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Africa Informal Consultations in Geneva

Briefing notes

Africa Informal Consultations in Geneva

14 December 2001

As a follow-up to the two-day ministerial meeting on the 1951 Convention, some 50 African government delegations, including 30 ministers, are holding a one-day informal meeting on the problem of protracted refugee situations in Africa and to find new ways of reinvigorating refugee protection in Africa. The meeting, which began at 10 a.m., is chaired by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Zambia, which is the current chair of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers is scheduled to address the daylong meeting.

Erika Feller, director of UNHCR's Department of International Protection, was scheduled to introduce discussions on a number of current challenges in Africa. These include the need to locate refugee camps at a safe distance from borders and the separation of armed elements from fleeing civilians at the outset of refugee outflows. We also expect to hear from African governments on their proposals for improving registration and the issuance of identity documents to refugees, as well as ways of achieving better international co-operation and burden-sharing for the large numbers of refugees in the region.

In the afternoon, participants will shift their attention to longstanding refugee situations across Africa, which hosts 3.6 million refugees - 30 per cent of the world total - and 9.5 million of the world's internally displaced persons. One goal is to secure the agreement of governments to emphasize self-reliance and empowerment of refugees in these protracted situations. This would involve integrating them into the development planning processes of the countries of asylum. For this, additional funding may be needed from donors, some of whom are attending today's meeting.

There are several protracted refugee situations in Africa. The vast majority of refugees in the Horn of Africa, for example, have lived in exile for more than a decade. The civil war in the Sudan is in its 17th year. The first Somali refugees fled their country in 1988. Increased numbers of Eritrean refugees are now returning home from Sudan after more than 30 years of exile in some cases. The protracted conflicts in the Great Lakes region have prevented the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the region.