Providing life-saving humanitarian assistance
In the face of new waves of forced displacement caused by violence and instability, UNHCR enhanced its emergency preparedness to be able to quickly reach those most in need. In 2021, 286,000 people of concern received emergency shelter and over 102,000 households received core relief items, including in Chad where new refugees from the Far North region of Cameroon were reached with airlifts. UNHCR also distributed more than $19.3 million to refugees as cash assistance.
Gender-based violence remained a particular concern, which UNHCR sought to address through prevention and risk mitigation activities. Survivors were assisted with psychosocial support, medical assistance and legal aid in over 12,000 instances. UNHCR also made significant efforts to strengthen accountability to affected people using innovative two-way communication channels developed in the framework of the C4C, a regional community-based protection initiative. In 2021, over 57,000 SMS and WhatsApp messages on key protection topics were sent to people of concern and local protection committees in six countries. In addition, close to 4,000 best interest procedures were completed to support unaccompanied or separated children.
As insecurity continued to disrupt children’s education across the region, UNHCR increased support to Ministries of Education to improve access to protective, quality education for displaced children and youth. Throughout the 2020-21 school year, 780 schools were supported, over 2,500 teachers were trained and 30,500 children received school kits or cash assistance.
UNHCR also supported inclusive national health responses by advocating for the inclusion of refugees in national health systems in line with the Global Compact on Refugees. Through the African Development Bank-funded support project for G5 Sahel member countries to combat COVID-19, UNHCR provided medical supplies for health facilities, distributed close to 13,000 hygiene kits to households and conducted capacity-building of 1,300 national health staff.
Strengthening protection and access to quality services for the displaced and those at risk of statelessness
UNHCR continued the roll-out of its biometric identity management system in nine countries to support national registration systems, with close to 1.3 million people of concern biometrically registered by the end of 2021. UNHCR assisted with the provision of over 47,000 civil identity documents to displaced populations and host community members in Burkina Faso – a total of over 400,000 documents since 2017. Among steps taken to strengthen asylum systems, UNHCR provided technical legal support to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire on developing an asylum law.
UNHCR worked towards the identification and protection of stateless persons, and on prevention for those at risk of becoming stateless. UNHCR partnered with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa to develop a draft regional model law for establishing statelessness determination procedures, providing protection and solutions for stateless persons. In addition, Togo acceded to the UN conventions on statelessness, following long-running advocacy by UNHCR. UNHCR also promoted the domestication of the Kampala Convention and supported progress at a technical level in Cameroon, Chad and Mali.
UNHCR sought to improve refugees’ access to services. Project 21, a regional inter-agency protection monitoring system, showed how collaboration with partners can help harmonize protection data and develop joint analysis, advocacy and programming. In 2021, close to 7,000 interviews were conducted with key informants or heads of households in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and this pioneering initiative was expanded to Chad and Nigeria. In addition, a technical retreat was held with the Court of Justice of ECOWAS in November 2021 to discuss new areas of strategic collaboration and develop a joint action plan to facilitate refugees’ access to national and regional judicial systems and to promote refugee law with Court practitioners.
UNHCR strengthened community-based identification and referral mechanisms along mixed movement routes and enhanced two-way communication to inform people on the move about protection risks and services available. 1,500 people were referred to protection services in Burkina Faso. In Chad, traditional leaders, local radio listeners, students and people on the move were targeted through focus group discussions, live radio programmes and a short film, reaching more than 80,000 people.
Working towards durable solutions
Despite significant challenges due to insecurity and instability, UNHCR made great strides towards finding durable solutions for people of concern in 2021. With voluntary repatriations often remaining the most appropriate solution, the recommendation of cessation of refugee status for Ivorians by the end of June 2022 was a significant milestone for Ivorian refugees throughout the region. In 2021, UNHCR supported 23,000 Ivorian refugees to return home, forming the bulk of the nearly 47,000 refugees whose repatriation UNHCR assisted in the region. For all repatriations, UNHCR respected sanitary protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and carried out post-return monitoring and community-level engagement to support returnees’ sustainable reintegration. In addition to refugees, nearly 706,000 IDPs returned to their places of origin in Cameroon (53,000), the Central African Republic (371,000), Mali (77,000) and Nigeria (205,000).
Positive results were also achieved in terms of refugees’ local integration and access to citizenship. By October 2021, UNHCR support made it possible for Guinea-Bissau to naturalize the 7,000 refugees remaining in the country and provide them with identity cards. Around 50 Mauritanian refugees were granted Senegalese citizenship, and more than 280 other naturalization applications were being processed with UNHCR’s support.
In line with the Global Compact on Refugees, resettlement and complementary pathways were also used wherever appropriate. In 2021, there were 1,200 resettlement departures from West and Central Africa, including almost 500 from the Niger Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM). Of the 1,700 cases submitted from the region, 370 submissions were from the ETM population and 130 were emergency submissions. Another 120 refugees departed through complementary pathways, including 100 through humanitarian corridors from Niger to Italy, 10 through family reunification and 10 through education pathways.
Enhancing regional partnerships
UNHCR co-chaired the regional NGO consultations with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies and engaged closely with UNICEF in Cameroon on joint child protection, education, water, sanitation and hygiene activities through the UNHCR-UNICEF Blueprint. 8,300 children in need of a birth certificate were identified, and 64% were issued one.
UNHCR collaborated with the African Union, ECOWAS and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel to promote coordinated approaches to regional issues, including in the development of the Bamako Process and the comprehensive solutions strategy for Ivorian refugees. The Abuja action statement served as an important advocacy tool for engaging with governments and other important actors in the Lake Chad Basin, including the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the Secretariat of the Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience.
The World Bank’s International Development Association regional sub-window for refugees and host communities (IDA18) was a key instrument in the humanitarian-development nexus, particularly in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In Chad, for example, schools were rehabilitated in the Ouaddai and Logone Oriental regions and refugees’ inclusion in the Unified Social Registry was strengthened, allowing 7,500 to receive cash transfers. Chad’s National Committee on Reinsertion of Refugees was supported financially, materially and technically. In Niger, the World Bank’s support allowed for the rehabilitation of infrastructure in refugee-hosting areas, improving community infrastructure access for 267,500 people including 62,100 refugees. 11,800 people including 1,600 refugees received cash transfers for agricultural and other income-generating activities.