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2015 UNHCR subregional operations profile - North Africa

| Overview |

UNHCR 2015 North Africa subregional operations map

The North Africa subregion remains either a transit or final destination for sizeable mixed migration flows from sub-Saharan Africa. The instability still affecting some parts of the subregion, in particular Libya, continues to generate irregular movements to Europe. Since the start of 2014, UNHCR offices throughout North Africa have witnessed an increase in the number of asylum-seekers.

The ongoing unrest in some countries has created greater protection needs, with increased numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers being arrested and detained, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorist activity in the Sahel and Sinai regions, as well as fighting between rival militia in Libya, have also affected UNHCR's operations, reducing access to asylum.

The key challenge facing UNHCR in North Africa continues to be the arrival of asylum-seekers where regional countries are unstable and witnessing a period of transition. This is exacerbated by the absence of national and regional strategies for managing mixed migration movements, and the lack of national asylum systems consistent with international standards.

Local integration also remains a challenge in the subregion, while the prospects for voluntary repatriation for most refugee groups in the region are limited. The main durable solution for the most vulnerable continues to be resettlement.

The profile of people of concern to UNHCR in countries in the North Africa subregion is not expected to change significantly in 2015, with the exception of Libya, where the location of some people of concern is unknown following recent unrest in the country.

Other than the refugees in camps in Algeria and Mauritania (see below), most refugees and asylum-seekers in North Africa reside in urban areas. UNHCR has registered 155,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in the North Africa subregion, approximately 140,000 of whom are in Egypt. Another 50,000 non-Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR are also living in urban situations.

However, UNHCR's urban programmes in the countries of the region are relatively small, with limited capacity to assist the growing numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers. These populations face difficult socio-economic challenges, as they lack legal status and work permits. The Office helps them gain access to housing, basic social services and opportunities to become self-reliant.

An increasing number of asylum-seekers from South Sudan and Sudan have been registered by UNHCR in Egypt. The Office has also reached an agreement with the Egyptian authorities on the transfer of several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers from Salloum Camp (near the Egyptian-Libyan border) to Cairo, pending departure for resettlement or other durable solutions.

Fighting in Libya in mid-2014 prompted the organization to share a contingency plan with respective authorities in Egypt and Tunisia, and to implement emergency preparedness measures, in particular in southern Tunisia.

In 2015, UNHCR will continue to support building the capacity of local authorities in countries such as Algeria and Morocco as they establish national asylum infrastructure. Once the laws are adopted by national structures, the Office will provide training, conduct workshops and facilitate professional exchanges.

There are some 50,000 Malian refugees at Mauritania's Mbera Camp, near the Mali border. Movements into the country and spontaneous returns have stabilized. Biometric registration recently completed by UNHCR and the Government has enhanced the protection afforded to this group, by allowing the organization to optimize its interventions. Hopes are rising for a political breakthrough that re-establishes peace in Mali and prompts the start of a repatriation programme. In 2015, close attention will be given to the likelihood of voluntary returns to Mali, while tailoring an appropriate UNHCR response.

The Sahrawi refugees in Algeria are settled in five camps near Tindouf. Owing to the remoteness of the area, they remain dependent on humanitarian assistance with little prospect of self-reliance as income-generating activities are scarce. The Government estimates that there are 165,000 refugees in the camps. Pending a registration exercise, UNHCR's assistance programme will continue to be based on a planning figure of 90,000 vulnerable Sahrawi refugees. The Confidence Building Measures (CBM) programme for these refugees will continue in 2015, in an effort to meet the humanitarian needs of families who have been separated for a prolonged period of time. These measures will also help reduce the psychological isolation of the refugees, by restoring family and community links. The CBM activities complement the efforts of the United Nations to find a political solution to this protracted refugee situation. More than 20,000 people have benefitted from the CBM programme's family visits. In total, 48,000 people have registered for the programme since its 2004 inception, and further expansion will continue in 2015, in addition to cultural seminars.

Fragile security and instability in Egypt make addressing the needs of people of concern more challenging. Worryingly, this has also stretched public tolerance for the growing number of Syrians arriving in the country. The Office will continue to advocate for maintaining this protection space in 2015.

| Response and implementation |

UNHCR's operations in Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania are covered in separate chapters.

UNHCR will continue to focus on safeguarding and expanding protection space; establishing responsive national asylum systems; and promoting protection-sensitive management of mixed migratory movements.

The organization will seek to expand partnerships with States, governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society, to develop fair and efficient legislative and administrative frameworks for asylum. The Office's strategic priorities remain: delivering life-saving assistance; ensuring protection for all people of concern; seeking durable solutions, including resettlement as a protection tool; and preparing for new emergencies.

In Libya, with the eruption of fighting between rival militia, large numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers are taking the risk of crossing the Mediterranean with people smugglers. So far in 2014, more than 110,000 such people have arrived on Italian shores, of whom half originate from the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) and Eritrea. UNHCR will intensify efforts to address such mixed-migration phenomena in a comprehensive manner, working with Governments, IOM and NGOs.

The eruption of civil conflict across the main urban centres in Libya in 2014 led to the evacuation of all international presence and the suspension of UNHCR activities. In 2015, depending on the security situation and the re-establishment of access to populations of concern, UNHCR will seek support for its activities from the national authorities and other partners in the country. It will visit and provide assistance to people of concern in detention and advocate for alternatives to incarceration. UNHCR will also strengthen registration, ensure that adequate protection mechanisms are in place, provide capacity-building workshops for government officials, and reinforce the pursuit of durable solutions.

In Morocco, the development and establishment of a national asylum system continues. The Ad-hoc Committee, of which UNHCR is a member, has reviewed several hundred cases and regularized the situation of 835 people of concern, in accordance with international legal standards. UNHCR will continue supporting government institutions and civil society as they enhance their capacity to manage asylum requests.

Pending the adoption of an asylum law in Tunisia, a priority for UNHCR will be to maintain sufficient capacity to conduct refugee status determination while building national capacities to assure international protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. In 2015, the Office will assist the Government of Tunisia in adopting and setting up a comprehensive national protection system; this would allow the authorities to progressively assume their responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

UNHCR will also work to ensure that refugees are granted access to public services in Tunisia. Accordingly, supporting local structures and organizations will be essential to provide protection and assistance, in particular for refugees and asylum-seekers with special needs. In the predominantly urban context, the organization will implement a community-based protection approach, with the support of relevant national and international actors.

| Financial information |

In the North Africa subregion, UNHCR's financial requirements increased significantly in 2012 in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the subsequent spread of conflict, including in Mali. The Syria crisis is having a significant impact on operations in North Africa, while repatriation of Malian refugees from Mauritania is still hampered by insecurity in the northern part of Mali.

Since 2012, total requirements for the subregion have stabilized and are set at USD 180.4 million for 2015, almost entirely allocated to the refugee programme.

UNHCR 2015 budgets for North Africa (USD)
Operation 2014
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2014)
Total 194,519,094 178,950,799 1,450,833 180,401,632
Algeria 32,708,250 33,227,036 0 33,227,036
Egypt Regional Office 99,014,244 85,170,372 0 85,170,372
Libya 19,722,146 18,212,314 1,450,833 19,663,147
Mauritania 23,990,818 24,368,374 0 24,368,374
Morocco 3,588,701 3,516,919 0 3,516,919
Tunisia 6,006,778 6,394,560 0 6,394,560
Western Sahara (Confidence Building Measures) 8,838,157 7,213,152 0 7,213,152
Regional activities 650,000 848,071 0 848,071

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update

UNHCR contact information

The UNHCR Representative in Libya
Style of Address The UNHCR Representative in Libya
Street Address UNHCR, Almawashi Road, Next to Algheiran Aljanobia School, Sarraj Area, Tripoli, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Mailing Address P.O.Box 80708, Sarraj Area, Tripoli, Libya, Tripoli, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Telephone + 218 21 489 7944
Facsimile + 218 21 489 7945
Time Zone GMT + 2
Working Hours
Monday:8:30 - 17:00
Tuesday:8:30 - 17:00
Wednesday:8:30 - 17:00
Thursday:8:30 - 17:00
Sunday:8:30 - 17:00
Public Holidays 01 January 2016, new year
14 January 2016, youth day
21 March 2016, Independence day
25 March 2016, good friday
05 April 2016, martyr's day
02 May 2016, labour day
07 July 2016, eid al fitr
13 September 2016, eid al adha
03 October 2016, hijra
26 December 2016, christmas



UNHCR contact information

Statistical Snapshot*
* As at June 2015
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence.
  2. Persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention/1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, in accordance with the UNHCR Statute, persons granted a complementary form of protection and those granted temporary protection. It also includes persons in a refugee-like situation for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained. In the absence of Government figures, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in many industrialized countries based on 10 years of individual asylum-seeker recognition.
  3. Persons whose applications for asylum or refugee status are pending as at 30 June 2015 at any stage in the asylum procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015. Source: country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and assistance. It also includes people in IDP-like situations. This category is descriptive in nature and includes groups of persons who are inside their country of nationality or habitual residence and who face protection risks similar to those of IDPs but who, for practical or other reasons, could not be reported as such.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015.
  7. Refers to persons who are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. This category refers to persons who fall under the agency's statelessness mandate because they are stateless according to this international definition, but data from some countries may also include persons with undetermined nationality.
  8. Refers to individuals who do not necessarily fall directly into any of the other groups but to whom UNHCR may extend its protection and/or assistance services. These activities might be based on humanitarian or other special grounds.
The data are generally provided by Governments, based on their own definitions and methods of data collection.
A dash (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

Source: UNHCR/Governments.
Compiled by: UNHCR, FICSS.
Residing in Libya [1]
Refugees [2] 27,948
Asylum Seekers [3] 8,904
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5] 434,869
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Stateless Persons [7] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 471,721
Originating from Libya [1]
Refugees [2] 4,317
Asylum Seekers [3] 5,219
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5] 434,869
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 7
Total Population of Concern 444,412
Government Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2000
2014 0
2013 0
2012 0
2011 0
2010 0
2009 0
2008 0
2007 0
2006 0
More info 100,000
USD 100,000 of which 100% was unrestricted.
2004 0
2003 0
2002 0
2001 0
2000 0

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UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Crisis in Libya

UNHCR is working with the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities and aid groups to manage the dramatic influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing Libya. By the beginning of March, two weeks after the violence erupted in Libya, more than 140,000 people had fled to the neighbouring countries, while thousands more were waiting to cross. Most are Egyptian and Tunisian nationals, though small numbers of Libyans and other nationalities are managing to escape. UNHCR is particularly concerned about thousands of refugees and other foreigners trapped inside Libya, especially people from sub-Saharan Africa. The following photo essay gives a glimpse into what is happening at the borders.

Crisis in Libya

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Crush at the Tunisian border

At the Tunisia-Libya border, a heaving crush of thousands of people anxious to leave the insecurity of Libya gathered in no-man's land and on the Libyan side of the border on 2 March, 2011. Most were young men, principally migrant workers from Tunisia and Egypt. They were desperate to go home or find shelter and safety in Tunisia. After several nights sleeping out in the open, many were exhausted and hungry. As the crowd surged towards the border gate, several people were injured. The Tunisian Red Crescent is on hand to provide medical support for all those in need. UNHCR officials were also waiting on the Tunisian side of the border, supporting the Tunisian authorities and aid organizations.

Crush at the Tunisian border

Fleeing Libya by sea

Thousands of people, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, are taking to the sea in ancient, leaky and overcrowded boats to escape war in their adopted homeland. Libya. The destination of choice is the Italian resort island of Lampedusa, some 600 kilometres north of Libya in the Mediterranean. Many of the passengers arrive traumatized and exhausted from the high seas journey. Others perish en route.

One Ivorian migrant describes life in Tripoli before leaving: "There was no peace. There was rifle fire everywhere. Then NATO started to bomb. We had nothing to eat. Some Libyans started to attack strangers at night, to steal your money, your mobile, whatever you have ... No way to stay there with them. Better to flee."

UNHCR estimates that one in 10 people die during the sea journey from Libya. Those bodies which wash ashore get a simple burial in Lampedusa's cemetery.

May 2011

Fleeing Libya by sea

Displacement in Libya: Misrata, Benghazi and Tobruk

Thousands of people still remain displaced in eastern Libya as a result of the conflict that erupted in mid-February between government and opposition forces. Most are staying with host families, in empty buildings or schools. Other people of concern to UNHCR, such as refugees and asylum-seekers, have fled conflict areas such as Misrata by boat to safer locations. They are now hoping to return to their homes in Libya, be resettled to a third country, or to return to their countries of origin. UNHCR's Helene Caux has photographed the plight of internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees and migrants in Misrata, Benghazi and Tobruk.

Displacement in Libya: Misrata, Benghazi and Tobruk

Going home

During the past two weeks, UNHCR has worked with the Tunisian government, Tunisian Red Crescent and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to respond to the dramatic influx of over 90,000 people fleeing the violence in Libya. The majority are migrant workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Tens of thousands were flown home following an appeal from UNHCR and IOM to governments to send flights to evacuate them.

Going home

Tunisia's tented transit camp

A new camp full of UNHCR tents, has sprung up close to Tunisia's border with Libya to provide shelter to thousands of migrant workers desperate to get hope. The UNHCR-run facility is already full, with 15,000 people from around Africa and Asia who have fled from Libya.

Most of the new arrivals are penniless and have no hope of making it home on their own. Many of the sub-Saharan Africans arriving at the camp say they fled because of threats and abuse, with some being attacked and robbed in their homes as well as at the checkpoints that have sprung up along many roads in Libya. Non-African arrivals also report having their belongings taken at the checkpoints, but say they have not been the victims of racism and threats.

With people continuing to arrive daily, UNHCR and other agencies are bracing themselves for what could be a large-scale humanitarian disaster if the fighting worsens and if large numbers of Libyans try to flee their country.

Tunisia's tented transit camp

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Libya endured severe upheaval in 2011 and the next government faces major challenges moving the country forward after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rigid rule. One task will be addressing and resolving the issue of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Some are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, but many more have been forced to desert their towns and villages because of their perceived support for Gaddafi and alleged crimes committed during the conflict. Meanwhile, growing numbers of people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are coming to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa on well travelled mixed migration routes. Some are being detained as illegal immigrants, though many are people of concern. Others have risked the dangerous sea crossing to southern Europe.

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Some three weeks after the Libyan displacement crisis erupted in mid-February, thousands of people were still stuck at the border between Libya and Egypt waiting for onward travel to their home countries. Many have arrived exhausted at the Sallum crossing after travelling for days without adequate food or water. Some told harrowing tales of armed men going door to door at night, forcing people from sub-Saharan Africa to leave after destroying their identity papers and taking their money.

More long-haul flights to Bangladesh and other Asian destinations are needed to decongest the border, although people from countries like Eritrea and Somalia cannot go home. As a result, many people have been stuck at the border for days, sleeping outside in the cold. UNHCR has provided blankets, plastic mats, food and water for those waiting to be repatriated.

More than 100,000 people have arrived at the Sallum border since the start of the Libyan uprising. The majority have been migrant workers from Egypt who were allowed through immigration and customs quickly, but many nationalities have also turned up at the border and having to wait.

Stuck at the Egyptian border

UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya Play video

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya

Two Eritreans set out on a perilous journey to Europe, crossing Sudan and the Sahara arriving in Libya during its 2011 revolution. They arrive in Tripoli having avoided the risks of detention and despite contending with a crippling handicap: both David and his wife Amitu are deaf and mute.
Libya: Cost of WarPlay video

Libya: Cost of War

Sirte was heavily damaged during last year's fighting.
Libya: Africans at Risk Play video

Libya: Africans at Risk

As the civil war ends in Libya, Sub-Saharan Africans fear recriminations
Tunisia: Libyan RefugeesPlay video

Tunisia: Libyan Refugees

Over the past month more than 50,000 people, mostly ethnic Berbers, have across the Tunisia-Libya border at Dehiba. Some of them described why they fled Libya.
Italy Sea rescuePlay video

Italy Sea rescue

A Guardia di Finanza vessel, which normally operates against drug smugglers, arrives in Italy's Lampedusa Island with a group of boat people rescued at sea after fleeing Libya.
UNHCR: Boat OrdealPlay video

UNHCR: Boat Ordeal

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming talks about a boat that drifted in the Mediterranean for more than two weeks after leaving Libya. Only nine of the 72 passengers survived.
Tunisia: Angelina Jolie on the Libya BorderPlay video

Tunisia: Angelina Jolie on the Libya Border

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visits refugees fleeing violence in Libya in a camp in Tunisia.
Egypt: Seeking SafetyPlay video

Egypt: Seeking Safety

Amid the ebb and flow of fighting in eastern Libya, a steady stream of people continues to seek shelter in Egypt and other neighbouring countries. They tell their stories.
Libya: Desert EscapePlay video

Libya: Desert Escape

The town of Ajdabiya in eastern Libya has been the scene of heavy fighting. Thousands of civilians sought shelter in the surrounding desert.
Tunisia: Dashed HopesPlay video

Tunisia: Dashed Hopes

Victor left Nigeria 10 years ago in search of a better life and ended up in Libya. In escaping the violence there, he has lost everything he worked for.
Tunisia: No Way HomePlay video

Tunisia: No Way Home

Among the tens of thousands fleeing the violence in Libya is one group of particularly vulnerable people. They come from countries in conflict and cannot go home.
Libya: A Boat Out . . . for SomePlay video

Libya: A Boat Out . . . for Some

A group of Bangladeshi workers leave the coastal Libya town of Benghazi by boat. But some Somalis are not so fortunate.
Libya: Scared and in HidingPlay video

Libya: Scared and in Hiding

They hide in the shadows, so afraid that they don't even want to answer the door. These Africans from sub-Saharan countries fear for their lives in Libya.
Tunisia: Finding RefugePlay video

Tunisia: Finding Refuge

Some 15,000 people are staying in a camp just inside Tunisia after fleeing Libya. Many have stories about increasing violence in Libya and of being targeted by gangs.
Tunisia: A Camp of NationsPlay video

Tunisia: A Camp of Nations

A sea of tents at a camp near Tunisia's border with Libya harbours a mix of many nationalities. What they share is the wish to go home.
Egypt: Stranded at the BorderPlay video

Egypt: Stranded at the Border

Thousands of people are stranded at Egypt's Sallum border crossing with Libya. Many of them are migrant workers, like these exhausted Bangladeshi men.
Tunisia: DeparturesPlay video

Tunisia: Departures

Foreign migrant workers queue to leave Tunisia. A massive evacuation programme has repatriated thousands who fled Libya.
Egypt: Egyptians Cross Back HomePlay video

Egypt: Egyptians Cross Back Home

A steady stream of people have been crossing into Egypt from Libya. These migrant workers were elated to return home.
Tunisia: Tents for Thousands at the Border Play video

Tunisia: Tents for Thousands at the Border

The UN refugee agency is putting up hundreds of tents for people stuck at the Tunisian border after fleeing from Libya.
High Commissioner's Libya AppealPlay video

High Commissioner's Libya Appeal

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres addresses the situation in Tunisia and UNHCR's response to the emergency.
Tunisia: Border TensionsPlay video

Tunisia: Border Tensions

The latest footage from the border between Libya and Tunisia where tens of thousands of migrants are struggling to leave the country in the wake of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi
Tunisia: Border ArrivalsPlay video

Tunisia: Border Arrivals

Tunisia has opened its borders to people of all nationalities who are fleeing from Libya. Arrivals are registered at a military camp.
Tunisia: Aid FlightPlay video

Tunisia: Aid Flight

Tens of thousands of people have been crossing into Tunisia from Libya. And many more are expected. UNHCR flight of supplies arrives