Millions of people who have fled their homes in the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region due to conflict, climate-related events and political violence face worsening prospects in 2023. The global economic downturn, repercussions from the Ukraine war and the pandemic, and floods and droughts stoked by climate change will exacerbate existing difficulties in finding livelihood activities, feeding families and educating children. However, some forcibly displaced people may be able to return home to Burundi and areas of Somalia and South Sudan.
UNHCR will support efforts to keep asylum open throughout the region and will press the international community to take a greater share of the responsibility for protecting and assisting displaced people, as well as helping them to return safely, resettle elsewhere or integrate into the local community. In 2023, 135,000 people in the region are projected to be in need of resettlement. UNHCR will prepare for new emergencies while maintaining basic services for those already displaced or stateless. UNHCR has budgeted $2.021 billion for the region in 2023, with growing needs in nine of the region’s 11 countries, especially Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. Low funding would preclude all but the most vital life-saving support, while full funding would mean those forced to flee will not merely survive but have a chance to return to full and productive lives.
In Ethiopia, UNHCR will provide emergency shelter and life-saving support to those newly displaced by conflict and drought, while developing refugee camp capacity. In Sudan, needs may increase due to the conflict in Ethiopia, climate impacts, a weak economy and the political situation following the ousting of the civilian Government in 2021, which reduced foreign support and development funding. UNHCR will require resources to provide emergency assistance to new arrivals and those affected by natural or climate disasters, and to support livelihoods and infrastructure development in reception centres and camps. In South Sudan, UNHCR’s “pockets of hope” initiative will help returning refugees have a successful fresh start. UNHCR will aim for a strategic shift towards empowering forcibly displaced people, including self-reliance and gender equality, while maintaining readiness for displacement caused by floods, intercommunal clashes or linked to the 2023 general election. In Somalia and across the region, drought is expected to add to needs for basic goods and cash assistance.
In Uganda, a major refugee-hosting country, lack of funding for food supplies is raising the risk of exploitation, including gender-based violence, which UNHCR will work to prevent, mitigate and respond to. An increasing refugee population, putting additional pressure on social services, may strain relations with the host communities, assistance and support for peaceful coexistence.
In Rwanda, UNHCR plans 100% coverage for 186,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in priority services such as primary health care, assisted births and vaccinations, and primary school enrolments for 19,400 refugee children, with an improved pupil-to-teacher ratio.
UNHCR will support efforts by Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, which have piloted the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, to incorporate refugees into their national education, health, livelihoods and social protection systems. UNHCR will support the fulfilment of pledges by Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda to accede to one or both statelessness conventions.
UNHCR will seek greater involvement of development actors such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Commission’s Department for International Partnerships, and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Together with regional actors – the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the East African Community, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region – UNHCR will aim to address structural causes of displacement and statelessness, facilitate coordinated regional responses, and advance thematic priorities such as education, livelihoods and health.
UNHCR will collaborate with the World Bank on more socioeconomic surveys, which are already informing planning in Kenya, to provide data on activities of displaced persons in the region and inform policies, advocacy and programming.
2023 population planning figures
Refugees and asylum-seekers: 121,000
IDPs: 5.3 million
2023 situation overview
The conflict in northern Ethiopia is complex, fluid and evolving. August 2022 saw the resumption of hostilities in the three northern regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar, leading to new displacement and restrictions on humanitarian movement and access to affected refugee and IDP populations, disrupting the delivery of protection and assistance.
In 2023, depending on the evolution of the situation and access to affected areas, UNHCR will continue to provide essential aid to Ethiopian IDPs and Eritrean refugees affected by the hostilities. Humanitarian assistance will include shelter and core relief items as well as protection services for IDPs, including support for survivors of gender-based violence, and full multisector support for refugees as per UNHCR’s mandated responsibilities.
The resumption of hostilities prompted UNHCR to review emergency preparedness measures in Sudan, in case of a flow of refugees into Gedaref and Kassala states. By the end of September 2022, there had been few new arrivals, but emergency preparedness measures such as border monitoring and the prepositioning of emergency relief items were complete. Efforts were underway to create additional space for new arrivals in existing camps while identifying additional sites as part of contingency planning. UNHCR declared an internal Level 1 emergency for Sudan, which will remain in force until March 2023. UNHCR will also continue its response in eastern Sudan and Blue Nile state, providing protection assistance, shelter, water, sanitation, health care, and logistics support. By the end of August 2022, some 60,000 Ethiopian refugees had crossed into Sudan.
South Sudan Situation
2023 population planning figures
Refugees and asylum-seekers: 2.19 million
IDPs: 2.27 million
Refugee returnees*: 661,000
Stateless persons: 16,000
*Cumulative refugee returnees. It is possible that some of these recorded returns will represent pendular movements.
2023 situation overview
The South Sudanese refugee population, more than 65% of whom are children, remains extremely vulnerable. This protracted situation is the largest refugee situation on the African continent. Over 2.3 million refugees hosted in neighbouring countries live in often precarious conditions, exacerbated by various factors such as the extreme drought and food insecurity situation in the region and the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 90,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries since the beginning of 2022, while 87,000 returns have been recorded.
After nearly a decade of conflict and despite efforts toward implementing the peace agreement, South Sudan continues to grapple with sporadic violence, chronic food insecurity and devastating flooding, often affecting achievements on the humanitarian front.
The UNHCR non-return advisory advises States against the forced return of refugees to South Sudan, and UNHCR does not facilitate return, however, over 600,000 have chosen to return on their own accord since 2017 to areas that are often unable to provide basic services. UNHCR will implement the “Pockets of hope” initiative to help returning refugees have a successful fresh start.
In 2023, UNHCR will continue to provide support to host countries to uphold the quality of asylum for South Sudanese refugees in the region, with keen attention provided to women and children, who make up the majority of refugees. Life-saving support will include preventing and responding to gender-based violence as well as contributing to gender-based violence risk mitigation across the response. Legal and physical protection will be strengthened and biometric registration, documentation, and data management in collaboration with host governments will be enhanced. The social cohesion between refugees and host communities will also be promoted, as well as working with asylum countries to achieve comprehensive and sustainable solutions. UNHCR will also maintain readiness for any possible displacement linked to the scheduled general election in 2024.
The South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan includes 105 operational partners and will cater to the needs of nearly 2.16 million South Sudanese refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda in 2023.