The UN Refugee Agency

State of the World’s Refugees 2012

Box 0.1: Somalia—the state of the world’s refugees in microcosm

The complex crisis in Somalia illustrates nearly all of the topics examined in this edition of The State of the World’s Refugees. The vicious and unpredictable nature of the conflict has dramatically limited space for humanitarian action, even as internal displacement has reached alarming proportions. The conflict, coupled with a drought the UN called the worst in 60 years, led in 2011 to a sharp upsurge in the exodus to neighbouring countries, with nearly 300,000 Somalis fleeing to Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti during that year. The capacity of these host countries has been severely strained, regardless of whether the refugees stay in camps or in urban areas, and there are few durable solutions for Somali refugees at the present time. In this difficult…

Box 1.3: The Lord’s Resistance Army—a transnational threat

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has attacked civilians across the Great Lakes and Central Africa regions for decades, depopulating entire areas and hindering humanitarian access to affected populations. In 2011, the international community and the African Union (AU) showed new resolve to put an end to this enterprise of crime and terror. But questions remain as to whether the initiative will succeed. Once a Ugandan rebel group, the LRA now seems to lack any objective other than sustaining its top leadership and perpetrating atrocities against civilians. Following a Ugandan military campaign in late 2008 and early 2009, and inconclusive peace negotiations between the government of Uganda and the LRA before that, the LRA moved out of Uganda. Yet it proceeded to intensify its attacks…

Box 1.5: Yemen—a complex environment

In Yemen, UNHCR and its partners have faced many obstacles to their operations, including widespread political unrest in 2011. Yet the agencies have found innovative ways to remain in the country, and to assist large numbers of refugees and IDPs. Yemen is the only state on the Arabian Peninsula to have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. UNHCR first established a presence there in 1992, in response to the Somali exodus that has continued unabated ever since. At the end of 2011 there were more than 200,000 Somali refugees registered in Yemen, of whom 25,000 arrived in 2011 alone. Yemen remains one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 136 out of 170 on the 2011 Human Development Index. In recent years, the challenges faced by…

Box 2.3: Asylum and mixed migration in southern Africa

Over the past decade, growing numbers of people have travelled from the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region of Africa towards the southern part of the continent, and in particular to South Africa , which now receives more asylum seekers than any other country in the world. This flow includes refugees, asylum seekers, people seeking work, education or family reunion, and many others. The movement of people from the Horn of Africa comprises Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans who travel over a 4,500-kilometre route, mostly through Kenya and onward via Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. For most Somalis, the initial trigger for leaving their country is to escape from violence, but in many cases economic, educational and family considerations propel them further south.…

Box 3.3: Resettlement from Nepal—a strategic approach

When refugees from Bhutan started arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s, the news scarcely made headlines outside the region. Such a silent refugee crisis often paves the way for what is euphemistically called a ‘protracted’ refugee situation, in which a combination of lack of political interest, declining funding for humanitarian aid and elusive durable solutions creates generations of refugees. By the end of 1995, more than 90,000 people—around 18 per cent of Bhutan’s population—had fled across the border into India and continued on to Nepal. Commonly known as Lhotshampa or ‘people of the south’, the refugees came from a variety of mostly Nepalispeaking minority groups in Bhutan. The vast majority of the refugees had been made stateless by Bhutan’s 1985 Citizenship Act. The…

Box 3.5: Afghans—still on the move

UNHCR’s largest voluntary repatriation programme of the past decade supported the return of over five million Afghans. Despite the political and security changes that led to these massive returns, Afghanistan remains the source of one of the most protracted and complex displacement challenges confronting the international community. The most complex displacement situation More than three decades after the Soviet invasion, there were still over 2.6 million Afghans registered as refugees in Iran and Pakistan at end 2011. A similar number of Afghans are believed to migrate irregularly within the region and beyond, primarily in search of work and economic opportunities. Worldwide, Afghans are still one of the largest groups of asylum seekers, and include an alarming proportion of unaccompanied minors. The number of IDPs…

Box 4.1: Citizenship and the creation of South Sudan

In January 2011, after decades of civil war, the people of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence from the Republic of Sudan in the north. Six months later, on 9 July 2011, Africa’s newest country was born: the Republic of South Sudan. The path to independence was not an easy one, and throughout the first year of independence, the possibility of renewed armed conflict between north and south was ever-present. A related concern was that of statelessness. It was feared that, upon independence, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people living in both countries might suddenly find themselves without a nationality. There were concerns about gaps in the nationality laws of the two Republics, the availability of documentation to prove ancestry…

Box 4.4: The challenge of counting stateless people

Identifying people who are stateless and understanding the causes of their statelessness are prerequisites for resolving the problem in any given country. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most governments are unable to provide accurate information on stateless populations. Only a few have systems in place to determine statelessness and extend an official status to stateless persons. Although UNHCR and other UN agencies frequently carry out registrations of refugees and in some circumstances of internally displaced people, it is not common for them to register stateless persons. Ways of identifying stateless populations In recent years, an increasing number of projects have been developed with the explicit purpose of identifying stateless populations and surveying their protection needs. Such ‘mapping’ exercises can be costly…

Box 5.2: The Kampala Convention—a legal framework for solidarity

In 2009, African states adopted a pioneering new international instrument on internal displacement. Known as the Kampala Convention, the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa continues the continent’s tradition of setting normative standards on forced displacement. The Convention was approved at the African Union (AU) Summit on forced displacement held in Kampala, Uganda, in October 2009. Forty years earlier in Addis Ababa, the (then) Organization of African Unity had adopted the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The Kampala Convention addresses the full cycle of internal displacement: from prevention to solutions. UNHCR was closely associated with its preparation, helping states and the AU Secretariat to ensure consistency with international standards, especially the…

Box 5.3: IDPs and Colombia’s Constitutional Court

Colombia has one of the most highly developed legal and institutional frameworks for the protection of IDPs. The country’s Constitutional Court has actively promoted this framework through a variety of actions, most notably through a ground-breaking judgment handed down in 2004. Under the procedure known as ‘acción de tutela’, individuals in Colombia are able to petition the Constitutional Court for the protection of their rights. By the end of 2003, the claims of more than a thousand IDP families had made their way to the country’s highest court. In view of the magnitude of internal displacement in Colombia—estimated by the government in 2011 at 3.8 million—the potential for individual claims was virtually unlimited, and the Constitutional Court considered that reviewing individual cases was not…