Kammi Scheeler, a master’s student in my post-war reconstruction and transition course at SAIS, writes:
The World Bank hosted a panel Wednesday on the need for alternatives to refugee camps, as part of its three-day forum on Fragility, Conflict and Violence. Three themes emerged from the speakers’ presentations:
- Displacement should be treated as a development issue, not a humanitarian one. National development planning should take into account all populations in the area, including displaced persons.
- Displaced persons must be recognized as active participants in development with the capacity to contribute to host communities.
- Government capacities to process and support refugees in alternative ways need to be strengthened.
The first presenter on the panel was Steven Corliss, Director of the UNHCR Division of Programme Support and Management. He discussed UNHCR’s policy to seek alternatives to camps in as many circumstances as possible. Where not possible, the UNHCR still works to protect the rights of refugees and create living conditions that foster individual empowerment and dignity.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said “anyone who thinks refugee camps are a good idea has never lived in one.” Camps will not disappear, as they remain needed to meet immediate needs in emergency situations. The problem, Corliss believes, is when camps are used as an automatic response to displacement, or when host governments do not have the tools to provide alternatives.
One of the primary pitfalls of camps is the loss of human capital. Typical refugee camps operate as temporary, emergency relief, providing little opportunity for inhabitants to utilize or develop skills. In protracted situations, their inhabitants lose the ability to manage their own livelihoods.
There is a persistent concern among hosts that allowing refugees to integrate will deter them from returning home. Camps will remain as host governments insist upon them. But when refugees are better integrated into local communities and labor markets, they are able to contribute economically and maintain independent livelihoods, encouraging earlier repatriation and better reintegration upon return.
The second speaker, David Apollo Kazungu, is the Commissioner of Refugees for the Ugandan Government. Uganda’s shared borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan have led to a persistent influx of refugees escaping conflict since the 1950s. Uganda is now host to 415,000 refugees, with more expected from South Sudan in coming months. Refugees in Uganda are predominantly settlement-based, living alongside and sharing resources and services with Ugandan nationals. Although refugee status is meant to be a temporary solution, the persistent conflicts and instability of Uganda’s neighbors has led to more protracted situations.
This has necessitated a shift from humanitarian support to development support. Uganda’s Settlement Transformation Agenda is a uniquely comprehensive and progressive approach to refugee integration. Its key tenets include security enhancement, access to justice, settlement survey and planning, infrastructure development, refugee and host community empowerment, and peace building and conflict resolution initiatives.
Commissioner Kazungu stressed the importance of these last two programs saying, “refugeehood should be a chance to reconcile and learn to live side by side.”Since most of Uganda’s refugees fled their homes due to conflict, the government of Uganda is making a stronger effort to facilitate conflict resolution among diverse refugee populations so that they may create more stable communities upon return to their home countries. Although Uganda has shown a great deal of openness and commitment to receiving and integrating refugees, they face challenges such as encroachment, land inelasticity, and dwindling resources with no signs of decline in refugee inflows.
The remaining panelists included Niels Harild, the lead social development specialist for the World Bank’s Global Program on Forced Displacement, who reiterated the importance of viewing displacement as a development issue rather than merely a humanitarian one. The second half of the event provided examples of alternatives in action, with World Bank project leaders sharing data from programs in Turkey and Azerbaijan. In Turkey, the Bank is assessing the impact of Syrian refugees on host communities and recommending policies for integrating refugees outside camps. Azerbaijan has approximately 600,000 internally displaced persons supported by a Social Fund for the Development of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). This project provides settlements and services to raise the standard of living for IDPs and also creates income-generation opportunities. Both cases highlight the range of possible ways to incorporate displaced persons into longer-term national development planning.
PS: In response to a comment on this piece, here is Killian Kleinschmidt at TedX Hamburg:
I won’t pretend to know anything about Rwanda. So on this 20th anniversary of initiation of the genocide, I point to what President Kagame has to say, as well as Philip Gourevitch’s commentary (his 1999 book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families is indispensable reading):
1. Political Parties and Nigeria’s Electoral Process
Monday, April 7 | 10am – 12pm
2nd Floor Conference Room, Center for Strategic and International Studies; 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW
Join us for a discussion of the critical roles and responsibilities of Nigeria’s political leaders, candidates, and party supporters in laying the foundations for peaceful, credible elections in 2015. We will hear from the leaders of the two main parties about their plans for the primary contests, and their strategies for enforcing good conduct among candidates, promoting issue-based rather than personality-driven campaigning, ensuring a tone of moderation in the debates, and encouraging respect for the election outcome. This conference is part of an ongoing series, supported by the Ford Foundation, bringing Nigerian officials, civil society activists, and opinion leaders to Washington, D.C. to engage with U.S. policymakers and Africa experts on how best to ensure that Nigeria’s 2015 elections are free, fair, and peaceful.
I’ve never met Laura Seay, except briefly in cyberspace. All I know is that she is @texasinafrica, a Morehouse professor and smart. Her 2009 analysis of the breakdown of governance in “what to do in the congo” holds up well today, but her proposed solutions aren’t happening: the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) aren’t getting any better and the UN force (now called MONUSCO) isn’t able to handle the situation the way she suggests. When I queried her about the need for an update, she answered: “Nobody has any idea what to do about it.” We should all be so clear and concise.
Washington is nevertheless sending its “top Africa diplomat.” That’s Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson, a veteran of great virtues. But his means are very limited. To show disapproval of support for the M23 rebels who have taken the provincial capital Goma in Eastern Congo, the United States has suspended $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda, which has repeatedly supported rebellions across its western border. That’s pocket change even in Kigali, probably intended to support military education for Rwandan officers in the United States. Cutting it off isn’t likely to have much impact.
Meanwhile M23 is wreaking havoc on a mineral-rich area that has already seen several decades of conflict. some of Laura Seay’s suggestions from 2009 are still apropos:
- …the root causes of the conflict – land disputes and citizenship rights – need to be sorted out. This means getting the courts functioning and creating an enforcement mechanism for implementing court decisions about land claims. It also means guaranteeing the citizenship rights of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese, which should involve a massive public education campaign. This won’t solve all of the problems, but it would be a start.
- In the provision of public goods other than security, the international community needs to work with local organizations who are already providing efficient, quality services rather than pretending that government institutions are the best entities with which to cooperate. Most government health and education institutions are already being run by third parties (in particular, churches and mosques). International donors should work with these communities to implement positive, locally conceived solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
- Local solutions, proposed by community leaders and the victims of violence, should be privileged in conversations about what needs to be done on almost every issue. Goodness knows the army of international experts (myself included) who pontificate on the DRC have proven that we don’t know how to solve the country’s problems. Let’s give people who might a chance, and let’s take their suggestions seriously for once.
This all makes eminently good sense to me, but none of it is likely happen unless some semblance of stability emerges. I purposely did not say “is reimposed,” as none of the forces in Eastern Congo seem strong enough to definitively dominate the others. The best one can hope for is a balance of forces that is relatively nonviolent and allows the local population to fend for itself.
This will disappoint another of my Twitter acquaintances, Doudou Kalala (@kalala), a Congolese citizen and MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding from Royal Road University, Victoria BC. He is currently volunteering with Cuso International in Jamaica. He argues that DRC is a classic intractable conflict that requires a major, multi-facted, long-term international intervention. In his words:
The point I am trying to make is that, the solution to the conflict in the Congo is a long process that should start now and lead to building administrative infrastructure, accountability, justice, social and intellectual capital, army, police through EDUCATION and research…
The trouble is I don’t see any prospect of that any time soon. Even a balance of forces that allows the local population to fend for itself may be too much to hope for. So let’s wish Johnny Carson good luck. He is going to need it.