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Joint effort agreed for repatriation, reintegration in Africa

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Joint effort agreed for repatriation, reintegration in Africa

8 March 2004

8 March 2004

GENEVA - Delegates from some 60 countries on Monday endorsed creation of an international working group to support the return and sustainable reintegration of millions of refugees in at least nine African countries.

The UNHCR-sponsored meeting brought together senior government officials from throughout Africa as well as donor states and representatives of international organizations with the shared goal of ending some of the continent's most protracted refugee situations.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers told the meeting that for the first time in many years, there are currently multiple opportunities throughout Africa for the potential repatriation of up to 2 million refugees and millions more internally displaced people. Accomplishing this goal, however, will require sustained and coordinated support from the African countries themselves as well as from the international community.

Lubbers expressed optimism about prospects in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of the repatriations are already under way, some are well into the planning stages and others await further political developments or consolidation of peace efforts on the ground.

The daylong meeting gave support for the creation of a high-level working group that would follow up on the recommendations made at Monday's Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa. Lubbers said the "group of friends supporting repatriation and reintegration" would consist of African states, other interested governments, UN agencies, the African Union and non-governmental organizations.

Many of the speakers called for sustained and closely coordinated international support for the entire repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction process in war-torn African societies as the best way of ensuring that refugees and displaced people can go home and stay home.

"Resettlement and reintegration need to become part and parcel of country development strategies, in an all-inclusive setting with a clear focus on entire communities," said the European Commission's Poul Nielson, one of the keynote speakers at the meeting. Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator of the UN Development Programme, said a collaborative and comprehensive approach was possible "because the bureaucratic walls have come down."

Many speakers also stressed that the regional effort must be led by the African countries themselves, and that social and economic reintegration was often the most delicate period in any peace process because mistakes can have disastrous consequences.

UNHCR advised the delegates that over the next few weeks, it will work with permanent missions in Geneva on the composition and initial focus of the high-level working group. A similar high-level working group was set up in the early 1990s to focus international efforts and attention on the unfolding crisis in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and remained working for more than a decade.