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Opening Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting of the Humanitarian Liaison Working Group, Geneva, 11 September 1996

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Opening Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting of the Humanitarian Liaison Working Group, Geneva, 11 September 1996

11 September 1996

Let me start by thanking Ambassador Norberg of Sweden for taking the initiative to devote this meeting of the HLWG to the resolution of the refugee problem in Mozambique.

I am pleased that so many of you could come, and I should like to welcome in particular the representatives of the World Bank and UNDP. Before giving the floor to Mr Alfredo del Rio Court, formerly my Representative in Maputo and currently in Madrid, let me make a few introductory remarks. On 24 July 1996 the Government of Mozambique and my Office officially concluded the repatriation and reintegration programme of Mozambican refugees. Since the peace agreement, signed in Rome in October 1992, 1.7 million people have returned peacefully to their home country after having spent many years in exile in six countries of asylum, who generously kept their doors open to them.

Let me make specific mention in this regard of Malawi, which by late 1992 hosted over 1 million refugees, a staggering figure. Whereas the majority of the refugees travelled home spontaneously, some 380,000 people returned in an organised fashion with international assistance. Return movements started fairly soon after the peace agreement, gathered momentum in 1993 and peaked during 1994. UNHCR's reintegration strategy was community based and concentrated on ensuring food security (as most of the refugees were small scale subsistence farmers) and on four priority infrastructural sectors: roads, water, health and education.

The Office initiated and funded 1,575 quick impact projects. We worked with 45 NGOs, 10 of which were local. We spent some 148 million usd, of which 108 million usd on operations in Mozambique.The Review of UNHCR's programme, which was co-sponsored by the Governments of the United States and the Netherlands, has identified several substantive achievements. We improved the quality of life and long term prospects for life in returnee areas. We contributed to the consolidation of peace and reconciliation. We made meaningful efforts to ensure the continuity of rehabilitation programmes. And we helped to ensure inter-agency coordination.

While my Office takes pride in these and other accomplishments, there were several important factors which facilitated this immense and complex repatriation programme: the resourcefulness of the returnees, plentiful rains which, after a period of calamitous drought, resulted in good harvests in 1993, and the availability of land. But the single most crucial factor was undoubtedly the confidence in the peace agreement between FRELIMO and RENAMO, which was reinforced by the presence of 7,300 UNOMOZ peace keepers, the holding of elections in late 1994 and the absence of retribution.

In view of the extreme brutality displayed during the war, and bearing in mind the situation in other post-conflict situations, the absence of retribution is indeed one of the most striking aspects of the process of reconciliation in Mozambique. The peace agreement provided for a general amnesty, not exempting war crimes. There was therefore neither official punishment nor, generally speaking, private revenge. In the case of Mozambique, peace did apparently not require criminal justice. The fact that the Mozambican conflict was not of an ethnic nature, and that political accommodation was the outcome of a war which had no clear winner or loser, must have contributed to the courageous choices made. Let me now try to formulate some of the lessons we have learned form the Mozambican repatriation, and which derive from positive experience as well as from certain shortcomings:

1. Repatriation and reintegration should not be treated as two distinct and consecutive tasks: reintegration strategies must therefore be formulated at an early stage and integrated with the planning of repatriation movements. Our Reintegration Strategy came late (end of 1994) but still became a valuable tool for all actors, including NGOs and donors.

2. Early planning must involve the early establishment of linkages with development actors. There is a risk that the short term interest, also of donors, in quick peace dividends obscures the need for ensuring long term viability. National capacity building is crucial.

3. In terms of our own operational management, a high degree of decentralized decision making has proven important; however, we must guard against inconsistencies in approaches and imbalances in resource allocation and performance.

4. Close donor involvement and a high degree of transparency in UNHCR's efforts have been crucial in ensuring donor support.

5. And finally, I think we were right in incorporating in our reintegration strategy the intention to phase out our activities by mid-1996, and by adhering to this time table; extending it, would have taken us too far into the realm of development. We did manage to expand and contract within a planned schedule, and stick to it following efforts to ensure continuity of the projects we initiated.Mr Chairman, let there be no misunderstanding. Whereas the Mozambican repatriation is rightly viewed as one of the more successful ones, we should not loose sight of the many difficulties we faced. There were problems in the timely deployment of experienced staff. At times we had to manage conflicting pressures, even between our own offices across borders, regarding the pace of repatriation. There were deficiencies in the selection of implementing partners and their performance varied greatly in quality. More could have been done in terms of national capacity building, including through local NGOs.

There were problems with the handing over of projects. Government Ministries in Maputo sometimes felt marginalized by the international capacity, and by our decentralized working with regional authorities. More could have been done to involve returnee women in a systematic fashion. The decision to opt for UNOHAC as the official coordination mechanism, and its abrupt departure were questionable. For quite some time the international scenery was rather confusing. Demining being seriously delayed, the presence of mines continues to be of major humanitarian and developmental concern. There have been conflicting pressures from donors, some wanting us to go, others wanting us to carry on. The support of donors has been vital - and I am extremely grateful to them, but was for quite some time far from secure.The Mozambican case therefore also demonstrates that even when external circumstances are favourable, repatriation and reintegration is never an easy task. I am afraid that, when the political circumstances are difficult, such as in Bosnia and in the region of the Great Lakes, this task becomes an uphill battle.

Mr Chairman, UNHCR's programme has been concluded at a time when peace has been consolidated. As the Review notes, the most critical challenge for Mozambique is now to catch up with sustainable development. Mozambique, despite all recent progress, remains in an extremely vulnerable situation: it needs the continued support of the donor community. In conclusion, let me say how encouraged I am by the peaceful reintegration of the Mozambican refugees. The case of Mozambique demonstrates that a genuine longing for peace on all sides combined with a multilateral commitment to produce early peace dividends, can bear fruit. Peace and international assistance have led to refugee return, which in turn has helped to consolidate peace. Let me thank once again all donors, and the UN sister agencies, particularly UNDP, for their excellent cooperation.