Summary of the Strategic Oral Presentation on UNHCR Operations in Africa
29 February - 2 March 2000
1. The Director of the Bureau for Africa will give a brief overview of major political and security developments in sub-Saharan Africa, and their impact on UNHCR's work. He will then give an update on UNHCR's activities in the region, focusing on programmes and recent developments. He will conclude with a brief explanation of UNHCR's policies and strategies for durable solutions in the region in the coming year.
Overview of major political developments of relevance to UNHCR's work
The political landscape in sub-Saharan Africa has been marked by positive and negative developments:
2. Despite the signature of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement between the warring parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the situation in the Great Lakes region continues to be tense and the potential for future population movements remains high. The situation in Burundi gives rise to great concern, and a spill-over effect into other countries in the region is already noticeable. There are however, some hopeful signs in the region that could provide openings for peace, such as the OAU's appointment of President Masire to head the dialogue inter-congolais and the appointment of former President Nelson Mandela as peace mediator for Burundi.
3. In Sierra Leone, the current situation may be qualified as "no war but no peace." Since the ceasefire agreement signed in May 1999, the peace process appears to be holding. Nevertheless a number of security incidents have been reported which, if not addressed, may derail the peace process. The most recent, positive development has been the decision by the Security Council to expand the military component of UNAMSIL (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone) from 6,000 to a maximum of 11,000 soldiers, which will facilitate the implementation of a key element of the peace process. These troops are expected to assist the Government in carrying out the Disarmament and Demobilization and Reintegration programme. The deployment of the troops inside the country will also address the "security vacuum" left by the retreating ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group) soldiers.
4. In neighbouring Liberia, the situation in the Lofa County in the north has remained unstable. However, the border between Liberia and Guinea has been reopened raising hopes that thousands of Liberian refugees who had registered to return home will soon be able to do so.
5. In other parts of West Africa, a number of encouraging developments should be mentioned: civilians have regained control of state affairs in Niger, while political differences have been sorted out through the ballot boxes in Guinea-Bissau.
6. In Southern Africa, by far the most acute situation prevails in Angola. Beginning in October last year, the Government launched military attacks against UNITA. So far it has succeeded in dislodging the latter from its strongholds throughout the country, particularly in Andulo and Bailundo in the central highlands and in Jamba in the south of the country. The intense fighting has produced an exodus of refugees into Namibia and Zambia. In the period since October 1999, over 34,000 Angolan refugees have entered these two countries. According to United Nations figures, Angola has some 2,000,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
7. The situation in East Africa is still dominated by the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, that has put hundreds of individuals in a de facto stateless situation. For the last eight months, there was no confrontation but in recent days small clashes were reported to have occurred at the border areas. The situation remains tense and the risk of further clashes cannot be ruled out.
8. The reinstatement of diplomatic relations between Eritrea and the Sudan is a welcome development in the region. The border between the two countries has been reopened. UNHCR is making plans to repatriate some 140,000 Eritrean refugees from the Sudan.
Activities and goals in 2000
Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
9. In line with expectations of implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, UNHCR will continue to finalize its plan of operations which aims to ensure durable solutions for refugees and returnees to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the same time, contingency planning for possible further population displacements as a result of continued hostilities is underway throughout the Great Lakes region.
10. Since the start of the repatriation operation in May 1997, UNHCR has assisted with the return of some 130,000 Liberian refugees. During the same period, it is estimated that over 200,000 Liberian refugees have returned home spontaneously, bringing the total number of returnees to 342,000 as of 31 December 1999. UNHCR had initially planned to complete the organized repatriation of Liberian refugees by 31 December 1999. However this target has been reviewed, due to a combination of political and operational factors such as the insecurity prevailing in Lofa County (the largest area of return mainly from Guinea), the closure of the border between Liberia and Guinea, as well as lack of donor interest in Liberia. This has resulted in reduced reintegration activities and general logistical problems. A Regional Strategic Meeting for West and Central Africa in Abidjan in early February 2000 recommended the extension of the organized repatriation operation to the end of June 2000, and of reintegration activities for returnees in Liberia until the end of December 2000. It is anticipated that the phasing out of assistance to Liberian refugees remaining in countries of asylum will occur by the second quarter of 2000. At the same time, UNHCR will reduce its presence in most of the field locations. Meanwhile, arrangements were made in late 1999, in cooperation with UNEP, to assess the environmental impact in refugee-affected areas in Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea with a view to rehabilitating these areas. Other priorities concern preparations to reopen the border between Guinea and Liberia and restore security in Lofa County through the proposed Lofa Police Force Project.
Prospects for the voluntary repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees
11. As the peace holds in Sierra Leone and more UN/ECOMOG troops and military observers are deployed up-country, Sierra Leonean refugees are showing a growing interest in returning home. Small numbers of Sierra Leonean refugees are already crossing the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone, and UNHCR will start to facilitate their return once this is feasible. Preparatory work such as gathering data on the refugees' areas of origin, drawing up profiles of returnee areas, monitoring the spontaneous return, and setting-up a UNHCR field presence is all part of this strategy. At the inter-agency level, and notably as part of the Brookings Process, efforts are underway to establish a regional approach, involving Guinea and Liberia, in order to bring sustainable peace to Sierra Leone.
Repatriation of Chadian refugees
12. The repatriation process is now under way and refugees are registering to return to Chad: 879 have already gone back from Central African Republic. In parallel with facilitating the return of Chadian refugees, UNHCR will also focus its attention this year on reintegration and rehabilitation issues inside the country.
13. The emergency situation prompted by the sudden arrival in Gabon of over 10,000 refugees (from the Republic of the Congo) since mid-June 1999 has now been stabilized. UNHCR has embarked on consolidating follow-up to improve educational facilities and bolster the capacity of partners, both governments and NGOs to manage refugee matters.
Situation in the United Republic of Tanzania
14. The deteriorating security situation in Burundi, where rebels are reportedly to be in control of several parts of the country, is of serious concern. Over 300,000 have crossed into Tanzania, with some 50,000 having fled between October 1999 and February this year. In addition, thousands of Congolese refugees have also arrived in Tanzania. Authorities in the country fear cross-border raids by Burundi rebels using the refugee camps as their rear bases. UNHCR continues to implement a package of security measures aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Tanzanian Government to deal with security issues resulting from the presence of rebels in refugee camps in border regions.
Situation in Burundi
15. The security situation in Burundi is of serious concern. Following the killing of nine aid workers, including two United Nations staff in October 1999, UNHCR, along with other international agencies, reduced considerably its presence in the country. The repatriation of Burundi refugees has been suspended for the time being, and the rebuilding of basic services in the return areas is also not envisaged until basic conditions (including security and the discontinuation of the Government's policy of regroupement) have been met.
Situation in Angola
16. The escalation of fighting between government troops and rebels has triggered the influx of thousands of refugees into neighbouring Namibia and Zambia where UNHCR is providing emergency relief. It should be recalled that the Angolan repatriation programme was suspended in June 1998, and prospects for a resumption are for the moment very slim. UNHCR's presence in Angola has been reduced to a Branch Office in Luanda.
17. The plight of Angola's IDPs has been preoccupying the international community, and the United Nations Secretary-General recently described it as "alarming". The issue received special attention at the Security Council special sessions on Africa in January this year. UNHCR is under pressure to take the lead in providing humanitarian assistance to the IDPs, and is currently reviewing the possible implications of such an involvement, should it indeed be mandated with this task.
Repatriation to Eritrea
18. The Government of Eritrea has accepted that Eritrean refugees in the Sudan may now be repatriated and reintegrated by UNHCR. Some 149,000 have already indicated their wish to return and plans have been made for the repatriation to begin in the year 2000. The rehabilitation of refugee-affected areas and camp infrastructures in the Sudan will need to be undertaken as and when the repatriation movements begin.
Repatriation to north-west Somalia
19. Some of the Somali refugees in Djibouti and Ethiopia are expected to repatriate in the year 2000, but for the majority of the caseload, large-scale organized movement will be undertaken only when the demining and reintegration activities have been completed in areas of return in north-west Somalia. UNHCR has been preparing the Somali refugees for repatriation by enhancing their skills through training, in order to facilitate their reintegration in their areas of origin.
Application of the cessation clause to pre-1991 Ethiopian refugees
20. Following the High Commissioner's decision to apply the "ceased circumstances" clause to all pre-1991 Ethiopian refugees, discussions have taken place with the Ethiopian and Sudanese Governments. These discussions have concerned the phased implementation of this decision.
Policies and strategies
21. The restructuring of the Africa Bureau announced by the High Commissioner in December 1998 is now fully operational. Regional Directors have assumed full responsibility for their respective areas, while the Bureau Director issues policy guidelines and sets the strategic framework for the Bureau.
Strategic orientations for 2000-2001
22. A policy framework for Africa was recently approved at senior management level for the period 2000-2001. It was developed in close consultation with the Regional Directorates and Branch Offices in Africa and covers action in the various areas outlined below.
- The promotion of refugee law, training of government officials and implementing partners, or adoption of amendment of domestic legislation on refugees.
- The improvement of the welfare of refugee women and children by mainstreaming existing policies into concrete programmes.
- The promotion of security in refugee settlements, including assistance packages to countries such as the United Republic of Tanzania and Guinea, that are facing security problems.
- Measures to overcome the negative effects of serious funding shortages in programmes (such as in Kakuma, in Kenya ), including the role of the media and public information in resource mobilization;
- A focus on post-conflict recovery and strategies benefiting returnees and areas formerly occupied by refugees, including measures to rehabilitate the environment.
- Measures to encourage solidarity and development at the regional level, such as the Stability and Solidarity Pact in West Africa.
- Increased partnership with regional and sub-regional bodies, notably the OAU, with specific follow-up to the 30th anniversary of the OAU Convention.
- Continued dialogue with development agencies on the gap between relief and development as part of follow-up to the Brookings process.