More people than ever before are being forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict and persecution. Today 68.5 million people—more than the entire UK population—are forcibly displaced worldwide. Over 20 million of those internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In December 2018 UN Member States—including the UK—signed up to a new Global Compact for Refugees, which aims to improve support for refugees and share the responsibility for hosting them more equitably amongst wealthy and poorer nations. However, the funding for refugee responses in Sub-Saharan Africa is still woefully insufficient. The UK Government is generous but could do more to encourage other donors to increase their contributions. The ‘begging bowl’ approach to raising international funds for refugee crises needs to be overhauled and a new international system created, which recognises that countries hosting refugees are providing a global public good. Any new mechanism should not encourage low or middle-income host countries—in Africa or elsewhere—to take on further debt.
Over half of those displaced in Africa are children; the vast majority of whom are missing out on an education. Getting refugee children learning is one of DFID’s key education priorities and we hope that—in support of this—it will encourage the integration of refugees into national education systems and substantially increase its financial contribution to the Education Cannot Wait Fund when it is due for replenishment later this year.
Protection of those on the move remains vital, especially women and children, who are the most vulnerable to violence and abuse. The Department for International Development (DFID) must ensure that the highest safeguarding standards are met by all of its partners on the ground, and appropriate mechanisms are in place to support those who have experienced, or feel under threat from, sexual abuse and exploitation, including by aid workers. Putting women at the forefront of refugee responses could lead to better protection for those at risk and greater self-reliance for women in the refugee community.
The right to work is essential to enabling self-reliance and dignity for refugees and DFID should continue to support host countries to extend them the right to work. Progress can be seen in places like Uganda and Ethiopia, although effective implementation of laws will be vital. Here, the UK Government must lead by example. DFID cannot continue to ask the poorest countries in the world to grant refugees the right to work whilst the UK Government significantly limits asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK.
The Global Compact for Refugees commits signatory countries to finding long-term solutions for refugees. Returning home is an option for relatively few refugees. However, where there is the potential to be repatriated, refugees must have access to comprehensive information about the situation they will return to and sufficient support for reintegration. We have significant concerns about Somali refugees being returned from Kenya and ask DFID to use the full weight of its influence with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Kenyan Government to ensure that ‘push’ factors—such as the poor conditions in the Dadaab refugee camps—are addressed, proper process is followed and refugee returns are entirely voluntary.
Integration into host communities—either in the long- or short-term—is in many cases the best and most viable option for refugees. DFID should support host countries to find complementary pathways or to integrate refugees, where there is very little chance of them returning home. This will require financial and technical support from the international community. On our visit to East Africa, we were impressed by the Kalobeyei settlement, on the outskirts of Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which was encouraging greater self-reliance for refugees alongside integration into the host community, including the use of a special currency called ‘Bamba Chakula’. We are keen to see how this model progresses, and what it might achieve, in the coming years.
Another option for refugees is resettlement in a third country, such as the UK or the US. These options have always been limited and reserved for the most vulnerable, including at risk children, those with specific medical needs or survivors of torture. However, the number of places for resettlement is in sharp decline, just at the time when they are needed most, with the US making particularly significant cuts. The UK has much to be proud of in extending resettlement to a significant number of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in recent years. However, the UK takes a very small number of refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa (just 448 out of 5,756 in 2017/18, or less than 8%). We support the call from UNHCR for the UK to increase the number of annual resettlement places available to 10,000 and argue that a quarter of places should be reserved for refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa. This will show those countries hosting the lion’s share of refugees that the UK is willing to shoulder some of that burden and give some of those most vulnerable refugees the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the UK.
UNHCR has proven itself to be doing an extraordinary job under incredibly difficult circumstances, as the sole agency mandated to protect refugees around the world. Its work remains urgent and essential and its efforts to protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in the world should continue to be supported by the UK. However, we cannot, and would not, ignore the cases of corruption, mismanagement, or other harmful conduct, that have come to light during this inquiry or in our previous inquiry into Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector. Where cases arise, UNHCR must act urgently to put safeguards in place whilst it investigates, to prevent disruption to its life-saving operations. DFID, in turn, should react swiftly and proportionately to protect UK aid, whilst limiting the impact on refugees who rely on UNHCR’s services.
The Refugee Compact is ambitious and it could make a life-changing difference to millions of refugees around the world if implemented in full. It is essential that robust accountability processes are put in place, including indicators of progress, to ensure tangible results for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. We intend to play our part and hold the UK Government to account on its promises.
The welfare of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is consistently low on the international agenda. 13 million IDPs living on the fringes of society in some of Africa’s poorest conflict-afflicted countries are being failed, by their governments and by the international community. DFID must place greater emphasis on targeting and supporting IDPs through its humanitarian and development programmes, working, where appropriate, in partnership with governments to do so. It should also better define its work in this area, as it has been impossible for us to discern exactly where IDPs are being supported by the UK and what funds have been allocated to that work. DFID should support governments in Africa to uphold the principles of the Kampala Convention, which contains legal protections for IDPs.
IDPs have been neglected for too long. We are therefore adding our voice to the call for global action on internal displacement, including the establishment of a UN High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement, to encourage attention at the highest levels of Government. We recommend that DFID continue to support—and push for—the panel to be launched this year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Kampala Convention.
When responding to displacement crises in Africa, it is essential that the UK Government continues to uphold the commitments it made under the Grand Bargain, agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. DFID needs to find ways to effectively support local and community-based organisations, including those led by women, who are vital partners in forced displacement crises in Africa. It must also find an effective way of tracking the proportion of humanitarian funding that is directed to national and local responders. DFID has made a commitment to diversify its supplier base, and we have asked for an update on progress.
We saw during our visit to East Africa the potentially transformative effect of cash-based assistance on the lives of refugees, in encouraging dignity and self-reliance as well as being a very effective way to deliver humanitarian support. Enabling refugees to shop for their own food by using the ‘Bamba Chakula’ currency in Kenya was a world away from the distribution of traditional food aid in Uganda: more convenient, more efficient and more inclusive. DFID should continue to support, and pioneer, such approaches.
We also heard compelling evidence about the need for sustainable, multi-year funding for humanitarian support in displacement situations; something DFID is doing well but needs to push partners and other donors to do better. It is also essential to start joining up humanitarian and development work in a more effective way and DFID can play a key role here as a convenor of donors and agencies on the ground.
There is a pressing need for a more joined-up approach to migration and displacement across Government. UK Government policy on displacement and migration is frequently opaque, disconnected and incoherent. DFID encourages host governments to give refugees the right to work, whilst the Home Office significantly limits asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK. DFID pushes for durable solutions for refugees, whilst the Home Office limits the number of resettlement places in the UK.
There is a real risk that policies pursued by some parts of the UK Government could come into conflict with the work of others. The UK Government’s desire to address migration to Europe, particularly through the Khartoum Process and engagement in Libya, is clearly undermining its commitment to human rights and protecting the most vulnerable refugees. There is significant concern that the Government’s approach to forced displacement has been influenced by its wish to control the numbers of economic migrants travelling to Europe. Whilst this is understandable, it is important to remember that the vast majority of those forced to flee their homes remain in the region in which they are displaced, and so this should not cloud the primary aim of the UK’s aid work in this area. The UK Government must push for progressive programmes, including through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which prioritise protecting and supporting the most vulnerable people on the move, including refugees. The UK’s work in this area should be driven by solid, context-specific evidence on the root causes of forced displacement.
The Government needs to take a comprehensive look at its policies on migration and forced displacement in order to address these inconsistencies and formulate a coherent cross-Government approach. Above all, the Government must begin to practice what it has preached.
Published: 5 March 2019