UN refugee chief warns against overlooking humanitarian crises in Africa

South Sudanese refugees, many of them women and children, arrive by boat in Ethiopia. Photo: UNHCR/L.F. Godinho

29 September 2014 – The United Nations refugee chief today warned the international community about the risks of overlooking the humanitarian crises in Africa, calling for a renewed commitment to preventing conflict and ending protracted displacement.

“With more than 3 million refugees, 12.5 million internally displaced and some 700,000 stateless people in Africa, the continent represents the largest challenge for UNHCR in terms of capacity and financial requirements,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in Geneva.

He told delegates at a high-level meeting on refugees in Africa that a spate of new conflicts in the Central African Republic, northern Nigeria, Libya and South Sudan has displaced more than 2.5 million people during the first six months of 2014 alone.

“The combination of large new emergencies and protracted conflict and displacement situations places an enormous stress on host governments and communities,” Mr. Guterres said at the meeting, which comes as his agency (UNHCR) begins the annual session of its Executive Committee.

“As international response capacities are overstretched by the unprecedented rise in global forced displacement, and as media attention is focused elsewhere, Africa suffers disproportionally more than other regions,” he added.

Mr. Guterres commended African communities for their strong solidarity with neighbours uprooted by conflict. All the countries that have been faced with the recent large refugee movements have kept their borders open and allowed people fleeing war to find safety.

While lauding the general broad respect for the institution of asylum in Africa, he also underscored some of the challenges, such as insecurity and the protection of refugees in mixed migratory movements.

The High Commissioner called for robust international resolve and commitment to prevent conflict and forced displacement. More support is needed for regional mediation and stabilization efforts.

“One thing is clear,” he said. “In the absence of the political will and foresight required for effective prevention, all that the international community can do is react to new crises, lament the suffering they cause and try to come up with higher and higher amounts of money to cover the resulting costs.”

In addition to conflict prevention, he emphasized the need to do more to find solutions for people who are forcibly displaced and urged development actors to become engaged early on in a humanitarian crisis, with a view to finding long-term solutions.

Mr. Guterres warned against overlooking the humanitarian crises in Africa. He regretted “the double standard that marks the way the world views humanitarian crises today. Media attention and political debates are focused on the Middle East and Ukraine. Africa is hardly covered in the news and there is little global public debate about international action in Africa.”

He called this lack of interest unwise, noting that there is a clear link today between events in Mali, Nigeria, Libya and Somalia and what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan.

“If the world goes on ignoring this, threats of insecurity will come to everyone’s doorstep. This is not only a question of international solidarity and shared human commitment. It is also one of global peace and security and enlightened self-interest for everyone.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

As South Sudan crisis grows, Ethiopia becomes Africa’s largest refugee host

Related Stories






In-depth Interviews