Academic journal article Refuge

A Conference Built on Trust

Academic journal article Refuge

A Conference Built on Trust

Article excerpt

Abstract

In April 2001, 265 participants from twenty countries including representatives of the governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, UNHCR, and former refugees met in Norrkoping, Sweden, for the International Conference on the Reception and Integration of Resettled Refugees. Fundamentally, the success of the conference resulted from the overarching operating principles in the planning process which affirmed that all resettlement countries, traditional or emerging, had something positive and unique to contribute, and that no hierarchy would influence the equal value of comments made. As a result, a spirit of cooperation and trust was built that characterised the spirit of the conference and continues to influence the post-conference phase of the Integration Initiative.

   Somehow the distinctions between the respective roles of Government, NGO,
   UNHCR and former refugees--which sometimes cause lines to be drawn in the
   sand--were less noticeable in this process, because ... a level of trust
   had been established early on. (1)

I. Introduction

The International Conference on the Reception and Integration of Resettled Refugees (ICRIRR), a key event within a broader Integration Initiative supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' partners in resettlement, was held at Vildmarkshotellet in Norrkoping, Sweden, on April 25-27, 2001. Two hundred and sixty-five participants from the eighteen resettlement countries as well as two ad hoc resettlement countries (Great Britain and Germany) attended ICRIRR, which was hosted by the Swedish National Integration Office. These participants represented the major donor countries and major supporters of refugee protection. Among the participants were representatives of the governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and UNHCR field, regional, and headquarters staff, as well as former refugees. All eight of the emerging resettlement countries were also represented at ICRIRR. This was the first time that both the traditional and emerging resettlement countries were able to meet in an international forum to exchange best practices in the reception and integration of resettled refugees. (2)

It also seems to have been the first time in institutional memory that most of the standard operating procedures for organizing an international event of this scope were abandoned in favour of a more participatory and democratic approach to conference planning. There was, for example, no secretariat appointed to ensure that the objectives set by the major stakeholders in this initiative would be carried out.

Instead, a consultant with expertise in integration issues and conference organizing was identified and empowered to work collaboratively with states, NGOs, UNHCR staff, and former refugees in designing a strategic approach that would ultimately lead to closer working relationships and the exchange of "best practices" between the tripartite partners involved in the resettlement of refugees. (3) The consultant was given a desk, a telephone, a computer, and a warm welcome upon arrival at UNHCR Headquarters in March of 2000. She was also welcomed unconditionally into the heart of the Resettlement Section and treated with all the respect ordinarily afforded resettlement officers. Within three days of the consultant's arrival in Geneva, she was accompanied by the Chief of the Resettlement Section, Department of International Protection, UNHCR, and a senior resettlement officer to Sweden for the purpose of meeting her counterparts at the Swedish National Integration Office in Norrkoping. Together, the consultant and her Swedish colleagues would be responsible for ensuring that a first-class international conference would be organized in twelve months' time.

The immediate rapport established between the consultant and her Swedish colleagues at the National Integration Office (4) was very helpful in the design and implementation of the conference. …

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