Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa, on the occasion of the celebration of World Refugee Day, 20 June 2024


‘For a world that welcomes refugees’.

To celebrate the World Refugee Day in 2024, the theme chosen by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) focuses on solidarity: “For a world that welcomes refugees”. 

This theme resonates strongly with the African context, which is currently facing a real challenge in terms of its legendary hospitality, sorely tested by all the events that are taking place and by the increasing number of asylum seekers and refugees who need protection, care, help and assistance to build their lives, but who unfortunately cannot obtain it, as the host countries are all too often powerless in the face of the very heavy burden of caring for these people. The lack of resources has a direct impact on reception conditions, and many asylum seekers and refugees are “left to fend for themselves” and “abandoned to their fate”.

Once again this year, in many parts of Africa, crises, political violence and armed conflict, human rights violations and persecution, deteriorating socio-economic conditions and numerous natural disasters caused by climate change have forced millions of people to flee their homes in search of safety, peace and a secure life in dignity.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees , there are now more than 120 million forcibly displaced people in the world, an all-time high. Nearly 44 million of them are refugees and asylum seekers (an increase of 7% compared to 2023). Unfortunately, a large number of these people are in Africa: 5,430,153 in the East Africa and Great Lakes region , with Sudan alone accounting for almost 2 million, representing the largest refugee crisis in Africa, 3,324,428  in West and Central Africa, while Southern Africa has a total of 10,056,557 refugees and asylum seekers. 

The majority of these refugees and asylum seekers, contrary to certain information or received ideas, remain close to their countries of origin and seek refuge in nearby countries, often low- or middle-income countries.

Despite the efforts made by African states, humanitarian agencies and various stakeholders, the situation of refugees and asylum seekers on our continent remains worrying. Many of them, particularly the most vulnerable such as women and children, suffer numerous violations of their human rights: refoulements, collective expulsions, arbitrary detentions, extortion, exploitation, gender-based violence, as well as precarious living conditions in the formal and informal sites and camps where they are received. Many of them are unable to enjoy some of their social and economic rights, including the right to education, the right to health and the right to work.

The situation is all the more alarming given that the funding of humanitarian responses and aid for refugees and asylum seekers continues to suffer from unprecedented restrictions due to the limitation of funding for aid and assistance programmes, while the humanitarian emergency continues to grow in many African countries, such as Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, etc. 

Despite their great resilience, asylum seekers and refugees nevertheless remain dependent on national, regional and international solidarity. 

Long-standing refugees are a major concern, and durable solutions are struggling to find their way into the responses that African states should be adopting to enable these people to put an end to a situation of assistance handed down from generation to generation, and to return to a life that respects their human dignity.

More than ever, the “spirit of African solidarity and international cooperation”, enshrined 55 years ago in the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969), must be activated to lighten the burden on the States that receive the most refugees and asylum seekers.

More than ever, the fundamental principle of solidarity and burden-sharing, recalled by the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018, must be operationalised by States and all other stakeholders. 

“A world that welcomes refugees”, the theme of this year's World Refugee Day, means giving refugees back their place in the various communities (of origin, host or resettlement) by offering them the opportunity to shed the refugee status that sometimes stigmatises them and impacts on their lives for many years, even generations; a status that certainly protects but at other times locks them into a box from which it is difficult to escape.

“A world that welcomes refugees” implies the implementation of durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers, whether through voluntary return, local integration or resettlement.

Today, 20 June 2024, we commemorate not only World Refugee Day, but also the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the OAU Convention on the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

This dual commemoration provides the ultimate opportunity to remind African states, always in a spirit of solidarity and sharing, of their responsibilities to process asylum applications much more efficiently and rapidly. 

The protection of refugees and asylum seekers should also be linked to other fundamental interests, such as health, the future of young people and social inclusion. 

The inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers in national socio-economic systems enables them to lead a decent life, to access public services and to contribute fully to the local economies of their host countries, as emphasised in Resolution ACHPR/Res.565 (LXXVI) 2023 on the inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and stateless persons in national socio-economic systems, services and economic opportunities in Africa.

On this day, we also congratulate and encourage the continuation of good practices initiated by several countries on the continent that have adopted legislative and administrative measures to integrate and implement international and regional refugee and human rights instruments, to give effect to the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. 

We also encourage African states that have not yet done so to draw up legislation on asylum and create national institutions for the protection of refugees. 

Finally, this commemoration is an opportunity to call on the African Union to implement the Common African Position (CAP) on humanitarian effectiveness, which provides for specific measures to be taken to integrate humanitarian needs and displacement issues into national and local development plans; the need to anchor humanitarian action in appropriate inclusive strategies and plans; and the introduction of targeted measures to strengthen an inclusive approach integrating humanitarian dimensions into local, national and regional development plans, with a view to enabling genuine solidarity and the effective reception of refugees.

Operationalising the African Humanitarian Agency (AHA) by providing it with real means of action could also help to implement the principle of solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers, while providing ‘African solutions to African problems’.

Hon Commissioner Selma Sassi-Safer
Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa