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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa on the occasion of World Refugee Day 2015

  • ACHPR Session

"A refugee is a person like you and me”

 On the occasion of the 14th World Refugee Day, let us remember that “a refugee is a person like you and me”, a human being, an unfortunate person who did not choose his destiny.Like him, each one of us, a member of our family or relations can one day be a refugee. 

Celebrating World Refugee Day is more than a commemoration; it is an opportunity to draw attention to the situation of these men, women and children and to let them know that despite everything they are human beings who have the inherent right to protection, assistance and respect of their dignity. 

The situation of refugees in Africa is of concern to us for it is becoming increasingly worse and dramatic.The number of refugees has increased to nearly 3.7 million as a result of the numerous on-going conflicts, especially in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. 

Ethiopia recently became the country with the largest number of refugees followed by Kenya.Other countries, such as Djibouti, that host long-term refugee populations, have lately been submerged by the massive arrival of Yemeni refugees due to the crisis in Yemen. 

The issue of long-term refugees has become increasingly critical particularly in Africa, which accounts for several cases of refugees spending more than 5 years in exile as with Eritreans in Ethiopia and Sudan, Angolans in Zambia, and Sahrawi people in Algeria who have been in these countries for over 30 years.

Sudanese refugees in Uganda and Kenya, and Ethiopians in Sudan have been living in these countries for more than 20 years.Liberians in Ghana, Somalis in Kenya and Ethiopia, and Burundians in Tanzania have been there for more than 10 years and Sudanese in Chad for more than 5 years.These refugees face many problems especially in terms of security, health, food and education.Entire generations have no hope for the future as they are limited in their actions by their refugee status.

Refugees and internally displaced persons have the right to enjoy the protection of international humanitarian law and human rights without discrimination.Let us always keep in mind that we could, someday, be one of themand hence treat them like we would want to be treated under such circumstances.

In view of these considerations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) established the mechanism of the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa.The Mechanism is committed to protecting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants by, inter alia, assisting Member States of the African Union to develop policies, regulations and laws for the effective protection of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons in Africa, undertaking fact-finding missions, investigations, and visits to refugee camps and camps for internally displaced persons, developing and recommending effective strategies to better protect the rights of refugees. 

On this important day for refugees, the Commission and the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa (the Special Rapporteur), Mrs.Maya SahliFadel, join refugees throughout the world in general and particularly in Africa to celebrate this day with them and reaffirm the determination of the Commission to continue working towards the improvement of their situation. 

The Special Rapporteur would like to thank host countries for their hospitality and solidarity to refugees living on their territory and calls on all African States to collectively contribute to offsetting the costs related to taking in refugees, in line with the principle of African solidarity and international cooperation and as provided for in the 1969 OAU Convention. 

She expressly welcomes the decision taken in September 2014 by the President of Tanzaniaauthorizing the relevant authorities to issue naturalization certificates to over 162,000 former Burundian refugees.It would be encouraging to see more of such acts towards refugees because they deserve to live in dignity. 

The Special Rapporteur would like to remind African States of their obligations under the 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa, ratified by the majority of African countries.Pursuant to Article 2(1) of this Convention, Member States of the OAU (AU) shall use their best endeavours consistent with their respective legislations to receive refugees and to secure the settlement of those refugees who, for well-founded reasons, are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin or nationality. 

The Special Rapporteur therefore urges African States which have not yet done so, to develop national legislations on asylum and establish national institutions for the protection of refugees living on their respective territories.She further calls on African States to implement regional and international legal instruments they have ratified to ensure greater protection of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. 

The refugee is a human being, the refugee is a father, mother or child, can be one of ours, can be us, for the refugee is a person like you and me.

Banjul, 19 June 2015