The Transitional Solutions Initiative for the protracted refugee situation in eastern Sudan

The Transitional Solutions Initiative for the protracted refugee situation in eastern Sudan

11-09-2014, 02:08 PM


Post: #1
Title: The Transitional Solutions Initiative for the protracted refugee situation in eastern Sudan
Author: Tarig Misbah Yousif
Date: 11-09-2014, 02:08 PM

A true initiative or another palliative?

Tarig Misbah Yousif
Since the early 1960s, eastern Sudan has hosted thousands of refugees. Kassala, which is the largest (in terms of population) of the three states comprising eastern Sudan, has been most affected by large presence of Eritrean refugees, notably in the 1980s when refugee influxes reached its climax. Since its setting up by a ministerial decree in 1967, the Commission of Refugees (COR) has been charged with the task of designing and implementing Sudan’s refugee policy. In the following year (1968), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) started its operation in Sudan as COR’s counterpart.
The Eritrean refugees who took refuge in eastern Sudan in the early 1960s are deemed to constitute one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world. Having defied solutions for decades, the situation of the Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan, which has meagre resources and lacks for the services of basic need, has been intractable. Unfortunately, all earlier interventions have been unsuccessful in attempting to break the cycle of their continuing dependence on external aid. The fact that the solution of voluntary repatriation achieved limited success back in the 1990s and that only a few refugees benefited from the solution of third country resettlement, bringing this saga to an end still remains an extremely challenging and daunting task.
This article discusses the Transitional Solutions Initiative (TSI) intended for the protracted refugees in eastern Sudan, mainly Eritrean refugees. The TSI is a new paradigm which has dominated the scene in eastern Sudan since 2012.
Why the TSI?

In a nutshell, the TSI is a consortium comprising humanitarian and development actors, as well as bilateral and multilateral donors. Salient among the major players is UNDP, UNHCR, World Bank, The Dutch government and others. The theory is that this anomalous protracted refugee situation is to be addressed through setting up of self-sustaining settlements where assistance is provided to both refugees and their host communities.
In a bid to find a durable solution to the problem of the long-staying refugees, the TSI targets thousands of protracted refugees, IDPs and host societies. By emphasising tailored area-based interventions with the view of boosting self-reliance, the TSI is envisioned to be the panacea. As stated in its literature, the TSI programme seeks to achieve self- dependence and eliminate reliance on aid by creating and increasing sustainable livelihoods opportunities for refugees and their host communities.

Déjà vu!

Is the TSI a new invention? The direct answer is no,
More than three decades ago, both COR and UNHCR were involved in programmes which
aimed at helping refugees to achieve self-sufficiency in eastern and central Sudan. The focus
of that joint venture was to assist refugees who were put in labour and agricultural
settlements in eastern and central Sudan to become self-sufficient. Special assistance
programmes were also implemented in the refugee affected areas (RAA) as a compensatory
measure, particularly in areas adversely impacted by the presence of refugees. The
fundamental idea of the RAA was to link refugee aid with the so called the ‘relief to
development continuum’. However, and despite the millions of US dollars spent on the
settlement programmes, the schemes did not realize or achieve a ‘durable’ solution to the
problems of refugees. Apart from some slight amelioration in the living conditions
of some refugees in some of the Eritrean/Ethiopian refugee settlements, self-sufficiency was
never achieved. Put differently, the intended target of liberating refugees from the shackles of
foreign aid was never realised. Lack of clear government policy and shortage of funding
were to blame for the fiasco. The funding constraints reached a crisis situation in the
aftermath of the 1989 military coup. Ever since, Sudan's relations with western governments
have been strained. These developments had negatively affected the humanitarian assistance
programme intended for refugees. Many western donors suspended or utterly cancelled their
assistance programmes to Sudan.
Based on the above, a comprehensive evaluation of the past COR-UNHCR self-sufficiency
programmes should have preceded the TSI if a recurrence of past mistakes were to be
avoided. Former COR staff should have been involved in the evaluation exercise. Because
they took part in all the stages of the past self-sufficiency experience, the views of some of
the well-experienced former staff of COR could have been taken on board as that might help
when it comes to achieving a successful and flawless refugee-self reliance.
As it stands, the TSI looks like a replication of the past unsuccessful experience. Even the
idea of extending assistance to host local communities is not a new one. That is the
equivalent of the RAA programmes which were carried out in local areas affected by
the presence of refugees at that time. The only new things about the TSI are: 1) the advent of
new players such as the UNDP and the World Bank 2/ the direct involvement of the
governments of Gedaref and Kassala states in the TSI.
Let us move on to discuss the main issues involved and identify the main challenges ahead.
A lot of commentators view the TSI as a ploy, a gimmick designed to impose a de facto
integration of refugees in eastern Sudan. In the likelihood that the TSI programme
discontinues (as earlier internationally-funded programmes were abruptly halted), refugees
are highly likely be left to face an unknown destiny. It does seem that UNHCR has been
laying the groundwork for this for years. A clear manifestation of this:
1/ The implementation of the cessation clause (stripping refugees of their refugee status
according to Article 1C,5 of the 1951 UN Convention Refugee relating to the Status of
Refugees). The application of the cessation clause turned out to be a wrong decision because
the change which occurred in the refugees' country of origin, mainly Eritrea, was neither
fundamental nor long-lasting. Having lost international assistance following the illegal
application of the cessation clause and the subsequent closure of refugee camps in eastern and
central Sudan, thousands of Eritreans were left with no option other than heading to the
Sudanese towns and villages in a bid to eke out a living. Again, the outcome was more
statelessness and forcible integration into Sudanese societies. UNHCR later tried to rectify
the mistake by reinstating refugee status for some of those refugees who were wrongfully left
in limbo as a result of being deprived of their surrogate international protection.
2/-The decommissioning of refugee camps in eastern and central Sudan exacerbated the ordeal of refugees who could not return home for various reasons (including safety concerns). 3/ The famous UNHCR's report titled 'No Turning Back' which was published in 2011 constituted the organisation's blueprint when it comes to dealing with protracted refugee situation in eastern Sudan. In simple terms, the report concluded that local integration would be the only viable option.
Since the unfolding of the Darfur crisis (which has already become another protracted crisis in the country!) back in 2003, UNHCR has immersed itself in providing assistance to the victims of violence in the turbulent region of western Sudan. At least UNHCR has a relatively easy job of raising fund for the victims of the Darfur crisis than for the protracted refugees of eastern Sudan. UNHCR’s presence in the country will continue as long as the Darfur crisis remains in the spotlight, and having to abandon the refugees of eastern Sudan will not make the UN refugee organisation go out of business.
Another concern is that it is unlikely that UN agencies such as UNDP and UNHCR work
together harmoniously. UN agencies have different mandates and they also have a history of
rivalry. Contest over hegemony and leadership may hinder the smooth implementation of the
TSI programmes.
Another crucially important issue is the position of the Sudanese government vis-a-vis the
TSI. In fact integration was never a government policy and the presence of refugees in the country is still viewed by the government as a transient phenomenon (see Article 6.4, 1974 Regulation of Asylum Act). There is a deep division among the people of eastern Sudan over the issue of integrating refugees in their societies. On the one hand, TSI’s proponents view
common denominators such as ethnicity and religion, particularly among refugees who
belong to the Beni Amer tribe, as crucial factors that can facilitate the process of integration.
According to some reports, a sizable number of refugees have already managed to obtain the
Sudanese citizenship.
On the other hand, opponents of the TSI cite security concerns and believe that
refugees should stay in designated settlements until the conducive conditions for their return
to their home countries are in place. Many in the states of Kassala and Gederif believe that
refugees constitute an additional burden, particularly sharing meagre resources in a region
where penury is a commonplace and nothingness is the daily lot for the majority of its impoverished local citizens.
In light of the above and due to the continuing wrangling over the motives of the TSI (which
have already surfaced in the local media), I am of the opinion that the TSI shall have a slim
chance to achieve its stated objectives. Given the population dynamics in eastern Sudan's
porous borders, addressing the root causes of forced migration such as abject poverty, lack of
development, inequalities and human rights violation is the way forward. The insistence on
tackling the symptoms of the problem of displacement simply means Sudan has to brace itself
to face more longstanding refugee situations.

Tarig M. Yousif (PhD) is a freelance researcher in the field of forced migration and human displacement. He worked for many years as an aid worker in refugee camps in Sudan.