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Returning refugees risk being displaced

NAIROBI, 6 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of refugees in the Great Lakes region have started returning home, but without adequate support they could reignite conflicts and end up joining the millions of people displaced within their own countries, a senior UN official said on Tuesday.

"The future is IDPs [internally displaced persons]," said Dennis McNamara, director of the UN Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division, on Tuesday in Nairobi ahead of the launch of a US $154 million UN Consolidated Appeal for the Great Lakes region.

He said there were currently only three million refugees in all of Africa - but over 11 million IDPs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Sudan.

That number may increase in those and other countries, he said. An estimated 100,000 refugees have returned to Burundi from camps in Tanzania, and the first of 155,000 Congolese have started returning to their homes in the DRC, but they are not getting the reintegration support they need.

In Burundi, Central African Republic and DRC, the breakdown of basic social services, persistent insecurity and rising levels of crime have reduced the capacity of the state to absorb returning refugees, reported the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Affected Populations in the Great Lakes Region in June.

People who have been internally displaced face the same problems as refugees when they try to return to their communities, McNamara said. Some three million IDPs in Angola, Burundi, Liberia and south Sudan have gone home in the past year.

"One of the issues they face is land," McNamara said. "In Burundi during the civil war, people took land after the occupants fled. Now they are returning, but if they try to retake that land it could bring a fight."

The state, he said, needed to take charge. "Governments need to properly register land titles and find ways to adjudicate disputes quickly and effectively."

McNamara said that the international community should push governments into taking on these responsibilities.

"Recovery efforts can only succeed if major Western powers and the World Bank pitch in," he said.

Currently, donors are not properly funding any of the post-conflict countries in the region, he said. Less than half of the 2005 Burundian consolidated appeal for $134.1 million has been funded so far, and less than 10 percent of the money for recovery efforts has come through.

"Support for recovery too often falls off donors' radar screens," he said.

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