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Social and economic impact of large refugee populations on host developing countries

Executive Committee Meetings

Social and economic impact of large refugee populations on host developing countries

6 January 1997

6 January 1997

6th Meeting


1. Since the late 1970s, the international community has been well aware of the severe impact that large scale refugee populations can have on the social, economic and political life of host developing countries. The recent Rwanda emergency has highlighted this. It also brought into sharp relief the uneven response of the international community to such impacts.(See Annex 1: The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience. Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda. Study 3: Humanitarian Aid and Effects). This paper looks more closely at these impacts and reviews the varied success of the international community in response to them.


2. The highest refugee concentrations are in some of the poorest countries in the world. A large number of such movements are into Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The presence of refugees compounds the already prevailing economic, environmental, social and, at times, political difficulties in these countries. Often such countries are confronted by a combination of all four of these factors. Nearly always their impact is substantial. Moreover, in many refugee situations, problems are aggravated when refugees are a substantial proportion of the local, if not national population. For example, in Nepal, in the district of Jhapa, 90,000 refugees represent over 13 per cent of the local population; in Ngara, in the United Republic of Tanzania, the recent refugee influxes meant that the local population was outnumbered by a ratio of approximately 4: 1; i.e. there were some 700,000 refugees among a local population of 186,000. In Malawi, a refugee influx which began in 1986, had led, by 1993, to one million Mozambican refugees in the country, some 10 per cent of the national population. The presence of refugees, and demands on the already severely strained economy, services and infrastructure add to the extreme hardship affecting the local populations. In many instances, refugees become an added impediment to, or risk jeopardizing, the development efforts of the host country. Their negative aspects may be felt long after a refugee problem is solved; for example, the damage to environment is a process and does not end with the repatriation of refugees. While the international emergency aid in response to such an emergency does have some positive effects on the host society, this hardly compensates for the negative consequences of such large concentrations of refugees.

A. The Economic Impact

3. From the moment of arrival, refugees compete with the local citizens for scarce resources such as land, water, housing, food and medical services. Over time, their presence leads to more substantial demands on natural resources, education and health facilities, energy, transportation, social services and employment. They may cause inflationary pressures on prices and depress wages. In some instances, they can significantly alter the flow of goods and services within the society as a whole and their presence may have implications for the host country's balance of payment and undermine structural adjustment initiatives. One example of market disturbances would be the need to rent accommodation for office and residential purposes, not just for expatriates, but also for locally engaged staff, in response to a refugee situation. Increased construction activity results, but this is usually accompanied by increases in rent, benefiting those who are property owners, but adversely affecting the poor and those on fixed incomes, such as government officers. Purchase of large quantities of building material may make them scarce or unobtainable for local people, while also generating inflationary effects. Likewise, increased demand for food and other commodities can lead to price rises in the market which will stimulate local economic activity, although, again, not benefiting the poorest.

4. The presence of a large refugee population in rural areas inevitably also means a strain on the local administration. Host country national and regional authorities divert considerable resources and manpower from the pressing demands of their own development to the urgent task of keeping refugees alive, alleviating their sufferings and ensuring the security of the whole community. While most host governments generally have demonstrated a willingness to bear many of these costs, they are understandably reluctant to pay, as a price for giving asylum, the cost of additional infrastructure that may be needed to accommodate refugees.

5. Host governments expect, at the very least, that the international community will help compensate for the costs incurred in providing asylum for the refugees. No government of a low income country is prepared to contract loans or reallocate its previous development funds to programmes designed for, or required because of, large numbers of refugees on their land. A World Bank-sponsored study of uncompensated public expenditures arising from the refugee presence in Malawi recommended an emergency assistance programme in 1990-91 of up to $ 25 million. According to a systematic analysis of public expenditures, this was the amount, after deduction of international aid provided through UNHCR, invested in refugee related government assistance and administration during the preceding two years. Other refugee hosting countries could cite comparable experiences.

6. The economic impact of refugees on host areas, however, is not necessarily negative. An economic stimulus may be generated by the presence of refugees and can lead to the opening and development of the host regions. This stimulus takes place, inter alia, through the local purchase of food, non-food items, shelter materials by agencies supplying relief items, disbursements made by aid workers, the assets brought by refugees themselves, as well as employment and income accrued to local population, directly or indirectly, through assistance projects for refugee areas. The presence of refugees also contributes to the creation of employment benefiting the local population, directly or indirectly. Moreover, relevant line departments involved in refugee work as counterparts to UNHCR, both at central and local levels, also benefit from UNHCR assistance aimed at strengthening their coping and management capacities. Such assistance may include equipment supply, capacity building and related training components.

7. The presence of refugees, as a focus of attention, can also attract development agencies to the host areas. While infrastructure is developed in the initial stage primarily to facilitate the work of host governments, UNHCR and its implementing partners in the refugee affected regions, it can also serve as a catalyst to 'open up' the host region to development efforts that would otherwise never reach these 'marginal' areas.

8. While it is recognized that there may be some "positive" aspects to the impact of a refugee influx on the economic life of a host country, the large-scale presence of refugees invariably constitutes a heavy burden for receiving countries, particularly LDCs.

B. Impact on Local Ecology and Infrastructure

9. Modifications of eco-systems can be controlled or uncontrolled. If a modification of one or more factors is carried out to serve a special goal, such as land clearance for crop cultivation or land levelling for irrigation, and if this modification is based on sound planning, taking into account the impact on environmental conditions, the newly established eco-system is not necessarily inferior to the old one. The development of the new system can, in this instance, be called a controlled development. But, if a sudden and unplanned change takes place, it may lead to a serious, uncontrolled imbalance with an impact on the whole eco-system, both in the directly affected area and beyond. The mass movement of refugees is an example of a situation where the impact on the ecology is not fully under control, because the emergency character of the movement normally does not allow for early and proper planning of the new habitat.

10. The addition of a sizable group of refugees to an existing population creates a sudden and massive demand for scarce natural resources such as land, fuel, water, food and shelter materials, with long-term implications on their sustainable re-generation. Other longer term problems relate to erosion, decreased soil fertility and landslides. Problems related to rural wood consumption are invariably serious. Estimates of rural wood consumption in Somalia indicate that the wood requirement for a family of five, for hut construction, is 2.4 m per head per year for cooking. Assuming that the wood consumption of refugees would be modest, say half the normal consumption, a camp of four thousand refugees would consume approximately 10,000m of wood a year for cooking. The standard volume of wood in the savanna-type woodlands of Somalia was estimated to be about 50 m per hectare, which means that the average refugee camp would deplete 600 hectares land in the first year of its establishment and 400 hectares for every year thereafter. In and around refugee camps, entire settlements have been completely cleared of all trees and shrubs. Inhabitants of 3-4 years old camps had to walk for several hours to find trees and shrubs to cut.

11. Supplementary food gathering through hunting, foraging and collecting local food stocks adds to the pressure on the environment. Additionally, human waste disposal can contaminate local ground water and cause the spread of disease. Roads in host areas undergo heavy deterioration from increased use to deliver food supplies and other commodities, while public services, such as health, education and water facilities, are also heavily impacted.

12. Examples of the devastating impact of large refugee populations on the eco-systems and on the infra-structure of a host countries can be found in the experiences of the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan in hosting Afghan refugees. For instance, in Pakistan, over two million refugees contributed to accelerated wear and tear of roads and canals, and a significant increase in the consumption of fuel and fodder resources. Wood resources were further depleted as tented camps were converted into villages and the need for roofing timber put even more pressure on woodland resources. Many families brought livestock which grazed near camps, adding to the perennial problems of over-grazing and the consequential acceleration in soil erosion. Fuel and fodder removal also posed a serious threat to the capacity of the environment to renew its groundwater resources.

C. The Social Impact

13. If refugees are from the same cultural and linguistic group as the local population, there is often identification with and sympathy for their situation. There are many examples of refugees being given shelter in local people's houses. Over 400,000 refugees have been housed with family or friends in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Different ethnicity, however, can be a basis for problems. Traditional animosities may exist between groups. Even if it is not the case, failures in communication and understanding caused by language and/or culture can form serious barriers. In some cases, the presence of one (ethnic) group of refugees may affect ethnic balances within the local population and exacerbate conflicts.

14. There are commonly complaints that refugees have added to security problems in general and crime rates, theft, murder etc., in particular. Concomitantly, other social problems such as prostitution and alcoholism are also claimed to rise in the refugee areas. On the one hand, enforced idleness and poverty within a refugee camp may cause an escalation of such tendencies, particularly if there are groups of young men who are not meaningfully occupied. On the other hand, refugees, as an "out" group, can be blamed for all untoward activities. Incidence of crime may rise no more than would be expected in a population group of the new size, but in a remote and previously quiet area, this would not go unnoticed. If the area has become a hub of economic activity, as the presence of large scale aid would indicate, it may have attracted a group of people who will profit from the current situation and may not be constrained by the social and legal safeguards of the region. In a border area, this could include cross border problems.

15. A common source of discontent for a local population, especially one that is poor, is to see refugees receiving services or entitlements which are not available to them. Refugees may have access to services such as education and health while local people do not, although UNHCR, as a matter of principle, strives to promote an integrated approach to human services which respect the local policies. For example, a review of the impact of refugee health services in eastern Kivu, Zaire, identified several problems, not the least of which was a failure of agencies to consult and coordinate with local health authorities. The provision of free health services for refugees undermined the local cost recovery approach. Higher salaries offered by NGOs encouraged staff to leave local clinics. Ironically, some of these staff were former refugees who had contributed to the development of those very services.

16. On the other hand, refugees can bring assets to the hosting area. Refugees indeed bring skills and knowledge with them that can be utilized to the benefit of local people. These skills vary, but do often include those of the more educated group, such as health professionals and teachers, who, even in limited numbers, can make a significant contribution in remote areas. An additional range of skills that can be brought by refugees may include an enterprise culture which can stimulate the local economy or offer innovative agricultural techniques previously unknown to the host areas. For example, refugees have introduced swamp land rice in Guinea, making use of previously vacant land and introducing new agricultural techniques. Refugees in Nepal have introduced new techniques of cultivating cardamom, an important cash crop in the south-east of the country.


17. The response of the international community to the impact of large refugee populations on host countries has been uneven, and characterized by different conceptual underpinnings and motivations. Within the conceptual framework which UNHCR sought to organize a response there was a facet of broader thinking on the relationship of refugee aid and development assistance, and their relationship, in turn, to durable solutions to refugee situations. As developments took place over time in relation to each of these three components, so did the emphasis on readdressing the impact of refugees on host countries also change.

18. Starting in the 1980s, the response was through what has become known as the "refugee aid and development" strategy. This approach stressed the need for relief to be development-oriented from the outset. The goal was to move refugees towards self-sufficiency and a durable solution to their situation. A durable solution often envisaged at the time was local integration. In addition, the strategy sought to compensate for some of the adverse economic and social impacts of refugees on the host country. A significant event in the effort to develop the concept of refugee aid and development was the Pan-African Conference on the Situation of Refugees in Africa held in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, in 1979. It was, however, only at the 1982 Executive Committee, that UNHCR began to focus more sharply on this issue. In 1984, the Executive Committee adopted a document, Principles for Action in Developing Countries (Annex 2). The perspective, as reflected therein, is that all assistance, be it developmental or relief, is subordinate to the search for durable solutions. This solution, through integration in the country of origin or of asylum, will only be lasting if it allows the refugees or returnees to support themselves and participate in the social and economic life of the community on an equal footing with the surrounding population, and this should therefore be the ultimate aim of assistance to refugees (see Annex II, Principle (c)). Even in a situation where temporary measures are necessary pending a durable solution, the emphasis should be on freeing refugees from dependence on relief (Principle (d)) and on productivity though self-help activities, participation in local works to improve economic and social infrastructure etc. (Principle (e)). Another Principle (m) addresses more directly the subject of this Conference Room Paper:

Development projects aimed essentially at repairing or improving a host country's economic or social infrastructure to help it cope with the presence of refugees, but which do not directly benefit significant numbers of refugees, should as a rule be handled by UNDP and/or other developmental organizations including NGOs. Where such projects provide durable income-earning opportunities for refugees, UNHCR could contribute to their financing in proportion to the number of refugees among the beneficiaries.

19. It is on the basis of these Principles that UNHCR elaborated its "refugee aid and development" strategy. From 1984 on, the terminology "Refugee Aid and Development Projects" began to be commonly used. Multi-year 'refugee aid and development' projects aimed, in part, at addressing some of the damage generated by the refugee pressure on host areas, were launched in China, Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Sudan, Malawi, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zaire, Uganda, Mexico and Nepal. These were undertaken on a collaborative basis, typically involving both bilateral and multilateral inputs from agencies such as the World Bank, IFAD and UNDP, from Governments, such as the German Government through BMZ, and from the European Commission.

20. In 1991, UNHCR undertook a review of its efforts to promote refugee related development type projects (Programme and Technical Support Service (PTSS) Discussion Paper No. 3). The Report concluded that, with the exception of the IGPRA project in Pakistan (see below), success had been limited due to the lack of funds for implementation. The shortage of funds was attributed to a range of factors: differences of opinion as to the sources of funding for such projects, with host country governments expecting additional resources for refugee-related development projects, and donor governments expecting that these projects be incorporated into, and funded, as part of national development plans; political and economic conditions for funding; the nature of some projects (large size, not sustainable etc.); lack of absorption capacity in project areas/countries; lack of proper coordination and follow-up of initiatives. While UNHCR and its development partners would normally be able to address the last three of these factors, it was the first two conditions which proved to be determining when it came to the viability of a project.

21. This is borne out by UNHCR's experience in Pakistan. By far the largest and the most successful of UNHCR's "refugee aid and development projects" was the three-phased Income Generating Projects for Refugee Areas (IGPRAs) undertaken in Pakistan. These spanned 12 years (1984-1996) with grant funds provided by donors, amounting in total to some $ 86.5 million. These projects were administered by the World Bank. An evaluation of the three projects has recently been carried out by the Operations Evaluation Department (OED) of the World Bank. In cooperation with the World Bank, a two-day workshop was organized by UNHCR in Islamabad from 6-7 May 1996, to look at the draft report of the evaluation study, and to draw up conditions and modalities for improvement of the IGPRA model with a view to its replication in other refugee areas (PTSS Mission Report 96/28). The report recognized that a key to the success of this project was the extraordinary level of donor support for the project, which, in turn, was a tangible recognition of Pakistan's "open door" policy with regard to Afghan refugees. The cultural affinity between Afghan refugees and their hosts, and the government's policy on refugee employment were recognized as a key factors in IGPRA's success and would be significant factors should replication be attempted in other countries.

22. The difficulties experienced in the refugee aid and development approach has more than just historical significance. It reveals some of the conflicts of interest which can arise in the search for solutions to refugee problems, as well as the specific difficulties associated with a strategy focused on countries of asylum. Despite the apparent clarity of the refugee aid and development notion, the ultimate objective of this approach remained essentially ambiguous. Was its purpose to promote the solution of local integration? Or was its aim simply to ameliorate the situation of refugees and local people, pending the day when the former could return to their homeland and thereby benefit from the solution of voluntary repatriation?

23. As far as most asylum countries were concerned, the latter objective took precedence. Their principal interest in the refugee aid and development approach was to be compensated more adequately for the costs they were incurring by admitting refugees onto their territory. The world's donor states, however, were much more interested in finding lasting solutions to refugee problems than they were in the notion of compensation. They felt that the refugee aid and development concept was being used as a means of mobilizing additional development funds for some hard-pressed countries, rather than as a genuine effort to find lasting solutions to refugee problems. This suspicion was reinforced by their perception of the somewhat grandiose scale of the projects which they were asked to finance and the limited capacity of the countries concerned to make effective use of such large resource allocations.

24. By the end of the 1980s, therefore, with the exception of the IGPRA project, the refugee aid and development approach to solutions was in many ways moribund, undermined by the ambiguity of its objectives and the reluctance of donor states to support the strategy financially.

25. In the early 1990s, in the face of new opportunities for large-scale repatriations, UNHCR's attention focused on another strategy, not overtly dissimilar to that of "refugee aid and development". This was the strategy of "returnee aid and development". It revolved around the same three components of refugee aid, development assistance and solutions, except that now the focus was on returnee aid and the need to involve development assistance in support of reintegration programmes to anchor the durable solution of voluntary repatriation. The important difference for UNHCR with this strategy, in its dealings with national governments and development and financial institutions, was that the beneficiaries were nationals of the country where development initiatives were being promoted. The complicating factor, however, was that a large number of these returns were to countries which had only recently emerged or were emerging from long conflicts. While such returns lifted a burden from the countries which had hosted them, it still left largely unresolved the damage caused to the social, economic and environmental systems of those countries. In fact the return movements themselves have often caused further economic disturbances to local economies in the host country.

26. The 1990s saw not only returns of refugees. UNHCR experienced some massive emergencies. In the face of these emergencies, it sought to enhance it emergency preparedness and response capacity. To the extent possible, emphasis was placed on preventive action in coping with refugee inflows. This was particularly so in relation to the environment. UNHCR, in a newly formulated policy on refugees and the environment (see EC/SC.2/79) and in related Guidelines (see EC/47/SC/CRP.8) recognized its responsibility for mitigating the environmental impact of refugee influxes from their outset. It also recognized that it had a catalytic role in enlisting the assistance of the international community and development agencies to help with environmental rehabilitation in the host country after the departure of refugees. Recent emergencies show that there is still much to be done in this regard. Moreover, environmental damage is only one of the effects of a refugee presence in a host country.

27. More recently, discussions on the relationship of refugee relief and development assistance have been dominated by the concept of a continuum from relief to rehabilitation and development. The focus of such discussions is how, inter-alia, to mitigate the effects of emergencies and, consequently, relief aid, on the development process of a country. It is recognized that it is necessary to link, from the outset, refugee assistance to local development plans. Any intervention, be it refugee aid or development, should, from the outset, focus on assessment of local coping capacities, local capacity building and the search for durable solutions. This would be one step towards mitigating the costly impacts of large scale refugee movements on host countries.


28. The heavy price that host countries have to pay in providing asylum to refugees is now widely recognized. The rhetoric of international solidarity, however, is not always matched by support in addressing the negative impacts that large scale refugee movements have on these countries. The obvious and desired approach is to prevent refugee situations from arising in the first place. When these do occur and asylum has been generously extended by a host country, it is the responsibility of the international community to mitigate, to the extent possible, the negative impact of such inflows and to redress damage caused as a consequence. Such action must recognize that the impact and legacy of hosting large numbers of refugees sets new and unforeseen challenges that have to be met largely by developmental, not emergency assistance, yet rarely fit within development aid cycles. For this reason, as well as to safeguard the institution of asylum, the support to host countries must be additional. Such a response would be a tangible expression of solidarity and burden-sharing aimed at alleviating the burden borne by States that have received large numbers of refugees, in particular developing countries with limited resources.

Annex I: Extract from the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda

An account of impacts

The impact of the large refugee presence in western Tanzania has been dramatic, with those living close to the transit routes and the refugee settlements having seen their local environments transformed. During the initial influx, crops were trampled or stolen from the fields, while doors, windows frames and furniture were removed from schools and health posts along the transit routes and used as firewood. Subsequently, roads and airstrips have been damaged by relief traffic, and water sources over-burdened by refugees and their cattle.

The most serious impact of the refugee presence on the local population in Ngara District has been the indiscriminate felling of trees near the camp, for use as firewood. By November 1994, tree resources within five km of Ngara had been completely depleted. Natural resources have been strained to the point where it is possible that they will no longer be adequate for the local population afterwards, and currently all households are having to walk increasingly long distances to collect firewood. The most likely long-term problems may stem from the removal of the gallery forests along watercourses, since these protect both quality and quantity of water flows at normal times. Loss of tree cover over the steep hilly terrain will also cause much-increased soil erosion rates, and has led to a reduction in the availability of game.

A particularly unsettling effect of the refugee presence has been the large increase in the incidence of violent crime in the areas around the camps, even though the violence has mostly been between refugees, and has not involved local people. The Tanzanian police have had to spend more time investigating incidents around the camps, and the Ngara prison has been holding five times the normal number of suspects. Indeed, in local and national government in general, there has been a diversion of managerial and administrative resources away from normal activities to those associated with the relief programme.

The arrival of the refugees has also led to increased volatility in the prices of basic commodities, with the prices of some products tripling or quadrupling in the months following the influx. However, although the prices of a number of commodities have risen sharply, others have fallen equally dramatically (notably maize, cooking oil and other "refugee" goods), and it is not clear whether, overall, the refugee presence and the associated relief operation has improved or worsened the local food security situation. In those rural areas where farmers traditionally produce for on-farm consumption, and little commercialization takes place, the changes in the prices of commodities will not have had a significant impact. Urban consumers, however, will be more severely affected, and anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that major dietary changes have taken place.

It is important to note that there have been winners, as well as losers, as a result of the refugee influxes, notable among which have been the Tanzanian ports and railways. They have benefited from a huge surge of business activity associated with the emergency, with WFP transporting the bulk of the foodstuffs for the refugees in Goma and Bukavu, as well as for those in Ngara and Karagwe, through the port of Dar-es-Salaam, and then inland by rail.

Other winners have been those with houses and warehouses near to the refugee settlements. They have been able to gain windfall profits from hiring out their premises to the international agencies involved in the relief operation. Many new jobs have been created as a result of the relief operation, either with the agencies themselves or in the business sector providing services to them. In addition, trading opportunities have grown up around the camps - the buying of excess food commodities from the refugees and the selling, in return, of cloth, soap, radio batteries, etc. However, it is also true that in some areas local businesses have suffered as a result of direct competition from newly-emerged refugee enterprises while in other areas local residents have had more difficulty in finding casual labour as a result of the presence of many refugees prepared to work for lower wages.

A lack of solid data has meant that it has not been possible accurately to quantify the various gains and losses, and come up with any overall balance of either net gain or net loss to Tanzania. Even were this possible, the exercise would be largely academic, as redistribution mechanisms do not exist whereby the gainers can recompense the losers. It is also important to be aware that many of the benefits will cease once the refugees go home, or once the relief programme winds down, while the costs, particularly environmental, will last well into the future.

The losers have tended to be geographically fairly concentrated, with those closest to the refugee settlements and transit routes generally having lost the most. Some having lost land, livestock and crops, have been reduced to as precarious a state of survival as the refugees themselves. The geographical concentration of the majority of losers ought to have meant that mitigation efforts should have been relatively straightforward.

Assessment of efforts to mitigate the impact

Although UNDP, FAO, UNICEF and other agencies have been helping the Tanzanian government draw up project proposals to reduce the impact of the refugees on the local environment, the overall response in regard to problems amongst the host population can only be compared unfavourably with that for the refugee population. Very substantial amounts of funding have been readily available for the refugees, with UNHCR able to implement construction and other activities literally within hours of the influx. The process of assessing the needs of the local population, project preparation, obtaining funding and commencing implementation by the relevant UN agencies (principally UNDP and FAO) and government departments has been slow and cumbersome. One year after the influxes, little progress can be observed in Ngara. Yet the sums involved are not necessarily large; the cost of repairing the damage done to local infrastructure during the influx into Ngara and Karagwe has been estimated at only slightly over US $1 million.

While it is true that UNHCR has funded the provision of extra police officers in Tanzania, as well as the Presidential Guard in Goma, and has supplied office equipment to some local government departments, these initiatives have been designed essentially to support local structures in their work with refugees, and the primary beneficiaries have not been the local communities. Indeed, on occasions, UNHCR appears to have been over-legalistic in the application of its mandate, with local residents having been treated as second-class citizens in relation to the refugees. For example a plane spraying one of the camps for vector-control purposes in Ngara turned off the spray as it overflew the adjoining village, which consequently experienced a fly infestation while the camps did not. While Team III was in one of the camps in Zaire, they witnesses an injured Zairian who was denied emergency treatment in the camp hospital, as this was for refugees only. Other agencies have also been insensitive, supplying some refugee schools in Tanzania with brand new desks, though many local schools also lack such amenities.

The imbalance between the level of international support designed to meet refugee needs and the level of support designed to meet the needs of the host community, and the delay in actual provision of the latter, has caused tensions between local people and refugees in both Tanzania and Zaire. Tanzanian politicians have made capital out of this issue, and this may have contributed to the border closures with Burundi and then Rwanda that occurred in mid-1995. Had a quick-disbursing fund been available it could have been used to repair the initial damage rapidly and reduce the tensions between the refugees and the host population.

UNHCR and other agencies such as UNICEF, CARE and GTZ did commission environmental and economic assessment reports on areas around the camps in both Tanzania and Zaire after the arrival of the refugees.

The need for fuelwood has been the most critical determinant of environmental damage. Easily cooked foods should have been distributed to the refugees in Ngara (e.g. maize flour rather than whole grain), and refugees should have been encouraged to use fuel-saving cooking devices (e.g. soaking beans before cooking, using lids on pans, etc.). However, it is possible that much of the wood collected by refugees is used for social fires in the evenings - for light and companionship and for warmth and protection against biting flies. Any fuel not needed for cooking may only have led to greater use of fuel for social purposes. Ultimately, only the dispersion of refugees to smaller, more physically-separated camps offers a sustainable long-term solution and in Tanzania and Zaire this has not proven acceptable to the local and national authorities.

UNHCR has attempted to preserve trees near the camps that should be retained for the future by marking them with white paint - a good idea as long as other sources of fuel are relatively abundant. In the short-term, however, fuelwood needs to be trucked in, not only to the refugees themselves, but to the local residents who are now in the same position as the refugees. Some agencies, along with private entrepreneurs, are already involving in such activities. NGOs must also be aware of the impact of their operations; in Ngara, tens of thousands of poles were cut down within easy trucking distance of the camps for pit latrines, medical clinics, and so forth.

In addition to the refugees themselves having had an impact on the local community, so too have the relief programmes themselves. For example, the high salaries paid by international NGOs have attracted local health workers away from government service and into the health structures within the refugee camps. Officials in eastern Zaire have reported that the establishment of a cost-recovery health system has been jeopardized by the loss of experienced staff, and the reluctance of patients to pay for treatments when they can be seen for free at refugee clinics. There is no easy solution to this problem, and the issue of better managing the relationships between emergency and national structures needs further research. A salary policy is needed before a relief programme begins, to avoid unnecessary weakening of local structures. Zairian health officials have suggested that, at the very least, there should be a rotation of the local staff working for international NGOs, so that more people would have the chance to earn the large sums available and to benefit from working alongside experienced expatriate staff, without being lost to the local system. This would reduce the feelings of discontent that seem to be felt by some of those "left behind" in national structures.



In their final form, these Principles reflect, inter alia, not only the comments of the Executive Committee (1983), but observations that emanated from two special meetings convened by UNHCR to discuss the Report of the Meeting of Experts:

a) a meeting of NGOs, 24-25 November 1983;

b) A meeting of Inter-governmental Organizations (UNDP, WHO, IFAD, World Bank, etc.), 5-6 December 1983.

The thinking of ICARA II is also obvious in the final version of the Principles for Action in Developing Countries presented to the Thirty-fifth Session of the Executive Committee (1984).

The Principles appeared as an Annex to the Note entitled "Refugee Aid and Development" (A/AC.96/645 and Corr. 1) presented by the High Commissioner to the Thirty-fifth Session.

The Thirty-sixth Session of the Executive Committee (1985) called on governments "to bring the Principles for Action in Developing Countries to the attention of their representatives on the executive boards of these (developmental) organizations".]

Durable solutions

(a) Refugee problems demand durable solutions. A genuinely durable solution means integration of the refugees into a society: either re-integration in the county or origin, after voluntary repatriation, or integration in the country of asylum or country of resettlement.

(b) Resettlement in third countries, which is a necessary solution in certain circumstances, is the least desirable and most costly solution, so that for refugees in most countries a durable solution should be sought through repatriation to their country of origin, which is the best option wherever it is voluntarily accepted by the refugees, or through settlement in the country of asylum.

(c) In either case, the solution will be lasting only if it allows the refugees or returnees to support themselves and participate in the social and economic life of the community on an equal footing with the surrounding population, and this should therefore be the ultimate aim of assistance to refugees.

Temporary measures pending a durable solution

(d) Where voluntary return is not immediately feasible, conditions should be created in the country of asylum for temporary settlement of the refugees and their participation in the social and economic life of the community, so they can contribute to its development. For the refugees it is essential to free themselves from dependence on relief, and reach a situation where they can take care of themselves, as soon as possible.

(e) From the outset, therefore, their productivity should be encouraged through self-help activities, engagement in food or other agricultural production, participation in local works to improve economic and social infrastructure, or skills-training projects.

(f) In low-income areas, the needs of the local people should also be taken into account; in such areas initiatives may therefore be needed which would permit both refugees and local people to engage in economically productive activities to ensure them a decent livelihood. Such initiatives do not necessarily imply a commitment to one or another longer-term solution.

Settlement in country of asylum

(g) Initiatives of this kind will be necessarily in low-income areas where significant numbers of refugees (by comparison with the local population) need income-earning opportunities: in these areas development-oriented projects are required that would generate work opportunities and - where local integration of the refugees is feasible - long-term livelihoods for refugees and local people in a comparable situation, through activities which create assets of a continuing economic value with a good rate of return, so that they contribute to the overall development of the area.

(h) The projects should be consistent with existing and planned development schemes for the area; wherever possible, these schemes should be extended as appropriate to include refugees. Such projects or extensions should be additional to, and not at the expense of, the country's ongoing development programmes.

Roles of the partners involved

(i) UNHCR, while being the focal point for durable solutions, should not assume the role of a development agency, and where developmental initiatives are needed to help refugees support themselves, the High Commissioner's role should be essentially that of a catalyst and co-ordinator: he should initiate suitable projects, promote their development by a competent organization and the host government, and then promote their financing and monitor the results for the refugees.

(k) Under its normal programmes UNHCR should continue, in close co-operation with other organizations of the UN system, governmental organizations and NGOs, to seek durable solutions through projects planned specifically for the refugees, even though local people also may eventually benefit from some of them.

(l) Where the need is for developmental projects conceived for the benefit of both refugees and substantial numbers of local people with similar needs, UNHCR should, in consultation with the host government, invite a developmental organization - intergovernmental, governmental or non-governmental - to provide its services for the formulation, appraisal, negotiation and supervision of appropriate projects. These would normally be implemented by, or under the responsibility of, the host government, where necessary with the assistance of suitable executing organizations which might be non-governmental; such organizations should be brought in as early as possible. UNHCR could provide its good offices for the financing of such projects, and would need to follow them to ensure that the refugees benefit as planned.

(m) Development projects aimed essentially at repairing or improving a host country's economic or social infrastructure to help it cope with the presence of refugees, but which do not directly benefit significant numbers of refugees, should as a rule be handled by UNDP and/or other developmental organizations including NGOs. Where such projects provide durable income-earning opportunities for refugees, UNHCR could contribute to their financing in proportion to the number of refugees among the beneficiaries.

(n) Where successful re-integration of voluntary returnees in a low-income country requires developmental investments beyond UNHCR's programmes, for the benefit of the returnees as well as their compatriots in the area concerned, UNDP and/or other relevant developmental organizations and NGOs should be involved as soon as possible in the planning and implementation of further appropriate rehabilitation assistance.

(o) In all phases of a refugee problem it is important that the beneficiaries of projects be involved in their planning, management and implementation as much and as soon as possible.

Co-ordination measures

(p) Governing bodies of development agencies should consider the presence in a country of substantial numbers of refugees of returnees as one of the relevant factors in their programme planning.

(q) The complementarity between refugee aid and development assistance, i.e. the close relationship between what refugees need to help them support themselves and what the disadvantaged local people need, should be reflected in the structures and/or co-ordination procedures for addressing these issues at the national level, both in the host countries and in the assisting countries, as well as within and between the international organizations concerned.

(r) Proper co-ordination of refugee-related development projects with other development projects, in the context of the host country's development strategy, should take place on a country basis, through existing consultative mechanisms such as Consultative Group or Consortium meetings or Round Table conferences where they exist; where a country has received substantial numbers of refugees so that their presence affects its development, refugee-related development assistance would be reviewed as a regular part of these consultative processes.

Annex III: Draft Decision: Social and Economic Impact of Large Refugee Populations on Host Developing Countries

OP1 Social and Economic Impact of Large Refugee Populations on Host Developing Countries

OP2 Notes with concern the impact of large refugee populations on countries of asylum, in particular developing countries with limited resources;

OP3 Urges UNHCR, in a manner consistent with its mandate, to develop preventive strategies to mitigate such impacts, and to help offset the negative effects of large-scale refugee presence through projects undertaken with the support of host Governments, development and financial institutions and the donor community, as well as to exercise a broader catalytic role vis-à-vis development and financial institutions for the preparation and financing of larger rehabilitation projects;