Forced Displacement in Africa: “Anchors not Walls” Contents

2Beyond borders: UK support for refugees in Africa

Burden and responsibility-sharing

Countries that receive and host refugees, often for extended periods, make an immense contribution from their own limited resources to the collective good, and indeed to the cause of humanity. It is imperative that these countries obtain tangible support of the international community as a whole in leading the response.

—Global Compact for Refugees21

15.The principle of burden, and responsibility, sharing lies at the very heart of the Global Compact for Refugees. It recognises that a small number of countries are responsible for hosting the majority of refugees and that the countries shouldering the burden are generally those least likely to be able to afford it. This is certainly the case in Sub-Saharan Africa where low-income countries like Uganda and Ethiopia—struggling to meet the demands of their own citizens—host some of the largest numbers of refugees in the world. Protection of, and support for, the world’s refugees is a global responsibility, but the weight of it falls disproportionately with countries in regions riven by conflict and violence. As Alexander Betts states:

[ … ] a fundamental feature of the refugee system is its glaring power asymmetry. Rich donors fund at their discretion, and poor countries in unstable regions face an international legal obligation to admit refugees.22

We acknowledge that this imbalance needs to change and that the responsibility for vulnerable refugees must be shared between wealthier and poorer nations.


16.In September 2018 UNHCR estimated its funding gap at $4.5 billion.23 The agency highlights that although “levels of funding are similar to 2017… the budget is larger—reflecting much greater needs… the amount is plateauing and not keeping pace with needs”.24 Each year UNHCR produces a global appeal aimed at governments, private donors and partners, which details the financial resources required to protect and improve the lives of refugees and IDPs around the world.25 It then produces supplementary appeals where needed, to cover unexpected emergencies or changing situations. Only 15% of UNHCR’s budget is unearmarked, flexible funding; therefore, this more unpredictable ‘appeals’ approach is used to source most of its funding. UNHCR’s discrete appeals for specific country or regional “situations”, involving large numbers of refugees and IDPs, are routinely underfunded against the official assessment of need. The latest figures show that:

17.These gaps in funding have real repercussions for refugees, translating into overcrowded conditions, a lack of protection and safeguarding and failure to meet minimum standards of education, health and nutrition. In a recent report, UNHCR highlights just a few examples: 80,000 South Sudanese refugees without access to toilets in Sudan, 73,000 IDPs without safe and adequate shelter in DRC and 4,000 Somali refugees out of school in Djibouti.27 Giving evidence to our predecessor Committee, former Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown stated that, “we cannot forever continue with this situation where the only way we fund humanitarian aid… is through a begging bowl… we have no year-to-year promises that you can hold people accountable for.”28 This holds true for the refugee crisis. Longer-term, more predictable funding is needed if the international community is to protect those people forced to leave everything behind.

Box 2: The World Bank’s IDA18 sub-window

The International Development Association (IDA) is the arm of the World Bank that assists developing countries. IDA supports countries by providing concessional loans and grants for programmes that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities, and improve people’s living conditions.

The IDA18 regional sub-window for refugees and host communities is providing $2 billion funding, through concessional loans and grants, to help low-income countries hosting large numbers of refugees (over 25,000 or at least 0.1% of its population). Countries must have an adequate framework for the protection of refugees and an action plan or strategy, which provides long-term solutions for refugees and host communities. It will provide support between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020.

Source: World Bank, IDA18 Regional Sub-Window for Refugees and Host Communities, accessed 18 February 2019

18.Schemes such as the World Bank’s IDA18 sub-window are helping to provide more money to countries with large refugee populations. However, much of this comes in the form of loans rather than grants, which means many host countries are taking on additional debt in order to support refugees who have fled across their borders.29 In the context of increasing concerns about a new African debt crisis, despite the rollout of significant debt relief packages in the early 2000s, we question whether this is the best approach.30 We are also concerned about the allegations that Tanzania—traditionally one of the most benevolent hosts of refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa—opted out of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework because it was being asked to borrow money, rather than receiving grants, in order to support refugees. Professor Betts told us:

When countries like Tanzania opt out of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, it is for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons they publicly gave was that they felt there was no genuine responsibility sharing; that they were being asked to borrow money from the World Bank to support refugees. I welcome the World Bank’s involvement in this area, and the IDA18 window has put significant concessionary finance into this space. However, there is a role for developed countries and organisations like DFID to underwrite some of that risk. If loans are provided by the Bank, can somebody underwrite the interest and the risk in ways that mean that other sources of finance from the Bank and elsewhere arrive in countries like Tanzania effectively interest-free, and help create a relationship that can be effective for Tanzania and for the British Government, based on responsibility sharing?31

19.We have sought to establish how much DFID is spending on supporting people who have been forcibly displaced—IDPs and refugees—but were unable to do so. This has made scrutiny of the Department’s expenditure in this area impossible. Harriet Baldwin, Minister of State for International Development, explained that:

[ … ] it is difficult to provide concrete figures given the constantly changing numbers of IDPs and refugees and because DFID spending is allocated based on need not the status of the person… These figures are not currently available in DFID management information systems and partners are not mandated to report in this way.32

20.Other evidence suggests that DFID is one of the most generous and supportive donors in the world in responding to emergency situations and refugee crises. UNHCR thanked DFID for its contributions, highlighting that it was their fifth largest funder in 2015–16, with contributions totalling around $213 million.33 However, the fact that the specific country-by-country expenditure in this area cannot be identified, and that partners are not required to report these figures, remains a significant concern. It has also left us unable to determine the split in expenditure between DFID’s support for refugees and IDPs, which would have enabled us to assess the relative priority given to each group. Although we understand DFID’s determination that its support should be based on vulnerability rather than on status,34 where it is clear there are individuals being “left behind”—as in the case of IDPs in Africa—the Committee needs to be able to assess whether the attribution of funds is sufficient to address this. Concerns around the transparency of funding have also been raised in other areas, such as the proportion of humanitarian funding dedicated to preventing violence against women and girls35 and the provision of education services in emergencies.36

21.The recommendations in our Report cannot be achieved without plugging the gaps in funding to support those forcibly displaced. The additional finance provided by the World Bank through IDA18 may help in the short term. However, we question whether the provision of loans to countries only recently relieved of crippling debts to finance an enormous responsibility, on behalf of the international community, reflects the solidarity and responsibility-sharing at the heart of the Global Compact for Refugees (Refugee Compact). At a time when there is again increased concern about rising debt in Africa, asking governments to take on more loans seems counterintuitive.

22.The UK Government should use its influence and example to encourage other donors to increase their contributions to refugee crises in Africa, particularly those, such as Burundi, that are frequently overlooked.

23.The longstanding approach of campaigning for funding for each individual displacement crisis needs to be reformed in line with commitments made as part of the Refugee Compact. The UK should push for the development of international funding mechanisms and instruments which negate the need for a “begging bowl” approach and recognise that countries hosting refugees are providing a global public good. Any new mechanisms should not be predicated on requiring low and lower-middle income refugee-hosting countries to take on yet more debt.

24.The UK Government must urgently tackle its inability to determine, or even robustly estimate, how much funding it is providing to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in African countries, and across the world. It must work with partners, in particular the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), to encourage greater transparency in this area and develop a reporting system that enables Parliamentarians and Ministers to identify and examine how much the UK is spending in support of refugees, how much in support of IDPs, and in which countries.

Meeting needs and supporting communities

The global compact can help attract support to ensure that refugees and their host communities are not left behind in a country’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

- Global Compact for Refugees37


25.There is no doubt that, without education, “displaced children risk growing up with severely limited prospects for the future”.38 As Sanj Srikanthan of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) told us: “a lack of education consigns the next generation to a future without hope”.39 Despite this, only 50% of refugees in low-income countries have access to primary education, compared to the global average of 90%, and just 1% of refugees make it to university.40 Somali refugee, Garad Mohamed, told us about the difficulties he faced in trying to receive an education in the Dadaab refugee camps, but emphasised the determination he and other children had to make the best of it:

We had no other future; we had to commit and be resilient in whatever we were taught and study hard, to get out of the camps. There were no reading materials issued to students, nor were there enough classrooms to accommodate them. The class I went through my primary education in accommodated 65 to 70 pupils, in very tiny rooms, with no ventilation at all in place, and we had no option but just to remain.41

Sanj Srikanthan highlighted the need to “reduce the incentive to divert children away from an education and a safe space, particularly the incentive for child labour.” He argued that there were ways to do that, including through cash programming and access to education.42

26.Evidence to this inquiry has advocated strongly for refugees to be integrated into national education systems in host countries.43 Although this would require additional support from the international community—for example in developing refugees’ proficiency in the language of instruction—it could also result in greater interaction, and improved relations, between refugees and host communities. It would also provide refugee children with access to a solid and structured curriculum, potentially improving the quality of education they receive and opening up more opportunities for them in the future. In line with this aim, the Refugee Compact commits signatory countries to “contribute resources and expertise to expand and enhance the quality and inclusiveness of national education systems to facilitate access by refugee and host community children”.44 Save the Children told us that the “UK Government played a welcome and critical role in supporting this recommendation”.45 A number of countries in East Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, adopted the Djibouti Declaration on Refugee Education in December 2017. This promises to include refugees in national education sector plans by 2020. Save the Children emphasised that “The UK Government should support this important Declaration by ensuring that its education programmes in these countries align with this important commitment”.46

27.DFID has been a strong supporter of the Education Cannot Wait Fund (ECW) since it was established at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. The Fund has now been operating for almost two years and has reportedly reached hundreds of thousands of children and young people, including refugees, IDPs and host communities.47 ECW is due for replenishment this year and we urge DFID to show its continued commitment to children in crisis, including refugees and IDPs, by making an early, and substantially increased, financial commitment compared to the £30 million over 3 years pledged in 2016.48 A sizeable and timely commitment from the UK would set a strong precedent for other donors to follow.

28.The Department for International Development (DFID) remains a leader in supporting refugee education around the world and we welcome its commitment to prioritise the education of children caught up in crisis in its refreshed 2018 global education policy.49 DFID’s advocacy on refugee education during the negotiation of the Refugee Compact has also been celebrated by civil society organisations. The UK must now ensure that the rest of the international community is held to account on the commitments made within the Compact, including host countries taking steps to integrate refugee children into national education systems.

29.In line with the commitments made in the Refugee Compact, DFID should work with host governments and communities to facilitate the integration of refugees into national education systems and provide appropriate financial and technical support, encouraging other donors to do the same. Where governments have already made commitments, such as through the Djibouti Declaration on Refugee Education, DFID’s education programmes should be aligned with this approach.

30.For DFID to maintain its role as a global leader on education in emergencies, it must continue to prioritise the education of children caught up in crisis—as outlined in its 2018 global education policy, “Get Children Learning”.50 We recommend the Department makes an early, and significantly higher, financial commitment to Education Cannot Wait when the fund is open for replenishment later this year.

Jobs and Livelihoods

31.Throughout this inquiry we have heard about the importance of enabling refugees to become self-reliant, giving them the right to work and to move freely beyond the camps. Professor Alexander Betts told us that encouraging refugees to stay in a particular region or area was about building “anchors, not walls” and creating “sustainable sanctuaries for the majority of the world’s displaced”.51 In his evidence he highlighted the importance of the economic inclusion of refugees:

DFID should continue to place emphasis, and place greater emphasis, on the economic inclusion of refugees and displaced populations as a whole. If refugees can be self-reliant and achieve autonomy, it is better for them, their communities, the host societies, and indeed donor assistance. The key to this is promoting jobs and market-based opportunities.52

Professor Laura Hammond from SOAS, University of London, told us that the freedom to move was just as important:

Being able to move and having mobility is huge. As we have seen in the Ugandan example, mobility provides a huge source of resilience for people to be able to help themselves. Whether they are given a specific job in a specific scheme, or whether they actually seek their own support as traders, as workers, in finding their own kinds of employment, in a sense those two things should be parallel with each other.53

32.We understand that granting refugees unfettered rights to work is a challenging concept for host governments in Africa, where jobs are often scarce and many of their own citizens are living in poverty. Uganda has the most progressive policy in the region; something which has earned them significant praise from the international community. Since 2006 refugees have been granted freedom of movement (subject to limited restrictions), employment rights and equal access to services such as healthcare and education. Refugees can vote and stand for office at the local level. Some property rights are guaranteed: they can own movable property, such as cars and machinery. All refugees are granted a plot of land to cultivate and they are also able to lease other land and start businesses. During our visit to Uganda, we were able to see first-hand the care and attention refugees gave to their plots.

33.There have been changes in other countries too, including Ethiopia, which has one of the highest refugee populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, reaching 889,400 in 2017.54 In January 2019, the Ethiopian Parliament revised its existing refugee law, making it easier for refugees to obtain work permits, live outside of camps and gain access to education. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has since declared Ethiopia—one of the countries implementing the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF)—a “model” for other refugee-hosting countries around the world.55

The Ethiopia Jobs Compact

34.The Ethiopia Jobs Compact aims to provide jobs for 100,000 people, including 30,000 refugees, in specially created industrial zones. DFID has invested heavily in the project, providing £80m in funding.56 The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) has been very positive about the initiative, stating:

The Compact’s approach in Ethiopia and other countries stands out as the most promising initiative for a number of reasons, including its inclusion of groups with a known propensity for secondary displacement, its potential to benefit all migration-affected groups and its potential for adaption to different country contexts.57

Others have urged caution. Professor Laura Hammond expressed concern about the effect that creating large numbers of jobs in one place could have on the delicate ethnic balance in certain areas of Ethiopia (which has seen renewed conflict in the last year) and that the jobs being created may not match refugees’ skillsets. Professor Hammond told us: “It is not clear that the refugees who are in search of work are actually the workers that are being sought by the employers”.58 These concerns were echoed by the Overseas Development Institute.59 It is clear there are some issues still to be resolved.

35.The approaches pursued by the Ugandan and Ethiopian Governments are not universally popular. Ugandan newspapers report discontent about the country’s refugee policy, which was drawn up before refugee numbers rocketed to 1.2 million, due to the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.60 A UK newspaper article from 2017 reported:

[ … ] there are signs that the largely peaceful climate is coming under threat. In the border town of Lamwo, landowners are resisting the relocation of refugees. Politicians have been stoking tensions by inciting locals to demonstrate in the camps or hamper the delivery of aid. Last month armed youths ambushed a convoy in an attempt to stop supplies reaching the settlements.61

Leading by example?

36.Evidence to the inquiry has emphasised the importance of donors leading by example.62 Evidence suggested that this could include allowing asylum seekers in the UK the right to work.63 Currently, asylum seekers are only able to apply to work after they have waited a year for a decision on their asylum claim. Even where approval is given, asylum seekers are often unable to work in practice as they are limited to the jobs on the Government’s ‘Shortage Occupation List’.64 Germany has seen positive results from encouraging asylum-seekers with a high likelihood of having their claim approved to start working before this happens.65 In Spain, asylum seekers are allowed to work after six months and there are no restrictions on the types of jobs they can do. In Canada, there is no formal waiting period and the government aims to process work permit applications within 30 days.66 UNHCR also called on the UK Government to support “complementary pathways, including exploring whether and how barriers that skilled refugees face in admission to third countries like the UK can be eased, expanding the eligibility criteria for family reunification in the UK and if private or community sponsorship programmes in the UK can grow.”67

37.The right to work and the right to movement are essential if refugees are to be more self-reliant. They also give people who have suffered immensely the dignity and independence they deserve. However, for obvious reasons, granting these rights can create tensions in host countries where livelihoods are scarce and incomes are low. If we want countries like Uganda and Ethiopia to continue with these progressive, and often unpopular, policies we must equip them with the necessary resources and support.

38.We welcome DFID’s role in bringing schemes such as the Ethiopia Jobs Compact to fruition and its support of broader policy and legislative changes, which should make it easier for refugees to work in host countries. However, ensuring that these laws and policies are implemented fully and effectively will be critical to their success. In Uganda, refugee rights look strong on paper, but many still find they are unable to work and move freely in practice.68

39.DFID should continue to support host countries to provide refugees with the right to work. Although schemes, such as the Ethiopia Jobs Compact, must be considered carefully to avoid any unintended consequences, they are a step in the right direction in providing refugees with livelihood opportunities and aiding integration with host communities.

40.The UK Government needs to 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 Government must urgently reassess this policy. Nothing would carry more weight with partner governments in Africa than the UK Government practising what it has preached. This is something the Home Affairs Committee has addressed recently and we will be encouraging them to look at in more detail.69


41.Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Forced to leave behind their homes, belongings, livelihoods and sometimes even their families, they often arrive in host countries with nothing. They have unique vulnerabilities, which makes protection a critical part of the international response to the current crisis. One of Oxfam’s key recommendations for DFID is that: “protection funding, analysis, capacity, and advocacy remains central to DFID’s prioritisation, planning and response in all contexts of forced displacement”.70 In the context of the recent revelations of sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises, it is also vital that DFID ensure the highest standards are applied to safeguarding refugees, through its own operations and those of its partners. Evidence to the inquiry also highlighted that protection should be provided to all those on the move, as they have similar vulnerabilities.71

Women and girls

42.Women and girls are particularly at risk when displaced from their homes. As ActionAid UK’s evidence highlighted:

Conflict, disasters and displacement restrict women and girls’ freedom of movement, make them more vulnerable to violence and poverty, deny girls an education and cause increases in child marriage, and normalise their marginalisation.72

Sanj Srikanthan of the IRC told us, “in any case of displacement resulting from conflict, there will be violence against women and girls”.73 He highlighted the fact that in displacement contexts there is a breakdown in norms and the rule of law, which means women are at greater risk of being exploited. Evidence from a refugee response workshop in Northern Uganda highlighted that:

There are a range of particular challenges faced by women and girls in refugee settlements which rarely receive much international attention. Participants—including a member of a Refugee Welfare Council in one settlement—pointed to examples of child marriage, domestic violence, polygamy and SGBV [Sexual and Gender-Based Violence].74

43.It is vital that women and girls who have been forced to leave their homes are better protected from these threats. We were pleased to note specific examples of DFID’s support for safeguarding measures, such as the comprehensive assessment of measures and safeguards to protect women and children from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) being carried out with UN agencies and other partners dealing with the South Sudan refugee response in Northern Uganda.75 We were also pleased to hear about DFID’s ‘What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises’ research programme, which is collecting crucial evidence in refugee camps to inform its future approach to gender-based violence.76

44.In the context of sexual exploitation and abuse within the aid sector, which we dealt with extensively in our recent Report,77 refugees must also be protected from a range of risks or threats of harm arising from interactions with poorly trained, inappropriate or actively predatory aid sector workers. One of the first reports to uncover the extent of abuse by aid workers was Asmita Naik’s work for UNHCR and Save the Children in 2002, which exposed disturbing evidence from refugee camps in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone:

Victims were mainly girls aged 13 and 18 years, who reported far-reaching consequences of the abuse on their lives: pregnancies, abortions, teenage motherhood, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, lost educational, skills-training and employment opportunities and social exclusion. A refugee child said, “An [aid] worker made me pregnant but now he left me and is loving to another young girl”.78

45.Sanj Srikanthan spoke to us about the standards IRC was setting, emphasising that they use a variety of methods to encourage women reporting abuse. In this context, he highlighted the importance of extensive protection programming led by women leaders, “which allows a chance for people to disclose if they need to”.79 Putting local women leaders at the forefront of responses to forced displacement was something that was repeated to us by others during the course of the inquiry.80 It was also something the Minister was keen to support, stating: “It is a really important suggestion. I would wholeheartedly endorse that.”81 IRC noted that lack of livelihoods increased the insecurity of women and girls, as it “makes them more prey to perpetrators.”82 This is a further reason to put women in the lead, and to support the right to work for refugees.

46.We welcome DFID and International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) research into ‘What Works’, which is providing a strong body of evidence to prevent gender-based violence and support survivors in refugee camps. The collection of such evidence is vital if national governments, and donors like DFID, are to protect and empower vulnerable women and girls forced to flee their homes.

47.Local women leaders and women’s organisations should be at the forefront of responses to forced displacement in Africa. We believe that this would have a positive impact on the protection of displaced women. Research is needed to safeguard against any unintended consequences, but this seems like a positive course of action in terms of outcomes for vulnerable refugees.

48.DFID and its partners should consider putting local women at the forefront of responses to forced displacement, to enhance protection for women and girls and provide them with a role that would give them more power in camps or informal settlements.

49.DFID should prioritise enabling self-reliance amongst displaced women, including supporting them into work. Having a source of income and position in the community can reduce the risk of vulnerable women suffering exploitation and abuse.

50.The UK Government should ensure the establishment of high safeguarding standards, and effective mechanisms on the ground, by all organisations it supports, throughout the contractual chain, using the leverage of DFID’s example, expertise and provision of funding where necessary.


51.In Sub-Saharan Africa, 59% of all refugees are children. In a number of countries, including Congo, the DRC, South Sudan and Uganda, child refugee populations exceeded 60% by the end of 2017.83 Children on the move face significant risks and dangers. A recent UNICEF report states:

[ … ] the treatment of refugee and migrant children is often shocking. Far too often, children are held in detention centres, separated from family members, deprived of education, forced to work in hazardous jobs, married off as children or pushed into the arms of smugglers or traffickers.84

The numbers of unaccompanied children are also rising, and without family to care for them, they are even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. UNICEF told us that:

Ensuring that local and national authorities of different countries are able to provide consistent and joined-up support for children on the move can present a significant challenge. Particularly in areas such as protection, there is a danger of children slipping between the cracks of support systems or suffering as a result of inconsistent approaches. Here, also, the UK can continue to play a critical role.85

52.Displaced children face a myriad of horrifying threats on their journey to safety. Child protection must be central to any refugee response programme carried out by DFID and its partners. In its response to our Report, we ask DFID to lay out its approach to child protection in refugee situations.

Finding solutions for refugees

One of the primary objectives of the global compact is to facilitate access to durable solutions [ … ] This includes the three traditional durable solutions of voluntary repatriation, resettlement and local integration, as well as other local solutions and complementary pathways for admission to third countries.

- Global Compact for Refugees86

53.UNHCR promotes three “durable solutions” for refugees, to enable them to live in safety and rebuild their lives.

Each of these three solutions presents its own challenges; for host countries, third countries and refugees themselves. The CRRF—a crucial element of the Refugee Compact—commits signatory countries to working towards these durable solutions. It aims to:


54.During our predecessor Committee’s inquiry into Forced Displacement and Food Crises in East and Central Africa, Lucy Hovil of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) stated that refugee policy was “predicated on repatriation from the day they go into exile”.88 Giving evidence to our current inquiry, she stated:

I stick to that. Unfortunately, not much has changed. Out of the three durable solutions, repatriation is the only one that is given serious air time.89

Repatriation is a good option for those who wish to return and can do so safely. It is generally the preferred option for refugees, who simply wish to go home. However, for many refugees in protracted situations, returning to their country of origin would put them in grave danger and reintegration can be challenging or impossible. Despite its prominence in the debate, repatriation is not an option for most refugees; in 2017 just 3% of the global refugee population returned to their countries of origin.90

55.During the inquiry, the Committee heard repeated concerns about those refugees that were being repatriated, in particular those returning to Somalia. UNHCR told us in evidence that more than 120,000 refugees had voluntarily returned to Somalia since 2014.91 The majority of these returns have been from the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, following the signing of a Tripartite Agreement between UNHCR and the Somali and Kenyan Governments in 2013, which outlined a framework for voluntary repatriation.92 The Kenyan Government has repeatedly made clear its desire to close the Dadaab refugee camps near the border with Somalia, despite the High Court of Kenya ruling in February 2017 that this would be “a violation of Kenya’s national, regional and international refugee law obligations and… tantamount to an act of ‘group persecution’ against Dadaab’s refugees”.93

56.In April 2017, our predecessor Committee expressed concerns to the then Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, that refugees in Dadaab were under pressure to return due to dwindling food rations, intolerable conditions in the camps and the promise of a ‘paradise in Somalia’.94 Evidence to this inquiry suggests little has changed. Garad Mohamed, a Somali refugee and former resident of Dadaab for two decades, went back to visit the camps in May 2018. He told us:

They have put in place the repatriation scheme, which people have been told is voluntary, but in a way it is not voluntary, because all the services have been reduced. There are no effective services in place for the refugees to bear living in the camp. As a result, people have said, “Why do I not just take this money from the organisation, leave the camp and see where I end up?”95

57.We heard legitimate concerns that those who attempt to return to Somalia will simply be displaced again, either becoming IDPs in Somalia or attempting to cross the border once again. Returnees who decide to go back to Dadaab find themselves unable to re-register as refugees. As Lucy Hovil told us:

A lot of Somalis have tried going home and then found that it is just impossible. They may have gone back to Kenya, but they cannot then re-register as refugees, so they are infinitely more vulnerable than they were before. What little they had before they repatriated they have lost now.96

Garad Mohamed expressed similar concerns, telling us: “they are leaving Dadaab, where they have had something… and they are going to an area where there is nothing in place and where security is compromised”.97

58.Somalia remains insecure; terrorist group al-Shabaab continues to carry out attacks in Mogadishu and rural areas, and drought and famine remain very real threats in parts of the country.98 It is unlikely, therefore, that the spike in returnees to Somalia is being driven by a fundamental change in the security and development situation. It seems more likely that it is being driven by Kenyan politics and a deterioration in conditions in Dadaab, which Garad Mohamed described as “hell on earth”.99

59.The Tripartite Agreement states that (a) return must be a free choice and absent of push factors including physical, psychological and material pressure; and (b) return must be based on complete, unbiased and accurate information regarding the situation in their country of origin.100 However, Sanj Srikanthan from the IRC told our predecessor Committee that information provided to refugees considering returning was often out of date. He stated that:

[ … ] at the moment we are strongly encouraging people in Kenya to go to Somalia, which is a double-edged sword. It is convenient, politically, to do so, but we need to ask ourselves, morally, if that is the right thing to do, and pragmatically, if it is just going to make the problem more complex.101

60.Lucy Hovil also warned that repatriation must be approached very carefully or it could “set the stage for a new round of conflict and displacement in the medium to long term.” She told us you could, “push everyone back over the border and it looks like the problem has been solved, but you have actually created the beginnings of a far bigger problem.”102 The Minister admitted that there are flaws with the way voluntary returns are managed. She told us,

I do not think that as a world we have come up with a definitive best practice approach around returns. As you know, we will always promote it to be a voluntary process where it is safe for people to do so. That also is an area where, as a world, we have some further learning to do in terms of what constitutes best practice.103

During our previous inquiry into the Rohingya crisis, we expressed similar concerns around the need for returns to be safe, dignified and durable.104

61.We are concerned that the system for voluntary returns of refugees remains flawed. In particular, it is clear that the repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya is being driven by politics, rather than a genuine change in circumstances which means it is safe for refugees to return home. This puts already vulnerable refugees at even greater risk as they lose their protected status and often struggle to reintegrate in an environment where conflict and food insecurity remain endemic. Returnees risk becoming displaced once again and being unable to re-register as refugees.

62.DFID works closely with UNHCR and the Kenyan Government, providing millions of pounds of UK Aid in support of their efforts. It should use its considerable influence to ensure that proper process is being followed with regards to voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Kenya. The push factors—including the deteriorating conditions in the Dadaab camps—must be addressed, and comprehensive, up-to-date information on conflict and food security in the country must be given to those contemplating a return to Somalia.

63.DFID should continue to press UNHCR to improve its systems for voluntary returns, to ensure that those considering repatriation have access to comprehensive information about the situation they will return to and sufficient support for reintegration.


64.For refugees unable to return home, integration into their country of asylum is often the most feasible and desirable solution, enabling them to rebuild their lives in the region. Garad Mohamed told us: “The only… thing that will work for the people of Dadaab and any other part of Kenya and any subSahara Africa country is an integration scheme”.105 Providing a home for refugees can be advantageous for the host countries, who gain productive members of the workforce, often with different skills and connections to the native population. Countries of origin can also benefit, from remittances and transfer of knowledge and technologies.106

65.However, integrating large numbers of refugees places a significant financial, logistical and political burden on the hosts, most of which are middle or low-income countries struggling to provide for their own citizens. Integration of refugees has also become increasingly unpopular with populations who see refugees as competing for livelihoods and public services, which are already scarce. Just as we frequently see negative presentations of refugees in the UK media, so it is the case around the world. During our visit to East Africa, we saw news articles which highlighted the difficult relationship some countries had with refugees.107

66.It is difficult to measure integration, which UNHCR defines as being able to:

[ … ] pursue sustainable livelihoods and contribute to the economic life of the host country, and live among the host population without discrimination or exploitation.108

Integration does not necessarily require naturalisation, which is still relatively uncommon. Globally, the number of refugees naturalised in 2017 stood at 73,400 and that included Turkey’s naturalisation of 50,000 Syrian refugees. Integration does, however, require refugees to have the right to work and the right to free movement—rights which are often denied to them.

67.The UK’s ability to advocate for refugee integration in Africa is undoubtedly hampered by its limited commitment to integrating African refugees here in the UK through resettlement (which we will address in the next section) and asylum. Lucy Hovil told us: “At the end of the day, this is about political will. Who has the leverage to persuade Governments that are hosting enormous numbers of refugees to begin to offer local integration, without a similar level of commitment?”109

68.DFID, alongside other international donors, should support host governments to find pathways to integration for refugees whose prospects of returning home are limited or non-existent. This will require financial and technical support from the international community; these countries must not be left to bear the burden alone.

69.The UK Government must also look at the example it is setting through its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. It cannot encourage host governments in Sub-Saharan Africa to integrate refugees without showing some willingness to do the same.

Alternatives to camps

70.For several years now, alternatives to refugee camps have been explored by UNHCR and others. Camps have their benefits, as they enable humanitarian agencies to centralise goods and services and provide a certain level of protection to residents. However, as Owen Barder of the Center for Global Development highlights, “You have no opportunity to move around the country in which you live. [ … ] You’re essentially imprisoned in a camp.”110 Arrangements where refugees are able to live alongside host communities, although not equating to full integration, are a good halfway house. For example, Uganda allows refugees to live in settlements, which gives them more freedom to live and work alongside host communities, as well as bringing benefits—such as improved infrastructure, healthcare and education facilities—to local people.

71.During our visit to East Africa we also visited the innovative Kalobeyei settlement, on the outskirts of Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County, Kenya. Kakuma refugee camp hosts almost 150,000 refugees, the vast majority of whom are from South Sudan.111 The camp is located in one of the poorest and most marginalised areas in the country. In order to reduce pressure on the camp, in 2015 UNHCR and the regional government—supported by the EU Trust Fund—allocated a nearby area, Kalobeyei, to become an integrated settlement for refugees from Kakuma to live alongside the host community.

72.The aim is that the 38,000 refugees in the settlement have access to the same markets, health facilities and schools as the host community. They have access to a cash-assistance programme, Bamba Chakula, which enables them to use a special currency to buy from local traders. It is a model focused on self-reliance. Alexander Betts, who has been following the initiative closely, told us the results have been positive so far:

Even within two years, incomes are around double for newly arrived South Sudanese refugees in Kalobeyei as compared with those in Kakuma, and food security levels are much higher. That is partly because they are given kitchen gardens where they can grow their own crops, even though it is dryland agriculture.

Kalobeyei is at an early phase. It is not perfect, but it is a pioneering model that has been supported, particularly by the EU Trust Fund. It needs to be followed closely and learned from, based on evidence, but I am very excited about it.112

73.We were impressed by the Kalobeyei settlement model and its potential to improve the lives of refugees and host communities by enabling greater self-reliance and independence and stronger social cohesion between refugees and their hosts. We will continue to monitor its progress and its potential to be replicated in other, similar, environments.


74.Resettlement in a third country is another important option for refugees who are unable to return home and would be unable to receive the support they need in the region in which they are displaced. Resettlement places are reserved for those with particular vulnerabilities, such as:

For individuals that fit these criteria, resettlement in a third country could provide them with the protection and support they need to make a fresh start. Professor Alexander Betts told us,

“Some people who are in intractable limbo for a long time, or some very vulnerable refugees in displaced populations, will not be able to have long-term futures in neighbouring countries. They will need to be moved onwards, to Europe, the UK and elsewhere.” 114

75.Last year 36-year old Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim woman to be elected to the US Congress. Ilhan is a Somali refugee who spent her early childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp before being resettled in the US in the early 1990s. Her story illustrates the difference that resettlement can really make to someone’s life and the value refugees can bring to their new homes.115

76.Resettlement can relieve the burden on host countries in difficult regions, who may be struggling to deal with an influx of people crossing their borders. It also shows solidarity, as countries offering these opportunities demonstrate they are willing to share responsibility for supporting those who are forced to flee. As Professor Betts told us, “Resettlement has to be a crucial part of responsibility sharing; it cannot just be about development and humanitarian aid.”116 Unfortunately, at a time when more resettlement places than ever are needed, the number available is sharply in decline. Resettlement opportunities were previously increasing in line with need—albeit with a substantial shortfall—but in 2017 UNHCR was only able to submit 75,200 refugees for resettlement, a 54% drop from 2016. This left a 94% gap between needs and actual resettlement places for the year.117 In September 2018, the US announced its second year of cuts to its resettlement programme, setting a cap of 30,000 refugees. This was reduced from 45,000 the year before, which was already a sharp drop from the numbers resettled under the previous administration.118

77.The UK resettled 5,756 refugees in the year 2017/18, but only 448 of those were from Sub-Saharan Africa (253 from Burundi, 191 from Kenya and 4 from Uganda).119 The vast majority are Syrian refugees admitted under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS), part of the 23,000 resettlement places promised to Syrian refugees by 2020.120 DFID Minister Harriet Baldwin told us in evidence that the schemes to resettle Syrian refugees in the UK were “something we should be proud of”.121 However, when asked whether more places for resettlement could be opened up in the UK, she made it clear that the Government was keen to keep people in the region:

Very much the premise and philosophy around the whole approach that the world is taking is that you do want to ensure that people remain as close as possible to where they can then return home from. We are very committed to providing that support.122

78.UNHCR’s evidence recommended that the UK Government consolidates its three resettlement schemes (VPRS, VCRS and Gateway) into a single, flexible programme which “addresses evolving resettlement priorities globally” and includes a component within its annual quota for urgent/emergency cases.123 It advocates for the UK to increase its resettlement numbers to 10,000 places annually, which it calls a “meaningful, realistic increase”.124 The Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, George Okoth-Obbo told us this would have two effects: “it will help people and have an incredible demonstration effect. The word I would use for that would be ‘tremendous’”.125

79.Amid the global refugee crisis, the UK has shown leadership in supporting refugees overseas. The Government does not have to choose between supporting refugees in the region in which they are displaced and providing resettlement opportunities in the UK; it can, and should, do both. An effective response, in line with Refugee Compact commitments, should include an increase in the resettlement of vulnerable refugees as well as the provision of resources for hosting countries.

80.Providing resettlement opportunities is a crucial part of the responsibility-sharing principle which lies at the heart of the Refugee Compact. The UK currently resettles a tiny fraction of those displaced in Sub-Saharan Africa, including those now residing in fellow Commonwealth nations such as Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

81.Increasing resettlement opportunities will show those countries hosting the lion’s share of refugees, that the UK is willing to shoulder some of that burden and provide people with alternative opportunities to rebuild their lives in the UK. The progress the UK Government has made with the Syrian Vulnerable Persons, and Vulnerable Childrens, Resettlement Schemes (VPRS and VCRS) shows its capacity to scale up quickly and we feel that the severity and urgency of the refugee crisis in Africa merits a similar response.

82.We support the call for the UK Government to increase its resettlement numbers to 10,000 places annually—as advocated by UNHCR—in a new, consolidated resettlement scheme. Any such scheme should reserve at least a quarter of places for refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa, in line with the percentage of the global refugee population residing in the region.126

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

83.During the inquiry, questions have been asked about whether UNHCR is still fit for purpose. Created almost 70 years ago, the agency was not designed to deal with the current global refugee crisis, which is unprecedented in its scale, rate of expansion and intractability. The agency also finds itself in an increasingly challenging political environment. Professor Betts told us that concerns around globalisation and “ … public fears around migration place UNHCR in a very different world from where it has been working for the past couple of decades.”127 He also emphasised that the agency missed an opportunity for fundamental reform during the negotiation of the Refugee Compact for fear of opening up questions of international responsibility for refugees, and obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, at a time when support for migrants and refugees is under attack. He therefore highlighted that:

[ … ] there is still an element of unfulfilled business, in terms of the organisational capacity of the agency. The British Government can work to champion international institutional reform, to make organisations as effective as they can be in what I regard to be a very different global context.128

DFID has reduced its funding to UNHCR in recent years. Although its total annual contribution to UNHCR’s core funding—£35 million—remains unchanged, bilateral funding to some prominent country programmes have fallen (see Table 1). This reflects the challenge DFID is putting to the agency: that it must prove itself to be the best provider of services in specific refugee situations in order to receive funding from the UK. For example, Action Against Hunger told us: “in Uganda, the price UNHCR are paying for water trucking is three times the price the NGOs are paying. DFID could explore how to ensure optimal value for money from all delivery partners.”129

Table 1: DFID Funding to UNHCR




Total DFID funding £m




CHASE Core funding £m




Bilateral funding £m




Other multilateral funding £m



Source: DFID Analytics

84.UNHCR is also facing significant internal difficulties. In May 2018, humanitarian news site IRIN reported allegations of corruption in the resettlement scheme for Sudanese refugees. More than a dozen refugees came forward to report that UNHCR officials were asking for bribes “in exchange for advancing refugees a few rungs up the long ladder to resettlement, in a kind of “pay-to-play” scheme.”130 Its operations in Uganda have also come under scrutiny as an internal investigation confirmed fraud and misconduct, including inflation of refugee numbers (since adjusted from 1.4 to 1.2 million), overpayment for goods and services and improper procurement practices.

85.In both cases, DFID’s response was rapid and decisive, and it suspended all payments to UNHCR until it was “fully satisfied that appropriate safeguards were in place”.131 George Okoth-Obbo pointed out the impact of such suspensions on the refugees under their protection: “ … because the activities we are carrying out… are… lifesaving… the effect is almost immediately visible. It is visible directly in the impact it has on the persons we care for.”132

86.We support DFID’s “zero tolerance” policy for corruption within aid programmes. However, the automatic suspension of all payments to an agency may not always be an appropriate, or effective, response to problems reported in individual circumstances; especially where life-saving humanitarian relief is concerned. There is also a risk that a kneejerk response to suspected problems could act as a disincentive for delivery partners to look for corruption or report suspicions. DFID should work with delivery partners to establish effective means of eliminating aid diversion, wastage and outright theft. However, the inevitability of such risks in the sort of environments in which humanitarian aid is required makes speedy and transparent action and thorough investigation the priority. UNHCR must be open and transparent where such cases arise and act rapidly to put safeguards in place and begin thorough investigations.

87.UNHCR is doing an extraordinary job under incredibly difficult circumstances. As the sole international agency mandated to protect 68.5 million refugees around the world, the task ahead of it is staggering, particularly given the challenges posed by the political environment and negative public perceptions of migrants and refugees. 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.

88.We cannot, and would not, ignore the cases of corruption, mismanagement, or other harmful conduct, that have come to light during this inquiry or our previous inquiry into ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector’.133 We have also paid due attention to questions of UNHCR’s continued relevance and ability to perform its function. We are pleased that the cases mentioned have been dealt with quickly and that DFID acted swiftly and decisively to restore funding once resolutions were reported. UNHCR must ensure that where cases emerge, it acts urgently to put safeguards in place and prevent disruption to its life-saving operations. DFID, in turn, should react swiftly and proportionately to protect UK Aid, whilst limiting the impact on vulnerable refugees.

89.Questions around the reform of UNHCR remain and DFID should continue to drive institutional reform, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations.134 UNHCR has set an ambitious agenda in the Refugee Compact and its viability for the future will perhaps be borne out by the success or shortcomings of that agenda.

Implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees

90.We have made some clear recommendations about how the UK Government, and DFID in particular, can take forward the commitments it made by signing up to the Global Compact for Refugees in December 2018. However, achieving the Compact’s aims will require a global effort. Progress with the Refugee Compact will be monitored through a Global Refugee Forum. The first of these will be held in 2019 and every four years thereafter “to ensure sustained momentum and political will”.135 The IRC emphasised the need for strong accountability processes to be built into the process, given that the commitments made were not legally binding, including the development of indicators to track progress.136 Save the Children and partners have already developed a set of indicators on the child-focused elements of the Compact “to begin a collaborative effort on this theme”.137

91.DFID should push for robust accountability processes at the international level, including the development of indicators to track progress, in order to ensure continued commitment to, and tangible results from, the Refugee Compact.

92.The progress of the UK Government on the commitments made in the Refugee Compact should also be monitored and, as a Committee, we intend to play our part. We therefore ask the Government to report to us annually, starting in March 2020, on how the UK is contributing to the Refugee Compact’s objectives.

22 “Don’t Make African Nations Borrow Money to Support Refugees, Alexander Betts in Foreign Policy, 21 February 2018

23 UNHCR, Highlighted Underfunded Situations in 2018, September 2018, p. 4

24 UNHCR, Highlighted Underfunded Situations in 2018, September 2018, p. 4

26 Figures taken from the UNHCR operational portal on refugee situations, accessed 11 February 2019

27 UNHCR, Highlighted Underfunded Situations in 2018, September 2018, p. 28

28 Q101 HC639

29 World Bank, IDA18 Regional Sub-Window for Refugees and Host Communities, accessed 18 February 2019

32 Letter, 11 February 2019, from the Minister of State for International Development following up on the evidence session on 15 January 2019

35 Q7

36 PQ 109226 [on Developing countries: Education] 24 October 2017

38 UNICEF UK (FDA0020) para 6

39 Q8

42 Q9

43 Save the Children (FDA0006), World Vision UK (FDA0005)

45 Save the Children (FDA0006) para 7.7

46 Save the Children (FDA0006) para 8.2 and 8.3

47 Education Cannot Wait, The Fund, accessed 12 February 2019

54 UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, 25 June 2018, p. 18

56 Department for International Development (FDA0004) para 2.3

59 Overseas Development Institute (FDA0011)

60 Uganda considers refugee policy change, The Observer [Uganda], 10 October 2018

63 Lee Crawfurd (FDA0022)

64 Home Office, Immigration Rules Appendix K: shortage occupation list, updated 1 February 2019 (accessed 26 February 2019)

66 Lift the Ban Coalition, Lift the Ban: Why people seeking asylum should have the right to work, October 2018, p. 11

67 UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (FDA0014)

68 The Reality Behind Uganda’s Refugee Model, Refugees Deeply, 30 May 2017

69 Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 21 November 2018, HC (2017–19) 1758, Q141-143

71 ActionAid UK (FDA0002) para 10

72 ActionAid UK (FDA0002) para 14

73 Q6

74 Dr Jonathan Fisher, University of Birmingham, Dr Cherry Leonardi, Durham University and the International Refugee Rights Initiative (FDA0023) para 3

75 UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (FDA0014)

76 The International Rescue Committee UK (FDA0012) para 7

77 International Development Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, HC840

78 Ms Asmita Naik (SEA0042) HC840

80 ActionAid UK (FDA0002) para 20

82 Q3

83 UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, 25 June 2018, p. 59

85 UNICEF UK (FDA0020) para 13

87 UNHCR, Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, accessed 7 February 2019

88 International Development Committee, Forced Displacement and Food Crises in Central and East Africa Inquiry (2017) Q39

90 UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, 25 June 2018, p. 8

91 UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (FDA0014) p. 1

98 International Crisis Group, Somalia, accessed 4 February 2019

101 International Development Committee, Forced Displacement and Food Crises in Central and East Africa Inquiry (2017) Q30

104 International Development Committee, Fourth Report of the Session 2017–19, Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya Crisis, HC1054, para 130

106 Why accepting refugees is a win-win formula, Brookings, 19 June 2018

108 UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, 25 June 2018, p.30

110 “Owen Barder: we need an alternative to refugee camps Medium, 28 August 2018 (Owen Barder is currently a Specialist Adviser to the International Development Committee)

113 UNHCR UK, Information on UNHCR Resettlement, accessed 18 February 2019

117 UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, 25 June 2018, p. 30

119 Letter, 11 February 2019, from the Minister of State for International Development following up on the evidence session on 15 January 2019

123 UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (FDA0014)

124 UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (FDA0014)

126 UNHCR estimates that over 26% of the world’s refugee population live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Source: UNHCR UK, Africa, accessed 9 February 2019

129 Action Against Hunger (FDA0010) para 27

133 International Development Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, HC840

136 The International Rescue Committee UK (FDA0012) para 20 and 21

137 Save the Children (FDA0006) para 2.7

Published: 5 March 2019