António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), praised Africa’s commitment to refugees today while addressing the 32nd Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In a refrain seldom heard, and in contrast to much of the rest of the world, Guterres commended the continent’s commitment to keeping its borders open.
“Despite the continent’s own social, economic and security challenges – Africa’s governments and people have kept its borders, doors and hearts open to millions of people in need,” he said. “Unfortunately generosity is not proportional to wealth.”
According to the UN, around 80% of the world’s refugee population are dispersed among emerging economies, with Africa taking the lion’s share.
It is against this backdrop that the African Union named 2019, ‘The Year of Refugees, Returnees and IDPs’.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR recorded a total of 30m Africans in need on the continent in 2018.
This includes 7.5m refugees, 630,000 asylum-seekers and over 18m Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Despite overwhelming numbers, and a lack of resources, Africa has been praised for its progressive refugee policies.
“Africa has the gold standard for generosity,” lauded Guterres.
Uganda, for instance, allows refugees the right to work and freedom of movement.
From independence, it recognised the ability of refugees to contribute positively to the economy and national development, by enabling rural refugees to cultivate under-populated plots of land.
By the 1990s, this approach had been formalised into “the self-reliance strategy.”
Together with Ethiopia and Kenya, these three east-African countries host around 2.8m refugees, more than the entire number to arrive in all of Europe’s 28 member states during the 2015 to 2016 “refugee crisis.”
Their average GDP per capita is around 20 times less than their European counterparts.
Ethiopia in fact hosts nearly 740,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan – the largest refugee population in a single African country.
Yet it continues to maintain an open-door policy which welcomes refugees and allows humanitarian access and protection.
Guterres finished by reaffirming the UN’s commitment to working with the AU to find sustainable solutions to the large number of refugees in Africa.