees from several African states. Some of these repatriations are already under way, some are well into the planning stages, and others await further political developments or the consolidation on the ground of the necessary conditions for large-scale voluntary return. But we are cautiously optimistic about the general direction things are going in at least nine African countries (Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo) that between them account for more than 5 million refugees and internally displaced people. Given the enormous potential for finding lasting solutions for so many people, UNHCR believes the international community needs to seize this opportunity and take a comprehensive regional approach toward ensuring repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Africa.

So on March 8, UNHCR will host a ministerial-level conference, the Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa. It will be held at the Palais des Nations and will bring together key African ministers and representatives, donor governments and other partners to discuss peace processes that over the next few years present unprecedented opportunities to find solutions for Africa's protracted refugee problems through the return of up to 2 million refugees and many millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Peace initiatives in Angola and Sierra Leone, and efforts underway to resolve conflicts in Liberia, Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all present enormous opportunities for the entire humanitarian community, and great hope for tens of millions of people who have seen their countries suffer the scourge of war for all too long.

More than half of Africa's refugees can now see at least some hope for return on the near horizon. We want to ensure that delegates from countries of origin and asylum as well as aid officials, donors and other partners recognise the momentum that's building on the African continent and establish the necessary links to ensure that these upcoming return movements are successful and sustainable. The director of our Africa Bureau, David Lambo, says Africa needs long-term, sustainable development and attention to break the cycle of violence, poverty and despair. That's what this is all about.

Joining the ministers will be keynote speakers Poul Nielson, European Commissioner for Development for Development and Humanitarian Aid; Julia D. Joiner, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Commission of the African Union; and Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator of UNDP.

The March 8 meeting, which will be opened by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, will be held in Salle XIX and is open to the media. Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane will close the proceedings. Regional side meetings on repatriation and reintegration operations in West and Central Africa and in East and Southern Africa will continue on the afternoon of March 9. We will keep you posted on developments as the meeting date approaches.