Regional Workshop on the Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees
Submitted by: Mr. Wisit Bunyaritthipong, Counsellor, Social Division, Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand
Email: [email protected]
Introduction to the project
The event was held in Thailand.
Held on 25 October 2019
On 25 October 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, with support of the UNHCR, convened a regional workshop on the voluntary repatriation of refugees in Bangkok, Thailand.
The project counted with approximately 80 participants, including government officials from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Cambodia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, the United States of America and Viet Nam; academics; former refugees; and representatives of UN agencies.
Main activities of the Good Practice
The workshop identified the following principles, conditions and challenges that must underpin any voluntary repatriation as follows.
1. In principle, each refugee situation is unique and complex, and therefore no single framework fits all contexts. People do not become refugees by choice. Having understanding and empathy towards each refugee situations helps humanize the process. To achieve successful and sustainable refugee repatriation, a comprehensive approach should be taken that recognizes the circumstances faced by all parties concerned in repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
2. Voluntary repatriation of refugees is not a single event, but a continuous process that begins with creating conditions for meaningful reintegration, such as access to livelihoods, land, documentation, infrastructure, rule of law, health and education. Systematic data collection is also key in better planning for the repatriation process and refugees’ livelihoods, as well as in preventing them from becoming refugees again.
3. Refugees will be better prepared for repatriation if they are given access to opportunities for personal growth while in displacement. Education, skills-building and self-reliance opportunities all provide positive and productive opportunities to individuals while in displacement, enabling them to make contributions to their countries upon repatriation and help make their repatriation more sustainable.
4. Meaningful participation of the refugee community in repatriation and reintegration processes and open exchanges of information between refugees, host countries, and countries of origin are key to building confidence, managing expectations, and encouraging participation in those processes.
5. Decisions made by refugees as to whether the conditions in their country of origin are suitable and conducive for voluntary and successful repatriation and reintegration must be respected. Refugees must be provided with accurate information in order to make their own free and informed decisions for which they have a sense of ownership.
6. Political will is crucial, particularly that of governments in countries of origin to welcome refugees home, allow humanitarian access, create conditions that enable repatriation and maintain close and continued consultations with host countries.
7. Trust building is important for all parties involved. For refugees, it takes time to restore their faith in their governments and in the security of their countries. Governments, civil society and others in countries of origin need to openly and consistently communicate with refugees and rebuild that trust.
8. Local communities in countries of origin must not be forgotten and should be included in programs benefitting both refugees and members of local communities in order to build social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
9. Refugees, host countries and countries of origin need support from a diverse range of stakeholders to help make repatriation successful, including traditional contributors of humanitarian and development assistance, but also non-traditional actors, such as the media, local governments and local communities in countries of origin.
10. The Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Refugee Forum provide a platform for all actors to bring their comparative advantages to the table and signal to refugees, host countries and countries of origin that the international community supports them in pursuing voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation.
11. Challenges identified from previous refugee repatriations included (1) confidence building and expectation management of refugees, especially in terms of housing, safety, and livelihoods; (2) trust building and equitable access to basic services between refugees and local communities in countries of origin; (3) reaching common understanding of the refugee situation among all stakeholders, ranging from government officials to media and local communities; and (4) inclusion of actors familiar with political implications or having decision making power in the repatriation process, together with experts.
UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific
Results of the Good Practice
The workshop provided a unique opportunity to listen to former refugees and participants who are personally involved or have personal experiences with the repatriation of refugees, sharing the complexities of voluntary repatriation and identifying conditions and support required to practically achieve successful and sustainable voluntary repatriation.
Discussion at the workshop focused on both historical and current examples from Asia and inspired countries facing refugee situations to develop practical pathways towards innovative, non-political and sustainable solutions.
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 4: Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity
- Support one or several objectives of the GCR
- Address one or more of the areas of focus of the first Global Refugee Forum
- Contribute to burden and responsibility sharing / Broaden the support base, including non-traditional actors, who support refugees
- Respond to the needs of refugees and host communities, yielding sustained and positive benefits for them
- Highlight opportunities to maximise the effective and efficient use of resources