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RMS-PAPER: EXPLORING LINKS (1/2)
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Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 06:46:32 +1030
/* posted Sun 21 Jan 6:00am 1995 by DRUNOO@xxxxxxxxxxxx in
/* ------------------" Exploring the Links "-------------------- */
A presentation from:
PROCEEDINGS OF THE CONFERENCE ON REFUGEE PROTECTION
"OLD PROBLEMS, NEW DIRECTIONS"
University of Sydney * 18 February 1994.
Convened by the Australian Council of Churches Refugee and Migrant Services
9.1 EXPLORING THE LINKS BETWEEN REFUGEE PROTECTION,
EMERGENCY RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT
Mr Pierre-Michel Fontaine
Regional Representative for Australia, New Zeland and South Pacific, UNHCR
(* The contents of this paper are the responsibility of the author alone.
They do not necessarily reflect the views of either the United Nations in
general or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in
1. It is widely recognised that there is a close link between economic
under-development and displacement, from the latter's root causes,
through its effects, to the solutions it calls for. The most telling
link is that the largest refugee-producing countries as well as some of
the largest refugee-receiving ones are in general third world developing
2. The areas of the world which are the poorest are often also those which
suffer from political instability, violence and conflict. Political
conflict, civil strife and human rights violations may be the obvious
reasons why refugees flee but clearly under-development and poverty
contribute to such conflicts or are aggravated by them. Some examples
are Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan and Myanmar. Development and
assistance policies are therefore indispensable in addressing the
underlying causes of refugee as well as migratory movements.
3. Strictly speaking, UNHCR's mandate is to provide international
protection to refugees, i.e. persons who do not enjoy the national
protection of their country of origin, and to seek permanent solutions
to the problems of refugees by reintegrating them into national
communities. It has often been pointed out that UNHCR is not a
development agency and UNHCR has in the past been cautined by
governments against becoming involved in development. However, economic,
social and political development are so intimately linked to the refugee
problem that UNHCR and the international community cannot afford to look
at the matter in a narrow perspective. Today governments have generally
accepted that UNHCR retains a measure of responsibility for the
reintegration of regurnees and that UNHCR also has a role to play in the
prevention of the causes of refugee outflows.
4. Given the mounting scale of the global refugee problem, UNHCR has had to
seek new and innovative protection strategies. Its attention therefore
focuses on each stage of a refugee situation, from preventive action
through relief and protection in the country of asylum to reintegration
into a national community, including whenever possible that of the
country of origin.
5. The different stages of a refugee crisis are closely linked to
development and interrelated in a circle where lack of social, political
and economic development leads to refugee outflows, which bleed the
country of origin and strain the local recources of developing countries
of asylum. This may create further obstacles to the development of the
country of origin and may affect development and social peace in the
country of asylum. On the other hand, in assisted voluntary repatriation
programmes, refugees return home, brings tools and implements, cash
grants, know-how and other elements of reintegration assistance. It
remains for empirical research to deermine what effect if any this has
on the development of the country of origin and the prevention of
further outflows. In an ideal situation, the solution turns into
6. Today there is much interest in such a solution-oriented refugee policy
which fosters a link between refugee aid and development on the one hand
and the promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural
rights of refugees and returnees on the other. This is best undertaken
in a multilateral framework where UNHCR alongside other agencies and
humanitarian organisations will play an active role.
7. Let us now take a closer look at links between protection and
development in the three stages of action vis-a-vis a refugee situation:
prevention, protection/asylum and solution.
Prevention and Development
8. Once we have acknowledged the link between under-development and refugee
outflows it becomes apparent that one major way of preventing refugee
emergencies is through development. This is, of course, a long-term
approach with complax implications for all concerned.
9. Not only economic, but also social, political and cultural development
contributes to the national protection which makes flight unnecessary.
The rationale for international protectection is to replace non-existing
national protection. National protection is inter alia provided through
mechanisms for the protection of minorities, accessible and fair
judicial procedure, protection of basic human rights, and institutions
which take into account the needs of different religious, ethnic and
social groups and provide means for peaceful problem-solving between
various groups. One factor of deficient national protection is thus
social, political and cultural under-development.
10.Looking at the enormous costs of refugee emergencies, first of all the
human cost but also the economic impact on both the country of origin
and the country of asylum, as well as the economic cost to the
international community, it appears that prevention, including the
promotion of economic, social, cultural and political development, may
be not only the most humanitarian approach to the refugee, but even the
most cost-effective one. In 1992, 16 industralised countries spent US$11
billion on the reception and status determination of asylum seekers
alone. Prevention, whenever possible and appropriate, is better than
cure. Whenever prevention is successful, it is the most effective form
of protection for people in danger of becoming refugees.
11.Prevention is not used here in the sense of preventing people from
getting access to asylum, but rather in creating conditions where it may
not be necessary for people to flee in search of protection or asylum.
After all, in most refugee situations it is only a minority of the
population which takes flight. Usually the majority stays in the country
of origin. There are people who do not wish to leave in any case,
however affected they may be. Others become displaced in their own
country. Thus, while some commentators question the validity of the
"right to remain", it is a fact that the majority of people remain, for
whatever reason. Furthermore, the emphasis on prevention does not entil
overlooking the internally displaced and the otherwise affected
populations. Quite the contrary, it finds much of its justification in
the attention it focuses on such populations. The provision of
protection and assistance to the internally displaced, besides its
obvious humanitarian justification, may also have a preventive effect,
as such action aims at reducing cross-border movements and contaiinig
potential refugee emergencies by reinforcing the incentives to remain.
12.Furthermore, it is not only rich Western countries which are not too
enthusiastic about the flight of people into their territory. The
developing countries in the surrounding areas, for which these flights
sometimes create serious problems, such as environmental losses
including severe deforestation such as in Mawawi, with a population of
six million, which received one million people from Mozambique in a
one-year period. With the accelerated use of forests and water resources
and the fact that they have to devote considerable human and
bureaucratic resources to the care of refugees, these countries bear a
significant burden. To give an example of the difficulties faced by
developing countries, in one case funds were spent by UNHCR to prepare a
site for a refugee camp to relieve severe overcrowding in the existing
camp nearby, only to discover that this site had already been allocated
to a multinational mining corporation for exploration purposes. A choice
had to be made in a typical case of lack of communication between
government agencies. Another site had to be found for the refugee camp.
Thus, if anything can be done to make it unnecessary for people to flee
across national boundaries, it should be done.
13.There are, however, various aspects to this issue. There is a long-term
aspect which is development in its various dimensions. In this regard
UNHCR can and does encourage concerted development efforts, thorugh its
cooperation agreements with other UN agencies, such as the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization
(WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). But there are also
intermediate-term aspects such as promoting mechanisms of peaceful
settlement of disputes within societies, mechanisms of collaboration,
mecahnisms of compromise, which in some societies are very difficult to
achieve. In the short term, of course, there is a range of approaches,
such as assistance to internally displaced persons, cross-border
assistance, and Quick Impact Projects (QIPs). One of the lessons that we
have learned in recent emergencies is the need for cooperation and
coordination between various UN agencies.
Protection in emergencies
14.During the emergency itself, there is a series of protection measures
that must take place, including promoting admission into the country of
asylum, ensuring that people obtain some kind of protecion status -
basically, in and emergency that hould be group determination (everybody
is a refugee on a prima facie basis) - implementation of the principle
of non-refoulment to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are not
sent back, that they are not intercepted on the high seas, in the air,
or on land, to be sent back directly or indirectly to their countries of
origin. Protection means at a minimum humanitarian standards of
treatment and respect for the basic human rights of the refugees.
15.It also means physical protection i its various dimensions, including
the location of the camps. They should whenever possible be located at a
reasonable distance from the border, away from the fighting, in areas
that are relatively salubrious so that the refugees will not succumb to
diseases, and so forth. Even the physical make-up of the camp is
relevant: there should be sufficient lighting so that women can go out
at night without fear of being attacked, toilets should be relatively
close in well-lit areas so that again women are not subject to attacks
there at night, or during the day for that matter.
16.There are also organisational measures to be taken by and among the
refugees themselves. The refugees, including refugee women, should
participate in the planning of their own camp existence and take part in
their own security. Identification of vulnerable groups, single women,
unaccompanied children, old people, and the handicapped, is an example.
It is likewose for ethnic minorities. Within a refugee flow ethnic
minority people may be in danger from the majority from their own coutry
and these groups need to be identified alos when necessary, with a view
to providing them with the protection which they need.
Asylum and development
17.As indicated above, refugees do not only originate from developing
countries: a large majority of them also find asylum in developing
countries. The presence of large numbers of refugees in these already
impoverished countries weighs heavily on fragile infrastructure, as well
as on limited resources of arable land, water, firewood etc. If these
effects are not adequately addressed, through a development-orient
approach which alos benefits the host population, it can lead to tension
between the refugees and the local population and can have a serious
impact on the local environment. This may have further detrimental
effects on stability in the country of asylum.
18.The program in Malawi dramatically illustrates the development
implication of refugee flows. Malawi is small, densely populated, and
one of the world's least developed countries. It was until recently host
to one million refugees from neighbouring Mozambique. This equalled
12.5% of the country's national population. The presence of the refugees
weighted heavily on the country's scarce resources and weak
infrastructure. Particularly devastating was the impact of the refugee
presence on Malawi's forests. Refugees felled large numbers of trees in
order to acquire qood for fuel and building materials. The arrival of
the refugees therefore worsened the problem of deforestation and led to
subsequent land degradation. To alleviate the situation UNHCR became
involved in, inter alia, reforestation and the construction and
maintenence of roads and water supplies. Development projects by other
UN agencies and bilateral donors specifically designed to address these
problems were put into motion.
19.Two mistakes that are often committed in an emergency situation are that
protection aspects and long-term development plans are underplayed or
even set aside. Protection must be built into emergency management from
teh very beginning and relief aid should be provided in a way that
shields people from further persecution and violence, while at the same
time laying the foundations for lasting solutions to their predicament.
Protecting asylum seekers from being forced back to their of origin may
be as vital to survival in an emergency as food and shelter. Likewise,
development concerns have to be built into the response at the outset.
20.UNHCR has recently created a Unit for Protection Operation Support
within the Division of International Protection. The unit aims to ensure
effective protection input into field operations and to provide timely
protection support in emergency situations.
21.The impact of refugee emergencies is by no means confined to the
refugees themselves. Poor short-term planning can worsen the overall
environmental situation. For example, a contractor in one receiving
country asked to quickly prepare the site of a refugee camp for an
emergency influx simply removed all the vegetation from a huge piece of
land, leaving the refugees and coming generations nothing but a huge
man-made desert. It was typical kind of mistake made in emergencies.
Another example is the case already referred to where UNHCR was given
authorisation by one Ministry to prepare the grounds for a major refugee
camp and spent large sums of money doing so, only to discover that
another Ministry had already allocated the terrain for exploration by a
major international mining company. UNHCR had no choice but to move on
and start from scratch in search of another percel of land to place the
camp. Therefore, refugee needs and development needs must be balanced,
conciliated and harmonised.
22.When refugee assistance is well planned it can instead contribute to
making the refugees become self-sufficient, thereby enabling them to
contribute to the development of the country of asylum and of their
country of origin once they are able to return. Furthermore, assistance
provided to infrastructure such as schools, roads and medical clinics,
and to the training of local staff, will continue to benefit the host
population after the refugees have left.
/* Endofpart-1 */