A woman sitting down

Southern Africa


Southern Africa includes eight of the least developed countries and has long been prey to economic instability, conflict and food insecurity. Most of those displaced in the region fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Aimée, who escaped her residence in Irumu territory back in 2019, serves as the President of the Tsere displacement site Community Committee, ensuring that the concerns of displaced individuals in the site are acknowledged and advocated for. © UNHCR/Joel. Z. Smith
22 November 2022
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Executive summary

Southern Africa includes eight of the least developed countries and has long been prey to economic instability, conflict and food insecurity. Most of those displaced in the region fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the needs for protection and basic services are expected to increase in 2023. Needs will also increase in Mozambique, where the number of displaced is nearing 1 million people.

Climate events and economic pressures from COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine are further complicating forced displacement in the region. In early 2022, four countries were hit by tropical storms or cyclones that displaced over 1 million people. UNHCR has strengthened its emergency preparedness and response, and is implementing innovative projects to reduce the impact of climate change and to improve UNHCR’s own environmental footprint, with investments in reforestation, clean cooking, solar energy and projects to make shelters more resilient. Growing social inequalities in many parts of southern Africa pose a challenge to efforts to entrench stability and democracy. This may increase movements of people, stoke xenophobia and reduce asylum space. The region continues to experience mixed flows of people fleeing conflict, persecution and natural disasters and searching for economic opportunities.

Political events may add to displacement in 2023, including the presidential election in the DRC and general elections in Zimbabwe. Further uncertainty comes from a potential scale-down of MONUSCO’s operations in the DRC and the outcome of stabilization efforts in northern Mozambique. Instability, conflict and drought further north on the continent may also increase refugee arrivals.UNHCR will advocate for improved citizenship laws and reinforced asylum systems and legal protection frameworks, including prevention of gender-based violence prevention and child protection, reinforced by improvements to registration, data, information management and analysis.

Gender inequality and gender-based violence remain serious concerns. UNHCR will strengthen coordination and programming to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and will systematically integrate gender-based violence risk mitigation into all sectors of its work.

As of August 2022, there were 464,000 child refugees and asylum-seekers in the region. UNHCR will work with UN agencies and partners to mainstream child protection in their response, while supporting governments in strengthening inclusive child protection systems and supporting networks that focus on children in mixed movements.

UNHCR will work with States and regional bodies including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to strengthen national asylum systems. As of August 2022, the region had a backlog of 279,000 people awaiting asylum adjudication. UNHCR will work with governments to advance the implementation of pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum. It will be a priority to implement the Regional Action Plans on asylum and statelessness that were jointly established with SADC and endorsed by member States in June 2022. All States in the region are addressing statelessness, and most have pledged to undertake a set of actions towards the eradication of statelessness by 2024. The priorities are reliable qualitative and quantitative data; universal, free and accessible birth registration; legislative reform; and the establishment of statelessness determination procedures.

UNHCR will scale up livelihoods, financial inclusion and self-reliance strategies to foster local integration and voluntary repatriation. Places of possible return will require significant funding by both humanitarian and development partners. UNHCR will also enhance efforts to resettle persons at heightened risk, with a 2023 resettlement target of 9,600 from the region, 48% up from 2021.

UNHCR will coordinate the Regional Refugee Response Plan for the DRC situation. Leadership and coordination roles will be reinforced in refugee and IDP response settings in the region. Innovative partnerships will be expanded and strengthened, particularly partnerships with development actors and financial institutions to enhance the complementarity of interventions that aim to benefit refugees, IDPs and host communities.

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DRC Situation

2023 population planning figures 

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers in Angola, Burundi, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia: 922,000     

  • IDPs in the DRC: 5.1 million  

  • Refugee and IDP returnees in the DRC: 1.6 million        

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers in the DRC: 469,000                   


2023 situation overview 

Wracked by decades of conflict, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crisis in Africa and the fourth largest IDP crisis in the world. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, with violent intersecting conflicts forcing people to flee their homes and preventing their return. More than 5 million people are displaced within the country and more than 1 million Congolese have sought asylum, mostly within Africa. The situation is exacerbated by disease outbreaks and natural disasters. At the same time, the DRC hosts half a million refugees from neighbouring countries, three quarters of whom live outside refugee camps and settlements. 

In 2023, UNHCR will provide a robust operational response for the DRC situation, consisting of protection interventions and multi-sector assistance for refugees, IDPs and returnees, with a focus on long-term solutions and self-reliance. UNHCR will continue to coordinate the overall response in consultation with the Government and in collaboration with partners under the Refugee Coordination Model. Regionally, UNHCR leads the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP), which brings together partners across seven neighbouring countries hosting Congolese refugees. Led by UNHCR, partners under the RRRP will provide strategic and coordinated protection and assistance, while working towards solutions and sustainability. For the IDP response, UNHCR will play its leadership role in the Protection, the Camp Coordination and Camp Management and the Emergency Shelter Clusters.