South Africa Multi-Country Office


Operation: Opération: South Africa Multi-Country Office



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
101,434 people of concern received counselling, protection information, COVID-19 awareness- and solutions-related information
80,639 people of concern received cash assistance, including to mitigate the impact of COVID-19
8,069 people of concern received legal advice and assistance
6,878 people of concern received social assistance and psychosocial support
4,940 people of concern in refugee settlements received food and basic needs assistance
1,471 people of concern were assisted through self-reliance and livelihood projects
2021 planning figures
36,000 people of concern will receive counselling, protection information, legal advice and assistance as well as benefit from judicial engagement
34,000 asylum-seekers awaiting decisions will have their claims adjudicated to finality
12,900 people of concern will receive social assistance and psychosocial support
7,000 people of concern in refugee settlements will receive food and basic needs assistance
1,600 people of concern will be assisted through self-reliance and livelihood projects

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2019 280,004
2018 275,377


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South Africa Multi-Country Office

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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

In countries covered by the South Africa Representation and Multi-Country Office (Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa), UNHCR focused on protection and solutions advocacy, provision of protection services, advancement of the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees, implementation of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness, and identification of durable solutions for more than 276,000 people of concern, most of whom reside in urban locations.

COVID-19 forced UNHCR and partners to reprioritize and repurpose available resources and budgets. In-person activities like counselling and legal consultations that could no longer be implemented because of COVID-19 were deprioritized and resources reallocated instead to the emergency COVID-19 response. In addition, COVID-19-specific resources were injected into operations, including funds received through local private sector fundraising.

The socio-economic impact of the pandemic on people of concern was the source of major challenges in 2020 as thousands lost their livelihoods, putting social cohesion in host communities under strain. Demonstrating strong advocacy and partnership within United Nations Country Teams in all nine countries, operations met the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. UNHCR successfully advocated inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers in national COVID-19 social protection and health responses, especially with regard to inclusion in the provision of social protection grants where these were available (e.g. South Africa), and access to health treatment and vaccine inclusion.

To address growing needs arising from the pandemic and to mitigate its direct impact on people of concern, UNHCR increased direct material assistance mainly with cash assistance in South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho and Madagascar. In Botswana and Namibia, refugees received core relief items, personal protective equipment, sanitizers and personal hygiene products.

Maintaining legal and protection services including counselling and judicial engagement, UNHCR used bulk SMS communications, virtual focus group discussions with people of concern, telephone call centre helplines, and remote court appearances. In Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia and Lesotho, sanitation and health care services in refugee settlements were ramped up, health facilities were supported, and hospital in-patient equipment was procured to enhance COVID-19 testing, isolation and treatment.

UNHCR developed a 2020-2024 Multi-Year Protection and Solutions Strategy to strengthen protection and implement pragmatic solutions proactively and innovatively, using a whole-of-society approach. Tapping into new and expanded partnerships, UNHCR ensured that pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum and High-Level Segment on Statelessness were implemented. The operation strengthened protection across the whole spectrum of displacement, ensuring that the centrality of protection guided humanitarian action, engagement, coordination and strategic and diverse partnerships. Asylum management and capacity support was enhanced in all countries, particularly in South Africa where UNHCR and the Government initiated the implementation of a four-year project to address the backlog of 153,000 pending asylum applications. The inclusion of people of concern in national services like health care and access to government grants were strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies on statelessness were initiated in Eswatini and Namibia and commitments to embark on similar studies were obtained in Lesotho. Progress was made to promote legislative change in Eswatini to allow women to convey nationality to their children and foreign spouse. Comprehensive birth registration and access to nationality documentation remained challenging as pre-existing developmental and economic constraints were exacerbated by the pandemic.

Population trends

As of December 2020, more than 260,000 refugees and asylum-seekers were hosted across Botswana (1,063), the Comoros, Eswatini (2,064), Lesotho (460), Madagascar (316), Mauritius (20), Namibia (5,809), the Seychelles and South Africa (250,256). In Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia the majority of refugees and asylum-seekers lived in refugee camps, settlements or collective centres – due to encampment policies in Botswana and Namibia – with a small number residing in the national capitals and other urban areas.

The number of new arrivals decreased significantly, with 682 arrivals recorded in 2020 across the nine countries, compared to 1,930 in 2019. Likewise, the number of onward movement departures dropped from 221 people in 2019 to only 51 in 2020. This is most likely due to the pandemic, and subsequent closure of borders.

Key achievements

  • UNHCR supported the voluntary return of 616 refugees who had sought asylum in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and resettled 462 individuals to Canada, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America.
  • UNHCR continued to provide legal and social assistance to people of concern throughout the COVID-19 lockdown through adaptive and remote arrangements, such as SMS communications, virtual focus group discussions, helplines, and remote court appearances.
  • Refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs and other people of concern to UNHCR, particularly those at heightened risk, had access to health care and social services, thanks to UNHCR’s successful advocacy efforts to ensure their inclusion in national COVID-19 response measures.

Unmet needs

Livelihoods scale-up: Insufficient funding for and investment in agricultural and livelihoods support in Eswatini and Namibia hampered efforts to strengthen refugee self-reliance.

Cash assistance scale up: Without sufficient staff and funding to conduct necessary assessments, develop partnerships, implement and monitor cash programmes, UNHCR was not able to comprehensively make the shift to cash assistance in Namibia, as planned.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

UNHCR operations in Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa benefitted from a high percentage of flexible funding, which facilitated a swift and nimble response to meeting newly-emerging needs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the speed with which UNHCR was able to provide cash assistance to more than 80,600 people of concern was possible thanks to flexible funding. The majority of recipients were previously self-sufficient refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa who had lost livelihoods during the pandemic.

Working environment

Countries in the southern Africa region covered by the new South Africa Multi Country Office host over 280,000 refugees and asylum-seekers mainly from Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Ethiopia, and Burundi.
The region has experienced an influx and constant increase of new arrivals from DRC, the majority of whom are from the Kasai and ex Katanga Provinces.
It is foreseen that the population trends in 2020 will be similar to what was reported in 2018 for Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia.  In view of the scale-down of resettlement from Madagascar in 2016 and the initiated advocacy for local integration, the refugee population in Madagascar is expected to grow over the coming years. Furthermore, a 10% growth per year is expected for the Kingdom of eSwatini .
Although several countries are experiencing economic growth, inequality, poverty, poor social protection,
xenophobia and a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate remain prominent in the region. Mixed movements continue to put a strain on national asylum systems and trigger restrictive migration and refugee policies.

Key priorities

In 2020, UNHCR will endeavor to:
  • advocate for accession to and ratification of international and/or regional instruments on refugees, IDPs and stateless persons, lifting reservations to these instruments and supporting the development of national legal frameworks;
  • find comprehensive solutions, particularly to protracted refugee situations and former refugees still hosted by asylum countries;
  • improve standards of assistance through empowerment of refugees, self-reliance, livelihoods and implementation of cash-based interventions;
  • promote the implementation of the global action plan to end statelessness by 2024;
  • pursue a multi-year multi-partner protection and solutions strategy for 2018-2021 as well as the implementation of CRRF of the Global Compact on Refugees in the sub-region.
South Africa hosts some 274,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The country continues to receive high numbers of asylum applications combined with a large backlog and complex protection problems faced by people of concern. Upon the Government’s request, UNHCR has been assisting South Africa to address its RSD backlog through dedicated technical equipment and support. UNHCR will continue to advocate for fair refugee status determination procedures and quality decisions, as well as to provide support to relevant government departments and civil society in the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. Social cohesion between refugees and host communities remains a challenge. In 2019, violence against foreigners has undermined their physical safety, security and livelihoods including that of some Persons of Concern. Working together with partners, UNHCR has stepped up its response to address the physical and legal protection needs of refugees and asylum-seekers and works towards minimizing the threat of violence. In line with the Multi-Year-Multi-Partner-Solutions-Strategy, UNHCR continues to establish and strengthen relationships with non-traditional stakeholders to enhance the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa.
In Namibia,in line with the phase out strategy, UNHCR provides support remotely through implementing partners and is continuing with provision of shelter, food and core relief items and livelihoods support in coordination with the Government. UNHCR also supports the Government in the local integration of former Angolan refugees.
UNHCR provides protection and assistance mainly through a local implementing partner to some 1,750 refugees and asylum-seekers residing in Malindza Reception Center and in urban areas in the Kingdom of Eswatini. UNHCR is providing technical assistance to the Government in operationalizing the new Refugee Act. UNHCR also provided technical support to the Government in the development of the National Action Plan to eradicate statelessness.
Botswana hosts some 1,700 refugees and asylum-seekers in Dukwi refugee camp. UNHCR continues supporting the government in the management of refugees and asylum-seekers and will support the voluntary repatriation of people of concern willing to return to countries of origin.
Madagascar is hosting 165 refugees and asylum-seekers. UNHCR will continue to support Madagascar in the management of refugees and asylum-seekers through the provision of social and legal assistance by an implementing partner. In 2019, UNHCR provided technical support to the Government Madagascar in the development of the National Action Plan to eradicate statelessness. Once adopted, UNHCR will remain committed to provide support to operationalize the Plan.
Lesotho hosts 118 people of concern. UNHCR continues capacity building of the authorities on RSD and the management of refugees and asylum-seekers.
The Indian Ocean Island States host currently very few known people of concern to UNHCR. UNHCR continues to monitor the situation through partners and periodic missions. Comoros has committed to accede to both statelessness conventions by 2021 and reform nationality legislation to prevent childhood statelessness. UNHCR is encouraging Mauritius to accede to international refugee and statelessness instruments as well as to establish a referral mechanism to coordinate the management of asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons. Seychelles has requested UNHCR’s technical support in drafting a national legal asylum framework that could serve as a model for other Indian Ocean Island States. Seychelles has also shown interest in acceding to statelessness conventions.
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 24-NOV-2021
  • Germany
  • 23-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 22-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • Japan

    private donors

  • 18-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Argentina
  • Romania
  • Qatar
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 17-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 15-NOV-2021
    United Arab Emirates

    private donors

  • 12-NOV-2021
  • 11-NOV-2021
  • Angola
  • 09-NOV-2021
  • 08-NOV-2021
  • Hungary