IGAD–the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, constituted by the four Horn of Africa states plus Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda–last week issued an important communique on Somali refugees. The Nairobi Declaration on Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees and Reintegration of Returnees in Somalia builds on earlier regional statements and agreements to work collectively toward safe and durable Somali returns and to seek additional funding from the international community to support hosting states.
What is particularly noteworthy about the new Declaration is its support for providing Somali refugees with economic opportunities in hosting communities. Thus, in addition to language about voluntary repatriation, the Declaration includes in its statement of “objectives” the goal of “maintaining protection and promoting self-reliance in the countries of asylum.” More specifically, it calls on IGAD member states to:
- Enhance, with the support of the international community, education, training and skills development for refugees to reduce their dependence on humanitarian assistance, and prepare them for gainful employment in host communities and upon return;
- Call upon States to align domestic laws and policies, including civil documentation, in line with refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention obligations in order to enable refugees to access gainful employment and self-reliance;
- Progressively advance alternative arrangements to refugee camps and facilitate the free movement of refugees and their integration into national development plans and access to services[.]
If these words are followed by concrete actions, it will be a major step forward in shifting the response paradigm from “care and maintenance” to “inclusion and self-reliance.”