A Stocktaking Conference on Palestinian Refugee Research


Monday, 8 December 1997

Opening Comments


Maureen O'Neil
International Development Research Centre


As President, it is my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of IDRC - the International Development Research Centre to this stocktaking conference on Palestinian Refugee Research. The agenda promises keen discussion on one of the most troubling and root issues in the Middle East conflict. Let me take a few minutes to situate this conference within IDRC's work. Then I will pass the floor to the organizers.

What is IDRC?

IDRC is dedicated to assisting developing countries to building research capacity so that they can address and resolve the problem which confront them. It is a crown corporation -- created by an Act of Parliament in 1970 with a mandate "to initiate, encourage and conduct research into problems of developing regions of the world and into the means of adapting and applying scientific, technical and other knowledge".

IDRC has an international board of governors. Of the 21 members, 10 are non-Canadians, most from developing countries, including Dr. Albert Butros of Jordan. The staff in Ottawa and around the world also represent a variety of backgrounds and cultures. The Centre was created as an "arms length" agency of the Government of Canada. I describe IDRC as an asset to Canadian foreign policy but not necessarily an instrument.

I will touch on a few themes which recur throughout our work.

The Centre supports the efforts of others in developing countries to create, acquire and use knowledge. Through our seven regional offices throughout the developing world and direct contact with researchers and policy makers throughout Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East, we assist researchers and research institutions. At the most general, our mission is Empowerment through Knowledge.

We assist the creation networks to communicate and share knowledge. Through our program staff, we have direct contact with researchers and policy makers in developing countries, and can quickly tap into key circles on a wide range of subjects. We try to bring together researchers and policymakers and have done so on many aspects of social, environmental management and macro-economic policy. On other issues -- desertification, peace building and reconstruction to name a few -- drawing people from IDRC's extensive network can facilitate exchange of views and information on sensitive issues in an unthreatening, and knowledge-based setting, as we are doing now.

One example of more applied networking to unite research and applications, is a large project which we call ACACIA (after one ubiquitous African tree). Its purpose is to support communities in sub-Saharan Africa in the application of information and communication technologies to improve their own social and economic development.

IDRC Programming

Six broad themes now describe the scope of the Centre's work.

  • Food Security

  • Equity in Natural Resource Use

  • Biodiversity

  • Employment

  • Strategies and Policies for healthy societies

  • Information and Communication

Under these themes, the Centre supports research through 15 program initiatives managed by multi disciplinary teams composed of economists, political scientists, and specialists in social policy, health or environmental issues. Our publications outline the details of the program initiatives. Today, I will touch on two which have a bearing on our discussions.

The Peacebuilding and Reconstruction Initiative is a program which concentrates on the fragile phase in the evolution of societies emerging from conflict. Neither traditional humanitarian assistance nor long term strategies for sustainable development give us tools which are appropriate for countries emerging from conflict. Based on the experience of individual countries, peace building and reconstruction research seeks to provide the necessary knowledge base to guide policy and action at the local, national and international levels. In addition, research can play a catalytic role in facilitating processes of dialogue, consensus building, and policy development. Current initiatives include support for peace building and reconstruction efforts in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Eritrea, Cambodia and the West Bank and Gaza.

The following are a few specific examples of the work of this program initiative:

  • The War Torn Societies Project -- IDRC has supported this particularly innovative project which is being coordinated by the United Nations Institute for Research and Social Development. By linking research to policy, the War-Torn Societies Project links research and action, bringing together both external and internal actors, particularly focussed in Eritrea, Mozambique, Guatemala and Somalia.

  • Recently, IDRC has supported a project looking at the dynamics of demilitarisation and peace-building in Southern Africa. Although demilitarisation is taking place in the region, little is known about the formation and role of new armed forces and the emerging patterns of civil-military relations. This research will identify practical policies and interventions for peace-building, establish publicly accessible electronic databases containing military and economic information, and use information and communication technology to promote a greater sharing of information and ideas among researchers and policy makers in Southern Africa.

  • The Internally Displaced Persons project: This is a multi-donor project on behalf of some of the most vulnerable internally displaced people whose numbers world-wide, as you know so well, range from 25 to 50 million. They are not protected by any international body, nor are there international laws which specifically address the protection or human rights of those displaced within their own borders. The project has three components: an annual worldwide survey and analysis of IDP issues, the maintenance of a database of internally displaced persons and the production of a quarterly newsletter.

  • People, Land and Water is another Program Initiative which does its work in Africa and the Middle East. Its goal is to contribute to the improvement of quality of life of communities through more equitable, sustainable and productive use of land and water resources. The geographical focus is on several ecosystems including two regions where the problems are particularly severe: the arid and semi-arid regions and the highland ecosystem of sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative will achieve its goals by supporting research and enhancing communications among governments, communities and local institutions. Among projects sponsored under this initiative is a most interesting one on the joint management of the mountain aquifer that flows underneath the Green Line from the Palestinian to Israeli areas. This joint project has been ongoing since 1993, and has brought together Israeli and Palestinian policy makers and academics. The general objective of the project is to identify the advantages and disadvantages of alternative schemes for Israeli-Palestinian management of the Mountain Aquifer they share, in order to provide for an equitable distribution of water while maintaining its high quality and allowing for sustainable usage.

It is worth mentioning that through our office in Cairo, we have supported research on water and environment, and support policy research for Palestinians through the Policy Research Initiative in Palestine, a joint IDRC-Ford Foundation project.

Finally, I would like to briefly mention a special activity designed to support developmental aspects of the multilateral negotiations of the Middle East Peace Process. The Expert and Advisory Services Fund was set up in 1992 as a Canadian contribution to the Peace Process on areas under discussion or of relevance to the multilateral working groups -- on water resources, on the environment, on regional economic development and in particular, the refugee working group for which Canada holds the gavel. IDRC manages this project on behalf of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and works closely with both CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to coordinate the provision of technical and advisory services. For example, we have been involved in designing and implementing a living conditions survey of the refugee population in Jordan; we have provided Canadian technical expertise to the working groups. As well, we have trained people in the region in environmental impact assessment and water data management, and have participated in the design of a water data management plan. In the past, with support from this Fund, some of our Canadian guests here today have participated in brainstorming sessions on various aspects of the peace process. This conference is funded and organized through this project, courtesy of CIDA funds, which we gratefully acknowledge.

I look forward to spending the rest of the day listening to you, and learning. And now, over to our project leaders.



* * *

Rex Brynen
Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet

Thank you Ms. O'Neil.

Ahlan wa sahlan.... welcome to this international stocktaking conference on Palestinian refugee research, jointly sponsored by IDRC and Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet.

Let me, at the very outset, thank on behalf of Joel Peters, Janice Stein and myself the extraordinary staff of IDRC--and especially Jill Tansley and Eileen Alma of Middle East Initiatives--for the incredible work they have done to make this conference a reality. Not even a general strike in Israel was enough to stop them from getting (almost) everyone here today! Let me also, at the outset, thank the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for their very considerable assistance, and the Canadian International Development Agency for providing the funding which makes this conference possible.

There is a certain appropriateness to our meeting in this place today, for it was a very much smaller meeting of Canadian scholars here some three years ago--Janice, Jill, John Sigler, Atif Kubursi among them--that gave rise to the FOFOGNET refugee email list ("Friends of the Friends of the Gavel-Net"). FOFOGNET in turn gave rise to the Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet internet project, which today links a much larger group of international researchers. For me, it is a particular pleasure to see so many friends and colleagues--and so many email addresses--physically gathered in the same place.

I don't intend to say much now, but before we start let me make a few comments about our agenda. Our agenda, in many ways, is one of agenda-setting. Over the next two days, we will be endeavouring to:

  • critically assess the state of research and dialogue projects on the Palestinian refugee issue

  • identify gaps and priorities

  • brainstorm ideas, and engage in constructive discussion of them

  • encourage networking

  • and discuss how the work that we are all engaged in can best foster a just, lasting, negotiated resolution of this fundamental issue.

In short, IDRC has got us here; it is now up to us collectively to take the opportunity to move forward the refugee research agenda. I can only presume that your presence in Ottawa--in December, no less-- means that you've risen to the challenge.

Today, we'll start by asking everyone to provide a short introduction of themselves and their recent and current research priorities. John Sigler will be chairing the session; he'll ask you to strictly limit yourself to 2 minutes each (4 minutes if you represent a larger project) so that we can get once around the table before the break.

After that, we'll devote much of the rest of the day to identifying achievements, gaps, problems and priorities in research on the Palestinian refugee issue. Here, your insight and frank evaluations are going to be of critical importance.

Finally, we'll conclude today with focused discussions on two issues: "doing dialogue" and "making research policy-relevant".

Tuesday, we'll break into smaller, focused discussion groups, and then return to a final plenary discussion. I'll talk more about the mechanics of that tomorrow.

So, once more, welcome to Ottawa and to Canada.

The PRRN/IDRC compensation workshop was funded by IDRC and the Canadian International Development Agency thrrough the Expert and Advisory Services Fund. PRRN is a project of the Interuniversity Consortium for Arab Studies (Montréal).

Last modified 17/12/97. Rex Brynen/