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Refugee issues should be included in Africa’s new recovery plan – UNHCR chief

Refugee issues should be included in Africa’s new recovery plan – UNHCR chief

Ruud Lubbers
Refugees, returnees and the concerns of host countries should be included in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the continent's latest economic recovery plan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

Ruud Lubbers, who is in Durban, South Africa, for the launch of the African Union, told African leaders it was crucial that forced population displacement in the continent, including refugee issues, be vigorously addressed in NEPAD's efforts to lay the foundation for long-term peace and sustainable development. There are currently 4.2 million people of concern to UNHCR in Africa, including approximately 3 million refugees affected by protracted conflict situations.

"Returning home is one thing, staying home can be quite another," Mr. Lubbers said. "That is why it is crucial that the international community work to ensure that refugee returns are sustainable through large-scale post-war reconstruction programmes and projects in countries of origin."

In a recent proposal to the World Bank and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Mr. Lubbers suggested that the three organizations strengthen their cooperation throughout the entire continuum of refugee repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The High Commissioner's so-called "4Rs Plan" is aimed at helping to bridge the gap between "humanitarian" and "development" work - a distinction that has been problematic in the past because it fails to recognize the transitional nature of the relief-to-development process.

In related news, Mr. Lubbers was scheduled to meet today with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, the current president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to secure more support from the organization in resolving the latest fighting in Liberia.

Yesterday, the High Commissioner met with the Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone, Momadou Koroma, seeking that country's assistance in gaining the release of five nurses abducted from a refugee camp northwest of Monrovia three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR Office in Monrovia has reported an increase in the number of Sierra Leonean refugees asking for help in returning home, with more than 2,000 registered so far. The UN agency was making arrangements to transport the refugees back to Sierra Leone by sea, as the main road from Monrovia remained blocked, with the first boat trip possibly beginning as early as next week.

In the meantime, the influx of Liberian refugees into Sierra Leone continued, with more than 1,800 passing through the Gendema crossing point last week, bringing the total since the beginning of the year to 40,000. There were also indications that a large number of Liberians were using unofficial crossing points.