AU Watch

The AU & Africa Refugee Crisis

Can the African Union get ‘durable solutions’ to the continent’s refugee crisis?

Many people who flee from crisis situations are unable to leave their own countries. AU Watch Media Team looks at Africa’s refugee crises: Internally displaced people are the most vulnerable.

In 2018, Africa recorded the largest numbers of refugees, and the AU has still not managed to get to grips with the challenges. The UN refugee agency UNHCR recorded a total of 30 million Africans in need on the continent in 2018. This figure includes almost 7.5 million refugees, 630,000 asylum-seekers, one million stateless persons and around half a million returned refugees. But the largest group is still made up of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Over 18 million Africans have had to leave their homes but are unable or unwilling to leave their country.


Refugee numbers in Africa

There are over 30 million migrants in Africa: that includes refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees. The numbers increased in recent years, and DW found out that those leaving their home countries tend to go to the same destination. The South Sudanese child pictured here is one of many who found shelter in a refugee camp in Uganda.


South Sudan

As of the end of January 2019, 2.28 million people from South Sudan had fled their country, via an international border. That is the highest number for any African country. Their main destination: neighboring Sudan. The South Sudanese refugee crisis is the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world, after Syria and Afghanistan. Many South Sudanese refugees are children.


A long way to go

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world. This remains a cause of tension and contributes to ongoing violence, which drives the displacement of people. Civilians suffer under the attacks of armed groups as well as from intercommunal clashes. Most are reported in North and South Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, Haut-Katanga, and Haut-Lomami.


DR Congo

Hundreds of thousands of people fled the country up until 2019. While DR Congo has to deal with millions of internally displaced persons, many found refuge in neighboring countries. Uganda is their main country of refuge, and currently hosts some 2.3 million refugees from DR Congo. The reasons are also geographical, as Uganda shares borders with many crisis-torn regions.


Somalians flee to Kenya

Somalia is troubled by ongoing civil strife which caused thousands to flee to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, and pushed many Somalis to the brink of starvation.The country lacks a unified central government. The extremist al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab controls much of southern Somalia, although African Union troops have seen major victories against the group.



The number of Somali refugees is almost as high as that of DR Congo refugees. But, the main destination for Somalians is Kenya. The Dadaab camp, a complex of three settlements, is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. It was built to house 90,000 people but is now home to more than 200,000 people.


One of the world’s largest regugee camps

Across Africa, migrants are seeking a safe haven. Some find it in refugee camps like the world’s biggest refugee settlement at Dadaab, Kenya, where they can stay for years and start new lives and families. This contributes to the rise in refugee numbers and explains how children can be born with refugee status.regions.


Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been unstable since its independence from France in 1960. Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority-Christian country in 2013. Under international pressure, Seleka handed power to a transitional government in 2014 but months of violence followed and the CAR was effectively partitioned.


Struggling to emerge

Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations. After a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war, the country is still struggling to recover. The usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority have failed to overcome tensions since the country gained independence in 1962. In 1994, a civil war between the two ethnic groups made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most persistent conflicts.



Burundi has been in another crisis since April 2015 after President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term. The economy has declined significantly due to political instability and insecurity. Human rights violations such as kidnappings and torture by the police, military, and the ruling party’s youth league persist.


Between life and death

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, thousands of people have died in recent years in communal attacks led by the Islamist terror organization Boko Haram. At the same time, separatist aspirations grew and the imposition of Islamic law in several northern states has embedded divisions and caused thousands of Christians to flee, sometimes undertaking a dangerous journey across the desert.



Conflict is the major driver of the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. In the northeast, Boko Haram has affected more than 14 million people. The group carries out attacks against the military and civilians in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. Conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt and southern states has been growing increasingly violent, killing and displacing thousands.

Author: Silja Fröhlich

A Summary of the 1969 O/AU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa

This week, fifty-one years ago, Organization of African Unity (OAU) Member States gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to adopt the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969 OAU Refugee Convention).

AU Watch welcomed this milestone for the Convention, which was adopted on September 10, 1969 as the world’s first regional refugee protection treaty and the regional complement to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. It was a progressive treaty that expanded on the definition of refugee among other advances, and it remains relevant half-a-century later.

In 1969, many African states had recently gained their independence, while others were still under colonial or minority rule. The Convention reflects this context. In addition to the international refugee definition from the 1951 Convention, the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention affords refugee protection to individuals who fled because of “external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order.” This broader regional definition, as well as the Convention’s provisions on voluntary repatriation and solidarity, ensure its influence and value till this day.

The 1969 OAU Refugee Convention also addresses responsibility sharing, an issue that has now gained global prominence with the affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) in the UN General Assembly in December 2018. The Convention provides that where a state “finds difficulty in continuing to grant asylum to refugees”, it may appeal to other parties to the treaty and they “shall in the spirit of African solidarity and international co-operation take appropriate measures to lighten the burden”.

Several African states have, since 1969, adopted progressive refugee laws and policies in line with the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention. Others are revising their refugee laws and policies to reflect both the Convention and the GCR, as well as the changing nature of displacement in Africa.

The AU declared 2019 as the “Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”, in part to commemorate the 1969 OAU Convention’s 50thanniversary. The Convention has been ratified by 47 of the AU’s 55 member states; AU Watch calls on African states that are not yet party to the Convention to ratify it, and on others to fully implement it.