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Returnee Aid and Development


Returnee Aid and Development

1 May 1994

This paper is based on a study written by Professor Barry Stein of Michigan State University, which was prepared in the context of the Central Evaluation Section's ongoing analysis of repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation issues. This initiative has included reviews of Quick Impact Projects in Nicaragua, the CIREFCA process, the Cambodian repatriation operation, the encashment programme for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and the cross-mandate programme in Ethiopia. Barry Stein participated in the 1983 UNHCR Meeting of Experts on Refugee Aid and Development, and since 1986 has co-directed the International Study of Spontaneous Voluntary Repatriation.


(1) UNHCR has been concerned with the issues of refugee aid and development and returnee aid and development since the late 1970's. For most of that period, the organization's primary focus was on refugee aid and development. In the 1990s, however, UNHCR's attention has shifted to the linkage between aid and development in post-repatriation situations. Emphasizing the growing importance of this issue, a 1992 Executive Committee paper entitled 'Bridging the Gap Between Returnee Aid and Development', noted that "this gap not only threatens the successful reintegration of returnees in terms of their ability to remain home and rebuild their lives, it also threatens the viability of their communities."

(2) Given the very close semantic and substantive relationship between refugee aid and development and returnee aid and development, it is necessary to examine the origins and meaning of both concepts. In simple terms, the primary difference is that refugee aid and development seeks to assist uprooted people in countries of asylum and to consolidate the durable solution of local integration, whereas returnee aid and development is an assistance strategy which is intended to reintegrate exiled populations who have returned to their country of origin, thereby consolidating the durable solution of voluntary repatriation.


(3) The concept of refugee aid and development emerged in the late 1970's because of the difficulties associated with traditional assistance approaches, which were narrowly focused on life-sustaining and relief-oriented programmes. By this time it had become clear that emergency assistance operations and care and maintenance programmes was placing refugees into a situation of dependency. At the same time, conventional assistance approaches were placing a heavy burden on the infrastructure and environment of host countries and communities, as well as committing scarce donor resources to expensive and open-ended programmes.

(4) The international community's response to this situation - the refugee aid and development assistance strategy - was characterized by five key elements. They are to be found in both the 1984 'Declaration and Programme of Action of the Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa' (ICARA 111), and the 'Principles for Action in Developing Countries' adopted by UNHCR's Executive Committee in 1984.

(5) According to these documents, refugee aid and development is assistance that:

  • is development-oriented from the outset;
  • enables refugees to self-sufficiency; move towards self-reliance and helps least developed host countries to cope with the burden that refugees place on their social and economic structures;
  • provides benefits to both refugees and to the local population in the areas where they have settled; and,
  • is consistent with the national development plan of the host country


(6) Unfortunately, notwithstanding the apparent clarity of the ICARA Declaration and the Executive Committee's Principles for Action, the concept of refugee aid and development remained ill-defined. This problem was directly related to a fundamental split between donor states and host states (and, to a lesser degree, countries of origin) about the nature and purpose of refugee assistance.

(7) Donor states and host governments both accept that they have a responsibility for refugees, but perceive and interpret that responsibility in very different ways. Donors tend to focus assistance discussions on the achievement of durable solutions, whereas host governments generally believe that burden-sharing is the bedrock principle of international refugee assistance.

(8) Countries of asylum bear a tremendous refugee burden. In a sense their contribution to refugee assistance is not wholly voluntary; they are humanitarian hosts to unwanted guests and carry the load for the international community. Although that burden is very difficult to quantify, refugees place an undeniable strain on the social, physical and economic structures of the countries and areas where they settle.

(9) In the late 1970s, low-income host countries began to ask the developed donor states to assume a larger part of the refugee burden and to compensate them for the costs which they incurred by opening their borders to large numbers of asylum seekers. While the donors accepted the principle of burden-sharing, they were much less comfortable with the notion of compensation. If they were to commit extra resources to refugee assistance, then they wanted to see results in terms of durable solutions.

(10) Donors were particularly concerned that an emphasis on burden-sharing without a simultaneous focus on durable solutions would lead to open-ended and costly assistance programmes. In these circumstances, host governments might also develop a reduced sense of responsibility for the refugees, actually impeding international efforts to find durable solutions.

(11) The concept of additionality was a key element of this debate. It refers to the request by low-income host countries that refugee assistance of all types should be over and above - additional to - the normal development assistance they would receive if they had no refugees on their territory.

(12) Donor states, however, offered only partial additionality. They felt that if refugees were incorporated into development projects, such as settlement schemes, they would become potential contributors to the host country's development. A share of any development assistance should therefore be committed to refugee-affected areas. For their part, host governments did not feel they could afford durable solutions that required them to share scarce development funds or to borrow resources on behalf of alien populations.

(13) Many host governments had solid development reasons for their arguments. Refugees are often concentrated in peripheral geographical areas. Projects initiated under the label of 'refugee aid and development' may, as far as the authorities are concerned, be the wrong project in the wrong place with the wrong priorities, thereby skewing national development plans. Moreover, host countries that were faced with chronic underdevelopment, a debt crisis and rapidly growing populations whose needs they could not serve, were in no position to add to their burdens. They were worried about being accused of favouring foreigners over nationals, and felt that it was politically unreasonable to ask low-income countries to make further sacrifices for the sake of refugees.

(14) The result of these differing perceptions was an ambiguous approach to refugees and development as articulated in the ICARA H Declaration and the Principles for Action in Developing Countries. The Principles began by stating that "refugee problems demand durable solutions," but then go on to prioritize durable solutions by indicating that voluntary repatriation is the "best option," local integration in the host country is second best, and resettlement in third countries is "least desirable."

(15) The Principles continue: "where voluntary return is not immediately feasible, conditions should be created in the country of asylum for temporary settlement. 11 In the absence of the best option, namely repatriation, the Principles endorsed temporary measures that do "not necessarily imply a commitment to one or another long-term solution. "As it was articulated in the mid-1980s, therefore, the refugee aid and development approach would have had the international community undertake expensive and innovative projects to relieve refugee dependency, promote self-sufficiency, repair infrastructural damage, and undertake development-oriented assistance, but without any commitment to finding durable solutions.

(16) The lack of progress made by the refugee aid and development approach derived essentially from the unwillingness of donors to use their resources for compensatory purposes. When refugee assistance moved from humanitarian relief and towards development aid, donor state priorities assumed a greater importance.

(17) As the Ethiopian famine and refugee crisis demonstrated in the immediate aftermath of the ICARA 11 conference, humanitarian relief has a compelling and dramatic immediacy about it that makes it difficult for donors to stand on the sidelines. Lives are at stake and aid rushes in. Development-oriented refugee assistance, however, comes after the emergency, when conditions have stabilized and the danger is past. In those circumstances, donors who are asked to fund projects which they deem to be unsatisfactory find it much easier to sit on their purses. As a recent UNHCR paper concluded, refugee aid and development produced "limited results, mainly due to a lack of funding-"


(18) The refugee aid and development approach was also plagued by operational problems that stem from the fact that UNHCR is not a development agency. Restricted by its mandate - international protection, assistance and the search for durable solutions - UNHCR was in a position where it might begin development-related projects but could not see them through to completion. According to the Executive Committee, UNHCR therefore needed to develop a "close working relationship" with the "relevant agencies of the United Nations system." UNHCR's role was envisaged essentially as that of an initiator, promoter, catalyst and coordinator.

(19) Needing a partner whose mandate could complement its own, UNHCR looked to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and to a lesser extent to the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and some other agencies, which could fulfil that role. Although some significant progress was made in terms of UNDP Governing Board decisions and UNHCR-UNDP joint agreements, particularly in the context of CIREFCA, UNDP did not become a true complement to UNHCR in the refugee aid and development initiative.

(20) Refugee aid and development was unable to take off, therefore, due to a lack of agreement - and consequently a lack of funding - as a result of host and donor government differences on the key issues of responsibility, burden-sharing, durable solutions and additionality.


(21) Returnee aid and development, however, appears to satisfactorily resolve these issues. Voluntary repatriation is not only a durable solution but is the preferred durable solution. Donors can therefore be expected to support a strategy which is specifically designed to promote and consolidate that outcome. With returnee aid and development, countries of origin have little reason to request additionality, because aid to returnees brings direct benefits to their citizens and society. Countries of origin also have an unambiguous responsibility for the welfare of their nationals.

(22) With the issues which hindered refugee aid and development cleared away, the prospects for returnee aid and development would appear to much better. Unfortunately, such a conclusion neglects the fact that voluntary repatriation and reintegration takes place under very different circumstances from local integration. As a result, returnee aid and development is confronted with a range of new and different obstacles. At the same time, returnee aid and development is confronted with the same kind of organizational difficulty encountered by refugee aid and development: UNHCR's relationship with UNDP and other agencies engaged in longer term reconstruction and development.

(23) The post-repatriation assistance provided by UNHCR until the early 1990s normally took the form of short-term relief such as food assistance for a period of up to one year, as well as shelter materials, seeds, tools, cash grants and other agricultural inputs, directed primarily towards individual refugees. In addition, a number of UNHCR repatriation programmes provided some community-based assistance for returnee populated areas, usually in the form of infrastructural repairs.

(24) The relationship between aid and development in returnee situations was not totally ignored during the formulation of the refugee aid and development approach. The 1983 Meeting of Experts on Refugee Aid and Development, for example, elaborated several key points on this issue. First, reintegration assistance should include and benefit the whole population of a returnee-affected area. Second, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities should be. undertaken in areas of origin in order to promote the repatriation of refugee populations. Third, post-repatriation assistance should go beyond simply transporting refugees to their homes; successful reintegration requires longer-term development assistance of a type which goes beyond the scope of UNHCR's mandate.

(25) Despite such initiatives, until the early 1990s, returnee aid and development was a marginal side-show to refugee aid and development. This situation has changed dramatically over the past four years. During this period, the very limited results of the refugee aid and development approach, combined with the very large post-Cold War increase in the scale of repatriation (over five million refugees have repatriated in the early 1990s, more than in the entire decade of the 1980s) have pushed returnee aid and development to the forefront of UNHCR's concerns and activities.


(26) Although it is a rapidly evolving concept, returnee aid and development has some identifiable assumptions and principles, several of which are similar to key elements of the refugee aid and development approach. For example:

  • Returning refugees can only be properly reintegrated if longer-term programmes for political, economic and social reconstruction and reconciliation are established;
  • Post-repatriation assistance should be development-oriented from the outset, and bridge the traditional gap between immediate relief and the longer term rehabilitation, reconstruction and development process;
  • Reintegration assistance should be provided to entire communities, benefiting not only returnees, but also other needy groups such as demobilized soldiers and internally displaced persons, as well as the resident population;
  • Assistance programmes established for returnee-affected communities should be consistent with and incorporated into national reconstruction and development efforts;
  • Many agencies work at different stages along the relief to development continuum, and their contribution to reintegration programmes must be properly clarified, integrated and coordinated.

(27) Seeking to define UNHCR's role in the implementation of returnee aid and development initiatives, the High Commissioner observed in 1991 that "ensuring the success of voluntary repatriation goes beyond the mandate or resources of UNHCR alone." "UNHCR," she continued, "is not a development agency, but I am determined to act as a catalyst, sensitizing, encouraging, cooperating with the development organizations, donors and, most of all, the countries concerned."

(28) Since that statement was made, UNHCR has made major efforts to respond quickly to returnee movements, to provide returnees-populated communities with timely reintegration assistance, and to encourage the efforts of other agencies whose programmes would complement its own, thereby bridging the gap between relief and development. The leading model of post-return assistance to emerge from this process is the Quick Impact Project, an approach which was first formulated in Nicaragua, and which has also been used - sometimes under a different name - in countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Somalia and Sri Lanka. At the same time, UNHCR has appointed a Senior Coordinator for Reintegration Assistance to develop the organization's policies and practices in this area.


(29) As indicated already, there are reasons to believe that returnee aid and development will prove to be a more coherent and workable concept than refugee aid and development. Nevertheless, there are a number of factors that stand in the way of this approach to durable solutions.

(30) One of the most significant differences between refugee aid and development and returnee aid and development is to be found in the economic and political circumstances of the recipient states. Countries of asylum are generally at peace; otherwise they would not have become havens for people fleeing from danger. Although refugee hosting countries are generally very poor, they nevertheless often have sufficient stability for longer-term reconstruction and development initiatives to be undertaken.

(31) By way of contrast, countries of origin to which refugees are returning are generally devastated and unstable. Conditions may have unproved compared to the period when the population left to seek refuge elsewhere. Nevertheless, a very large proportion of the refugees who have repatriated in recent years have returned to countries where central government control is negligible or non-existent, where peace is fragile and intermittent, where political and military struggles continue, and where physical, economic and social infrastructures axe in an advanced stage of disintegration.

(32) As recent studies have demonstrated, many repatriation movements now occur during rather than after a conflict, without a decisive political event such as national independence, without a fundamental change of regime and without the disappearance of the conditions that originally caused refugees to leave. Countless individual refugees and sizeable groups of well-organized exiles have returned home over the past few years in the face of continued risk, frequently without any amnesty, without a repatriation agreement or programme, without the permission of the authorities in either the country of asylum or of origin, and without international knowledge or assistance.

(33) Such conditions are evidently not conducive to the longer-term reconstruction programmes envisaged in the returnee aid and development approach. Donor governments are singularly unimpressed by the argument that development assistance can precede and produce peace. Their 'show me' attitude generally demands progress towards political reconciliation in countries of origin before major developmental investments will be made.

(34) Fifteen countries of origin experienced actual or assumed returns of 20,000 or more refugees in 1992 and 1993. With the exception of Viet Nam, the remaining 14 states are characterized by continuing conflicts, occupied territories, armed truces, pending elections and other political or military problems that reconstruction and development efforts.

(35) Several of the countries concerned have not been eligible for development assistance because their past behaviour led to the imposition of international or bilateral sanctions. In some cases, sanctions may continue to be applied or threatened after an election or formation of a new government because a particular donor objects to the presence of a certain individuals or groups within the ruling structure. In such countries, it is likely that international and bilateral development agencies will have only a very limited presence. A number of these countries of origin also lack any meaningful national development plans to which returnee relief and rehabilitation efforts can be linked.

(36) The presence of returnees does not necessarily convert a region into a desirable focus for reconstruction and development activities. Other regions may be devoid of returnees yet have equal or greater needs. A region of refugee return is not necessarily a country's most potentially productive area. Competition between different regions and their populations is likely to be intense, and prioritizing aid to returnee regions may not contribute to national reconciliation and political stability. While this is not a reason for withholding aid from a returnee region, it is a reminder that the presence of repatriated refugees is just one of the many factors to be considered in the course of development decisions.


(37) The mandate restrictions which confronted UNHCR with regard to refugee aid and development are even greater in the case of returnee aid and development. Repatriation marks the beginning of the end of UNHCR's involvement with an uprooted population, whereas the organization's mandated interest in refugees is open-ended, lasting as long as it takes for a durable solution to be found.

(38) As with refugee aid and development, the limitations of UNHCR's mandate create a need for UNHCR to find an operational partner which can assume responsibility for reintegration and rehabilitation projects following UNHCR's withdrawal. Again, the prime candidate for this role has been perceived as UNDP. Again, however, UNHCR's efforts to work in partnership with UNDP have had only a limited success.

(39) According to a review of one reintegration and rehabilitation programme, "differences in mandate, working methods and relationship to government have made it difficult for UNHCR and UNDP to collaborate in operational activities. The principal differences can be summarized as follows:

  • UNHCR deals directly with beneficiary populations and has an action and delivery-oriented style. UNDP focuses on geographic areas and on macro-level development;
  • UNDP works closely with governments and generally supports their development priorities. UNHCR cooperates with governments where possible, but, because of its protection mandate, easily finds itself at odds with national and local authorities;
  • UNHCR often employs NGOs as implementing partners, whereas UNDP has relatively little familiarity with the voluntary agencies;
  • UNHCR has always mobilized the vast majority of its funds through voluntary contributions, whereas UNDP has a very limited fund-raising capacity.

(40) At a broader level, UNHCR and UNDP also find themselves in very different situations. Since the end of the Cold War, UNHCR's response to a succession of major humanitarian emergencies has attracted substantial acclaim from donor states and other members of the international community. In the specific area of returnee reintegration, UNHCR operations in countries such as Nicaragua and Cambodia have reinforced the organization's reputation for innovative thinking and a strong operational capability.

(41) By way of contrast, UNDP is currently trying to define its role in a rapidly changing international environment. Some donors have expressed reservations about the relevance of the agency's traditional approach. To some extent, these reservations may be reflected in the organization's declining financial support. Until UNDP is able to define the nature and scope of its involvement in reintegration and rehabilitation activities, establishing an effective partnership will be difficult.


(42) In addition to the operational and organizational difficulties associated with returnee aid and development, the coherence of the concept and the rationale for its promotion must also be questioned.

(43) The notion of returnee aid and development, like that of refugee aid and development, has emerged in the context of the international community's search for durable solutions. For refugees in countries of asylum, there was the possibility that development-oriented assistance would lead to the durable solution of local integration, or, failing that, to temporary but productive local settlement. Indeed, development assistance was one of many levers used to encourage asylum countries to keep their frontiers open, to allow refugees in, to permit them to stay, to set aside land for them and to give them a secure legal status.

(44) The rationale for returnee aid and development has been based largely on the notion that voluntary repatriation per se does not constitute a durable solution. The solution of repatriation, it is argued, has to be 'consolidated' by means of reintegration activities which are linked to broader and longer-term developmental efforts.

(45) The return of refugees to a situation characterized by poverty and devastation does not necessarily mean that a durable solution remains to be found. A durable solution is normally defined as the integration of a refugee into a society. The most important element of that process is the acquisition of legal status and rights. In the other two durable solutions, resettlement and local integration, UNHCR has only a very limited interest in refugees who have achieved legal integration. Why then should UNHCR assume so much additional responsibility for refugees who have resumed their legal status as citizens in their country of origin?

(46) Despite the references which UNHCR has made to "the vicious cycle of exile, return, internal displacement and exile again," there is actually very little evidence to suggest that difficult economic conditions and an absence of rehabilitation, reconstruction and development assistance leads to the renewed flight of repatriated refugees. Indeed, there is much greater evidence to indicate that returnees tend not to become refugees again, whatever the level of economic privation they encounter in their country of origin. When the vicious cycle is evident, it is likely to be driven by political and military considerations rather than poverty or underdevelopment.

(47) The returnee aid and development concept also places unrealistic demands and expectations upon UNHCR and its operational partners. QIPs and other forms of community-based post-repatriation assistance represent a very simple and initial form of development. In terms of the much-discussed 'relief to development continuum' they can be placed quite close to the former end of the spectrum. Development in the broader, macro-economic sense of the word, however, is an infinitely more complex issue than that of returnee reintegration.

(48) Numerous factors which lie beyond the control of UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies trade cycles, interest rates and commodity prices, for example have the potential to retard or accelerate growth and development. Attempting to connect UNHCR's inevitably limited rehabilitation efforts to this notoriously elusive and difficult objective target may generate unrealistic expectations and even create a perception of failure when modest success is the reality

(49) The close connection which has been made between returnee aid and development and the concept of a relief to development continuum is itself somewhat dangerous. Experience has demonstrated that rather than a smooth linear transition from stage to stage, progress along this trajectory is likely to be discontinuous, subject to stagnation and to periodic reversals.

(50) In view of these considerations, a certain modesty on UNHCR's part would be advisable. A change of terminology - from 'returnee aid and development' to 'returnee aid and rehabilitation' - might provide a more meaningful indication of what the organization wishes and is able to achieve. Indeed, it is precisely in this area that UNHCR's recent post-repatriation interventions have proven most effective.

(51) Pressed by the global spread of humanitarian emergencies, not to mention the growing demand for the organization to play an active role in the management of international migration, UNHCR must ensure that its refugee and returnee assistance programmes are brought to an appropriately speedy conclusion. Decisions to phase out from a country of origin should not be based on the availability of funds or the ability and willingness of other organizations to assume responsibility for activities which UNHCR has initiated. Either the terms of the handover should be agreed upon before the commencement of the project, or the project itself should be designed with self-sustainability in mind.

(52) In order to preserve its ability to phase out, UNHCR should actively and creatively use its catalytic role and the resources at its command to encourage others to step in. The test of reintegration assistance is not the ability to spend money quickly and get out, but rather to leave something lasting behind, to begin a process, to produce an institutional framework which is conducive for the longer-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and development process.


(53) As indicated earlier, recent discussions of this institutional framework have tended to focus on the role of UNDP and other large development agencies. Much less attention has been given to the potential role of indigenous actors, particularly local authorities, 'non-recognized entities', NGOs and, of course, the beneficiary communities themselves. This bias must be corrected. Rather than seeking to 'hand over' programmes and projects to other international agencies, UNHCR's ultimate aim in post-repatriation situations should be to assist in the development of local capacities and competence.

(54) In an effort to promote national reconciliation and unity in countries of origin - one of the principal objectives of returnee aid and development - it is important to provide assistance in a manner that does not reinforce, even inadvertently, any tendencies towards social and political fragmentation. Even though a programme may be designed to be neutral and impartial, available to all parties and focused on non-controversial projects, its very existence and the resources which it brings to an area will inevitably make it an object of competition and courtship by various actors. In post-conflict situations, instability, local rivalries and the settling of scores are likely to be pervasive. In areas where the central government is being challenged by opposition or secessionist forces, UNHCR and its partners may even feel that it is politically prudent to avoid too close an association with governmental institutions.

(55) Recent experience in a number of countries of origin has demonstrated that Post-repatriation rehabilitation assistance can actually be used as a means of bringing rival factions or parties together, thereby facilitating the reconciliation process. Such a strategy was used to particular effect in Cambodia, where rehabilitation activities such as the construction of roads and bridges were formulated and implemented in a way that linked up the areas controlled by different groups, thereby establishing a degree of common interest and economic interdependence between them.


(56) Local authorities should evidently play a major role in the formulation and implementation of rehabilitation programmes. Such government structures also provide a vital means of linking immediate rehabilitation activities to longer-term reconstruction efforts and national development plans.

(57) In many post-conflict situations, local authorities tend to be deprived of resources and manpower and consequently have a very limited capacity. Rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes provide an ideal opportunity for that capacity to be strengthened. In practice, however, UNHCR and its partners have often given a high priority to the speedy implementation of projects, and have found it quicker and easier to ignore or by-pass the local administration.

(58) Such a scenario may to some extent be inevitable when unexpected, spontaneous and large-scale repatriation movements occur, and a rapid response is required. Even so, if UNHCR is to make a commitment to the basic principles and objectives of returnee aid and development, this issue must be addressed much more systematically in future reintegration programmes.


(59) There is also a need to deal more effectively with so-called non-recognized entities, given the important role which they have played in many recent repatriation movements and the growing number of less-developed states which lack a central government with country-wide control of their territory.

(60) It is difficult to generalize about these entities because they are so varied in their form - ranging from a de facto government denied international recognition and a seat in the UN, as in the recent case of Eritrea, to warlords and militia groups with very localized power of influence, as in the case of Afghanistan or Somalia.

(61) Non-recognized entities often have very limited resources and may be extremely difficult to deal with on a formal basis. At the same time, however, the control which exert, the popular support which they enjoy and the understanding winch they have of local conditions may make them invaluable partners in a rehabilitation programme. Moreover, experience has demonstrated that over a period of time, non-recognized entities can learn to cooperate effectively with relief and development agencies.

(62) There is, however, a need to establish some criteria by which UNHCR and its partners can assess the potential of non-recognized entities. These might include, for example, the degree to which they are genuinely representative of the beneficiary population; their commitment to international human rights standards; the transparency of their activities; their degree of organization and the effectiveness of their social and economic activities.


(63) UNHCR has a long and admirable record of working closely with NGOs as implementing agencies and operational partners. Considering the limitations of UNDP and other large development agencies, it is worth recalling some of the advantages which NGOs can bring to a reintegration programme.

(64) Many NGOs possess the experience and expertise in community-based rehabilitation and income-generating activities that UNHCR currently lacks. They often have a longstanding presence in countries and communities affected by a large-scale returnee influx, and they are therefore have a better understanding of local opportunities and constraints than UNHCR is able to develop in the course of a repatriation movement. In some situations NGOs may have access to areas and populations which areas beyond the reach of the UN system. Moreover, in returnee areas which are not controlled by the central government, NGOs can be discrete and reliable partners in a rehabilitation programme.

(65) Most significantly, perhaps, NGOs can overcome the somewhat artifical divisions of labour which characterize the UN system. Voluntary agencies have more flexible mandates. They tend to work along the whole continuum from relief to development, and are less concerned about the distinction between refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and needy members of the resident population.

(66) In its efforts to operationalize the returnee aid and development approach, a principal concern must be to identify agencies that will continue to work with returnee-populated communities once UNHCR has phased out its presence. Consciously increasing the involvement of development-oriented NGOs in reintegration and rehabilitation programmes is more likely to bridge the relief (development/development gap than attempting to draw in reluctant international agencies which are uncomfortable in that role. Furthermore, many NGOs enjoy a close relationship with their national governments and have considerable experience in attracting funds from national development agencies.


(67) If UNHCR's repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation efforts are to have a positive outcome, then they must be consistent with the wishes, priorities and initiatives of the returnees themselves and other beneficiaries. Too many discussions about designing, encouraging and facilitating repatriation axe based on an assumption that UNHCR is the key player.

(68) There may be an element of truth to this assumption in terms of the logistics of highly organized repatriation operations such as Namibia and Cambodia. Such examples, however, are the exception. More often than not, repatriation takes place at a pace and in a way determined by the refugees themselves. Similarly, returnee families and communities invariably have their own reintegration strategies, carefully designed to maximize their welfare in the post-repatriation period. Virtually by definition, refugees who repatriate themselves are not tied to the dependency syndrome.

(69) Fortunately, this characteristic of refugees has been recognized by UNHCR. As one document has observed, "once they decide to return, they are willing to invest any effort to secure their own future, and UNHCR's role becomes more one of support and guidance to spontaneous returnee actions, and less one of organization and planning on their behalf'."

(70) Unfortunately, however, relatively little effort has been made in recent repatriation and reintegration programmes to identify the returnees' own strategies, to develop an understanding of them, and to determine how they can most effectively be supported. In that way, UNHCR would encourage refugees to recognize that responsibility for their lives is passing back into their own hands and that they are no longer dependent on the aid of others. Such an achievement would make a major contribution to the process which follows repatriation, irrespective of whether it is described as reintegration, rehabilitation, reconstruction or development.


(71) At the same time as focusing greater attention on the role of indigenous actors in the rehabilitation process, UNHCR should give much more emphasis to its presence and role in the country of origin. Traditionally, countries of origin have been played a relatively minor part in formulating repatriation plans a perspective which has sometimes led to an undue emphasis on the logistics of repatriation and which has also generated inaccurate assumptions about needs and conditions in areas of return.

(72) Now that UNHCR has developed a much more systematic involvement in post-repatriation assistance programmes, this approach is no longer sustainable. Planning for repatriation must be initiated before significant movements begin and must be oriented much more strongly towards data collection and analysis in potential returnee areas. Overall coordination for a large-scale repatriation and reintegration programme should normally be provided by an experienced team of staff located in the country of origin.

(73) These arrangements should be complemented in countries of asylum by a more rigorous effort to gather information about the intentions, aspirations and reintegration strategies of the refugees themselves. Instead of waiting for repatriation to happen and responding to it in an emergency-like fashion, UNHCR must develop an approach which enables the organization to prepare for solutions.