West and Central Africa

16 June 2022
A girl surrounded by flowers
Zenaba, 26 (born in 1995), from the Central African Republic. An orphan from CAR. She sets up business to support her family and finance her studies.   © UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

 

This information about the region in 2021 is an extended version of the regional chapter in the Global Report 2021, which you can download here. The Global Report also contains information on funding and thematic chapters on UNHCR's work to achieve its Global Strategic Priorities and other initiatives.

 

Executive summary

At the end of 2021, there were 10.7 million people of concern in West and Central Africa – an increase of more than 1.1 million in a year, including 900,000 new IDPs.  

Across the region, political instability, non-state armed groups and climate-related pressure on resources fuelled conflict and forced people to flee, including in risky mixed movements, and hampered humanitarian access. The protection environment deteriorated in the Sahel, while the situation in the Lake Chad Basin remained volatile. Renewed intercommunal clashes fuelled by competition over resources in Cameroon’s Far North region forced people to flee their homes. In the Central African Republic (CAR), the political and security situation remained precarious despite improvement in parts of the country. 

Against this volatile backdrop, UNHCR worked with governments to improve the protection environment, providing technical and legal support on the development of asylum laws in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal, making progress towards adoption of the Kampala Convention in Burkina Faso, the CAR, Mali and Nigeria, and supporting the registration and documentation of people of concern, for instance in Burkina Faso where over 47,000 civil identity documents were delivered. The first draft of a regional model law to establish statelessness determination procedures was reviewed at a regional meeting in November 2021. 

Significant efforts were made to strengthen accountability to affected people in the framework of the regional C4C initiative, with innovative two-way communication channels used to share over 57,000 SMS and WhatsApp messages on protection topics in nine local languages, including drawings and audio material adapted for people with learning difficulties or who cannot read. Community-based identification and referral mechanisms along mixed movements routes were strengthened. 

In line with its “Comprehensive solutions strategy for the situation of Ivorian refugees”, UNHCR intensified the promotion of voluntary repatriation and reintegration, paving the way for cessation of refugee status in 2022, a milestone for all Ivorian refugees and asylum seekers throughout the world. More than 278,000 have returned since 2011, while UNHCR will support those who wish to remain in their host country as legal residents. Positive outcomes were achieved in terms of local integration, for instance in Guinea-Bissau where UNHCR supported the naturalization of 7,000 remaining refugees. UNHCR pursued resettlement or complementary pathways for particularly vulnerable individuals for whom no other durable solution could be expected. 

UNHCR distributed $19.3 million in cash assistance and provided shelter and core relief items to people of concern. UNHCR sought to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence, a prevalent protection concern in the region, assisting survivors with psychosocial support, medical assistance and legal aid in over 12,000 instances. UNHCR supported 200,000 children to start, continue or return to school, extending financial, material and technical support to improve access to education and mitigate the impact of pandemic or security-related school closures.  

All countries in the region included refugees in COVID-19 vaccination plans. In addition to training over 1,300 health workers and providing supplies for health facilities and hygiene kits to 12,540 households, UNHCR helped vaccinate over 32,000 refugees during the year.  

Every effort was made to deliver assistance in an environmentally sustainable manner, applying best practices in water, sanitation, shelter and energy, from solarizing boreholes in Chad to promoting alternative energy sources to firewood. 

Impact of the Global Compact on Refugees

Of the 146 pledges relating to West and Central Africa recorded as of December 2021, five were fulfilled in 2021, and 31 were in progress. This brought the total number of fulfilled pledges in the region to six – four by the Government of Cameroon, one by the Government of Côte d'Ivoire in 2021, and one by the Government of Chad in 2020.  

The four pledges fulfilled by Cameroon related to access to health, education and livelihoods. A tripartite framework was signed between the National Employment Fund, ILO and UNHCR for the inclusion of refugees in employment programmes. This will help reduce refugee unemployment and increase opportunities for economic self-reliance.  

Pledges in progress also present significant opportunities to achieve the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees, from easing the pressure on host countries to expanding access to third-country solutions. In Chad, the out-of-camp policy implemented by the Government follows an innovative “villagization” approach, seeking to reinforce the capacity of host communities to welcome refugees by supporting them financially and technically. In addition, cooperation initiated by Chad, France and Niger in 2020 in the framework of the Asylum Capacity Support Group continued with a view to reinforcing the capacities of Chad and Niger’s asylum systems.  

Key results and trends in 2021

UNHCR'S programmatic results

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WCA cash
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WCA registration
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Resettlement chart

UNHCR'S COVID-19 response

Financial information

Consequences of underfunding

The regional budget of $727.7 million was only 61% funded by the end of the year. The effects of underfunding were profoundly felt throughout the region, posing challenges to UNHCR’s ability to adequately support people of concern and affecting all areas of its work, from the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection to the search for durable solutions and regional partnerships. 

Throughout the region, operations struggled to mobilize resources to respond to the secondary and long-term socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a rapid reduction in livelihoods opportunities which contributed to occurrences of gender-based violence, and the disruption of education for thousands of displaced children. 

Underfunding of life-saving humanitarian assistance meant that in the Middle Belt in Nigeria, only 30,000 IDPs could be supported with livelihood and shelter interventions, out of 380,000 who urgently needed assistance. As such, assistance reached less than 8% of IDPs in a complex, rapidly worsening crisis.  

The repercussions of underfunding were also felt in terms of protection. In Mali for example, UNHCR was unable to ensure that identification documents were provided to close to 880 Malian refugees returning from Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, and newly arrived refugees from Burkina Faso and Niger. Out of 1,150 cases of lack of documentation identified, only 270 could be assisted.  

Lack of documentation is a major protection issue for both refugees and returnees, who are often mistaken for members of extremist groups or held to ransom during their forced displacement journey across Mali. 

Budget by pillar
Budget and expenditure
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WCA funding
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Population chart

Key achievements and impact

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.  

Situations

Sahel Situation

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees and asylum seekers (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger): 231,000, 78% women and children
  • IDPs (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger): 2.1 million IDPs
  • IDP and refugee returns: 79,000
  • Other people of concern (Niger): 50,000

2021 Situation overview

The security environment in the Sahel continued to deteriorate in 2021, with serious implications on the lives of people of concern to UNHCR. Despite military operations carried out by national and international security forces, extremist, non-state and other armed groups continued to maintain a strong foothold in the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso tri-border area and expanded their reach towards coastal countries, subjecting civilian populations to violence and repeated attacks. Within the past two years, the number of refugees and IDPs in the central Sahel has grown by over 200%, with almost 2.1 million at the end of 2021. With coastal countries increasingly threatened by the Sahel conflict and instability, influxes from Burkina Faso into Benin and Côte d'Ivoire took place in 2021 and were expected to continue in 2022. In addition, high population growth and climatic hazards contributed to growing food insecurity in the Sahel. Repeated shocks, including droughts and floods, greatly affected the livelihoods of the most vulnerable in 2021, including forcibly displaced people, leaving many without shelter and giving rise to tensions with host communities grappling with their own vulnerabilities.

To address the growing needs of people forced to flee in the Sahel, UNHCR’s response focused on protection, emergency preparedness, shelter and core relief items, prevention of and response to gender-based violence, education and an environmentally conscious approach. UNHCR distributed $6.5 million in cash assistance to people of concern, while 167,000 benefited from shelter support and 185,000 were reached with life-saving core relief items. UNHCR supported gender-based violence survivors and enhanced community-based child protection and education responses. By the end of 2021, in the Sahel region, 57,000 forcibly displaced children were enrolled in primary school thanks to UNHCR’s support. This was a marked increase compared to 2020, as the effects of the pandemic started to wane and UNHCR was able to support children's return to school. However, insecurity in the Sahel continued to disrupt children's access to education, with schools increasingly being taken as targets by non-state armed groups. UNHCR also reinforced its leadership in the protection, camp coordination and camp management and shelter/core relief items clusters to better support internally displaced people.

UNHCR supported the intergovernmental Bamako Process, which aims to enhance the protection environment in the Sahel, and worked closely with government partners to increase registration and access to documentation of people of concern. Jointly with the Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR co-led Project 21, a protection monitoring project involving over 20 other protection actors that aims to enhance common, evidence-based analysis, advocacy and programming in the Sahel. In 2021, close to 7,000 interviews were conducted with key informants or heads of households in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In addition, UNHCR sought to work along the peace-humanitarian-development nexus and deepen its partnerships with development actors to help address the root causes of the Sahel crisis. In cooperation with the World Bank and the Government of Burkina Faso, UNHCR supported municipalities and key local actors with capacity-building to help them improve their emergency response in the areas of the country most affected by forced displacement.

Nigeria Situation

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees: 327,000, 75% women and children
  • IDPs: 3 million
  • IDP and refugee returns: 291,000

2021 Situation overview

The security situation in and around Nigeria remained tense in 2021, mainly due to frequent attacks and incursions by non-state armed groups. The Lake Chad Basin and the border areas between Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, which are critically exposed to the Boko Haram insurgency, remained among the most dangerous places in the world for civilians. By the end of 2021, some 91,000 people had fled from north-western Nigeria to the Maradi (80,000) and Tahoua (11,000) regions in Niger.

As in previous years, this volatile situation impeded humanitarian access and affected the protection environment. This was further complicated by the closure of five IDP camps in Maiduguri, in Nigeria’s Borno state. Since the closure of camps, some IDPs managed to return to their areas of origin, while others were left in secondary displacement elsewhere. UNHCR, together with the humanitarian community, consistently advocated for a more systematic and organized approach to camp closure.

In this difficult context, UNHCR seized every opportunity to improve the protection environment and find solutions for all affected people, including maintaining its three-cluster leadership (protection, shelter/core relief items, camp coordination and camp management) in IDP situations and advocating for the domestication of the Kampala Convention. By the end of 2021, UNHCR and the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement had provided shelter solutions to 8,200 IDP households (over 41,000 IDPs) in Adamawa and Borno state. In the BAY (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) states, over 19,600 households received core relief item kits, while 6,700 people of concern in the north-east benefited from livelihood skills training and opportunities for income-generating activities.

The Governments of Niger and Nigeria and UNHCR created a technical working group to draft a Tripartite Agreement ensuring that the protection safeguards required for the voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees living in Niger were in place. The Tripartite Agreement was expected to be signed in 2022. Under the Tripartite Agreement signed by the Governments of Cameroon and Nigeria and UNHCR, more than 3,800 refugees were repatriated from Minawao refugee camp to Nigeria, and provided with core relief items upon their return. In addition, through a joint FAO–UNHCR response, 1,200 vulnerable refugee returnee households in Bama and Banki received livelihood assistance.

UNHCR also supported national health systems to respond to the pandemic and mitigate the spread of the virus in densely populated hosting areas around the Lake Chad Basin. UNHCR’s support ensured the last mile distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, helping reach people of concern in remote areas and ensuring their access to COVID-19 and other essential vaccines (including measles, PENTA, BCG, tetanus). UNHCR provided overstretched primary health care centres with equipment ranging from N95 masks to beds, and helped three centres guarantee the availability of 24-hour services by supplying them with solar electricity.

Central African Republic Situation

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees and asylum seekers: 737,000
  • IDPs: 692,000
  • IDP and refugee returns: 377,000

2021 Situation overview

The start of 2021 saw an influx of tens of thousands of Central African refugees into neighbouring countries, as post-electoral violence forced them to flee their homes. Throughout the year, the political and security situation improved but remained volatile and precarious in the country, which is home to one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world. The prevalence of gender-based violence, a rise in child protection incidents and the increased use of explosive devices contributed to an unfavourable and uncertain protection environment. Despite this difficult context, a ceasefire in the autumn and the resulting improvement of security conditions allowed UNHCR to resume supporting voluntary returns in October 2021, offering prospects and solutions for Central Africans wishing to return. In the final quarter of the year, UNHCR organized the voluntary repatriation of around 5,600 Central African refugees to safe areas within the country, with many IDPs also electing to regain their homes.

In addition to strengthening its presence in key return areas, UNHCR worked to improve the protection environment. In 2021, UNHCR set up and supported 89 protection committees, and identified and analysed close to 8,000 protection incidents. UNHCR strengthened its gender-based violence response by reinforcing, rehabilitating and equipping 26 dedicated support centres so that they could provide survivors with holistic support (psychosocial support; quality casework; referral services with additional support for transport and medical fees; dignity kits and other material and financial support; communal support and group activities for survivors), while also introducing a hotline enabling survivors located in remote areas to benefit from psychosocial support and case management. In total, close to 3,600 survivors benefited from those enhanced gender-based violence protection services in 2021.

To protect IDPs, UNHCR continued to lead the protection, shelter/core relief items and camp coordination and camp management clusters. Over 14,000 internally displaced people received core relief item kits, and UNHCR covered and reinforced 40% of all IDPs’ shelters with plastic sheets. In addition, UNHCR continued its advocacy efforts, promoting the domestication of the Kampala Convention and actively pursuing regional dialogue with governments and partners in the search of solutions for all affected populations in the Central African Republic and host countries.