UN envoy calls for world support of expected wave of returning African refugees

8 March 2004
Ruud Lubbers (right) and Poul Nielson

Pointing to the expected repatriation of millions of refugees and internally displaced people across Africa, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called for global support to break the continent's cycle of poverty, violence and despair.

Ruud Lubbers told a conference on African repatriation and integration that as many as five million people could soon return to their homelands - the continent's biggest return movement in a decade - as nine conflicts either come to an end or diminish in intensity.

Mr. Lubbers said that while the governments of the affected countries have prime responsibility to resolve long-running conflicts and promote development, donor governments could provide important support as countries acquire stability.

"Efforts must be made to ensure the effectiveness of programmes aimed at the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants, including youths," he said.

Opening the two-day conference in Geneva, Mr. Lubbers said he was optimistic that there could be large returns from Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan as those countries head towards peace after long-running conflicts.

Already more than 800,000 refugees have returned to Angola, Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, despite what the UNHCR described as the "enormous challenges" in their homelands.

Some 60 government delegations are attending the conference, entitled the Dialogue on Voluntary Repatriation and Sustainable Reintegration in Africa, which is sponsored by the UNHCR.

Tomorrow's conference sessions will focus on the nine countries Mr. Lubbers identified as already experiencing or likely to experience large waves of returnees.

 

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