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UN Refugee Chief warns against overlooking humanitarian crises in Africa


UN Refugee Chief warns against overlooking humanitarian crises in Africa

The head of the UN Refugee agency issues a stark warning against overlooking humanitarian crises in Africa, as a high level meeting on refugees in Africa gets underway, at UNHCR's ExCom.
29 September 2014 Also available in:
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees during the Opening of the High-Level Segment on Africa

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees during the Opening of the High-Level Segment on Africa.

Geneva, September 29 (UNHCR) - The head of the UN refugee agency warned the international community on Monday about the risks of overlooking the humanitarian crises in Africa, calling for a renewed commitment to preventing conflict and ending protracted displacement.

"With more than 3 million refugees, 12.5 million internally displaced and some 700,000 stateless people in Africa, the continent represents the largest challenge for UNHCR in terms of capacity and financial requirements," António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees told delegates at the opening session of a high-level meeting on refugees in Africa, at the start of the annual session of UNHCR's Executive Committee.

A spate of new conflicts in the Central African Republic, northern Nigeria, Libya and South Sudan has displaced more than 2.5 million people during the first six months of 2014 alone. "The combination of large new emergencies and protracted conflict and displacement situations places an enormous stress on host governments and communities", Guterres said. "As international response capacities are overstretched by the unprecedented rise in global forced displacement, and as media attention is focused elsewhere, Africa suffers disproportionally more than other regions."

The High Commissioner commended African communities for their strong solidarity with neighbours uprooted by conflict. All the countries that have been faced with the recent large refugee movements have kept their borders open and allowed people fleeing war to find safety. He lauded the general broad respect for the institution of asylum in Africa, but also underscored some of the challenges. One is insecurity which affects the displaced and the host communities, but also increasingly hinders aid operations. Another challenge is the protection of refugees in mixed migratory movements. More than 150,000 people have arrived in Europe during the first nine months of this year, crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats. Many of them fled war and persecution in their home countries.

Guterres reminded his audience that finding lasting solutions for refugees is UNHCR's ultimate goal. While solutions are in short supply worldwide, Africa is making some encouraging progress in closing longstanding refugee situations, including those involving Angolans and Rwandans.

The High Commissioner called for robust international resolve and commitment to prevent conflict and forced displacement. More support is needed for regional mediation and stabilization efforts. "One thing is clear", he said, "in the absence of the political will and foresight required for effective prevention, all that the international community can do is react to new crises, lament the suffering they cause and try to come up with higher and higher amounts of money to cover the resulting costs".

In addition to conflict prevention, more needs to be done to find solutions for people who are forcibly displaced. Guterres deplored the lack of support for initiatives that help refugees becoming self- reliant. Livelihood and community based programmes, both in the country of origin or in exile, are crucial to enabling durable solutions. Humanitarian budgets are insufficient and often immediate lifesaving priorities have to prevail over long-term investment in solutions. To remedy this, the High Commissioner urged development actors to become engaged early on in a humanitarian crisis, with a view to finding long-term solutions.

The High Commissioner proposed to set up an enhanced pact of solidarity. To enable countries in Africa to keep their borders open and to continue providing lifesaving asylum, "the international community needs to assume its co-responsibility and provide much more systematic support, not only to refugees, but also to host countries and local communities".

In concluding, High Commissioner Guterres issued a stark warning against the risks of overlooking the humanitarian crises in Africa. He regretted "the double standard that marks the way the world views humanitarian crises today. Media attention and political debates are focused on the Middle East and Ukraine. Africa is hardly covered in the news and there is little global public debate about international action in Africa".

Guterres called this lack of interest unwise. "There is a clear link today between events in Mali, Nigeria, Libya and Somalia and what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan. If the world goes on ignoring this, threats of insecurity will come to everyone's doorstep. This is not only a question of international solidarity and shared human commitment. It is also one of global peace and security and enlightened self-interest for everyone."

Read the Opening remarks by the High Commissioner