Top United Nations officials want to revise the way the UN responds to the world's mounting refugee problem. ''Relief is not enough,'' says an official close to UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
A radical ingredient of the Secretary-General's plan calls for many refugees to be integrated gradually into the society of their host countries. That is a big switch from the current UN practice of providing emergency relief, then helping refugees to be ''repatriated'' into their home countries after a crisis has subsided.
''This (older) approach takes the refugees halfway, not all the way. It does not seek permanent solutions,'' says the UN official.
In addition, the UN chief would like the current aid programs run by UN High Commission on Refugees to be supplemented by other agencies within the international body. Relief, he says, only ''perpetuates the situation, it does not solve it.''
UN emergency shelter, food, and health care have helped millions of refugees - particularly in Africa, where more than 2 million persons have fled their home countries.
There are roughly 700,000 refugees in Somalia, 620,000 in Sudan, 350,000 in Zaire, 114,000 in Uganda, 175,000 in Tanzania, 93,000 in Angola, 60,000 in Zambia - to name but the largest groups.
The first International Conference on African Refugees Assistance (ICARA), held two years ago in Geneva, was an effort to focus world attention on the plight of African refugees. About $600 million was pledged by various countries to alleviate the refugee plight.
''The results of the conference, however, fell short of the expectations of African countries, particularly in regard to the additional assistance required to help affected countries to carry the heavy burden imposed on their economies by refugees and returnees,'' Mr. Perez de Cuellar says in a recently published report.
ICARA II, to be held in Geneva in May 1984, will aim more at problem-solving over and above regular humanitarian programs, according to officials here. UN spokesmen do not want to say how much money would be needed to implement the Secretary-General's plan, but analysts say they hope donor countries pledge at least $800 million at ICARA II.
It is a complex task to apportion developmental assistance to countries with fragile economies. Creation of jobs for refugees in industry or agriculture must not take jobs away from the native populations. Perez de Cuellar plans to send a technical team to each host country to consult with the government and to assess the impact of the refugee situation. Then the team would help to determine the assistance required to integrate the refugees productively into the local economy.