UNHCR calls for political initiatives to end refugee crises in Africa
Meeting in Algiers on Monday and Tuesday with heads of state attending the 35th Organization of African Unity Summit, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata told leaders that peace and development were the only hope for resolving the continent's refugee crises.
Ogata held discussions with the presidents of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia on regional conflicts which continue today to create refugees. She urged them to renew their commitment to "Africa's neediest," its millions of refugees and displaced people.
"The progress towards peace in Sierra Leone and the DRC has raised hopes for countries where civilians have suffered for years. UNHCR is there, caring for refugees and ready to help them go home, but their return will depend on whether the peace can be sustained," the High Commissioner said.
The call for political settlements echoed the message Ogata carried to Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo during an eight-day mission in June. Promising her office will continue to press for more solidarity with Africa, she cautioned that little support would come before successful conflict resolution.
"Solutions for the millions of uprooted Africans have to be part of a new commitment to peace and reconciliation. Answers can be found in the provisions of the OAU Refugee Convention - one of the cornerstones of the organization itself - and in the will of the continent's leaders," Ogata said.
Ogata hailed the creation of an OAU award for service to refugees, awarded Monday to Tanzania and Côte d'Ivoire in Africa.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, as well as a Cooperation Agreement between the African body and UNHCR.
UNHCR has nearly 2,000 staff members in 42 countries in Africa. The continent's 6.5 million refugees and displaced persons represent almost one third of the people of concern to UNHCR world-wide. UNHCR has to date received US$87.4 million of $164 million needed for six emergency operations in Africa this year.