Strengthening protection and access to quality services for persons at heightened risk
UNHCR reached 4.9 million active individual registration records for refugees and asylum seekers in the region. State-led refugee status determination (RSD) was often slow and costly, with 180,000 applications pending at year end. Meanwhile, some of UNHCR’s mandate RSD activities continued to be undertaken remotely at Rwanda’s Emergency Transit Mechanism and in Somalia. Community structures played an ever greater role, including in child protection and the prevention, mitigation and response to gender-based violence. 14,000 incidents of gender-based violence were reported for which survivors received psychosocial counselling while 7,000 unaccompanied or separated children had a best interests assessment initiated or completed. Although COVID-19 border restrictions eased, access to territory and asylum was sub-optimal, and despite UNHCR’s demarches, incidents of refoulement occurred throughout 2021.
UNHCR strengthened staffing to respond to gender-based violence in northern Ethiopia and took proactive measures against sexual exploitation and abuse, strengthening understanding of the UNHCR code of conduct and “zero tolerance” in the region. UNHCR coordinated and co-chaired inter-agency meetings on community-based protection, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, child protection, and mental health and psychosocial support, and launched a good practice learning programme for community-based protection. Small grants were provided to women-led refugee groups and the engagement of community-based organizations strengthened the empowerment of women and girls in communities. Community-based structures also embedded refugee locations into COVID-19 surveillance and alert networks and awareness programmes.
UNHCR collaborated with the East African Community, the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union Commission in an effort to ensure that people of concern effectively benefit from regional protection frameworks granting them access to services and civil documentation, and that their rights are upheld.
Providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and access to social services
The pandemic overstretched the region’s fragile health systems, and refugees, particularly in urban areas, faced financial barriers in accessing health care in some countries. UNHCR ensured the vaccination of some 330,000 people of concern and pursued inclusion in health insurance schemes and social protection, ensuring that humanitarian health care workers were included in preparedness and response training and that access to government isolation and treatment facilities was granted. UNHCR procured and distributed personal protective equipment and medicines across the region, helping to develop contingency plans and provide financial support as required.
As schools began to reopen, UNHCR shared best practices and guidance materials to facilitate safe reopening and minimize dropouts, especially among girls, building solidarity through events such as a roundtable on financing girls’ education. Cooperation with Ministries of Education brought notable progress in the inclusion of refugees and returnees in national education plans and budgeting. Kenya finalized a draft education policy on the inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers, while Somalia’s Ministry of Education took over management of some private schools, which will facilitate the gradual inclusion of refugees. Djibouti’s 2021–2025 Education Plan fully integrates refugees into the national system. In Uganda, UNHCR supported drafting of the Education in Emergency Response Plan 2 to further the inclusion agenda for refugees. Overall, 881,000 children were enrolled in primary education, 117,000 students in secondary education and 680 people of concern received tertiary education scholarships.
At least 53% of households in the region had access to adequate dwellings. 497,000 households were provided with core relief items to meet basic needs, and 204,000 women and girls were provided with sanitary materials.
Promoting self-reliance and economic inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers
As most countries in the region lack strong social insurance and protection/assistance schemes, UNHCR increased the scope of cash assistance to shield people from the socioeconomic repercussions of the pandemic. This mainly targeted those in urban settings and other highly vulnerable groups, such as survivors of gender-based violence, to minimize the impact from increased unemployment and the concurrent reduction in food rations in many countries.
UNHCR disbursed $38 million in cash assistance to over 1 million people in the region, supporting needs for energy, shelter, hygiene, livelihoods and repatriation. Most transfers were made digitally, 70% via bank transfers, 10% as mobile money and a smaller amount through prepaid cards. Post-distribution monitoring showed 87% of households preferred cash assistance combined with in-kind assistance. To promote livelihoods and self-reliance, 15,000 people of concern were provided with entrepreneurship and business training.
Pursuing durable solutions
Returns resumed in early 2021 as borders began to reopen and COVID-19 restrictions eased. 342,000 refugees returned to their countries of origin, including 66,000 UNHCR-facilitated returns to Burundi from DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia, and 270,000 self-organized returns to South Sudan. UNHCR also supported the Burundi voluntary repatriation programme by ensuring COVID-19 testing of returnees. UNHCR facilitated returns for over 2,800 Somalis and 2,000 Rwandans, whilst over 1,100 refugees returned to Ethiopia.
Resettlement was hindered by insecurity and political instability in Ethiopia and Sudan, camp consolidation in Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania, and the impact of COVID-19. Nevertheless, UNHCR resumed resettlement field missions and in-person interviews in several countries. A total of 23,000 resettlement places were allocated to the region in 2021 from all resettlement countries, and submissions were made for 17,000 individuals, representing 73% of the available places and almost double the number of submissions made in 2020. Further, 9,600 resettlement departures occurred in 2021, compared to 4,800 in 2020. Many countries sought creative ways to expand existing complementary pathways for refugees, including family reunification, labour mobility and educational opportunities.
Preventing, addressing and resolving statelessness
In 2021, several countries made progress on pledges relating to eradicating statelessness. Somalia adopted a National Action Plan to end statelessness and other countries’ Plans were under preparation with UNHCR’s support. UNHCR also provided support to the Governments of Rwanda on nationality reform. Rwanda published a new nationality law facilitating naturalization for stateless persons. Progress was also made in ensuring that all refugees born in Rwanda are registered and issued with birth certificates. UNHCR’s efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness in Kenya saw 1,700 people granted Kenyan citizenship while 1,200 were assisted to make applications for registration as Kenyan citizens. Advocacy for the amendment of the Citizenship and Immigration Act to remove the time-limited provision for the registration of stateless persons continued. The Kenyan Government recognized 50 people of Indian descent, and a petition to recognize people of Pemba descent is under consideration.
UNHCR released “Citizenship and statelessness in the Horn of Africa,” a study that analyses risk factors leading to statelessness in the region. A meeting between UNHCR and the ICGLR Secretariat reviewed the progress of the implementation of statelessness commitments. A regional ICGLR study on protracted refugee situations, risks of statelessness and prospects for durable solutions in the Great Lakes region was also launched in 2021. Data collection has commenced in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Coordinating and delivering protection, assistance and solutions for IDPs
Ongoing and escalating conflicts in locations such as northern Ethiopia and Darfur in Sudan presented challenges for IDP engagement, requiring UNHCR to focus on life-saving activities and sometimes employing remote protection monitoring and interventions. In 2021, UNHCR expanded its programme to respond to the growing internal displacement situation in Ethiopia. Together with partners, UNHCR reached over 1.7 million IDPs and returning IDPs with protection services, shelter and core relief items in nine of Ethiopia’s regions. In addition, UNHCR supported over 580,000 IDPs in communal settings, the majority in 68 sites in Amhara and Tigray regions, through camp coordination and camp management cluster support in each region.
In Darfur, UNHCR provided 2,600 IDPs with paralegal support and 80 IDPs with representation in formal courts. Additionally, approximately 10,000 IDPs received awareness raising on legal rights. UNHCR also distributed personal sanitary kits to 890 women and girls in Abu Shouk settlement in El Fasher in north Darfur.
Climate-related displacements also affected the region. In Burundi, 80% of IDPs were displaced due to natural disasters and the adverse effects of climate change. In South Sudan, flooding and insecurity pushed some partner agencies out of the locations where they normally provided protection services, causing gaps in protection and assistance. Strong advocacy continued with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) partners to improve WASH facilities. UNHCR distributed face masks, soap, buckets, mosquito nets and sanitary kits to the most vulnerable populations.