UNHCR Africa Fact Sheet - Jul 2001

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 18 Jul 2001
INTRODUCTION
As of 1st January 2001, there were 5.3 million people of concern to UNHCR in Africa out of an estimated 21.1 million worldwide. The Africa figure includes 3.6 million refugees, 1.3 million internally displaced people and 300,000 former refugees who have recently returned home. In comparison, in January 2000, the global number of people of concern to UNHCR was 22.3 million, of whom 6.2 million were in Africa. Of these, some 3.5 million were refugees.

During 2000, more than 445,000 new refugees sought asylum in various countries in Africa. During the same period, 278,800 refugees returned home, mainly to Eritrea, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. This return figure represents 35 percent of global refugee returns in 2000.

The Africa region continues to be the main source for resettlement to third countries. During 2000, a total of 18,188 refugees from Africa (46 percent of global resettlement total) were resettled to third countries.

Among the 15 largest return movements in 2000, 10 were to African countries.

These were:

Eritrea: 68,000

Somalia: 53,900

Liberia: 42,400

Sierra Leone: 40,900

Rwanda: 26,300

Dem. Rep. of Congo: 14,800

Angola: 8,800

Burundi: 6,800

Congo: 5,600

Kenya: 4,900

Top 10 African refugee countries of origin at the beginning of 2001:

Burundi: 567,000

Sudan: 485,000

Somalia: 441,600

Angola: 421,200

Sierra Leone: 401,800*

Eritrea: 377,100

Dem. Rep. of Congo: 365,000

Liberia: 273,200*

Rwanda: 114,000

Ethiopia: 43,600

Top 10 refugee-hosting countries in Africa at the beginning of 2001:

Tanzania: 680,900

Guinea: 427,000*

Sudan: 401,000

Dem. Rep. of Congo: 332,500

Zambia : 250,900

Uganda: 236,000

Kenya: 206,100

Ethiopia: 198,000

Rep. of Congo: 123,200

Côte d'Ivoire: 120,700

* These figures did not take into consideration refuge movements between September and December 2000 when UNHCR had no access to the camps in Guinea.

West and Central Africa

At the beginning of 2001, there were 1.6 million people of concern to UNHCR in 21 countries of West and Central Africa. Half of these were refugees mainly from Sierra Leone (394,891), Liberia (259,327), Sudan (53,587) and Chad (48,850). In specific circumstances, UNHCR also cared for over 410,000 internally displaced persons in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Guinea had the largest refugee population in the region (427,000).

Refugee Population in main refugee-hosting countries of West and Central Africa

(Statistics are as at 1 April 2001 and are broken down by country of asylum. They include non-assisted refugees)

Guinea: 192,813

Ivory Coast: 119,811

Liberia: 69,762

Central African Republic: 47,584

Cameroon: 41,560

Senegal: 20,739

Gabon: 18,005

Chad: 17,687

Many refugees in the region have been in exile for up to 10 years, having fled their country when civil war broke out in Liberia (1989) and Sierra Leone (1991). The conflict in the region worsened in September 2000 when parts of Guinea bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia came under attack. The attacks caused tens of thousands of Guineans and refugees to flee and prompted UNHCR to relocate refugees remaining in the south-western Parrot's Beak region, near the border with Sierra Leone. In the first five months of the year, 60,000 refugees, mostly Sierra Leoneans and also Liberians, were relocated to safer camps inside Guinea.

Since the beginning of the Guinean crisis in September 2000, another 55,000 have returned to Sierra Leone mainly from Guinea, some (26,850) with the help of a UNHCR/IOM chartered boat from Conakry, others by their own means. Several thousand more are believed to have returned and settled back in areas still under rebel occupation, where the UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations have limited access.

As of July 2001, there were still 195,895 Sierra Leonean refugees in various countries, mainly in West and Central Africa.

These returns occurred over a short period of time and have put pressure on local communities and infrastructure. In Sierra Leone, UNHCR is helping with the reintegration of returnees. Communities north of Freetown and in the south of the country have received over 20,000 returnees, while some 10,500 others are being assisted in temporary resettlement camps. Freetown's transit centres have been overcrowded since September 2000.

Despite encouraging signs, including the evolution of the peace process and the deployment of UN peace-keeping troops in areas previously held by rebels, present conditions do not allow UNHCR to promote repatriation to Sierra Leone. Many refugees come from areas that remain inaccessible to humanitarian workers. The Office is, however, exploring ways of facilitating returns from new camps in Guinea via Conakry to Freetown for those who require it.

During the first quarter of 2001, a government "clean-up" campaign against rebels in northern Liberia also caused large population movements, particularly from Lofa county. Thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees returned home from Liberia, often in difficult conditions. The general instability also caused displacement within Liberia and provoked an influx of Liberians into Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone, while the border with Guinea remained closed. In May 2001, scores of Liberian asylum-seekers who tried to enter southern Guinea were turned away.

In 1997, security conditions improved in Liberia and UNHCR began to promote repatriation. Since then, UNHCR has assisted 159,000 Liberian refugees out of a total of 367,000 who have returned home. As of June 2001, there were still 221,246 Liberian refugees in different countries, mainly in West and Central Africa.

Fresh fighting which erupted in mid-May in Senegal's Casamance province caused some 3,500 refugees to flee to the Gambia. Although most of them had returned by July, there were signs that new arrivals could occur as talks again threatened to stall. The province has been torn by low-key civil unrest since 1982, between the separatist rebel movement MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance) and Senegalese forces.

Since 1997, an improvement in security conditions in southern Chad has led to the voluntary return of close to 20,000 Chadian refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon and Niger. Camp-based assistance to these refugees was terminated in the CAR this year. Similar steps may also be taken in Cameroon. Cameroon is host to 41,600 Chadian refugees, most of whom are integrated in urban centres, but 1,000 are candidates for return to Chad.

In Chad (17,700 refugees), UNHCR is assisting some 13,000 Sudanese refugees who have been pushed out by the continuing conflict in Sudan. The refugees live in villages in Chad's eastern region. They are being encouraged to integrate locally but UNHCR could eventually facilitate repatriation should they express the wish to return home. Chad is also hosting urban refugees from the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Angola. For most of them, repatriation is not a viable option at this stage. New arrivals from CAR into Chad have been reported following the coup attempt of last May in CAR.

With no end in sight to the protracted crisis in South Sudan, Sudanese refugees remain a source of major concern for UNHCR. In the Central African Republic (CAR) (47,600 refugees), the prospect for the return of 36,000 Sudanese refugees living near the Sudanese border, remains bleak.

The somewhat more optimistic climate surrounding the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the revival of the Lusaka peace process could pave the way for an early return for some 5,000 Congolese (DRC) refugees living in the CAR. Last year, rebel advances in the DRC's Equateur province sent 10,000 Congolese fleeing to the CAR. Some of them have, however, returned to their villages on the DRC side of the Oubangui river. UNHCR's office in Bangui is also actively assisting DRC refugees in the northern Republic of Congo town of Betou, which is more easily accessible from Bangui.

In Togo (12,000 Ghanaian refugees) and Benin (4,500 refugees from various countries), the majority of refugees live in urban areas. In Togo, UNHCR is protecting a large group of Ghanaians who are integrated with the local population in the north of the country, and assists the remaining 1,000, mostly urban refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo, who are living in the capital, Lomé.

In most countries of the West and Central African region, UNHCR supports local integration of urban refugees through micro-projects, education and training grants and seeks resettlement for vulnerable cases.

Southern Africa

At the beginning of the year, there were 595,000 people of concern to UNHCR in 14 countries of southern Africa. Of these, some 335,000 were refugees, mainly from Angola (234,538) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (73,117). Zambia had the largest refugee population in the region (258,661), mainly from Angola.

Refugee Population in main refugee-hosting countries of Southern Africa

(Statistics are as at 1 May 2001 and are broken down by country of asylum)

Zambia: 258,661  

Zimbabwe: 4,422

Namibia: 30,049  

Botswana: 3,707

South Africa: 16,672

Mozambique: 2,621

Angola: 12,105

Swaziland: 1,014

Malawi: 5,890

In July 2000, UNHCR started a programme for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Angola to address the needs of some 250,000 displaced in Luanda, Uige and Zaire provinces.

The situation in Angola remains one of the most preoccupying in Africa. The country has been torn by civil war since its independence in 1975, following 14 years of fighting against the country's Portuguese colonial rulers. Fighting flared up again in 1998 after the collapse of a 1994 peace accord. In recent months, the rebel movement, UNITA, has increased attacks on a number of fronts, causing more victims, more refugees and displacement. The rate of displacement is the highest in Africa, affecting 3.8 million people, or nearly a third of the country's population of 12 million. Refugees from Angola total 414,118 persons, and are scattered in various countries of the southern Africa region as well as in the DRC.

UNHCR in Angola also assists some 12,000 Congolese refugees from the DRC. Some 2,000 of them have expressed the wish to be repatriated. Many, however, remain reluctant because of insecurity in some parts of the DRC.

Angola remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Estimates from various de-mining actors range from five to twelve million mines. This situation makes any humanitarian assistance heavily dependent upon access and security.

In June this year, the heads of state of Angola, Namibia and Zambia met in Lusaka and renewed their condemnation of UNITA rebel leader Dr Jonas Savimbi for intensifying the war. They expressed concern for Angolan refugees and IDPs. In January, Angola also became the first country in Africa to officially adopt IDP principles in line with the UN Guiding Principles on assistance to IDPs, a move that contributed to facilitating UNHCR's protection of IDPs in the country.

Incessant conflicts between UNITA and the Angolan government in various parts of the country have caused a steady number of refugee arrivals in neighbouring countries. In the early months of 2001, the Angolan refugee population in Zambia had reached 200,000. The flow of refugees from Angola to Zambia continued at an average rate of 1,000 refugees per month until April when it started to subside. UNHCR and the government of Zambia had to address the needs of a large numbers of ex-combatants who had laid down their arms and sought asylum in the country. A camp was established in eastern Zambia and now hosts about 1,000 ex-UNITA fighters.

Fighting in the Katanga province of the DRC at the end of last year also prompted the outflow of Congolese refugees into northern Zambia. There was a continuous trickle throughout the first months of 2001. Some 15,000 Congolese were transferred to a refugee camp, while 5,000 settled spontaneously along the border, bringing the number of DRC Congolese refugees in Zambia to 50,000. Cautious optimism with regard to political developments within the DRC has led UNHCR to start planning for a possible repatriation of Congolese refugees from different countries in the region.

In South Africa, UNHCR is assisting the government in dealing with thousands of asylum applications. By April 2001, the government had received 64,341 asylum applications over a seven-year period. Out of this total, 16,672 applications have been successfully adjudicated and 29,609 cases rejected. Other cases are still pending.

Namibia saw its refugee population increase steadily from 24,855 at the end of 2000 to 30,049 in April 2001. This is mainly due to Angolan new arrivals into Osire refugee camp (19,168 registered refugees).

Meanwhile some 600 Namibians of the Barakwena tribe (San people) at Dukwi refugee camp in Botswana have expressed the wish to return home. UNHCR has sent a mission to Namibia to assess conditions for possible return.

Malawi and Mozambique continue to receive a steady flow of new asylum seekers, mainly from Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC. As of July 2001, Malawi's refugee population stood at 5,890, as compared to 3,900 at the end of 2000. Mozambique's refugee population stood at 2,621. Many of the Rwandan refugees arriving today in host countries may have been on the move since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, having previously circulated through DRC, Burundi and Tanzania.

On the whole, there has been a gradual increase in the number of refugees in southern Africa. At the end of 2000, the total number of recognised refugees was 320,387. This number had swelled to 335,205, or by almost 5 percent, by the end of the first quarter of 2001.

East and Horn of Africa

At the beginning of the year, there were 1.5 million people of concern to UNHCR in seven countries of the East and Horn of Africa. Of these, more than one million were refugees from Sudan (339,446), Somalia (281,423) and Eritrea (368,969). Sudan, as well as producing the largest number of refugees, was also hosting more refugees than any of its neighbours. Other people of concern to UNHCR include returnees and internally displaced persons.

Refugee Population in East and Horn of Africa

(Statistics are as at 1 July 2001 and are broken down by country of asylum)

Sudan: 414,800

Uganda: 238,040

Kenya: 213,610

Ethiopia: 197,959

Djibouti: 23,243

Eritrea: 2,030

Somalia: 560

The vast majority of refugees in the Horn of Africa have lived in exile for more than a decade. The first Eritrean refugees fled to Sudan in 1967 and only began to return home in 1995 in periodic repatriation movements. The civil war in the Sudan has entered its 17th year and has caused displacement both inside and outside the country for an equal number of years while the first Somali refugees fled their country in 1988 when north-west Somalia began a struggle to break away from the rest of the country. Hundreds of thousands more Somali refugees fled in 1991 after the fall of the Siad Barre regime and the ensuing outbreak of civil war.

Sudanese refugees: Attempts to find solutions to problems in the various countries in the region have borne limited fruit. The Sudan Peace Process has made inadequate progress despite efforts by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to broker peace between the government of Sudan and the Sudan's People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). Meanwhile, the civil war in the Sudan has shown little sign of abating and has continued to drive out thousands of Sudanese refugees into neighbouring countries. During 2000, for example, some 30,000 new Sudanese refugees fled to Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia - which together already host some 340,000 refugees from Sudan.

The need for alternative solutions to the protracted Sudanese refugee situation has grown more acute. The civil war continues and opportunities for local integration in countries of asylum remain extremely limited. In 1999, the US government agreed to resettle more than 3,400 unaccompanied Sudanese youths. The vast majority of the youths widely referred to as "the Lost Boys" are in camps in Kenya . In November 2000, the first group of "Boys" departed Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, for the United States. Most of the boys have already arrived in the US in a series of flights scheduled for completion in the first half of 2001. In addition to the resettlement of Sudanese refugees from Kenya, some 900 other Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia were also resettled to third countries.

Somali Refugees: UNHCR's search for durable solutions also included Somali refugees in the region. During 2000, UNHCR was able to secure resettlement places in third countries for 6,373 Somali refugees in the Horn. Somali refugees constituted the largest resettled group of refugees. However, by the end of June 2001, more than 264,000 Somali refugees were still in the Horn of Africa. The Arta Agreement reached in Djibouti in May 2000 by Somali leaders, has not resulted in the anticipated establishment of a broadly-accepted government that would be capable of restoring law and order and, eventually, creating a conducive climate for the return of hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa.

UNHCR has, however, maintained a policy of promoting the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees to areas of relative peace and stability while facilitating voluntary repatriation to crisis areas only upon the specific request of refugees who do so on an informed basis. During 2000, some 54,000 Somali refugees, mainly from camps in Ethiopia, but also from Kenya and Djibouti, returned to north-west Somalia. Another 8,026 Ethiopian nationals who had mingled with refugees and were residing in the refugee camps were dispersed back into their communities. By the end of June 2001, an additional 22,516 Somali refugees in Ethiopia had also returned to north-west Somalia in an operation that is expected to result in the closure of three of the eight Somali refugee camps in Ethiopia by the end of the year. By June 30, two of the camps had already been closed. More Somali returns are also expected from Kenya and Yemen during 2001.

Eritrean Refugees: The cessation of hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia in July 2000 and the deployment of UN peace-keeping troops to border areas between the two countries this year, paved the way for the start of a major operation to return some 170,000 Eritrean refugees from Sudan. Most of them have been exiled in Sudan for decades and constitute one of the world's oldest refugee groups. The first group of Eritrean refugees fled to Sudan as early as 1967 during Eritrea's war of independence from Ethiopia. Some 147,000 of this "old" caseload are living in a string of 23 camps close to Sudan's border with Eritrea. UNHCR expects to complete the return of these refugees - together with the remaining 27,000 out of nearly 100,000 who fled Eritrea last year - by December 2002. It is hoped that an estimated 62,000 will have returned home by the end of this year. The planned return operation stems from an agreement reached a year ago between UNHCR and the governments of Sudan and Eritrea. Upon the completion of the repatriation from Sudan, an estimated 200,000 Eritrean refugees, who are unassisted by UNHCR and live in various urban centres in Sudan will likely still remain in the country. Most of them have not opted to return home.

Ethiopian Refugees: In March 2000, UNHCR applied the Cessation Clause in respect of Ethiopian refugees who had fled prior to 1991. Ethiopian refugees in all countries of asylum, world wide, were affected by this decision. The largest number of this group of refugees was in Sudan, with 12,000 living in camps. It was estimated that twice as many were in urban centres. Kenya had over 3,500 Ethiopian refugees, belonging to this group, residing in urban areas. Because of renewed conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia in May 2000, the implementation of the Cessation Clause in Sudan was delayed. However, between late December 2000 and March 2001, UNHCR was able to assist the return of more than 10,000 Ethiopian refugees affected by the decision. Refugees who opted to remain in Sudan or Kenya were advised to approach governments in their countries of asylum to authorise their continued stay in those countries through regular immigration channels or to have their claim for continued need for asylum assessed. Between 1993 - 1998, more than 70,000 Ethiopian refugees in the Sudan, and some 50,000 in Kenya were assisted to return home. More than 15,000 Ethiopian refugees remain in the Horn of Africa region. With the recent political tensions in Ethiopia, UNHCR is witnessing a new outflow of Ethiopian refugees, mostly students, to neighbouring countries.

In view of the various refugee situations within the East and Horn of Africa, UNHCR will maintain its presence in the seven countries in the region, but will at the same time make efforts to consolidate camps with reduced caseloads in Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia and also close several field offices in Somalia.

Great Lakes

At the beginning of 2001, there were 1.3 million people of concern to UNHCR in five countries of the Great Lakes region. (United Republic of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)). Of these, 1.2 million were refugees, with the largest groups from Burundi, the DRC, Angola and Sudan. The United Republic of Tanzania had the largest refugee population (681,000, of whom 511,000 were assisted by UNHCR) in the whole of Africa. Tanzania is mainly hosting refugees from Burundi who, at the start of 2001, were also the second largest refugee group in the world cared for by UNHCR.

Refugee Population in the Great Lakes region

(Statistics are as at 1 January 2001 and are broken down by country of asylum. They include non-assisted refugees)

United Republic of Tanzania: 681,000

Dem. Rep. of Congo: 332,464

Republic of Congo: 123,240

Rwanda: 30,118

Burundi: 27,136

The protracted conflicts in the Great Lakes region have continued to push out refugees to Tanzania and Zambia in southern Africa. During 2000, for example, more than 80,000 Burundians and nearly 12,000 refugees from the DRC sought asylum in Tanzania. This resulted in a refugee increase of 89,000 - one of the largest annual increases in refugee population. The ongoing civil and political unrest in Burundi and uncertainty in the DRC have, however, made it impossible for UNHCR to encourage voluntary return to either country. Meanwhile, the option of local integration, particularly in the case of Burundian refugees in Tanzania, has not been favoured by the government of Tanzania.

In accordance with the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, UNHCR and the governments of Burundi and Tanzania signed on May 8, 2001, a tripartite agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees in Tanzania. The tripartite agreement is aimed at creating a framework for planning and, when the situation in Burundi allows, implementing the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees in Tanzania. UNHCR is, however, not yet promoting repatriation to Burundi as the situation in the country remains extremely volatile. By June 2001, there were 573,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania and the DRC

By the beginning of this year, there were 310,000 Congolese refugees in all the countries of the Great Lakes region as well as in Uganda, Central African Republic, Gabon, Zambia and Angola. The advance of the Rwandan army in DRC's south-eastern Katanga Province, late last year, prompted the outflow of some 14,000 refugees to Zambia. At the same time, confrontations between rebel and government forces in the north-eastern Equateur Province of the DRC caused the flight of more than 85,000 villagers to neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC). Despite these upheavals last year, there is renewed optimism for a breakthrough in the implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement signed in 1999. UNHCR is hopeful that the successful implementation of the peace process will pave the way for the early return of Congolese refugees from countries of the Great Lakes region.

Despite its own internal conflicts, which have displaced 310,000 Congolese into neighbouring countries, the DRC continued to receive refugees. At the beginning of the year, there were more than 330,000 refugees in the country, mainly from Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. In addition, the UN estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced inside the DRC.

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