Informal Consultations on "New Approaches and Partnerships for Protection and Solutions for Africa"

Global Consultations, 31 December 2001

1. Immediately after the first ever meeting of States Parties to the 1951 Convention/1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, held on 12-13 December 2001, UNHCR's Bureau for Africa organised informal consultations on "New approaches and partnerships for protection and solutions for Africa". The meeting attracted considerable attention and was attended by 47 African delegations, of which 29 at ministerial level. A good number of delegations from donor countries, UN agencies, NGOs, OAU and other sub-regional organisations were represented ( the agenda of the meeting, background papers and list of participants are attached to this report).

2. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Zambia, Steven C. Chilombo (Chairperson), opened the meeting by welcoming delegations and providing some historical background on the problem of refugees in Africa. He referred to the 1951 Convention and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention and pointed towards the changing nature of refugee crises in Africa, which are increasingly caused by endemic civil strife and insecurity, and characterised by their protracted nature and the inadequate resources dedicated towards resolving them. The Chairman invited delegations to participate in the discussions on the Comprehensive Implementation Plan (CIP) which he described as Africa's solution to Africa's protection problems, and to reflect on solutions for protracted refugee situations.

INTRODUCTORY STATEMENTS

3. In his introductory statement, the High Commissioner commended the positive role of African countries in receiving and protecting refugees. He said that the meeting was timely because it re-focused attention on refugees in Africa. Protection could not be seen in a vacuum: protection without solutions was not protection. At the same time, whilst striving towards solutions, it was important for Governments to take up their responsibility to provide asylum, security and protection to refugees.

4. On the issue of protracted refugee situations, the High Commissioner stressed that refugees, whilst in exile, should be allowed to lead meaningful lives. This would involve recognising the value of refugees, increasing their self-reliance and education opportunities, as well as including the needs of refugees in national development plans and establishing joint local community and refugee projects. There was a clear link between refugee empowerment and development in Africa.

5. The High Commissioner took the opportunity of the meeting to announce a number of changes to the management structure of the UNHCR Bureau for Africa. In particular, he announced that Mr. David Lambo would be the new Director for the Bureau and that the management structure would be re-centralised with a special focus on specific situations and durable solutions.

REINVIGORATING REFUGEE PROTECTION IN AFRICA

6. Ms. Erika Feller, Director of the Department of International Protection, introduced the first item on the agenda: Reinvigorating Refugee Protection in Africa. She mentioned the two crosscutting themes of the Comprehensive Implementation Plan (CIP): international co-operation and burden sharing, and standards of treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. She also highlighted the linkages between the CIP and the Global Consultations and outlined the CIP recommendations prioritised by the OAU/UNHCR follow-up Committee. These were firstly to adopt policy guidelines on the separation of armed elements, secondly to initiate a comprehensive study of accession to international refugee instruments and national refugee legislation and eligibility procedures in Africa, thirdly to undertake public awareness and sensitisation campaigns, fourthly to strengthen the implementation of the 1969 OAU convention.

STATEMENTS BY STATES PARTIES

7. The following delegations took the floor: Rwanda, Tanzania, Egypt, South Africa, Malawi, Republic of Congo, Algeria, Uganda, Guinea, Chad, Senegal, Sudan, Gambia, Somalia, Burundi, OFADEC (NGO). The following paragraphs synthesise the broad sense of the statements made by delegations.

Strengthening legislative and administrative protection tools

8. A number of delegations stressed the importance of adequate legislative and administrative procedures to process refugee status applications and to stipulate the rights and obligations of refugees. Some delegations shared their respective countries' experiences on the importance of incorporating the refugee definition of the 1951 Convention and the wider 1969 OAU definition into national legislation. Other delegations added the importance of the wider context of Human Rights Conventions and Humanitarian Law.

Africa-specific approach

9. A number of delegations mentioned the importance of taking into consideration Africa's historical and political context when discussing refugee issues. Many delegations reaffirmed the need for Africa-specific approaches to protection and praised the 1969 OAU Convention and the CIP as good examples.

10. Many delegations recognised the importance of the OAU's role in refugee protection over the past 3 or more decades. There was a need to continue to co-ordinate activities to obtain optimum results for African refugees. A number of delegations also stressed the important role of African sub-regional organisations.

Armed elements and security packages

11. A number of delegations mentioned the difficulties involved in separating armed elements from civilian refugees. One delegation asked at what stage a former-combatant could be considered for refugee status and also wanted to know which organisation took responsibility for combatants who cross international borders. Another delegation mentioned the need for clear, transparent guidelines on separating armed elements from civilian refugees in order to prevent abuse by security forces. The importance of demobilisation and re-education former-combatants was considered essential. The need for adequate financial assistance for security packages to ensure the civilian nature of camps was also mentioned.

The asylum-migration nexus

12. One delegation mentioned its government's concern about illegal migrants using the asylum process to remain in the country, thereby costing the government large amounts of money and overloading the system. Another delegation mentioned the challenges involved in dealing with uprooted border populations.

Durable Solutions and addressing root causes

13. There was general agreement that the only long-term solution to the problem of refugees was to address the root causes of refugee flows, including human rights abuses, bad governance, civil strife, poverty and under-development. This would allow refugees to return to their countries of origin. Some delegations called upon refugee producing countries to relieve the continent of the burden of refugees. The issue of prevention was also considered important by a number of delegations. Whilst there was general agreement that addressing root causes of refugee flows and prevention did not fall within UNHCR's core mandate, these issues needed to be addressed concurrently in order for refugee problems to be resolved.

International solidarity and burden sharing

14. Many delegations acknowledged that the responsibility for solutions lay in Africa, but stressed the need for international solidarity and burden sharing to address the problem of refugees adequately. A number of delegations stressed the link between protection and material assistance in the African context. Some delegations gave concrete examples of the importance of international assistance in emergency preparedness and response for refugee crises.

15. The importance of UNHCR's contribution to refugee protection was also highlighted by a number of delegations. In particular, some delegations were concerned about the imminent closure of the UNHCR offices in their respective countries. Several delegations also mentioned the need to increase training for government officials dealing with refugee matters and to increase public awareness campaigns.

16. Ms. Feller in her response acknowledged the general support for the recommendations of the CIP and the background paper on "Reinvigorating Refugee Protection in Africa". She noted a number of worrying trends, which were influencing African governments' attitudes towards asylum. These trends included minimal international burden-sharing, dwindling funds directed towards refugee programmes in Africa, protracted refugee situations, security problems associated with refugee flows, militarised refugee situations, and mixed flows of refugees and migrants. Ms. Feller said that the Global Consultations were designed to provide practical guidance with regard to some of these specific protection problems and added that many of them were reflected in the CIP allowing both processes to feed into each other. Ms. Feller took note of the need to provide more details on certain issues, particularly with regard to the actual activities needed to implement the CIP, which would be done in close co-operation with the OAU.

17. The High Commissioner commented that international responsibility sharing was key to improving protection and finding solutions. He hoped that the "burden" of refugees could be turned into a positive force.

ADDRESSING PROTRACTED REFUGEE SITUATIONS IN AFRICA

18. Mr. David Lambo introduced the second item on the agenda: Addressing Protracted Refugee Situations in Africa. He outlined some of the characteristics of protracted refugee situations in Africa: no durable solution within immediate reach, unemployment, idleness, lack of education, recruitment of refugees into armed groups, anti-social behaviour and other protection problems. Mr. Lambo went on to give some of the elements for a way out of these situations. It would require empowering refugees and promoting self-reliance, seeing refugees as "agents of development", and mitigating the impact of refugees on local communities through area development. This would require an additional effort on the part of host countries and also on the part of the donor community.

19. Mr. Lambo then summarised the recommendations outlined in the paper, including the setting up of national committees to look into the specific situation of refugees in each country. These national committees, in close co-operation with UNHCR, would elaborate strategies to mobilise additional resources to reorient refugee programmes that have stagnated as care and maintenance programmes for protracted periods of time. It would be imperative to increase partnerships to achieve the goals of refugee self-reliance and empowerment.

STATEMENTS BY STATES PARTIES

20. The following delegations took the floor: Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, OAU, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Côte d'Ivoire, USA, Sweden, Gabon, Algeria, France, Ethiopia, Somalia, African Humanitarian Action (NGO), African Concern (NGO), Habitat, Amnesty International (NGO). The following is a broad synthesis of the statements made by delegations. Some of the issues overlapped with those discussed in the morning session.

Lessons learned

21. A number of delegations shared the experiences of their countries with regard to local integration and self-sufficiency programmes for refugees. There was general agreement that governments and UNHCR should learn from their previous experiences. One delegation asked why self-sufficiency programmes so popular in the 1970-80s were abandoned. This delegation recommended the use of pilot projects and a gradual implementation of the new strategy.

Weak national socio-economic and political infrastructure

22. Many delegations said that they recognised the potential benefits of self-sufficiency, empowerment and community-based strategies. However, there was a consensus that these strategies could not, and should not, be supported by the host countries alone.

23. Most delegations felt that most of the local socio-economic infrastructure in Africa was not able to cope with the significant increase in population caused by refugee influxes. Environmental degradation, deterioration of infrastructure, the isolation of refugee camps, tensions between refugees and host communities and insufficient arable land, were some of the problems mentioned. Any approach to protracted refugee situations therefore needed to be planned carefully and in accordance with local needs. One delegation also said that these strategies could only really work in a relatively stable environment, whereas many refugee-hosting countries were themselves politically unstable. The link between refugees and IDPs, and the need to also address the latters' needs, was highlighted by one delegation.

Partnership

24. Many delegations stressed the importance of partnership between host countries, donor countries, UN agencies, NGOs (including national NGOs) civil society and refugees themselves in addressing protracted refugee situations. A number of delegations representing donor countries pledged their support and partnership in helping African countries deal with the challenges of hosting large refugee populations.

25. Most delegations concluded that significant additional investment was needed to address protracted refugee situations in a meaningful way. At least one delegation was sceptical at how much development funding would be available for refugee programmes, particularly given the already limited amount available for nationals living in remote rural areas.

Durable solutions and development

26. As during the morning session, many delegations stressed that whilst helping refugees lead meaningful lives in exile was a positive initiative, resolving root causes and allowing refugees to go home was the ultimate durable solution and we could not afford to lose sight of this. Again a number of delegations encouraged UNHCR to co-operate with the OAU, sub-regional organisations and other UN fora on the issue of prevention and conflict resolution

27. Some delegations pointed towards the link between durable solutions and development, particularly in the areas of poverty alleviation, education and health. A number of delegations representing countries of origin were particularly insistent on the need to support reintegration programmes once voluntary repatriation becomes feasible.

28. Mr. Lambo thanked the delegations for their remarks and concluded that there was a general endorsement of the approach outlined in the paper but that the test lay in the implementation. The next steps would involve discussions and planning with governments and other partners at the national level.

29. The High Commissioner, in his closing remarks reiterated that UNHCR and its partners could not continue with a "business as usual" approach and that the general strategy discussed during the meeting would need to be fine-tuned to fit particular situations. He committed UNHCR to working with the OAU on the search for solutions and again stressed the link between refugees and development.

CHAIRMAN'S SUMMARY

30. The Chairman summarised the day's deliberations (the full text of the chairman's summary is attached). He noted particularly that there was broad consensus on the strategies outlined in the two papers presented by UNHCR.

31. The Chairman noted a number of recurring themes during the discussion. Firstly, the need to put refugee protection in Africa into its historical and political context. Secondly, the importance of addressing the root causes of refugee flows and conflict prevention. Thirdly, the need to support national efforts in legal and institutional capacity building. Fourthly, the nexus between asylum and irregular migration. Fifthly, the challenges of separating armed elements from civilian refugee populations. Sixthly, making sufficient resources and adequate funding available to support countries hosting refugees.

32. In closing, the Chairman thanked the delegations for the rich discussions on the future of refugee protection and the search for durable solutions in Africa.

Africa Bureau
31/12/01