Ethiopia + 11 more

UNHCR Global Report 2020: East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes

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After Burundi’s 2020 elections, the Government strengthened engagement with the international community including humanitarian actors. The overall working environment and the political and security situation improved, although reports of human rights abuses continued. In line with the Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan, which brought together 35 partners, UNHCR provided protection, assistance and access to services for an estimated 313,000 Burundian refugees, mainly in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Republic of Tanzania. UNHCR pressed for their inclusion in national COVID-19 responses. Food shortages grew, leading to negative coping mechanisms, including gender-based violence and premature returns. COVID-19 disrupted schools, stretched health services and constrained access to registration, asylum and voluntary repatriation. Although health screenings, isolation facilities, personal protective equipment, testing and social distancing added unplanned costs to the repatriation movements, UNHCR helped 40,900 refugees to return from Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda, bringing the total returns to Burundi to close to 120,500 since voluntary repatriation activities began in 2017. UNHCR did not promote returns but continued to support those who expressed an interest in returning home voluntarily.


Over 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees were hosted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda at the end of 2020, the largest refugee crisis in Africa, with 28,000 new refugees during the year. 2020 saw slow progress towards peace and the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). After years of conflict, the situation was not yet considered conducive for safe, dignified and sustainable returns for the majority of South Sudanese refugees, but 122,000 did choose to return on their own in 2020.

UNHCR provided South Sudanese refugees with protection and basic assistance, in line with the South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan, which brought together 96 partners, with gender-based violence and child protection as priorities. UNHCR promoted refugee inclusion in COVID-19 prevention and response measures in line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and the Global Refugee Forum. However, support for livelihoods activities was constrained during the pandemic. UNHCR strengthened its engagement with IDPs in line with its IDP initiative, providing protection and assistance to over 1.6 million South Sudanese IDPs displaced by protracted conflict, environmental disasters and outbreaks of intercommunal violence.


Decades of civil war and instability have created UNHCR’s longest refugee crisis, with more than 686,000 Somali refugees residing in Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen and elsewhere in the region. 3 million Somalis were displaced within the country by the end of 2020. With COVID-19 as well as insecurity hindering cross-border movement, a total of 1,560 Somali refugees returned home. UNHCR assisted 600 refugees of these, while others returned on their own. Cumulatively, 92,150 Somali refugees have been assisted to return since 2014. Amid ongoing state-building and funding shortfalls, returnees, IDPs and the 24,500 refugees and asylum-seekers hosted in Somalia faced insecurity and climate-related shocks such as floods, droughts and locust infestations. The UNHCR-led protection return monitoring network in Somalia recorded nearly 1.3 million new displacements, 70% due to flooding. Most remained in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. As well as providing direct support for protection, assistance and solutions for the most vulnerable, UNHCR and partners helped build the Government’s capacity to implement comprehensive protection and solutions for 3.3 million people of concern.


Violence flared in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in November 2020, driving some 55,000 Ethiopians to seek refuge in eastern Sudan. Some 96,000 Eritrean refugees—registered in Tigray before the crisis erupted—were also severely affected. Some were forced to flee to find safety elsewhere in Ethiopia, including in Addis Ababa. UNHCR led the inter-agency refugee response plan in Sudan, working with the Government and partners to provide life-saving assistance, expand reception facilities and set up two refugee camps to offer the 55,000 refugees protection, water, sanitation, health care, education, shelter and food.

In Tigray, communication blackouts and lack of access precluded any immediate response. UNHCR joined the rest of the UN in requesting unhindered access and raised concerns about the safety and well-being of the Eritrean refugees and hundreds of thousands of IDPs. UNHCR extended assistance, protection services and cash grants to many of the Eritrean refugees who had fled to Addis Ababa.

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