South Africa Regional Office


Operation: Opération: South Africa Regional Office



Latest update of camps and office locations 21  Nov  2016. By clicking on the icons on the map, additional information is displayed.

Key Figures

2016 end-year results
18,030 people of concern received legal assistance
15,000 people of concern were assisted through community outreach activities
1,330 children were assisted to access primary education and 250 to access secondary education
290 SGBV survivors were provided with material assistance
95 refugee students were assisted to undertake tertiary studies through DAFI scholarships
2017 planning figures
28,000 people of concern will receive legal support
5,800 people of concern will be assessed for vulnerabilities
3,500 people of concern will be referred for resettlement 
3,200 households will receive targeted assistance in the form of vouchers or subsidy for food and accommodation
2,000 refugees will receive psychosocial support

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2016 310,575
2015 1,218,739
2014 576,990


[["Refugees",91846],["Asylum-seekers",218719],["Returned refugees",7],["Others of concern",3]]
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South Africa Regional Office

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2016 {"categories":[2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017],"budget":[35.22364447,37.64164238,26.67804133,27.270748078,25.81544632,25.44088601],"expenditure":[11.78446249,11.10379176,11.44614089,13.41933223,12.97207621,null]} {"categories":[2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017],"p1":[33.07504809,35.57243451,25.90165613,26.298812049,24.75091566,24.51877675],"p2":[2.14859638,2.06920787,0.7763852,0.971936029,1.06453066,0.92210926],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017],"p1":[11.5281032,10.74897376,11.09216014,12.91170222,12.27395104,null],"p2":[0.25635929,0.354818,0.35398075,0.50763001,0.69812517,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017

Working environment

South Africa continued to experience mixed movements. A high number of new and appeals to asylum applications continued to challenge the functioning of the asylum system.
Xenophobia, which at times resulted in violence, posed serious protection risks to people of concern.  

Population trends

  • 91,000 refugees and more than 218,000 asylum-seekers as of end 2016.
  • The main countries of origin were Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Bangladesh. 

Achievements and impact

  • UNHCR supported the Government in efforts to strengthen the asylum system and improve the quality of decisions.
  • Pro bono legal services were provided by UNHCR partners in 4 provinces and legal assistance were provided to 18,030 people of concern.
  • A UNHCR toll-free refugee help line became operational in November, and managed on average 350 calls daily.
  • UNHCR submitted comments to the June 2016 Green Paper on International Migration.
  • UNHCR co-chaired the protection working group with the Government, which worked with governmental, UN and civil society partners on initiatives including to address xenophobia. 

Unmet needs

  • Additional resources are required to address and prevent xenophobia, and promote social cohesion.
  • UNHCR and partners were limited in their capacity to expand community outreach. 
  • Less than 1% of people of concern have access to social assistance and UNHCR continues to advocate for people of concern with specific needs to have access to national services. 

South Africa is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, as well as to the 1969 OAU Convention. National legislation incorporates all the basic principles of refugee protection, including freedom of movement, right to work and access to basic social services. However, refugees are not always able to fully enjoy these rights due to discrimination and lack of public understanding, as well as long delays in having permits renewed. National refugee legislation is currently undergoing changes with a new bill expected to be passed by early 2016.  

The asylum system is overwhelmed with high numbers of applicants, which leads to backlogs and impacts on the quality and efficiency of the refugee status determination process. The Government is in the process of establishing a new border management agency to regulate immigration.  

People of concern are spread across the country, residing mostly in urban areas, making it challenging to reach those most in need. South Africa faces challenges with unemployment, service delivery and income inequality which has resulted in outbreaks of violence against foreign nationals, including people of concern, causing displacement and loss of livelihoods.  

Refugee status determination is carried out directly by the Government of South Africa. The Government also provides access to health facilities, schools and other public services. Social grants are provided by the Government to recognized refugees who meet certain criteria. Refugees and asylum-seekers currently have the right to work. Following the outbreak of violence in early 2015, the Government has also stepped up community dialogue campaigns aimed at promoting social cohesion.  

UNHCR’s priorities will be aimed at preserving the protection space, allowing refugees and asylum-seekers to realize their rights and integrate into the society. Cognizant of the challenges of mixed migration, the priorities will focus on providing technical support to the Government, and institutional capacity building. To counter the difficulties that people of concern face in becoming self-reliant, UNHCR will provide targeted, time-limited social assistance. Public information and awareness campaigns aimed at promoting tolerance and coexistence will be undertaken. The Office will enhance its outreach programmes and community-based protection mechanisms with the aim of expanding access to services and improving community self-help approaches. Refugees in need of protection who cannot be assisted through the local structures will be submitted for resettlement, and those who opt for voluntary repatriation will be assisted to return to their countries of origin.  

Critical areas in need of support include the legal and social assistance programmes, as well as the initiatives aimed at promoting social cohesion. Due to limited financial resources, UNHCR and its implementing partners can only address a narrow selection of priority needs. People of concern can often not afford basic needs such as food or non-food items, owing to the lack of livelihoods and the very limited support UNHCR can provide.