SPC National Consultations on Strengthening Refugee Protection Capacity and Support to Host Communities in Tanzania | 5-6 April 2005
In 1983, the Nansen Medal was awarded to Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, then President of Tanzania in recognition of the support he and the Government and people of Tanzania had provided to refugees over the preceding twenty years. At that time nearly 200,000 refugees were residing in Tanzania.
It was not just the fact of allowing asylum that attracted this recognition. It was also the conditions on which people were received and allowed to stay. As the then High Commissioner, Poul Hartling, observed, exceptional efforts were being made by the Tanzanian authorities, working in collaboration with their UN and NGO partners, to ensure that refugees were genuinely well protected and were assisted in their efforts to become self reliant. What was remarkable at the time, and noteworthy even today, was the willingness of the Government to allow substantial investment in refugee hosting areas, so as to develop the infrastructure, improve access to social services and enhance economic activity for refugees, together with local communities. The investment paid off in economic, social and human terms.
It was thus both for this vision and for Tanzania's generosity that the Nansen Medal was awarded to the Government, which had "constantly had the well-being of refugees at heart and [had] fully lived up to the letter and spirit of international refugee law".
Some two decades on, Tanzania remains a host country of considerable numbers. Indeed, in the past twenty years Tanzania has experienced some of the largest refugee flows recorded, peaking at close to a million refugees in the mid 1990s as a result of the brutal upheavals in the Great Lakes region. Today the number of refugees is estimated at close to 600,000, the largest number of refugees hosted by a single country on the African continent.
This is by no means an easy responsibility. The numbers alone do not reflect the human and social dimensions of this phenomenon. Cold statistics mask a human tragedy of a magnitude that most of us have not had, and hopefully will not have, to face in our lives. The toll on the individual is not limited to the grave violations that prompt that person to flee his or her home, but extends into the years of uncertainty, insecurity and idleness that face so many refugees, with no durable solutions in sight. For the host state, Tanzania, there are particular challenges involved, in striving to maintain international standards and offer decent conditions of stay, while at the same time providing appropriately for the social, economic and security needs of its own people.
Today's refugee situations challenge the international community as never before to improve the global response to refugee problems, on the basis of enhanced multilateral cooperation and burden sharing. The Agenda for Protection, adopted by UNHCR's Executive Committee including Tanzania and welcomed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002, is an international programme of action to achieve precisely this goal. It is based on the understanding that meeting responsibilities to refugees is firstly an unconditional state obligation, albeit secondly one where capacity has to be strengthened through international solidarity and committed cooperation.
The Agenda takes as a starting point that, to achieve the necessary cooperation on refugee matters, there must be closer dialogue and multilateral "ownership" of refugee problems, as well as of their resolution. It recognizes, too, that as protection improves with strengthened national capacity, investment in capacity building has to be made a more integral part of regular activities responding to new, as well as protracted, situations. In this connection it notes the importance of incorporating refugee issues within national and regional development agendas, in an effort to reduce the gap between humanitarian assistance and development efforts. This needs also, however, to make a positive contribution to the longer-term welfare of host communities and must lead to earlier and more sustainable solutions.
As its overriding frame, the Agenda also forcefully requires all such proposed initiatives to be placed within resolute support for and strengthened implementation of refugee protection principles, notably the principle of non refoulement, as set out in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and important regional instruments, including the 1969 OAU Convention relating to the situation of Refugees in Africa.
This basic philosophy of the Agenda for Protection, endorsed by all Governments represented here, is in fact the reason why we are here today. This National Consultation should allow, in the first place, an in-depth review of the problems confronting the realization of effective protection for refugees in Tanzania and the challenges facing Tanzania in dealing with them. It is motivated by recognition of the need for more dialogue, better partnerships and support to the authorities, going beyond expressions of sympathy and the offer of some financial support. The aim is to collectively arrive at a comprehensive strategy for addressing these challenges.
This effort is part of a larger initiative, the Strengthening Protection Capacity Project, funded generously by the European Union and three co-funding states: Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The SPC project, with this consultation a central part, is directed not only at analyzing protection gaps and the needs, but also at devising ways to bridge them. It is predicated on the understanding, informed by long-standing traditions in place in this country for receiving and protecting refugees, that amelioration of the security and welfare of refugees goes hand in hand with improvements in the situation of local host communities, and that solutions have a greater chance of success if they are invested in early, during the preparatory asylum phase.
You have before you a report prepared by Professor Rutinwa, which comprehensively points to where there are gaps in protection capacity, what the consequences have been for the refugees, where the resources of the Government of Tanzania have been strained in providing protection to refugee and the costs this has entailed. The needs highlighted in the report, and those raised this morning, provide a basis for our work tomorrow in collectively identifying concrete measures to meet the protection challenges in Tanzania today and providing support to host communities.
The emphasis is on collective action. All participants variously bring to this consultation the expertise necessary in this regard. Collaboration can only benefit from the experience and wisdom of the Government of Tanzania, and in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs, and of the Regional and District Commissioners. It must depend on the support of donors - and not simply because they provide much of the financial support needed to make a difference, but also because their humanitarian/development expertise is invaluable in planning effective strategies that benefit refugee and host communities.
We need here as well our UN and NGO and civil society partners, who through years of experience in the field have gained the insight into the kinds of interventions which can bring most sustainable improvements. Significantly, too, we need the engagement of refugees, who know best what their needs and priorities are, and how they can serve as agents of change and development.
In this exercise we are able to draw on the capacity building measures that are part of the Agenda for Protection, many of which have been further developed in the context of UNHCR's Convention Plus initiative. For the past two years the Convention Plus initiative has brought together UNHCR, States and NGOs to develop frameworks of understandings designed to expand opportunities for durable solutions and ensure a better sharing of responsibilities for admitting and protecting refugees. This work has focused specifically on the strategic use of resettlement as a tool of protection, a durable solution and a tangible form of burden-sharing; the more effective targeting of development assistance to support durable solutions for refugees; and the clarification of the responsibilities of States in the event of irregular secondary movements of refugees and asylum-seekers. The ideas and understandings that have been generated in these exercises are intended to be applied to specific situations and are of direct relevance to our work in this Consultation.
So our exercise in Tanzania is a timely one. And I look forward to seeing how the ideas central to the Agenda for Protection and the Convention Plus initiative can now be put to work in arriving at a comprehensive strategy in Tanzania. This will involve engagement on a number of fronts and possible initiatives we could agree on may include further investment by UNHCR, government and NGO partners in improving national legislation and polices concerning all aspects of refugee protection and developing the capacity of relevant national authorities to effectively implement them. They may include measures to strengthen the legal and institutional structures for the reception and care of refugees, as well as the capacity to register and document asylum seekers. Specific activities in this regard could include technical and legal support, training programmes, twinning or secondment arrangements as well as material and financial assistance.
The report before you notes the importance of civil society partners in protection refugees, and we should consider measures to strengthen such partnerships and to help empower refugee communities to meet their own protection needs. UNHCR, governments and NGO partners could, for example, agree on measures to support relevant authorities in the areas of health, housing, education, gainful employment, and social security that benefit refugees and local communities. This could include relief substitution strategies tapping, in particular, the resourcefulness and potential of refugee women, in an effort to avoid the serious protection problems which can arise from overdependence and idleness.
Expanding opportunities for durable solutions should as well be central to our deliberations. It would be important, for example, to consider ways that States, UNHCR and development partners can support voluntary return in safety and dignity and sustainable reintegration of refugees in post-conflict situations. This may involve improved cross-border information sharing, enhanced UNHCR field presence, and the early involvement of development partners in support to countries of origin to ensure the legal, physical and material security of refugees. At the same time we could consider how to redouble efforts to expand the strategic use of resettlement, preferably as part of a comprehensive arrangement and particularly through the application of the Convention Plus Multilateral Framework of Understandings on Resettlement; the increase of resettlement quotas and more flexible resettlement criteria.
Our deliberations will also involve examining ways to assess where and how to provide for the rehabilitation of refugee-impacted areas and to ensure that such rehabilitation efforts are in the plans and activities of development actors.
Development assistance for refugees and host communities is an important tool in this regard as well as in reaching many of the other objectives identified, and governments and UNHCR could discuss with financial institutions to what extent the economic, social and environmental costs of hosting large numbers of refugees can be factored into the justification for and conditions of financial lending schemes.
I mention these as examples of some of the many means at our disposable to provide support to Tanzania in protecting refugees, expand opportunities for durable solutions and improve the situation of local communities that have generously hosted refugees for so long. These are ambitious goals but past experience in Tanzania has demonstrated that they are attainable through partnership, to which, by your presence here, you have demonstrated your commitment. Our success will not only provide a tangible benefit here in Tanzania but will help to guide similar processes presently underway in other parts of Africa and the world.