West Africa

Operational information on the West Africa subregion is presented below. A summary of this can also be downloaded in PDF format. This subregion covers the following countries: 

| Benin | Burkina Faso | Cabo Verde | Côte d’Ivoire | Gambia (the) | Ghana | Guinea | Guinea-Bissau | Liberia | Mali | Niger | Nigeria | Senegal | Sierra Leone| Togo |   


Subregion: West Africa


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  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018

Budgets and Expenditure in Subregion West Africa

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2017 {"categories":[2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017],"budget":[257.72904354,284.14940499,273.248311355,292.846334371,273.229858397,309.229575599],"expenditure":[140.80799829,154.60532666,135.78110033,122.94985885,129.67137704,145.12347049]} {"categories":[2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017],"p1":[208.03175836,245.22858108,205.830081875,229.700946219,184.51141581,182.697843561],"p2":[4.46622329,2.391416,3.83601618,5.92538567,8.50740967,8.41944047],"p3":[24.13236217,6.51146826,9.32947275,18.671615912,37.016635417,64.581448364],"p4":[21.09869972,30.01793965,54.25274055,38.54838657,43.1943975,53.530843204]} {"categories":[2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017],"p1":[113.20969449,132.96277402,118.99389722,99.31289964,92.52541498,94.36598848],"p2":[1.42116087,1.52248886,2.13033718,3.24029389,4.35927543,4.8684016],"p3":[17.26631744,3.20584556,4.1636139,6.17672818,8.83352232,26.09794605],"p4":[8.91082549,16.91421822,10.49325203,14.21993714,23.95316431,19.79113436]}
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People of Concern - 2017

[["Refugees",286919],["Asylum-seekers",15798],["IDPs",1873617],["Returned IDPs",410887],["Returned refugees",296189],["Stateless",692115],["Others of concern",15362]]
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Response in 2017

Multiple armed conflicts, violent extremism and unabated violations of human rights continued to trigger significant population movements within and across borders in large swathes of West Africa, with Mali and Nigeria being the main sources of displacement in the subregion in 2017. Displacement as a result of intercommunal clashes between pastoral and farmers and over land issues also affected primarily Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Togo.
At the end of 2017, there were an estimated 3.6 million people of concern to UNHCR in the subregion, including close to 290,000 refugees and 1.8 million internally displaced people (IDPs), representing a 13 per cent decrease, when compared with 2016 figures. The rest represented returnees and stateless people. Out of a total population of 380 million in West Africa, millions remained at risk of statelessness in the subregion, with an estimated 700,000 stateless persons in Côte d’Ivoire alone.
The scale of organized or spontaneous repatriation movements which took place mainly to Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Mali, did not meet the scale of new displacement across borders. Small number of returns of Malian and Nigerian refugees from asylum countries were observed. In Nigeria, where there were reports of significant self-organised returns in 2017, UNHCR in neighbouring countries of asylum has not to date facilitated voluntary repatriation given the prevailing conditions. While reports of forced returns persisted, access to areas of return remained limited. In Mali, small numbers of refugees and IDPs returned spontaneously and received cash and material assistance from UNHCR and partners, while a new displacement inside and to neighbouring countries was also reported.
Living conditions in the return areas in Mali and Nigeria did not improve significantly. As a result, some returnees to northern Mali and North-East Nigeria were unable to fully reintegrate. Drought and chronic food insecurity in some parts of these countries also contributed to further population movements within and outside the Sahel region. Such conditions hampered repatriation from taking place or made it unsustainable. Changes in policy by some of the key resettlement countries to reduce intakes posed a serious challenge for finding alternative durable solutions for refugees. Persistent insecurity also reduced humanitarian access to reach those most in need.
A proliferation of criminal networks involved in human trafficking continued to be reported along migratory routes in West Africa, with women and children being particularly vulnerable. Asylum seekers and migrants resorted increasingly to smugglers, exposing them to serious danger and heightened protection risks. Out of some 119,000 refugees and migrants who crossed the sea to Italy in 2017, some 66,500 were travelling from West Africa. This included almost 8,700 women and over 8,900 unaccompanied children. The primary route to Libya from West Africa runs via Mali to Niger (usually via Burkina Faso) to Libya but many others travel via Algeria, mostly from Mali and sometimes from Niger. The number of people moving from West Africa to Libya is estimated to have dropped from 115,500 in 2016 to 66,500 in 2017, but the crackdown on movement between Agadez and Libya by Nigerien authorities made it more difficult to record accurate figures. Protection risks along this route included regular bribery demands (in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) and sexual violence (in Niger), abuse by smugglers and traffickers, deaths in the desert North of Agadez, and trafficking to the region and beyond.
Building on progress made since 2015 by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on reducing statelessness, a landmark achievement was the adoption of the Banjul Plan of Action to End Statelessness in West Africa. This legally binding document was endorsed by 15 ECOWAS States during a conference jointly organized by ECOWAS and UNHCR in May 2017. The Plan of Action is based on the Abidjan Declaration (2015) and lists detailed activities that the States agreed to undertake by 2024, demonstrating the success of the partnership between ECOWAS and UNHCR and the determination of States in West Africa to eradicate statelessness.
The funding environment became more strained due to the protracted nature of many displacement situations in the region and shifting priorities in donor funding. This was reflected in the steady decline in the amount of resources UNHCR received for its programmes. In 2017, UNHCR’s operations in West Africa were on average funded just above 30 per cent of the $340 million financial requirements, compared to 35 per cent of the $274 million required in 2016. With the diminished funding, the delivery of protection, education, health and water and sanitation services were also reduced, exposing the affected populations to a series of protection concerns and risked compromising the gains already made.
In an effort to bring decision-making closer to operations, five stand-alone country offices (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Mali and Niger), previously reporting to UNHCR headquarters, were brought under the supervision and oversight of the UNHCR Regional Office for West Africa in Dakar.


UNHCR officially closed its country office in Benin in December 2017, handing over to a national Government partner, the National Commission for Refugees (CNAR), the protection of some 1,300 Togolese refugees remaining in the country. While the political situation in neighboring Togo deteriorated during the last quarter of 2017, some 33 Togolese asylum-seekers were registered during that period, with an additional 53 awaiting registration. A contingency plan for emergency response was put in place together with partners.
UNHCR continued to respond to the protection needs of some 7,940 refugees in the Gambia, the majority of whom were from the Casamance region of southern Senegal. UNHCR directly implemented most of the protection and assistance activities, including documentation and livelihood support. The major challenge for refugees in the Gambia is finding durable solutions, namely local integration. Most of the refugees from Senegal are not willing to return. 
By signing, in December 2017 the “Declaration officielle de la clause d’intégration locale définitive des réfugiés de longue durée,” the Government of Guinea-Bissau gave blanket naturalization to more than 7,000 refugees, ending one of the most protracted refugee situations in West Africa. The biggest challenge, however, was securing the financial requirements needed to process the documentation of all refugees who opt to integrate in Guinea-Bissau.
In Senegal, a verification exercise conducted in the Senegal River Valley revealed that there were some 12,800 Mauritanian refugees, approximately 50 per cent being women. At least 9,500 refugees opted for naturalization, some 3,100 requested residence permits and 183 chose to return to Mauritania, and 20 were undecided. The Senegalese authorities who took an active part in the verification exercise demonstrated support to implement UNHCR’s regional durable solution strategy which will be further refined in 2018. Resettlement opportunities for Mauritanian refugees were limited.
UNHCR closed down its offices in Sierra Leone at the end of 2017. The decision was driven by the small number of Liberian refugees in the country; the remaining 681 Liberian refugees have been included in the national development programme. UNHCR carried out capacity-building activities to prepare the Government of Sierra Leone to assume and deliver protection services in 2018 and beyond. UNHCR also achieved a major breakthrough in overcoming statelessness with the reform of Sierra Leone’s nationality legislation, which, in its previous form, differentiated between men and women regarding the transmission of nationality to children. Thanks to UNHCR’s advocacy work, this segregation was removed with the reform.
As at the end of 2017, Togo hosted some 13,300 refugees, mainly from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. UNHCR further elaborated and concluded a local integration project focused on agro-pastoral activities for Ghanaian and urban refugees of all nationalities. As part of the exit strategy, UNHCR trained the only remaining NGO partner to build its capacity for an effective takeover of the critical protection services. As part of preparedness planning, UNHCR established contingency plans for the neighboring countries in the event of major large-scale displacement inside Togo and across borders. 

Operational Environment and Strategy

Countries in the subregion continue to uphold their long-standing tradition of hospitality and solidarity towards refugees.  Hosting large numbers of refugees in protracted situations nevertheless present significant economic, political and security challenges.  Displacement is chronic due to insecurity, the failure to address the root causes of conflict, and the significant gaps in the legislative framework and asylum procedures in some countries.  This has slowed progress with respect to securing solutions for displaced people.  

Meanwhile, food insecurity continues to affect refugee and IDP populations, with levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia on the rise.  By mid-2015, the subregion hosted some 438,300 refugees and was home to 2.5 million IDPs.  The humanitarian crises in Mali and Nigeria were the main drivers of forced displacement. 

The protection environment in Mali remains a concern, particularly because of insecurity in the northern and central regions of the country.  Targeted attacks against national and international government security forces have increased, while the implementation of the peace agreement signed in June 2015 has been limited.  Unfavourable conditions also continue to preclude the safe return of Malians to their country of origin. 

In Nigeria, widespread violence has resulted in displacement in the north-eastern region of the country and in areas bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger.  Reports of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including sexual violence and exploitation, disappearances, attacks on civilian sites and forced recruitment, are abundant.  The conflict between insurgents and government security forces is having a serious impact on humanitarian needs as well as on humanitarian access and response.  In June 2016, the Government of Nigeria, with UNHCR’s support, hosted a Regional Protection Dialogue on the Lake Chad Basin to tackle the worrisome increase in protection incidents, including cases of refoulement.  At the close of the Dialogue, the Governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria adopted the “Abuja action statement”, promising to take concrete steps to respond to the most pressing protection needs of affected populations. 

In other countries hosting displaced populations, UNHCR will intensify its pursuit of solutions, particularly in protracted situations.  With the support of West African States, the use of complementary pathways to protection and solutions are being increasingly explored.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreements that allow nationals of Member States to move freely and work within the subregion may help provide solutions for refugees and eventually lead to permanent residency and naturalization.

With this in mind, multi-year, operation-level, multi-partner protection and solutions strategies, which were launched in 2016, will be enhanced in protracted situations, including for Senegalese refugees in Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, Mauritanian refugees in Senegal, Ghanaian refugees in Togo and Togolese refugees in Ghana, as well as for former Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who are still in need of international protection and assistance. The repatriation of Ivorian refugees from Liberia, Guinea, Ghana and Togo, as well as the reintegration of returnees, will continue in 2017 and, to a lesser extent, in 2018. 

A regional protection and solutions strategy for nearly 1 million stateless people in West Africa will build on the momentum gained generated by the adoption of the 2015 Abidjan Declaration on the eradication of statelessness.

Response and Implementation

Operations in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal Regional Office, and Nigeria are presented in separate country pages. 

UNHCR’s strategy in Benin in 2017 will focus on two main operational priorities that consist of the following:

1.    Strengthening the national legal and institutional framework related to the asylum system, as well as ensuring that legal reforms are in line with international conventions, in order to identify and address protection gaps;
2.    Supporting refugee self-reliance and livelihoods through the development of a strategy which includes opportunities related to vocational training, self-employment, entrepreneurship and formal employment. 

Advocacy with governments will also be undertaken to help ensure refugees are included in national development programmes.  Progress has been previously hindered in this regard, in large part due to lengthy procedures in government institutions.  

In Gambia, the largest population of concern are Senegalese refugees, who have limited access to basic services such as water, health care and education.  In 2017, it is expected that Senegalese refugees and refugees of other nationalities that are opting for a durable solution will  benefit from UNHCR’s assistance, notably in the form of legal and livelihood support.  Through its protection and solution strategy for Gambia (2015-2018), UNHCR will continue to implement comprehensive solutions for Senegalese refugees and a context-specific local integration and livelihoods strategy for other refugees.  The key elements of the protection and solutions strategy will include the following activities:

1.    Assisting the government to identify and implement durable solutions for refugees;
2.    Gradually phasing out direct material assistance and continuing to promote self-reliance and  partnerships with development actors;
3.    Working with government and other partners to strengthen law and policy and to ensure a favourable protection environment for persons of concern to UNHCR;
4.    Supporting the government to facilitate refugee access to national and local services.

Guinea-Bissau is host to some 9,200 Senegalese refugees and 45 refugees of other nationalities in urban areas.  For Senegalese families, naturalization, along with the formalization of land ownership rights, is the most viable durable solution.  As part of the UNHCR multi-year protection and solutions strategy for Guinea Bissau (2015-2017), UNHCR’s response will aim to reinforce the legal framework for the protection and local integration of refugees and further promote livelihoods and self-reliance.  UNHCR will also support refugees wishing to acquire the nationality of Guinea-Bissau through naturalization or long-term residence permits.  By the end of 2017, 560 refugees are expected to be naturalized, and the right to ownership of 40 plots of land will be formalized.  Political instability may however have an impact on the implementation of UNHCR’s programmes, but some risk mitigation measures are being put in place.

Although a voluntary repatriation exercise of Mauritanian refugees was carried out in Senegal from 2008 to 2012, some 13,700 Mauritanian refugees who have been residing in the country since 1989 have not yet benefitted from a durable solution.  A refugee verification exercise has found that 60 per cent of Mauritanian refugees remaining in Senegal wish to be locally integrated.  With respect to Senegalese refugees living in Gambia and Guinea-Bissau since 1980, those who have elected to voluntarily repatriate to Senegal will be assisted during their return and reintegration.  The return of Senegalese refugees is of particular concern to the southern region of Casamance, where the situation has stabilized since 2012, following a ceasefire agreement, demining and investments in infrastructure. 

In this context, UNHCR’s multi-year, multi-partner protection and solutions strategy for Senegal (2017-2019) has two main components: (1) the local integration of 13,687 Mauritanian refugees, including through naturalization and long-term residence permits, and the voluntary repatriation of Mauritanian refugees living in rural areas; (2) the voluntary return and reintegration of an estimated 7,000 Senegalese refugees to Senegal, comprising some 2,000 individuals interested in voluntary repatriation and 5,000 others who have spontaneously returned from Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, UNHCR’s main strategic priorities in 2017 will include building the capacity of relevant government institutions and officials with a view to handing over refugee-related activities and scaling down UNHCR operations. The Office will therefore aim to strengthen partnerships with other UN agencies, as well as government ministries and departments, to advocate for the remaining refugees to gain access to basic services and support after 2017.  Furthermore, UNHCR will support the naturalization of refugees no longer recognized as Liberian citizens due to their long-term stay in Sierra Leone, in order to avoid a statelessness situation.  In this regard, UNHCR’s operational plan will include the implementation of the Sierra Leone national action plan to end statelessness by 2024.  Parliamentary and presidential elections, which are likely to take place in late 2017 or early 2018, may trigger political instability, potentially affecting crucial partnerships with government institutions. 

Togo hosts some 13,000 refugees, the majority of whom are from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, as well as smaller groups from other regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa.  UNHCR will work towards achieving durable solutions for refugees in protracted situations by promoting self-reliance and ensuring that refugees are productive members of their communities. Access to either local or national social protection programmes will be advocated for vulnerable individuals. Regarding Ivoirian refugees, their voluntary return will continue to be encouraged. UNHCR will also undertake increased advocacy efforts for the naturalization of Ghanaian refugees who fled conflict in 1994 and opted to stay in Togo.  Self-reliance and livelihoods activities will continue to be promoted through the implementation of an agro-pastoral project. Challenges in this context include the lengthy naturalization procedure and limited engagement with government counterparts.

2017 Budget and Expenditure in West Africa | USD

Operation Pillar 1
Refugee programme
Pillar 2
Stateless programme
Pillar 3
Reintegration projects
Pillar 4
IDP projects
Burkina Faso Budget
Côte d'Ivoire Budget
Ghana Budget
Guinea Budget
Liberia Budget
Mali Budget
Niger Budget
Nigeria Budget
Senegal Regional Office Budget
Total Budget

2017 Voluntary Contributions to West Africa | USD

Earmarking / Donor Pillar 1
Refugee programme
Pillar 2
Stateless programme
Pillar 3
Reintegration projects
Pillar 4
IDP projects
West Africa overall
Denmark 00001,000,000 1,000,000
Finland 00001,742,160 1,742,160
France 00002,171,553 2,171,553
Germany 000014,141,310 14,141,310
Norway 00001,415,308 1,415,308
Private donors in Canada 0000505 505
Private donors in Germany 0000571,759 571,759
Private donors in Italy 0000877 877
Private donors in Spain 00001,097 1,097
Private donors in Sweden 000018 18
Private donors in Switzerland 0000773 773
Republic of Korea 0000700,000 700,000
United States of America 000010,200,000 10,200,000
West Africa overall subtotal 000031,945,359 31,945,359
Burkina Faso
Denmark 785,80097,3570065,107 948,264
European Union 963,0510000 963,051
France 100,000000162,866 262,866
Private donors in Australia 505,7680000 505,768
Private donors in Japan 130,4380000 130,438
Private donors in the Netherlands 1,918,9570000 1,918,957
Private donors in the United States of America 116,1500000 116,150
Burkina Faso subtotal 4,520,16497,35700227,973 4,845,494
Côte d'Ivoire
Denmark 20,0000000 20,000
Italy 0285,830124,27400 410,105
UN Peacebuilding Fund 081,288000 81,288
United States of America 00002,000,000 2,000,000
Côte d'Ivoire subtotal 20,000367,118124,27402,000,000 2,511,392
Private donors in Ghana 2,1050000 2,105
UNAIDS 40,0000000 40,000
UNICEF 45,4750000 45,475
Ghana subtotal 87,5800000 87,580
Private donors in Italy 1950000 195
UNAIDS 50,0000000 50,000
Liberia subtotal 50,1950000 50,195
Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) 00429,02200 429,022
France 000300,000162,866 462,866
Italy 510,2780000 510,278
Japan 235,40001,056,60000 1,292,000
Sweden 0000885,054 885,054
Switzerland 0040,04000 40,040
Mali subtotal 745,67801,525,662300,0001,047,920 3,619,261
Canada 0000743,494 743,494
Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) 241,06400231,6100 472,674
Denmark 284,3980000 284,398
European Union 3,289,536001,590,6680 4,880,204
France 1,484,8340000 1,484,834
Germany 1,067,2360000 1,067,236
Italy 1,624,5430000 1,624,543
Japan 1,564,07500373,9260 1,938,000
Norway 0000585,138 585,138
Private donors in Italy 00003,555 3,555
Private donors in Japan 409,3430000 409,343
Spain 600,22800239,6370 839,866
UN Peacebuilding Fund 326,3900000 326,390
United States of America 1,8900027,00013,800,000 13,828,890
Niger subtotal 10,893,537002,462,84115,132,186 28,488,564
Belgium 000568,8280 568,828
Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) 001,200,5641,571,8260 2,772,390
European Union 000977,1990 977,199
Japan 001,878,5311,621,4690 3,500,000
Nigeria 000063,735 63,735
Private donors in Australia 00002,257 2,257
Private donors in Sweden 0000307 307
United States of America 000014,400,000 14,400,000
Nigeria subtotal 003,079,0954,739,32214,466,299 22,284,716
Senegal Regional Office
Private donors in Italy 20900032 241
Senegal Regional Office subtotal 20900032 241
Total 16,317,363464,4754,729,0317,502,16364,819,770 93,832,801