With today's conflicts sparking huge flows of terrified civilians and armed militia moving across borders, the head of the United Nations refugee agency today urged the Security Council to develop a "cross-border peacekeeping" formula for UN missions operating in war zones.
Briefing the Council in an open meeting, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers drew attention to the humanitarian crises in Darfur, Sudan, and parts of West Africa as examples of how lines of conflict frequently run across state boundaries. Conflicts that generate refugee movements inevitably involve neighbouring states, he said, noting the impact of forced displacement on regional stability.
Given the nature of conflicts today, greater attention must be devoted to finding a formula for peacekeeping missions that operated in cross-border situations, where appropriate and where endorsed by the affected governments, he said.
All too often, conflicts became regional but the response remained country-based; Chad was a good example, he said. While spotlighting West Africa's troubled Mano River region, with a near-constant cross-border flow of arms and rebel groups that often circulated among its many refugee camps, Mr. Lubbers was greatly concerned by the current situation in Sudan and the spill-over effect on Chad.
In southern Sudan, encouraging peace talks have increased hopes for the return of 60,000 Sudanese refugees currently exiled in neighbouring countries, he said. "Yet those developments were increasingly overshadowed by the situation in Darfur" in the west, where at least a million people have been displaced as a direct result of government-allied Arab militia's campaign of violence against the black African population.
And while UNHCR is working with partners to assist affected populations in and around Darfur to create the conditions for their eventual return, Mr. Lubbers said he feared that if the situation did not improve, "We will see further refugee flows into Chad…where the humanitarian situation is [equally] appalling."
Mr. Lubbers said the concept of multidimensional peace operations had worked well in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone and was coming together in Liberia, despite the enormous challenges placed upon the UN mission there. In cross-border conflict zones, the critical factor would be to determine the conditions for the safe and sustainable return of refugees their homes, he emphasized. "Peacekeeping alone can not sustain peace; it can only create the space in which peace may be built," he said.
The Council's influence and ability to take decisive political action was critical in helping to avert humanitarian catastrophe, Mr. Lubbers said. It was important that the Council continue to provide leadership and direction in bringing together the different domains of the United Nations system. He said he hoped that continued cooperation between the various UN missions in West Africa on a number of cross-border issues could be now developed into a broader strategy for the future.
Video of Council meeting [1hr 58mins]