Handbook: Voluntary Repatriation

In recent years, UNHCR has increased significantly its involvement in voluntary repatriation operations, and it was felt that UNHCR field staff and their partners should have at their disposal a consolidation of the basic protection principles relating to voluntary repatriation, as well as of the Office's operational experience in this field. This Handbook on the protection aspects of voluntary repatriation is intended for UNHCR staff and government and NGO partners working in this area. The Handbook deals primarily with large-scale refugee situations. The term "refugee", as used in this handbook, denotes all persons outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, armed conflict, generalized violence or gross violations of human rights and who, as a result, need international protection. For purely practical reasons, other categories of persons who may need UNHCR assistance to return home are not covered. UNHCR's role and responsibilities with regard to voluntary repatriation have been developed over decades through texts, instruments, and practice. In this process, the mandate of UNHCR has been refined and extended, from the initial consideration that UNHCR's responsibility ended when repatriants crossed the border back into their home country, to a substantive involvement with regard to securing protection and providing assistance to returnees in the country of origin. Some of the instruments from which UNHCR's mandate for voluntary repatriation is derived, such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, have force of law and are binding on states that sign and ratify them. Others, such as the relevant General Assembly Resolutions and Executive Committee Conclusions, belong to the category of "soft law". While not legally binding, they nonetheless signify an international consensus.