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"Displacement to development: bridging the gap" - Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Bretton Woods Institutions, Washington D.C., 8 June 1994

Speeches and statements

"Displacement to development: bridging the gap" - Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Bretton Woods Institutions, Washington D.C., 8 June 1994

8 June 1994

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and a privilege for me to address you today.

This year the Bretton Woods institutions are celebrating their 50th Anniversary. The men gathered in New Hampshire in 1944 put before you a number of challenging tasks. In addition to those tasks that are still yours today, you will recall that thought was also given to including in your mandate the financing of international relief efforts in areas devastated by war and natural disasters. But, as you know, that idea was not retained.

The world then believed that underdevelopment in the newly independent and decolonised countries would be a temporary and primarily material task.

Over the last five decades, however, that initial perception proved to be over optimistic, as we witnessed not only the continued plague of underdevelopment in many countries but its actual worsening in many cases. The gap between the rich and the poor widened, both among and within States.

Looking back, let me recall that when the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees was appointed in 1951 to protect, assist and find solutions for refugees, his task was also considered to be a temporary one, dealing with the one million refugees remaining from the Second World War. Indeed, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees limited the definition of a refugee to one who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution, was unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of his country of nationality as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951.

Today, like yours, our reality is much harsher and the challenge confronting us also many times more complex. Refugees have continued to pour forth. By 1970, wars of decolonisation had forced 2.5 million people into flight. Proxy wars between the super powers caused the number of refugees to rise to over 11 million by the early 1980s. New international and regional legal instruments were adopted to reflect the growing dimensions of the problem. The mandate of the High Commissioner for Refugees was extended both in time and scope, to include not only victims of persecution but also persons forced to flee their homes as a result of war and violence.

Today, UNHCR is protecting and assisting more than 20 million refugees and displaced persons in more than 110 countries around the globe - from Angola to Afghanistan, Bosnia to Burundi, from Guatemala to Georgia. The fact that this population includes about 5 million internally displaced persons highlights once again the evolution of our mandate and the expansion of our activities.

In countries in transition, we are attempting to contain refugee flows through institution and capacity building. Although our capacity to prevent refugee problems is limited, through our presence in most parts of the world we can be alert to potential danger signals that might provoke conflicts and displacement. Through legal advice, training and capacity-building we can both educate and equip authorities to deal with crises.

In conflict-embroiled areas, we are sending emergency teams to provide life-saving protection and assistance to the civilian victims. In the past few years, we have responded to emergencies in Kenya when 400,000 Somali refugees flowed into the country; in Bangladesh when a quarter million Myanmar refugees sought asylum there; in Tajikistan when half a million people were displaced by civil strife; in Armenia and Azerbaijan when conflict uprooted several hundred thousand persons. Most recently UNHCR launched emergency response operations in Burundi and Rwanda to address displacement from ethnic violence. In former Yugoslavia, UNHCR provides life-saving assistance to over 4.2 million people including 2.7 million displaced persons inside Bosnia-Herzegovina or trapped in besieged cities.

On a more optimistic note, in countries seeking peace after long years of war, we are helping to reintegrate millions of returning refugees and returnees. One of our most successful operations was the repatriation of 370,000 Cambodians, who returned from Thailand to Cambodia, in time to participate in the elections last year. 2.5 million of the 6 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan have returned home with great courage, despite the continuing civil strife and economic hardship. In the largest repatriation operation in Africa's history, 700,000 refugees have returned to Mozambique from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. I expect close to 75 per cent of the 1.5 million Mozambican refugees in the neighbouring countries to be back in time for elections in October this year. It is also a great source of satisfaction to me that UNHCR helped fifteen thousand South African political exiles to return to their country, and has contributed to the preparations for their reintegration.

And we must be ready now for the return of millions, when conditions permit, to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Burundi, Georgia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Togo and many other countries.

As we implement our strategy of prevention, preparedness and solutions, we are acutely aware that our efforts alone are not enough. Both the causes and consequences of displacement today stretch far beyond the mandate and capacity of my Office.

The causes of displacement are manifold and complex. The collapse of old structures are resulting in disintegration and marginalisation on both the international and national levels. Flagging economic development and high population growth underlying political instability, violations of human rights, armed conflicts and environmental damage all contribute to refugee flows and hinder potential solutions.

Many developing countries and countries in transition are undergoing processes which threaten political stability and conflict. You know better than I the weaknesses of government structures in these countries, and their inability and inexperience to promote the active participation of their population in civil society.

The "crisis in governance" has been compounded by population growth, environmental degradation, declining resources and failing economies. As Governments' ability to provide for services and infrastructure further weaken, their authority and influence come to be questioned. National authority is compromised, and national boundaries are threatened, not so much by external forces as by internal pressures. The intractable conflicts in Angola and Afghanistan are just two examples of this phenomenon.

In other areas, diminishing land and water resources are tinderboxes for ethnic conflict. The recent strife in Burundi and Rwanda is a frightening example. Decades of conflict among the Hutus, and between the Hutus, a sedentary population, and the Tutsis, a transhumant, nomadic population, has exploded into violence once again, forcing 600,000 people to flee Burundi's coup d'état in December and another 350,000 to flee the massacres in Rwanda since April this year. In total, UNHCR is responsible for some 800,000 refugees as a result of the crises in Burundi and Rwanda.

The proliferation of internal conflicts is a matter of great concern to me because of their direct relationship with displacement. Caused by the disintegration of states, ethnic conflicts, poverty, and political weakness, internal conflicts have combined over the past two years to force 10,000 persons every day to flee their homes and either cross borders or become displaced inside their own country, their plight uncertain.

While 10,000 people are being uprooted every day, it is important to note that 5000 others are returning home. Return is a hopeful phenomenon. Yet, I am extremely concerned because of the conditions of the war torn countries to which the refugees are going back. In almost every repatriation operation, UNHCR's challenge is to ensure the minimum conditions of safety and economic and social well-being for those who are returning. How can countries, scarred by the effects of war, insecurity, land mines and poverty, burdened with the problem of demobilized soldiers and displaced civilians, be realistically expected to reabsorb those who return, when they are hardly able to sustain those who remained? The Horn of Africa is but one example of many. Are we not simply creating new and more tragic emergencies? and at what cost to the peace process in these countries?

As conflicts are resolved, countries must be rebuilt, so that they can begin to support once again their own population, including the returning refugees and displaced persons. 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. As our experience in central America has so clearly shown, returning refugees form an important component of the confidence building exercise essential for reconciliation. But in order to be effective, they must be made part of the national rehabilitation and reconstruction effort. The link between the reintegration of refugees and national post-conflict reconstruction is thus of paramount importance.

It is therefore essential that programmes for returnees are incorporated into the medium- and long-term rehabilitation plans. Medium- and long-term planning, however, cannot lose sight of the fact that returnees and their communities have immediate needs. 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's reintegration efforts are primarily founded on micro-projects, or, what we call QIPs - quick-impact projects. These can be a well, a warehouse, a school building, a secondary road to a market or some such limited investment which has an immediate, positive effect on local communities. Integrated into medium and long term planning, QIPs can help bridge the gap between emergencies and development. If QIPs remain unlinked and isolated from development efforts, their sustainability cannot be assured.

In this connection, I cannot emphasize enough the critical role that must be played by development institutions and NGOs to ensure the so-called continuum - that is, the link between emergency relief, on the one hand, and rehabilitation and reconstruction on the other.

UNHCR has a pivotal role in ensuring such an integrated approach. However, in situations which call for conflict resolution and reconstruction, action by humanitarian organizations alone seems far from adequate. The problems are not only humanitarian, but also structural and developmental. They cannot be answered through humanitarian assistance and protection alone.

The times of fragmented approaches to any one situation are over - we must accept the impact of interdependent issues and strive to find solutions in a global and unitary manner. Current realities call for more active involvement of the entire international community. The Bretton Woods institutions have not only a role to play, but given your comparative analytical and financial capacities, a leading role. You face the task of giving concrete meaning to the goal of sustainable development and reconstruction.

The linkages between conflict and underdevelopment are strong and indisputable. But the relationship between under-development and displacement has not been given the attention it deserves. Maybe the time has come, if I may suggest, for the World Bank to focus one of its reports on the subject of Migration, Displacement and Development, just as it did on Health and Development in 1992.

Refugees are a symptom of the world's ills. It will be counterproductive to focus solely on treating the symptoms: we must continue to examine and treat the root causes that are responsible for increasing numbers of people having to leave their homes.

The World Bank and the IMF can do a great deal in helping to prevent refugee flows by addressing some of the root causes. For instance, through the creation of a developmental framework which encourages and facilitates better governance, through institutional and local capacity-building, economic development through capital inflows, public expenditure programmes, job-creation schemes, extension of social services, and concerted efforts to address trade and other macro-economic imbalances.

In this respect, I applaud the steps you have already taken to address social concerns. The Bank's work on poverty reduction and overall human development approach may contribute greatly to the prevention of many conflict situations just as it will contribute to the consolidation of peace, return of refugees and their rehabilitation.

Indeed, your continued work at both the micro and macroeconomic levels is absolutely critical, both in seeking to prevent conflict situations, and also in helping to formulate and consolidate solutions. Development strategies worked out by the international community and international financial institutions must take account of the critical elements that facilitate repatriation and reintegration of refugees and which will provide long-term and durable solutions.

Recognising the role of underdevelopment in the occurrence of emergencies and resolution of refugee problems, UNHCR intends to play a more proactive role in the mapping out of development strategies. In this connection, we will seek to participate more actively in the Consultative Group meetings of the World Bank. We also look forward to exploring new approaches in the financing of projects, for instance through co-financing mechanisms used by the World Bank.

The possibilities of cooperation are several, but let me mention one area in which we share a common interest. This is capacity-building of local institutions. For UNHCR, this means building up the organisational and response capacities of NGOs, particularly the local ones. The flexibility and ability of NGOs to mobilize quickly, their ability to reach areas which are sometimes inaccessible to international organisations, and their roots in the community make them particularly important partners, both in terms of emergency response and in reintegration and resettlement activities. I have just come from Oslo, where UNHCR is meeting in a global conference with some 200 NGO partners from around the world to consider and adopt a Declaration and a Programme of Action to enhance our existing collaboration and make our operations on the ground more effective. I am deeply committed to assisting NGOs, particularly the local NGOs, to build up their organisational capacity and ability to support their communities.

Our complementary skills and capacities, UNHCR's in emergencies and international protection, the Bretton Woods institutions in development and reconstruction, set out a promising framework for future collaboration. My Office may have greater operational capacity in dealing with emergencies in the field. Your comparative advantage lies in resource mobilisation, technical expertise and project management.

I am here today to put before you a new challenge: the challenge of adding the issue of displacement on your agenda. In Mozambique there are 1.5 million people who are returning home after years in exile or displacement, people who would like to participate in re-building their country, people who have an important contribution to make to development. In Afghanistan, 2.5 million refugees have returned, and another 3.5 million refugees are still waiting in Pakistan and Iran. In Eritrea, Ethiopia, maybe soon Georgia, hundreds of thousands of people will be returning to their homes, eager to rebuild their lives and their country. Still others, in numerous other countries, seek a release from the horrendous cycles of wars and disasters that plague their regions. In the former Soviet Union, the risks of large-scale displacement are enormous. The way these movements of people are managed will directly affect issues of stability, security and economic progress in that part of the world.

Half a century has passed since the birth of the Bretton Woods institutions. Anniversaries are not only times to remember the achievements of the past, but also occasions to look at the challenges of the future. When the Bretton Woods institutions were born fifty years ago, they faced a world devastated by war. Fifty years later, the world is confronted again with a similar challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction, as many war torn countries make valiant, sometimes faltering, efforts towards peace and reconciliation. It is necessary, indeed imperative, to help these countries and communities to rebuild themselves and resume responsibility for their citizens.

The challenge of reconstruction, I should stress, is not only one of infrastructural and environmental projects, but include also such efforts as strengthening democratic institutions, and reintegrating returning refugees, displaced persons and demobilized soldiers. Building world peace is a responsibility which is not limited to political and humanitarian organisations, like the UN and UNHCR, but includes, most critically, the Bretton Woods institutions.

The tasks before us are daunting. But they are not impossible. To link humanitarian concerns with development in the promotion of peace, stability, economic growth and social well-being is a tremendous responsibility. But at the end of the day, we can make a big difference by striving together. My Office and I look forward to working with you.