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SLUG: 2-313929 UNHCR/Africa Repatriation (L-O)
INTRO: The United Nations Refugee Agency has announced a plan to repatriate two million refugees to nine African countries. Lisa Schlein in Geneva reports the U-N-H-C-R says the plan also includes long-term development and reconstruction in these countries.
TEXT: The U-N Refugee Agency says this is an unusual opportunity to resolve some of Africa's most enduring refugee problems. The agency says on Monday, 60 countries and international aid agencies attending a special conference in Geneva, committed themselves to helping the refugees return home and to make their return sustainable.
U-N-H-C-R spokesman, Ron Redmond, says a high-level working group has been established that is similar to the one that was created for the former Yugoslavia in the 1990's. At that time, he says, governments committed themselves to resolving the Balkan conflicts and to helping with post-conflict reconstruction. He says he hopes the current scheme works as well in Africa.
What we see now in Africa is a very real prospect of significant reductions in the numbers of refugees, some of whom have been displaced for decades, the possibility that they can finally go home. And when you have possibilities like that in nine different countries across Africa, you can make a significant dent in the overall population of refugees worldwide. There is really hope for Africa. It is not the basket case that a lot of people think.
Mr. Redmond says it is not good enough to just help people go home. He says the refugees also must want to stay home. And this means countries must commit themselves to providing long-term development assistance so that when the refugees return they have jobs, schools and hospitals. If this is not done, he warns the peace process could collapse.
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So, if you do not pay sustained attention to some of these situations, you are going to see the re-emergence of conflict, new refugees leaving. We saw this 10 years ago in Liberia, for example. That is what we want to put a stop to. This cycle of violence, poverty and refugees leaving their homes.
U-N-H-C-R Spokesman Ron Redmond says the nine African countries are at various stages in the repatriation process. He says his agency currently is consulting with governments and agencies about concluding repatriation programs in countries where this already has begun. He notes more than 800-thousand refugees recently returned home to Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda and Eritrea. He says plans also are under way to start new repatriation programs in several other countries.
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