Talking Points for Opening Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa, Geneva, 8 March 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to this Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa.
It is a pleasure to see so many people here today from governments, intergovernmental organizations, UN agencies and NGOs. I would like to thank all of you for coming - particularly those of you who have come a long way. I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to our keynote speakers: Poul Nielson, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid at the European Commission; Ambassador Sophie Kalinde, from the Mission of the African Union in Geneva (who is replacing Julia Joiner who is unfortunately unable to join us); and Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery of UNDP.
Before I turn to the subject of our Dialogue, let me remind you that today, by coincidence, is International Women's Day. This provides a perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the important role that women have to play in voluntary repatriation and reintegration programmes, and in peace-building and development programmes more generally. The success of all of these depends on women's full participation. I have seen first-hand the efforts of women to heal their communities, to ensure that a peace agreement is more than a cease-fire, and to make peace real.
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is "Gender and HIV/AIDS". I do not need to remind you of the seriousness of this pandemic for the women, men and children in Africa. We must do more to address this, because Africa's hope and future depends upon it.
UNHCR has organized this Dialogue because of the positive signals that the people of Africa are on the road to resolving some of the protracted conflicts that have led to massive refugee situations and large-scale internal displacement on the continent. The resolution of these conflicts could, over the next few years, lead to the voluntary repatriation of up to 2 million refugees from several African countries and the return of several million more internally displaced persons.
A number of repatriation operations are already underway. In Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and parts of Somalia, hundreds of thousands of refugees have gone home over the past few years. Reintegration and rehabilitation activities continue to allow the remaining refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes.
Other operations are at different stages of the planning phase, depending on political developments and the status of the peace process in each case. In Liberia, where the deployment of peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel throughout the country is underway and where the disarmament and demobilization process is about to start, some spontaneous returns of refugees have already started from Sierra Leone. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, planning is underway for the voluntary repatriation of refugees from neighbouring countries to parts of the country where peace and stability have reached sustainable levels. In Sudan and Burundi, inter-agency needs assessments and consultations with the relevant authorities are underway while the political process runs its course. And in the case of Burundi, UNHCR has already facilitated the return of several thousands of refugees over the past few months.
Given the enormous potential in Africa for resolving long-standing conflicts, consolidating peace and putting an end to protracted refugee and IDP situations, I believe now is the time for the international community to unite in lending its full support to this process. Many challenges lie ahead: peace processes must be strongly supported at all levels; efforts must be made to ensure the effectiveness of programmes aimed at the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants, including youths; comprehensive strategies should be developed to support peace-building and reconciliation efforts from the grassroots level right up to the highest political level; humanitarian agencies must be given adequate resources to help refugees and IDPs return home in safety and dignity; and the social and economic aspects of post-conflict reconstruction must be addressed in a timely and coordinated way (e.g. programmes to enhance self-reliance, to improve education, health and other basic services, to counter discrimination and to promote gender equality).
We have a common responsibility to ensure that the seeds of peace and development which have been sown in Africa are given the opportunity to grow. We each have our own complementary role to play. Primary responsibility rests with the Governments of the affected countries to ensure that the political, security, legal, social and economic conditions continue to develop in the right direction. The African Union and other sub-regional organizations have a key political and security-related role to play, as does the United Nations. Humanitarian agencies can contribute to return and reintegration processes, and local civil society has a crucial role particularly at the community level. Development actors - including UNDP, the World Bank and other financial institutions - and bilateral donors have a vital role to play in assisting with the economic recovery of these countries. We need to seize the opportunities now and to work together through strong partnerships.
Allow me to use this opportunity to draw your attention to links with Convention Plus. Convention Plus, also in Africa, is about multilateral efforts aimed at increasing burden-sharing and durable solutions. Durable solutions will mean achieving more development and reducing the risk of conflicts recurring. Burden-sharing is also about multilateral support to address protection and assistance gaps. The European Commission and a number of EU member-states already support a series of projects in this regard. There will be a meeting of the Convention Plus Forum this Friday where this can be discussed in more detail.
The practical follow-up of this dialogue on voluntary repatriation as well as Convention Plus in Africa might require that we set up a high-level, informal working group, made up of a number of African States, other interested States, UN agencies, the African Union and NGOs to follow up the recommendations of this Dialogue. This working group could help support countries in Africa with the management of the repatriation and reintegration process, with a particular focus on the rehabilitation and reconstruction aspects of this.
I look forward to hearing your views in the course of this Dialogue.