UN boss on Africa’s treatment of refugees

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African nations are setting an example for richer countries when it comes to the treatment of refugees, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a press conference in Addis Ababa.

The top UN man was in Africa for the annual African Union Summit and hosted a media conference after meeting the African Union Commission chair.

This year’s summit focussed on refugees and internally displaced persons.

Guterres, who spent 10 years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees before being named secretary-general, said African borders are open for refugees and the continent leads when it comes to addressing migration flows.

The UN chief pointed out contrary to popular perception there are more African migrants in other African countries than in Europe and migration is dealt with more humanely. He told the conference he would like to see the UN’s global compacts on migration and refugees fully implemented.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR said Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26% of the world’s refugee population. Eighteen million people in the region are of concern to UNHCR, with conflicts and ongoing crises in the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria and South Sudan, as well as Burundi and Yemen driving increases in refugees and displaced people.

Ahead of the summit, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned 13.5 million children have been uprooted in Africa – including those displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change. The Fund called on African leaders to implement policies and programmes to protect, empower and invest in refugee, migrant and displaced children.

Guterres struck a positive note in the press conference, pointing to recent peace deals and conflict de-escalation across Africa.

He cited reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea; the establishment of peace agreements in South Sudan; and elections in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mali, that took place in a peaceful context. The combined efforts of the African Union and the UN, he said, are producing results in conflict resolution and the prevention of conflicts and Africa is seeing a “wind of hope” that can be extended to other parts of the world.

He went to say there cannot be peace without development and urged the international community to show more political will in this area, particularly in climate action and commit more to mitigation, adaptation, and finance.

“We are losing the race with climate change and this can be a disaster for Africa and for world. Africa will pay an even higher price because of dramatic impacts on the continent.”