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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Ministerial Conference on Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Cambodia, Tokyo, 22 June 1992

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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Ministerial Conference on Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Cambodia, Tokyo, 22 June 1992

22 June 1992

Mr. Chairman, Co-Chairman, His Royal Highness Prince Sihanouk, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address you today at this important Ministerial Conference on Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Cambodia.

This conference symbolises the new opportunities for international cooperation which the end of the Cold war has presented us. It reflects the new prospects for peace around the world as long-drawn out conflicts are finally being brought to an end. A rejuvenated United Nations is moving courageously to promote political reconciliation in many diverse situations, spreading from Cambodia to El Salvador. For UNHCR, one of the most important "peace dividends" is the possibility finally to solve many refugee problems, as hundreds of thousands, even millions, of refugees begin their journey homewards. I see the return and successful reintegration of refugees as an important aspect of political reconciliation. Returning refugees can help to heal the wounds of a divided society and promote stability, but in order to do so they must be made part of the national rehabilitation and reconstruction effort. The link between the reintegration of refugees and national reconstruction is thus of paramount importance.

This is where the significance of this Conference on Cambodia lies for refugees and for UNHCR. In Cambodia the United Nations has launched one of its most ambitious plans yet to build peace - a multidimensional and complex operation which extends from peacekeeping and demobilisation to civil administration, maintenance of law and order, observance of human rights, repatriation of refugees, holding of free elections, with the ultimate objective of building a firm base for the creation of a new democratic Cambodia. As we all know, the challenges are tremendous, not least the holding together of the fragile political situation. I see the repatriation and reintegration of refugees as an integral part of that challenge.

We are at an important juncture in the repatriation of refugees. To date more than 33,000 refugees have gone back to Cambodia since the operation began on 30 March this year. My Office will continue to extend the movements to different areas in a neutral and balanced manner in accordance with the wishes of the refugees. We expect to help repatriate about 25,000 persons each month to Cambodia. Taking into account the sizeable number of refugees who will return spontaneously - as they invariably do in every repatriation operation - we hope that the 370,000 or so refugees from the border camps in Thailand will be back in their homeland within a time frame allowing them to participate in the free elections in Cambodia in April or May 1993.

The majority of those who have gone back have settled in rural areas where they were allotted agricultural land. However, in order to compensate for the present lack of land, a diversified range of reintegration options has been further introduced, without unduly encouraging returnees to flock to urban areas.

The repatriation of several hundred thousand persons, often to areas that have been devastated by war and contain large numbers of internally displaced persons, is not only a humanitarian issue but poses a specific and urgent development challenge. If repatriation is to constitute a truly durable solution, it must be ensured that those going home actually put down roots in their communities and can begin life anew. It is therefore an important responsibility of the development agencies to see that returnees are incorporated into the medium and long-term rehabilitation plans of Cambodia. Medium - and long-term planning, however, cannot lose sight of the fact that returnees and their communities have immediate needs which cannot await progress on "development" issues. I thus wish to highlight the important relationship between initial reintegration assistance for returning refugees, which my Office is providing, and rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance which is needed in the longer term. UNHCR has a pivotal role to play to ensure an integrated approach that will link the two goals.

The objective of UNHCR's reintegration assistance is to directly support returnees upon arrival. However, experience gained from similar repatriation operations, particularly in Central America, shows that special projects are needed to bridge the short term reintegration assistance provided by UNHCR to returnees and the longer term development assistance provided by other agencies to the areas where returnees settle. UNHCR has termed such projects as Quick Impact Projects or QIPs. The concept of QIPs is becoming an important element of UNHCR's policy on repatriation and returnee aid in many parts of the world.

In the case of Cambodia the projects are in general small, of a developmental nature benefitting returnees and the communities to which they go and are implementable within the shortest possible period of time. Such projects address basic assistance needs mainly in the field of water resources development, infrastructure and health. Non-governmental organisations which have a long association with the country are already playing a significant role in the implementation of these projects.

One of the major factors against which the success of the QIPs has to be measured is the extent to which they fit into the developmental framework. In fact, as the first milestone on the road to development, they are crucial in ensuring a smooth start of that process and can greatly facilitate and strengthen the future economic progress of the area. Therefore close coordination between UNDP and UNHCR, right from the earliest planning stages, is of extreme importance.

In the case of Cambodia, a joint UNHCR/UNDP mission earlier this year identified 72 projects with an estimated budget of US$ 56 million. I am pleased to inform you that UNHCR has made an initial allocation of US$ 5.8 million for the implementation of Quick Impact Projects. A UNHCR/UNDP Joint Technical Management Unit was established just three weeks ago. Nevertheless, 10 projects, to the value of about US$ 1 million, have already been approved and their implementation has started.

In initiating these bridging projects, it is important that the longer term projects which will follow are urgently planned and funded so as to avoid any gap in the developmental process after UNHCR phases out. Let me emphasise that the success of my organisation is measured by our ability to help refugees go back home and become reintegrated, so that they no longer need us, and we can leave. In this respect, I am confident that UNDP will shortly be able to set up the Provincial Support units, so that they can further enhance the planning of QIPs within the overall regional development framework.

In emphasising the importance of the proper reintegration of returnees, and in particular during the transitional period leading to rehabilitation, I would like to pay a tribute to UNHCR's implementing partners, especially the non-governmental organisations who make these projects possible. I hope that the development agencies will be able to benefit from the wealth of experience and expertise gained by the NGOs in this process.

Before concluding I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the donor community and especially the host government of today's conference, Japan, for the early pledges received after the launching of the consolidated appeal in March 1992. To date my office has received over US$ 76 million in pledges out of the US$ 84 million required. The successful start of the repatriation operation would not have been possible without the cooperation of all parties in the Supreme National Council, for which I thank them, and appeal to them to continue to facilitate the task of my Office, under the wise and committed leadership of His Royal Highness Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, please allow me to conclude by saying that my Office welcomes the establishment of the International Committee on Reconstruction of Cambodia. UNHCR is fully aware that how we manage the repatriation and reintegration of refugees will be crucial to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia. We stand ready to play our part in this important endeavour. Thank you.