12 out of 16 countries had national asylum systems in place by year end. UNHCR focused on strengthening their asylum procedures, building the capacity of eligibility officers and enhancing management and decisions. It advocated with governments and regional economic communities for the principle of non-refoulement and provided legal aid to enhance access to documentation. Although COVID-19 border closures affected access to asylum, by the end 2021 most countries had either reopened borders or implemented systems to admit refugees and asylum seekers under specific or exceptional procedures.
UNHCR and South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs agreed on a “backlog project”, aiming for an 88% reduction in pending asylum applications. Actions were also underway to strengthen national asylum systems and refugee status determination backlogs in Angola, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique. Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe approved UNHCR’s use of its biometric identity management system to enhance the registration of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons. UNHCR also supported alternatives to detention in Zimbabwe, which were incorporated in the referral mechanism for asylum seekers and refugees.
Following UNHCR’s Africa-wide action plan with the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges, a regional training centre in Cape Town, South Africa, began delivering training on asylum and statelessness in 2021, with the objective of training 2,000 legal practitioners and judges by 2023. This strategic partnership will support UNHCR engagement on policy and judicial decisions in the years to come.
Coordinating and delivering protection, assistance and solutions for IDPs
In the DRC, intercommunal conflict and violence triggered vast and repeated displacement, particularly in eastern provinces. UNHCR led the protection cluster, the shelter cluster and the non-food items working group, and co-led the camp coordination and camp management working group. UNHCR documented more than 27,400 human rights violations and abuses as a result of protection monitoring activities and issued more than 68 protection reports and analysis products to support response, planning and advocacy. UNHCR reached more than 60,600 households with core relief items, including nearly 7,400 people displaced in May 2021 by the Nyiragongo volcano eruption. UNHCR also provided more than 108,000 people with emergency shelter support and nearly 3,000 households with cash grants for rental accommodation. UNHCR also ensured that 4,600 reported survivors of gender-based violence received psychosocial counselling, 1,900 received legal assistance and 2,600 received medical assistance.
Large-scale internal displacement persisted in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. While the security situation hindered humanitarian access in some locations, UNHCR was able to scale up its protection presence and humanitarian activities. UNHCR led the protection cluster at national and sub-national levels, delivered shelter and core relief items, and supported camp coordination and camp management. As a result of these efforts, UNHCR reached 13,200 households with core relief items; ensured 43,000 people in six IDP sites had access to mental health and psychosocial support services for survivors of gender-based violence; reached 34,500 people with site management and support services; provided legal counselling and assistance to 17,000 individuals, of whom 10,000 received civil documentation; and reached 3,300 people with awareness-raising on prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Working towards durable solutions
In 2021, more than 30,000 refugees returned to their countries of origin from the Southern Africa region – primarily from the DRC – to Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. At the same time, 884 refugees returned to their home countries in Southern Africa from countries of asylum across the continent. In Zambia, voluntary repatriation of refugees from Mantapala refugee settlement to Pweto in the DRC commenced, with 300 people departing in late December 2021. Preparations were also made for voluntary repatriation of refugees to the DRC from South Africa.
Resettlement quickened from 2020 but fewer than 1,400 departures achieved only 59% of UNHCR’s target, due to pandemic-related delays in recruitment of the staff required. Other complementary pathways were also explored, including through education, labour migration and family reunification.
Prospects for local integration were also pursued, especially for former Angolan and Rwandan refugees remaining in countries of asylum after cessation of their refugee status. In line with the Global Compact on Refugees, livelihood initiatives and economic inclusion contributed toward local integration efforts and remained a priority for the region. To this end, UNHCR stepped up engagement with development actors, who committed resources to refugee economic inclusion programmes, and pursued opportunities for settlement approaches and socioeconomic integration in Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia.
UNHCR strengthened engagement with a wide range of stakeholders and promoted implementation of pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum and the High-Level Segment on Statelessness. Virtual regional consultations with NGOs were held in September 2021, bringing together some 600 participants, and concluded in a joint action plan for strengthened collaboration on localization, partnerships and Global Refugee Forum pledge implementation.
UNHCR provided significant inputs on humanitarian policy and coordination issues to the Regional Inter-Agency Standing Committee and engaged with the Africa Regional Collaborative Platform, which seeks to promote a joint UN policy voice through the eight Opportunity/Issue-based Coalitions (OIBC). UNHCR served as co-convener of OIBC-7 on forced displacement and migration.
UNHCR also coordinated the 2021 DRC Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) ensuring an overarching vision and coherent engagement in the response for Congolese refugees among 69 partners in seven neighbouring countries of asylum, namely: Angola, Burundi, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
In partnership with development actors such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, UNHCR secured the inclusion of people of concern into several large-scale development projects including in the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In line with the Global Compact on Refugees, these partnerships serve to strengthen livelihoods and resilience and to promote economic inclusion for people of concern.
Preventing, addressing and resolving statelessness
UNHCR engaged a wide range of stakeholders at the regional and country levels to promote the implementation of pledges on preventing, addressing and resolving statelessness made at the Global Refugee Forum and the High-Level Segment on Statelessness. By the end of 2021, qualitative data on statelessness to better inform response planning was being collected in nine countries including Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. UNHCR engaged with the Governments of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia on including statelessness-related questions in upcoming population censuses.
In Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa, UNHCR’s partners identified and assisted stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness through legal clinics. In the case of those born in transit and in host countries, birth certificates issued by the civil registry helped prevent statelessness. In the Republic of the Congo, UNHCR supported a government initiative during which 25,000 undocumented Congolese received a birth certificate in 2021, including 5,000 people from the indigenous minority. In Malawi and Zambia, UNHCR supported the issuance of national identity documentation to help prevent refoulement and arrest; facilitate inclusion in national health, education and social protection systems; and enable legal access to the labour market, as well as to banking and mobile and other digital services.