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Security Challenges

Security Challenges

Return and peace processes

While the UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation underscores that repatriation should only be promoted after the conclusion of a peace process, in some cases such as Western Sahara and Cambodia, the return of displaced persons in advance of national elections or referenda has been seen as a critical factor for achieving peace (Bhatia 2003). Similarly, the International Crisis Group has argued that the return of displaced persons may catalyse the stagnant South Ossetian peace process (ICG 2005). In cases where the peace is not yet secure, UNHCR and other humanitarian assistance agencies may facilitate repatriation at the request of individual refugees, but generally do not actively promote return as a durable solution to displacement. (Notably, however, this policy is coming under pressure through the increasing use of temporary protection measures and mandated return programs.)

The question of return is a cardinal obstacle in the crippled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and has proved to be an abiding challenge in the implementation of the Dayton Agreement. The return of displaced persons from minority groups undermines the logic of nationalism and ethnic cleansing that fuelled many of the most brutal conflicts of the 1990s and recent years. However, several United Nations bodies have affirmed that the return of the displaced is essential not only to post-conflict reconciliation, but also to regional security. As the United Nations Secretary-General acknowledged, ‘The return of refugees and internally displaced persons is a major part of any post-conflict scenario. And it is far more than just a logistical operation. Indeed, it is often a critical factor in sustaining a peace process and in revitalizing economic activity.’ (UN 2005)

Internationally-mandated peacekeepers have often been central to the maintenance of security and the protection of returnees, particularly those from minority groups. However, the role of peacekeepers as the protectors of returnees has been called into question by reports of peacekeepers abusing and sexually exploiting civilians during missions in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to improve the professionalism and effectiveness of peacekeeping missions, international experts have called for peacekeeping to be reconceived not only as a military function but also in terms of governance, humanitarianism and capacity building. Calls have also been raised for forced displacement issues, including return, to be integrated into mission design from the outset, with peacekeepers receiving training on the rights and protection needs of returnees. However, research on the interaction between peacekeepers and returnees remains limited, and is often predominantly based on the perspectives of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, rather than on the opinions and experiences of the displaced.

ACCORD (African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes)
Forced Migration Review Special Edition ‘Sudan: Prospects for Peace’
Eschenbacher, J. (2005) ‘IDPs and Peace Processes’ in Eschenbacher, J. (ed.) Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2004, Geneva, Norwegian Refugee Council
Hansen, G. (1999) ‘Displacement and Return’, in Cohen, J. (ed.) A Question of Sovereignty: The Georgia-Abkhazia Peace Process, London, Conciliation Resources
International Crisis Group (2005) ‘Georgia-South Ossetia: Refugee Return the Path to Peace’, Europe Briefing No. 3
O’Neill (2004) A New Challenge for Peacekeepers: The Internally Displaced, Washington, Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement.
O’Neill, W. and Cassis, V. (2005) Protecting Two Million Internally Displaced: The Successes and Shortcomings of the African Union in Darfur, Washington, Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement
Pearson Peacekeeping Centre
Search for Common Ground
United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations
United States Institute of Peace

Demobilisation of combatants

The demobilisation of combatants is one of the most delicate aspects of any peace process, and is essential to the sustainability of returns. Effective demobilisation and retraining of troops for civilian occupations is critical to ensuring that former soldiers, returnees and non-displaced citizens can co-exist peacefully in their home communities. In many cases displaced persons have taken up arms and are therefore directly involved in the demobilisation process. This is particularly true in the case of children abducted from their homes and forced into combatant roles. Evaluations of demobilisation and repatriation processes in countries such as Mozambique have indicated the importance of approaching the demobilisation of combatants, the return of displaced persons and the development of local communities in a holistic manner that does not discriminate against returnees or those who did not leave their homes in the course of a conflict. A significant body of literature has developed, particularly in the field of psychology, on the implementation of culturally-appropriate approaches to the demobilisation of adult and child soldiers.

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Human Rights Watch (2003) ‘Problems in the Demobilization and Reintegration of Former Combatants’, in Struggling Through Peace: Return and Resettlement in Angola, New York, Human Rights Watch.
McKay, S. et al (2006) Girls Formerly Associated with Fighting Forces and their Children: Returned and Neglected, London, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP)
Robertson, C. and McCauley, U. (2004) ‘The return and reintegration of “child soldiers” in Sudan: The challenges ahead’, Forced Migration Review 21
UNDP Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit-Small Arms and Demobilization
Yu, L. (2000) ‘Separating ex-combatants and refugees in Zongo, DRC: Peacekeepers and UNHCR’s “Ladder of options”’, New Issues in Refugee Research, Working Paper No. 60.

Landmines and UXOs

In many of the recent conflicts that have caused immense forced displacement, landmines have been laid indiscriminately and linger as a mortal threat to civilians long after the signing of peace agreements. Several studies have shown that landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) represent a disproportionately serious risk to refugees and IDPs, including returnees. For example, 8 to 10 million mines litter Angola. In 2002 the internally displaced represented approximately 30 percent of the Angolan population, but more than 50 percent of civilians injured or killed by landmines were IDPs (Clover 2002). In Sri Lanka in 2003, UNHCR reported that approximately 1000 people had been killed or injured by landmines since large numbers of civilians began returning to their homes. Landmines appear to pose a heightened risk to the displaced because refugees and IDPs may have to flee or return through unknown territory. The displaced may be pressured to return before the de-mining process is complete, and may be unaware of where landmines have been placed in their absence. The mining of borders heavily trafficked by refugees, such as the Tanzanian-Burundian border, can impede refugees’ freedom to seek asylum as well as their ability to return home.

Beyond causing injury and death to returnees, landmines and UXOs threaten the sustainability of the return process because they render large swaths of land inaccessible for settlement or farming. Lack of safe land to accommodate both non-displaced members of the local community and returnees has been shown to spark violent conflict and hinder reconciliation and reintegration efforts in countries such as Angola and Afghanistan.

Aqa, S., et al (2004) ‘Protecting displaced population from landmines: A call for joint action’, Forced Migration Review 21
E-MINE Electronic Mine Information Network
ICBL (2005) Landmine Monitor Report 2005, Washington, DC, ICBL
International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Mines Action Canada
Last updated Aug 17, 2011