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Recommendations of the OAU/UNHCR symposium on refugees and forced population displacements in Africa

Executive Committee Meetings

Recommendations of the OAU/UNHCR symposium on refugees and forced population displacements in Africa

21 September 1994

Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection
31st meeting

21 September 1994


1. The OAU/UNHCR Commemorative Symposium on Refugees and Forced Population Displacements in Africa took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 8 to 10 September 1994. The Symposium was held to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (the "1969 OAU Convention") and the twentieth year of its entry into force on 20 June 1974.

2. The Symposium brought together representatives of almost all the Member States of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and a number of Member States of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme. Also represented were relevant organizations of the United Nations system, other Inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and academics from various parts of the world.

3. The Symposium underlined the important contribution that the 1969 OAU Convention has made to refugee protection and solutions in Africa and the inspiration it has provided in other regions of the world. While acknowledging the challenges facing the Convention, it reaffirmed its continued validity as the regional foundation for providing protection and finding solutions for refugees and problems of forced population displacement in Africa.

4. While drawing attention to recent positive developments in the solution of refugee problems in parts of the African continent, the meeting highlighted the scale and gravity of coerced displacement in Africa today. In the 25 years since the Convention came into existence in 1969, the refugee population in Africa has grown more than ten times, from 700,000 to over 7 million, one third of the world total. In addition, there are an estimated 20 million internally displaced persons on the African continent. The refugee flows impose intolerable security, social and economic burdens on the countries that have generously provided and continue to provide asylum. More seriously, they are a symbol of the tragedy of the ethnic conflicts, social disintegration and political anarchy prevailing in some countries in Africa.

5. Against this background, the Symposium adopted a document entitled "The Addis Ababa Document on Refugees and Forced Population Displacements in Africa", which draws attention to the continuing urgency of the refugee and displacement crisis in Africa. The document, inter alia, contains 34 recommendations which the Symposium requested that its organizers present to the appropriate organs of the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental bodies for their consideration and approval.

6. The concerns addressed in the "Addis Ababa Document" fall under ten main headings: Root Causes of Refugee Flows and Other Forced Population Displacements; The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa; Refuge Protection in Africa; Material Assistance to Refugees; Internally Displaced Persons; Solutions for Refugees; Other populations in Need of Protection and Humanitarian Assistance; Emergency Preparedness and Response; From Relief and Humanitarian Assistance to Socio-Economic Sustainability; and Institutional Aspects. The recommendations on each of these topics are reproduced below. The full text of the "Addis Ababa Document" is being circulated separately.



Recommendation One

The Member States of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the OAU Secretariat, in collaboration with the relevant inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, should examine all the factors which cause or contribute to, civil conflicts, with a view to elaborating a Comprehensive Plan of Action for tackling the root causes of refugee flows and other displacements. Among others, the following issues should be examined: ethnic strife and conflict; the role of the arms trade in causing or exacerbating conflicts in Africa; the establishment of a firm foundation for democratic institutions and governance; the respect of human rights; the promotion of economic development and social progress; the obstacles to providing protection and humanitarian assistance, to displaced persons; and the inter-relationship between humanitarian, political and military actions at an international level.

Recommendation Two

The political leadership of Africa should rise up to the challenges of practicing politics of inclusion and popular participation in national affairs; creating a firm foundation for responsible and accountable governance; and promoting social progress, economic development and a just and fair society.

Recommendation Three

In this context, the Symposium notes with satisfaction the activities of the OAU in conflict prevention and resolution. Bearing in mind the beneficial effects of such activities in preventing or reducing displacement, the Symposium:

(i) recommends that the linkage between the activities of the OAU in conflict prevention, management and resolution and those on behalf of refugees and internally displaced persons should be strengthened.

(ii) urges organizations involved in refugee and other displacement issues, and the international community at large, to support the activities of the OAU in conflict prevention, management and resolution.

(iii) in particular, encourages those organizations, and the international community at large, to contribute generously to the OAU Peace Fund and to provide human resources, technical support, advisory services and equipment to support the above-mentioned activities, in conformity with the relevant OAU guidelines.

(iv) further encourages them to support the OAU in elaborating and expanding its activities in the fields of human rights monitoring, the promotion of human rights and humanitarian law, election monitoring, the management of political transitions, and the development of early warning systems at national, sub-regional and continental levels.

Recommendation Four

The Symposium urges all parties involved in armed conflicts to respect the principles and norms of humanitarian law, particularly those aimed at protecting civilians from the effects of war, preventing their being subjected to attacks, reprisals or starvation, or being displaced in conditions contrary to the provisions of Additional Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the laws of war.


Recommendation Five

The symposium reaffirms its belief in the continuing validity of the 1969 OAU Convention as the cornerstone of refugee protection and solutions in Africa. In this regard, and in order to implement the Convention more effectively, it is recommended that States:

(i) which have not already done so should ratify the Convention.

(ii) should uphold the principles of the Convention on the humanitarian nature of asylum; prohibit activities inconsistent with refugee status; safeguard refugees against refoulement or expulsion; actively promote voluntary repatriation; respect the principle of voluntariness in repatriation; and practice burden-sharing and solidarity among states.

(iii) should enact the necessary legislations and regulations so as to give effect nationally to the Convention and its principles.

(iv) with the support of the OAU, UNHCR, and other relevant organizations, provide training to government officials on the 1969 OAU Convention and refugee protection in general, as well as promote those principles among the refugee and national populations as a whole.

(v) should courageously resist temptations to whittle down, through national policies, laws or practices, the obligations and standards contained in the Convention.

Recommendation Six

Those regions of the world in which international or regional legal systems for refugee protection do not exist, or where the applicable régimes are under review, should consider the relevance of the 1969 OAU Convention. In this regard, the Symposium highlights the Convention's broad definition of a refugee, its provisions on the non-rejection of refugees at borders and the prohibition of refoulement of refugees, and the respect of the voluntariness of refugee repatriation.


Recommendation Seven

African states should abide by the letter and spirit of the 1969 OAU Convention and continue to uphold their traditional hospitality towards refugees and their liberal asylum policies. In particular:

(i) Refugees seeking admission into the territory of another State should not be rejected at the border or returned to territories where their lives may be endangered. Accordingly, Governments should not close their borders in order to refuse refugees admission.

(ii) Governments should use their best endeavours to treat refugees according to the standards established under refugee law. In particular, they should ensure the personal safety of refugees, locate them in area which are accessible, safe and where basic services and amenities can be provided, and enable them to regain a normal way of life.

Recommendation Eight

The international community, the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and other relevant organizations, should support and assist host governments in fulfilling their responsibilities towards refugees in a manner consistent with the principles of refugee law on the one hand, and legitimate national security, social and economic interests on the other hand. In particular, financial, material and technical assistance should be made available to:

(i) ensure that the social and economic structures, community services, and the environment of host countries or communities are not unduly stretched as a result of having to host massive numbers of refugees.

(ii) provide food, water, shelter, sanitation and medical services on a timely basis so that refugees and local populations alike are not put in a life-endangering situation.

(iii) determine the refugee status of persons seeking asylum, and to ensure that those who do not need or deserve international protection do not abuse the humanitarian institution of asylum.

(iv) enable Governments to respond effectively to situations which may contribute to a deterioration in security, law and order in the refugee-hosting areas. In this regard, priority should be placed on isolating and disarming individuals or groups among the refugee populations who may be armed and threatening the lives of innocent refugees, local citizens, and humanitarian personnel or engaging in other criminal acts.

(v) further to the preceding recommendation, to trace and impound for safe custody or destruction dangerous weapons illegally circulating or hidden in refugee-hosting areas.

(vi) create or strengthen national institutions to manage and deal with refugee matters at central, provincial and district levels; build adequate and well-trained human resources capacity; and to have such technical and logistic resources as will enable governments to respond to and administer all aspects of refugee problems.


Recommendation Nine

Donor countries and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations should provide financial, material and technical assistance to the African asylum countries hosting refugee populations. In cases of large-scale influxes, such assistance should necessarily be provided on a timely basis in order that lives are not lost.

Recommendation Ten

The refugee crisis cannot be addressed effectively through rigid and regionalized approaches. The Symposium recommends that this problem be addressed in a global and comprehensive manner, as it will ultimately affect every region of the world. Likewise, countries should strive for effective cooperation and mutual assistance on refugee, displacement and migratory issues, the same way they collaborate on security, economic and environmental matters.

Recommendation Eleven

The Symposium appeals for genuine international solidarity and burden-sharing to be brought back to the centre of the refugee problem, the international system of protection and of solutions for refugees. In particular, a truly international system embracing global standards and principles on prevention, refugee protection, assistance and solutions should be reinvigorated. The steady slider towards restrictive, deterrent, laws, policies and practices at a global level must be halted and reversed.

Recommendation Twelve

In order to reinforce the measures proposed in the above-mentioned recommendations, the Africa region should elaborate, with dedication and determination, modalities for an effective response to the refugee problem on a regional basis. In situations where a sub-region or group of countries are affected by a common refugee problem, such an approach is particularly appropriate. In other cases where emergencies are beyond humanitarian action alone, the necessary political initiatives may also require a regional approach. Therefore, arrangements to ensure prevention of refugee displacements, guarantee protection within the region and actively promote solutions are considered to be essential elements of this approach.


Recommendation Thirteen

The primary responsibility to ensure the protection of all its nationals belongs to the State as a duty and responsibility flowing from sovereignty. States should uphold the rights provided for under international and national law in favour of internally displaced persons. In particular, their right to life; not to be arbitrarily relocated; and to be able to return to their habitual places of residence must be respected at all times. In addition, both States and non-state entities involved in armed conflicts are bound to abide by the human rights and humanitarian law principles and norms, the observance of which would ensure the protection of internally displaced persons.

Recommendation Fourteen

All parties to a conflict or who control area where internally displaced persons are located should cooperate with the relevant organizations involved in humanitarian activities in enabling them to gain access to the displaced so as to cater to their needs. This type of access for humanitarian purposes should not be considered as impinging on the sovereignty of States. On the contrary, the consent of states to such access, to ensure saving the lives of the internally displaced persons, is an exercise of a primordial function of sovereignty.

Recommendation Fifteen

The Symposium strongly supports the efforts of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, and initiatives taken in other national, regional and international fora, to promote appropriate legal, institutional and operational mechanisms for the better projection and assistance of internally displaced persons.


A. Refugee Repatriation

Recommendation Sixteen

Every opportunity for the voluntary repatriation of refugees should be seized upon. in keeping with the provisions of the 1969 OAU Convention, Governments of asylum and Governments of origin should create conducive conditions for the return home of refugees in safety and dignity. The OAU and UNHCR should support these initiatives and measures and also carry out such activities, consistent with their respective mandates, to promote and facilitate voluntary repatriation.

Recommendation Seventeen

In promoting refugee repatriation, the principle of voluntariness elaborated in the 1969 OAU Convention and in general refugee law should be respected at all times. Governments should not resort to the forcible repatriation of refugees for any reason. Furthermore, refugees should not be returned to conditions where they may be endangered. The withdrawal of food distribution in refugee camps so as to force refugees to return to their country, whereas they may still be in need of protection, is a flagrant contravention of refugee law and the well-accepted principle of voluntariness of repatriation.

Recommendation Eighteen

Refugee repatriation programmes should be designed in such a manner as to ensure that refugees who return spontaneously are not excluded from the relevant monitoring activities and assistance programmes.

Recommendation Nineteen

Refugees should be allowed to participate in decisions concerning their repatriation. In this connection, they should be provided with all the relevant information necessary for informed judgements. The Government of the country of origin, the Government of the country of asylum, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should cooperate in providing refugees with the necessary information.

Recommendation Twenty

In planning and implementing repatriation programmes, the protection and stance needs of the most vulnerable, particularly women, children and the elderly, must be provided for at every stage of the return and reintegration operation.

Recommendation Twenty-One

The international community should provide assistance for the rehabilitation or reconstruction of the social and economic infrastructures, services and distribution systems in the areas of return in order that the conditions for successful repatriation are thereby created.

Recommendation Twenty-Two

The Organization of African Unity and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should collaborate in clarifying:

(i) which organizations or authorities have responsibility to remove land mines and other munitions imbedded in areas of return.

(ii) the extent of the obligation upon the international community to provide humanitarian assistance for the rehabilitation and recovery of areas of return and the implications of this obligation.

(iii) what legal principles apply and what actions may be taken by refugees, countries of asylum and the international community at large to achieve a solution where, as a result of the policies or other developments in the country of origin, refugees are in effect condemned to permanent exile and for all practical purposes lose their nationality.

B. Inter-African Resettlement of Refugees

Recommendation Twenty-Three

The Symposium appeals to African States to offer additional places for the resettlement in their territories of refugees from other African countries.

Recommendation Twenty-Four

Where refugees are accepted for resettlement under these inter-African arrangements, UNHCR should provide the necessary resources to facilitate their reintegration into their new societies. In cooperation with the OAU, it should also help in developing resettlement criteria to ensure that inter-African resettlement is implemented in a way which is compatible with the integration capacity of the accepting countries.

Recommendation Twenty-Five

Modalities for further encouraging and implementing inter-African resettlement of refugees should be elaborated jointly by UNHCR, the OAU and interested African states. For this purpose, a consultative meeting could be envisaged.


Recommendation Twenty-Six

Organizations whose mandates are limited to only specific groups of persons should carry out their humanitarian and assistance activities in a flexible and imaginative manner. They should strive to ensure that the needs of the community in which refugees and returnees are located are also met, without limiting themselves strictly to only those persons falling within their respective mandates.


Recommendation Twenty-Seven

The Symposium supports the ongoing efforts aimed at strengthening the international emergency response system, including those measures for the development of effective early-warning systems; to improve coordination, cooperation and communication among agencies involved in humanitarian action; to pre-position emergency stocks and resources; improve emergency planning; and to establish emergency response capabilities within individual organizations.

Recommendation Twenty-Eight

The Symposium reiterates that these actions should be linked to institutional and capacity building at the indigenous level. In particular, they should contribute to the establishment or improvement of the national (government) disaster response and management capacity and enable grass-roots and community-based organizations to participate effectively in all aspects of emergency response.


Recommendation Twenty-Nine

Emergency relief and humanitarian assistance should, as far as possible, be conceived and delivered within the context of the long-term development goals of the concerned countries and with a view to preventing the recurrence of conflict and/or displacement. Relief and humanitarian assistance should therefore be designed in such a way that their short term nature paves the way for medium, to long-term solutions, namely rehabilitation, reconstruction and development with transformation as the ultimate and most durable goal.

Recommendation Thirty

The interventions of the relevant organizations, in the framework of inter-agency coordination, should be organized in such a way that measures to cope with emergency situations are linked to well-thought out policies and programmes for development. This approach is particularly crucial for those societies where war and massive displacements have left economic decline, shattered infrastructures, destroyed food production systems and caused chronic food shortages, widespread malnutrition and rampant death. In relation to repatriation, particularly of refugees of an agricultural background, they should be provided land for settlement and use, seeds, tools, other agriculture implements, and livestock so that they may be able to regain a normal way of life. There should also be major investments in health, education, shelter and sanitation and in the recovery and rehabilitation of the social and economic infrastructures.


Recommendation Thirty-One

The Symposium calls upon Governments and the relevant inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations to take concerted actions to implement the proposals contained in this document. Where necessary, the mandates, structures, capacities or competences of the respective institutions should be reviewed so as to enable them to address a wider range of humanitarian, social and political matters. Furthermore, cooperation and coordination between and among organizations and authorities should be consolidated. New or unprecedented challenges should be boldly and innovatively tackled.


Recommendation Thirty-Two

The Symposium requests its organizers to present the recommendations herein to the appropriate organs, respectively, of the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant inter-governmental and non-governmental bodies for their consideration and approval.

Recommendation Thirty-Three

These recommendations should also be presented to the Member States of the Organization of African Unity and the Member States of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for their separate consideration and implementation as may be considered appropriate.

Recommendation Thirty-Four

Those States and the organizations specifically mentioned in this document are requested to follow up and take practical measures to implement the relevant recommendations.