South Africa Regional Office


Operation: Opération: South Africa Regional Office



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Key Figures

2017 end-year results
17,930 people of concern received legal advice and support.
over 10,000 people of concern were reached through community outreach activities.
13,781 people of concern with specific needs received cash and housing assistance.
1,855 people of concern were assisted through self-reliance and livelihood projects.
2,604  people with specific needs received psycho-social counselling.
110 refugee students assisted with 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
2017 281,574
2016 310,575
2015 1,218,739


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South Africa Regional Office

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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018

Operational context

In 2017, South Africa continued to experience mixed movements. The Government continued to receive new arrivals and a high number of asylum applications continued to challenge the functioning of the asylum system.

The protection environment was challenged by violence arising from protests against poor service delivery, often resulting in attacks against foreigners, including persons of concern to UNHCR and their businesses. Those mostly affected are Ethiopians and Somalis, posing serious risks to their physical protection.

Population trends

  • South Africa hosted the largest number of people of concern in the Southern Africa region with close to 88,694 refugees and some 191,333 asylum-seekers
  • By end 2017, 24,174 new asylum applications.
  • New arrivals came from Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.

Key achievements

  • UNHCR implemented a newly developed livelihood strategy for South Africa with a pilot project in one Province.
  • Pro bono legal services provided by UNHCR partners in five provinces to 17,500 people of concern.
  • UNHCR participated in a government led colloquium on unaccompanied and separated migrant children leading to a number of actionable outcomes for refugee and asylum-seeker children.
  • A research study on community-based structures and refugee representation was carried out. This will help refine the outreach model in South Africa and inform the development of a strategy for communicating with communities.
  • Standard operating procedures for a coordinated response to xenophobic violence were developed with members of the protection working group, including government and civil society actors and chaired by UNHCR.
  • An analysis of key stakeholders was completed enabling the development of a Multi-Year, Multi-Partner protection and solution strategy in 2018.

Unmet needs

  • Additional resources were required to support the Government on establishing fair and efficient asylum procedures, promote social cohesion, address and prevent xenophobia and strengthen community-based protection.
  • UNHCR and partners were limited in their capacity to expand community outreach.

Working environment

South Africa hosts more than 1.2 million people of concern, allowing freedom of movement and right to work for both refugees and asylum-seekers. However, the high number of asylum-seekers has affected the fairness and effectiveness of the asylum system, particularly at the appeals level. Several proposed amendments to the Refugee Act 1998, if passed, could make the Act inconsistent with international law governing asylum. The growing concern around mixed migratory movements has also triggered a review of the immigration policy, resulting in the Green Paper on International Migration, which raises issues that have direct implications for asylum management. Xenophobic violence and negative attitudes towards foreign nationals continue to affect the integration of refugees and asylum-seekers. The Government’s National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is pending finalization. 

Key Priorities

In 2017 the UNHCR operation will focus on:

•    providing capacity development and technical support to the Government in refugee status determination and managing refugee-related issues;
•    working closely with the Government and civil society in preventing and combating xenophobia, and promoting social cohesion and integration of refugees in host communities;
•    providing targeted social assistance to support refugees with specific needs;
•    encouraging accession to the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions.