Refugee influx chokes East and Horn of Africa

Refugees relocate to a new camp in Ethiopia in 2019. The Horn of Africa is at the epicentre of some of the largest and longest-running refugee and internally displaced persons. PHOTO/FILE/NMG  

What you need to know:

  • UNHCR appeals to leaders in the region to foster peace and reverse the soaring number of refugees.

In 2020, Uganda hosted the largest number of refugees in the region, with South Sudan accounting for 1.4 million of displaced persons.

According official data, South Sudan remains the biggest originator of displaced people in the region accounting for 2.2 million refugees out of the total 82.4 million globally.

In a report released on June 18, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says the East Africa, the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region had 4.5 million refugees by the end of 2020, an increase of three per cent or during the year under review.

Uganda currently hosts 95 per cent of refugees in the region coming to 887,400 (in 2021), followed by Sudan (736,700), Ethiopia (365,000) and Kenya (123,900). 

A reported 122,000 South Sudanese refugees returned to their country in 2020, even as the dire humanitarian situation in the country drove further forced displacement.

The UNHCR appeals to world and leaders in the eastern African region to act to reverse the trend of soaring displacement and step up their efforts to foster peace, stability and cooperation in order to halt and begin reversing nearly a decade-long trend of surging displacement driven by violence and persecution.

“Behind each number is a person forced from their home and a story of displacement, dispossession, and suffering. They merit our attention and support not just with humanitarian aid, but in finding solutions to their plight. We need much the greater political will to address conflicts and persecution that force people to flee in the first place,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

The East and Horn of Africa, and Great Lakes region hosted 4.5 million refugees, with nearly one in every five refugees worldwide. Three countries— Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopia — alone hosted over two-thirds of refugees in the region.

Displacement from Ethiopia, combined with that resulting from the surge in violence in the Central African Republic and the ongoing South Sudan crisis, led to Sudan receiving 125,600 new refugees.

Over the course of 2020, some 3.2 million IDPs and just 251,000 refugees returned to their homes — a 40 and 21 per cent drop, respectively, compared with 2019. 

Another 33,800 refugees were naturalised by their countries of asylum. Refugee resettlement registered a drastic plunge — just 34,400 refugees were resettled last year, the lowest level in 20 years.