Refugee policies in Africa: Open borders but limited integration

20-09-2017

As Europe struggles with the migration crisis, the EU is trying to develop a new relationship with African countries in order to try to curb the influx of people fleeing war, poverty or persecution, as well as to address the situation of refugees in Africa. Indeed, while some African countries are transit countries, Africa also hosts significant numbers of displaced people, many of whom qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol or under the 1969 Organisation for African Unity Convention on Refugees. Nevertheless, while many African countries have ratified these international norms, in practice the protection provided is often inadequate. Most often, a policy of open borders allows refugees to cross freely into neighbouring countries, without however offering any long-term prospect for integration into host societies. There are exceptions to this approach, such as South Africa and Uganda, countries widely praised for their integrationist policies, but even there societal pressures are driving more restrictive policies. Many African countries lack any legal framework for granting asylum and in practice severely curtail the rights provided to refugees by the Geneva Convention. This implementation gap contributes to protracted refugee situations and is likely one of the main drivers of irregular migration to Europe. Refugees in Africa are confined to camps located in remote areas for long periods of time, with their freedom of movement severely restricted and without any access to formal employment. They have to rely on international humanitarian aid for their survival and when aid shrinks they are at risk of being sent back home, where they can face serious threats. In the context of the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees, some African countries have pledged to take steps to improve the integration of their refugees.

As Europe struggles with the migration crisis, the EU is trying to develop a new relationship with African countries in order to try to curb the influx of people fleeing war, poverty or persecution, as well as to address the situation of refugees in Africa. Indeed, while some African countries are transit countries, Africa also hosts significant numbers of displaced people, many of whom qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol or under the 1969 Organisation for African Unity Convention on Refugees. Nevertheless, while many African countries have ratified these international norms, in practice the protection provided is often inadequate. Most often, a policy of open borders allows refugees to cross freely into neighbouring countries, without however offering any long-term prospect for integration into host societies. There are exceptions to this approach, such as South Africa and Uganda, countries widely praised for their integrationist policies, but even there societal pressures are driving more restrictive policies. Many African countries lack any legal framework for granting asylum and in practice severely curtail the rights provided to refugees by the Geneva Convention. This implementation gap contributes to protracted refugee situations and is likely one of the main drivers of irregular migration to Europe. Refugees in Africa are confined to camps located in remote areas for long periods of time, with their freedom of movement severely restricted and without any access to formal employment. They have to rely on international humanitarian aid for their survival and when aid shrinks they are at risk of being sent back home, where they can face serious threats. In the context of the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees, some African countries have pledged to take steps to improve the integration of their refugees.