UN refugee agency anticipates millions returning to home countries in Africa

13 February 2004

With more than 5 million African refugees and internally displaced people preparing to return home, the United Nations refugee agency announced plans today to hold a ministerial-level meeting next month on comprehensive regional approaches to repatriation and sustainable reintegration on the continent.

The Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa will bring together key ministers, donor governments and other partners at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss peace processes and refugee problems, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) said.

"While we often cite our concerns about specific refugee problems in Africa, UNHCR believes there is now cause for cautious optimism about resolving some of the most protracted refugee and displacement situations on the continent," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said.

For the first time, he said, the Office sees "multiple possibilities for the potential repatriation of up to 2 million refugees." Thanks to greater stability or progress in peace processes, returns are already occurring in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These countries account for more than 5 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"Given the enormous potential for finding lasting solutions for so many people, UNHCR believes the international community needs to seize this opportunity and take a comprehensive regional approach toward ensuring repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Africa," Redmond said.

Some refugees have declined to go home because of such factors as land mine risks, poor or non-existent physical infrastructure, lack of jobs and a fragile socio-economic situation, according to UNHCR.


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