AFRICA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers appeals to international community to support the repatriation of millions of African refugees

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Rome (Fides Service)- An appeal to the international community to guarantee the solidarity and support necessary to break the cycle of violence, poverty and desperation afflicting Africa was made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who yesterday 8 March, opened a Geneva Conference on the Repatriation and Reintegration of Refugees in Africa. In his opening speech Lubbers said he was optimistic that initiatives of peace and efforts for a solution to conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda e Democratic Congo would soon lead to one of the largest flows of registered repatriation in Africa in recent decades. “If these conflicts are stopped in the next few years as many as two million refugees and several million displaced persons could voluntarily return to their places of origin” the High Commission said.
Present for the meeting entitled “Dialogue on voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Africa” and promoted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR, delegates from about 60 governments including ministers from more than a dozen African countries as well as officials responsible for humanitarian and development matters. With ambassadors from the main donor countries they will work with the African government delegations to outline plans for voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of refugees and for reconstruction. Mr Lubbers also urged donor countries to work with the African states to help them support peace initiatives which would appear to be able to end some of the conflicts which have afflicted the continent for so long. “We have a common responsibility to guarantee the premises of peace and development will bear fruit ” Lubbers declared.
“Africa has a great potential to solve the long wars, to consolidate peace processes and put an end to protracted situations of refugees and displaced persons. I think the time has come for the international community to unite its efforts to guarantee full support for this process”. UNHCR considers close collaboration between African states and humanitarian and development agencies of crucial importance to ensure the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes without problems and according to criteria of sustainability.
UNHCR - which has frequently voiced concern for scarce attention from the international community to the period which follows the end of a war when refugees return to their devastated countries - says that prolonged support would enable the refugees to return to their homes and to stay” says a statement sent to Fides. “Humanitarian agencies and governments must help to stop aid dependence with specific development programmes to help the communities absorb without trauma the return of refugees”.
In the decade before to 2001, more than 8 million refugees returned to their home countries in Africa, half of them in Rwanda and Mozambique. In recent years to flow of return has lessened but the more than 800,000 refugees who recently returned to Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda and Eritrea are an important sign of a will to return home, despite enormous difficulties. The High Commissioner also told the states that peace processes must be sustained at all levels, including that of offering new opportunities to disarmed d soldiers, programmes to eliminate aid dependence and to improve education, healthcare and other basic services. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 9/3/2004, righe 49, parole 628)