South Africa + 13 more

UNHCR Global Appeal 2014 - 2015 - Southern Africa


Working environment

There are more than half a million people of concern to UNHCR in Southern Africa. At the end of 2012 they included some 134,000 refugees, 272,000 asylum-seekers and almost 19,740 returnees.

The socio-political atmosphere in the Southern African subregion is expected to remain relatively calm. In July 2013 Zimbabwe held elections that were generally peaceful. Nonetheless, individuals from Zimbabwe continue to seek asylum elsewhere, and it is not expected that many Zimbabweans outside the country will return home. In Madagascar, where a transitional Government has exercised power for the last four years, elections are scheduled for October 2013. Lesotho and Swaziland have experienced some unrest aggravated by an economic crisis and a prolonged drought.

The large numbers of people moving from the East, the Horn and the Great Lakes regions of Africa to South Africa have led to concerns among the countries of the subregion about national security, trafficking, human smuggling and abuse of the asylum system, resulting in stricter border controls. UNHCR, particularly in collaboration with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), is looking for ways to address the issue of mixed migration.

National asylum systems in the subregion work under severe capacity constraints, and have difficulties in identifying people in need of international protection. While nearly all of the countries in the subregion have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, its 1967 Protocol and the 1969 OAU Convention, most have done so with reservations regarding freedom of movement and access to employment.

With the exception of Angola and South Africa, countries in the subregion hosting a significant number of refugees maintain encampment policies that restrict the freedom of movement of refugees and asylum-seekers and impede their efforts to become self-reliant. Many of these camps have existed for decades, and the second and sometimes third generations of refugees living in them find it difficult to envision a better future.

Despite sustained efforts to promote voluntary repatriation to Burundi and Rwanda, there is very little interest in return among refugees from these countries. This is so, despite the reluctance of most host Governments to offer these refugees the option of local integration.

Foreign nationals are increasingly seen as competitors for scarce economic opportunities. This fuels xenophobia and has a negative impact on the protection environment for refugees and asylum-seekers. In South Africa, where most refugees live in urban areas, violence against foreign-owned businesses continues to occur, despite efforts to promote tolerance. Similar factors have led to the deterioration of public and official support for asylum in Angola, Malawi and Mozambique.

As envisaged in the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy for Angolans initiated in 2010, all of the countries hosting significant numbers of Angolan refugees have declared the cessation of refugee status for Angolans who arrived before 2002. Voluntary repatriation to Angola continues to be promoted. Namibia, South Africa and Zambia have developed systems to grant temporary residence to those Angolans who meet specific criteria.

Statelessness in the region is a concern. None of the countries in Southern Africa have acceded to the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions. People at risk of statelessness are found mainly in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe; however, exact numbers are not known.