Lubbers, Ogata call for new approach to refugee situation in Africa
TOKYO, June 19 (UNHCR) - Hundreds of delegates today got a glimpse into the past, present and future of Africa's refugees when the UN refugee agency's current and previous chiefs opened an international symposium on the issue in Tokyo.
On Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers and his predecessor Sadako Ogata addressed a crowd of over 350 delegates at the opening of the International Symposium on Refugees in Africa. Among the crowd were Japanese and African government officials, as well as representatives from regional bodies and civil society.
Both speakers stressed the importance of a multilateral, multidimensional approach at the meeting, designed to raise awareness about the plight and solutions for refugees in Africa. As at the beginning of this year, UNHCR was caring for nearly 4.6 million refugees on the troubled continent, with many other internally displaced persons (IDPs) of concern to the agency.
"You will agree that with all that is happening in the world today, Africa risks to be forgotten," said High Commissioner Lubbers. "Let us work together to maximise this opportunity to focus on Africa and keep it on the map."
The refugee situation in Africa remains mixed, he said, juxtaposing the progress of repatriation to Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone against protracted crises like Somalia, Sudan and Burundi.
To address such long-standing problems, Lubbers called for a phased approach - the 4Rs of Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction - and multilateral partnerships to integrate relief and development aid from actors like the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UNHCR and host governments.
"Better targeting of development assistance can facilitate self-reliance on the way to durable solutions," said the High Commissioner, pointing to encouraging signs from the European Development Assistance and governments like Japan that are committed to finding durable solutions for refugees in Africa.
He also stressed the need for burden-sharing to alleviate the strain on host governments, and called on the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to help utilise the productive capacity of refugees so that they can be self-reliant and help develop their host communities as well.
Mrs Ogata, who co-chairs the Commission on Human Security, agreed: "Too often, refugees are seen solely as a humanitarian problem. Attention is focused on ensuring protection, providing relief assistance, and identifying solutions through voluntary repatriation, integration or resettlement."
She added, "If human security is our goal, then we must analyse refugee questions in a broader context - by linking the humanitarian dimension of forced human displacement with development, security, human rights and governance related issues."
In her view, strategies for refugees must be multidimensional and integrated, involving protection during armed conflict and empowerment through education (especially for girls), skills training and community development. Should peace return to their country, she added, "attention should be given to how displaced people can participate in rebuilding their country and their interests represented."
After the opening address, High Commissioner Lubbers led a session on "Protracted Refugee Situations in Africa: Self-reliance Strategies Pending Durable Solutions". Mrs Ogata followed with a session on "Return, Reconstruction and Peace-Building: The Contribution of Refugees", while the African Union's Ambassador Sam Ibok chaired the third session on "The Role of Regional, Sub-regional Organisations and Civil Society in Early Warning, Emergency Response, Conflict Prevention and Peace-building".
The symposium will end on Friday, World Refugee Day, with closing statements by Lubbers and the Parliamentary Secretary of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shinako Tsuchiya.