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Assistance policies and strategies for the promotion of durable solutions: achieving sustainable reintegration

Executive Committee Meetings

Assistance policies and strategies for the promotion of durable solutions: achieving sustainable reintegration

22 January 1995


1. It will be recalled that the 17 May 1994 meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Finance Matters (SCAF), under the agenda item on programme issues in countries of origin, considered a document entitled Reintegration and Durable Solutions to Refugee Problems (EC/1994/SC.2/CRP.12). This document addressed, inter alia, the problems involved in ensuring the effective transition from operations addressing humanitarian concerns to ones dealing with fundamental issues of development. This transition is of crucial importance as inadequate access to social services and productive opportunities in most areas to which refugees return can endanger fragile processes of reconciliation and rehabilitation, thereby jeopardizing the sustainability of reintegration efforts.

2. The Sub-Committee also discussed the development of UNHCR's proposed Policy and Methodological Framework for Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) as a practical strategy for promoting reintegration. In addition, it addressed efforts to engage other partners, primarily within the United Nations system, in ensuring a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to development. The High Commissioner was asked to continue to promote efforts to bring the different mandates, comparative advantages and operational expertise of relevant organizations together in a comprehensive and coherent strategy in post-conflict societies.

3. At its forty-fifth session, the Executive Committee, in its Conclusion on the Continuum from Relief to Rehabilitation and Development (A/AC.96/839, para.26), emphasized the need for further progress by the United Nations system in addressing in a coherent and mutually supportive manner, humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and development in countries of origin. It encouraged the High Commissioner to proceed with the implementation of the Policy and Methodological Framework for Quick Impact Projects and to pursue the development of assistance strategies, operational mechanisms and collaborative arrangements which would enhance the capacity of the Office to support sustainable reintegration of returnees in their own countries. The Committee requested the High Commissioner to promote a smooth interface between humanitarian and development activities, through inter-agency cooperation. The High Commissioner was asked to report to SCAF on progress made in matters pertaining to assistance policies and strategies for the promotion of durable solutions.


During 1994 UNHCR continued its activities in countries of origin in all the main geographical areas covered by the Office. The lessons learnt from these activities vary by region and according to the nature of the displacement problem. These variations are associated closely with the political, social, cultural and economic context in which the return and reintegration of the refugees are taking place. On the basis of experience gained during 1994, programme management tools for reintegration/QIP assistance will be refined to provide the best possible strategic guidance, and to serve as instruments for project monitoring, follow-up and coordination.

In addition to the review of QIP programmes undertaken in the context of UNHCR's annual budgeting exercise, two in-depth reviews of reintegration programmes - in Afghanistan and Guatemala - have been undertaken since the 1994 Executive Committee meeting. The review in Afghanistan was conducted in response to the Executive Committee's invitation to the High Commissioner to "intensify the activities of her Office in the safe areas of Afghanistan so as to create conditions conducive for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their places of origin." (A/AC.96/859, para. 32(d)) The review in Guatemala was carried out against the backdrop of the termination, in December 1994, of the regional activities launched by the International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA) and bearing in mind the close linkage between the repatriation and reintegration process and the ongoing peace process.

The two case reviews addressed issues both internal to the Office and falling outside its control. Among the internal factors are project design, programme management, cost-effectiveness and efficiency, resource mobilization and post-project evaluations. Examples of external factors that influence programme delivery and sustainability, are government policies, priorities and capacity in the countries of origin, and the flow and coordination of assistance to returnee areas from sources other than UNHCR, be they bilateral, multilateral or non-governmental. Another important external factor of great importance to the efficiency and effectiveness of the reintegration endeavours is the returnees' access to land of sufficient quality to guarantee them adequate food security. While the issue of land has to be addressed in many repatriation and reintegration programmes, each case is special. In Afghanistan access to land is constrained by the large-scale infestation of land-mines. In Guatemala, the ownership of land, and the associated problems of transferring ownership title to the returnees, constitute the major difficulties.

Over the last year, the QIP approach has been tested, further developed and adjusted to country-specific conditions. Based on feedback from ongoing and completed programmes, adjustments will be made to the programme management tools available in the Office. Among the adjustments under consideration are: a revised format for project submissions and reporting, with emphasis on the socio-economic characteristics of the returnee areas and population; the level of internal displacement in the returnee areas, together with information on the conditions of the locally affected communities; the importance of clearly formulated area-based and sector level strategic and operational objectives; the justification of assistance in relation to the urgency of need; the sustainability of project outputs and other donor involvement in the area or sector; and the selection of implementing partners. In programmes where external factors are expected to play a determining role for the success of the operation, an analysis should be undertaken to establish clear assistance priorities and specify UNHCR's role.

The uncertainties surrounding many reintegration programmes with regard to the pace, scope and pattern of return, as well as the sustainability of the reintegration and recovery process, calls for a certain level of flexibility in managing programmes in the field. The development of standards and criteria for reintegration programmes will facilitate the required delegation of authority. The strategies embodying those standards will spell out the programme framework, the objectives and implementation modalities, the criteria for project design, and measures to link UNHCR activities to those of other actors so as to ensure complementarity and a smooth transition from short-term to longer-term developmental efforts whilst retaining the ability to provide accurate feedback to donors. The programme strategy could be country or area specific, depending on the situation of return. In the cases of Guatemala and Afghanistan, provincial strategies are appropriate, whereas in Mozambique a country programme strategy, translated into area-specific operational plans, is more logical.

Area-based programme strategies not only assist UNHCR in discharging its assistance and protection functions in countries of origin but also provide a solid basis for dialogue with national and provincial authorities, beneficiary representatives, other United Nations agencies, multilateral and bilateral donors, as well as national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It is hoped that more frequent interaction of this nature at the country level will enhance the understanding of UNHCR's role in the country, and constructively contribute to the quality and sustainability of reintegration programmes.


UNHCR activities in countries of origin depend, for the most part, on special appeals. The response to these appeals is not always predictable and this uncertainty affects the programming of activities, making it less efficient than it could be. It also affects implementation rates and this, in a vicious circle, has a negative effect on funding. Early indication of contributions would help overcome this problem.

In addition to the funds directly made available to UNHCR, the Office is endeavouring to mobilize other sources of finance for reintegration activities, such as by:

  • tapping local currency funds available from the World Bank and other donor-supported social investment programmes;
  • gaining access to EC developmentally oriented funding;
  • promoting a focus on returnee areas in multilateral and bilateral programmes;
  • efficient coordination of complementary support for reintegration and post-conflict recovery available through other United Nations agencies;
  • more efficient targeting of government resources in returnee areas, thus enhancing the impact of public, UNHCR and other donor inputs.

Efforts in this direction are made in different UNHCR operations, depending on the available opportunities in each case. It is important that the scarce resources at UNHCR's disposal for reintegration activities are not used to replace other actors' involvement. Rather, they should be complementary and serve as an initial investment for future development activities at the local level. However, while being a contribution for the future betterment of returnee communities, the initial reintegration assistance from UNHCR must not create dependency on aid which may not materialize from other sources. The QIP methodology, with its emphasis on a one-time financial injection and sustainability, is precisely aimed at avoiding this risk.

One of the advantages of a QIP strategy where the mobilization of resources is concerned lies in its transparency and in the immediate feedback it provides to donors. QIPs lend themselves to easy inspection and transparent reporting, factors of great importance in inspiring donor confidence.


Returnee areas are almost invariably found in marginal regions of a country, far from mainstream development and poles of investment. If UNHCR is left as the sole or most important actor in these areas, actions may be expected of it which strictly belong under the mandates of longer-term developmental actors and which will complicate or delay its withdrawal from the area after the initial reintegration has taken place. It is therefore important for UNHCR's programme strategy and scope of involvement to be clearly spelt out at the beginning of an operation. At the same time, if the returnee-impacted areas are not included in the broader development efforts of their country in the aftermath of conflict, the sustainability of the reintegration may be jeopardized.

The first, and often most urgent, need for post-conflict rehabilitation in returnee areas concerns the social sectors, particularly health and sanitation, primary education and community services. Another priority area is road rehabilitation and mine clearance to open up areas for settlement and to ensure access to markets for local produce. But unless productive activities are launched at an early stage, communities will face difficulties in sustaining a decent livelihood. Where the provision of seeds and other basic agricultural inputs does not suffice to promote self-sufficiency, both farm and non-farm income-earning ventures should be provided with access to finance. UNHCR therefore tries to stimulate the establishment and extension of small credit and savings schemes to cover returnee areas. This necessarily entails close cooperation with UNDP and other development agencies interested in supporting a diversification of the productive base in remote and poverty stricken rural areas.

In 1994 several steps were taken to reinforce the operational collaboration with UNDP and other United Nations agencies. In the past, the expectations on UNDP from UNHCR staff have at times been unrealistically high. This has caused frustration, particularly when the time has come to phase out humanitarian assistance and ensure linkage with longer-term developmental programmes. With time and experience, the cooperation with UNDP has improved. More, however, has to be done to build a fruitful and mutually reinforcing cooperation at the operational level with the aim of strengthening the linkages between humanitarian assistance and sustainable development.

Based on experience from both regional operations, such as in Central America within the CIREFCA-framework, and country programmes, such as Cambodia and Mozambique, UNHCR and UNDP have agreed jointly to work out better defined operational modalities for country specific collaboration, building on the comparative advantages of the two agencies.

A joint UNHCR/UNDP Working Group had its first meeting in Geneva on 28-29 November 1994. On this occasion, the lessons learnt from Cambodia were reviewed and a preliminary Framework for Cooperation for Reintegration Activities drafted. The Working Group will meet again early in 1995 to review experiences from Mozambique and Central America/CIREFCA. Thematic issues such as resource mobilization and the possibility of joint programming will also be looked into. The opportunities for collaboration in other countries and regions, such as the Horn of Africa and Angola, will also be addressed.

A joint review of the experience from CIREFCA began in December with a first round of interviews and the issuance of a questionnaire to respondents in Guatemala, representing participants in CIREFCA from Governments, United Nations agencies, NGOs and the displaced people. The work will resume in February with a similar round of interviews and field visits to El Salvador and Nicaragua, followed by a report on main findings and programmatic recommendations of relevance for future UNHCR/UNDP collaboration in the field. The review, which was agreed upon prior to the establishment of the Working Group, will now feed its results back into this group.

In large-scale or particularly complex humanitarian operations in countries of origin, the Department for Humanitarian Assistance (DHA) has an important coordinating and catalytic role to play. This was the case in Mozambique during the transition from peace agreement to elections, and still is the case with regard to Afghanistan. However, in the majority of cases, the smooth transition between short-term humanitarian aid and developmental programmes is best accomplished through the regular, sytem-wide coordination arrangements. But whenever and wherever special measures are established for improved efficiency in the global United Nations and international response to complex humanitarian problems, the activities of UNHCR logically fall within this framework of coordination. One important activity entrusted to DHA is de-mining, for which a special fund has been established. This is an activity of great concern to UNHCR, given the obstacle that the presence of anti-personnel mines poses to repatriation and one which, in consequence, should be given appropriate priority.


The development of programme strategies is a gradual process which has to build on experience in an evolving returnee environment. There is no easy, prescriptive blue-print for effective reintegration. Each operation has its own specific characteristics. But, while specific conditions and operational priorities will vary, certain basic programmatic principles and criteria have general relevance. Some of these parameters appear in the Policy and Methodological Framework for QIPs. Others, alluded to in this paper, concern the following: avoiding aid dependency; strengthening the capacity of local communities and other local actors to manage their own development and make effective use of and sustain outside support; fostering operational linkages with other donor agencies to enhance the impact of combined efforts; and continuously reviewing the cost-effectiveness and longer-term impact of the assistance provided.

In compliance with the above-mentioned Executive Committee conclusion UNHCR will continue to report to SCAF on matters pertaining to assistance policies and strategies for the promotion of durable solutions.