NEW YORK, UN Headquarters, United States—“African countries have a long record of keeping their borders, doors and hearts open to refugees and internally displaced people – an example not followed by everyone in the world,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
“The best way to protect refugees and displaced people is to prevent them from having to leave their homes.”
“The best way to protect refugees and displaced people is to prevent them from having to leave their homes. That means tackling root causes – poverty, conflict, discrimination and exclusion of all kinds.
“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 are our roadmap. Both agendas are aligned around a people-centred and planet-sensitive transformation. Eradicating poverty is their overriding priority,” he said.
He was speaking at a special panel discussion – one of four Africa Dialogue Series 2019 side events – at the United Nations Headquarters on 23 May, on the challenges faced by refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs), their specific needs, including being recognized as a group that can bring significant benefits such as health, human capital development and the eradication of poverty.
Changing Africa’s narrative
The narrative about Africa needed to change in four principal respects, said Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General: “First, Africa’s progressive response to forced displacement must be recognized and supported.”
“Africa is not a continent of mass exodus. Most African migrants are educated and move within the continent for economic opportunities, contributing to growth.”
“Second, understandings of migration in Africa must align with the facts. Africa is not a continent of mass exodus; in fact, in 2017 less than 2.9 per cent of Africa’s population left the continent. Most African migrants are educated and move within the continent for economic opportunities, thereby contributing to growth,” she explained.
“Third, African youth play a catalytic role for peace, including by using social media to combat xenophobia. Finally, the economic outlook for Africa is positive, especially in light of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will boost inclusive economic growth through infrastructure development and employment creation, especially for youth.”
Solutions to displacement must include empowerment of women and girls
“Forced displacement is not only a tale of human tragedy; it also poses a real threat to achieving peace, prosperity and development,” said Bience Gawanas, Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa to the UN Secretary-General.
“Behind each number (refugee), there is a human being. I, myself, am a product of African solidarity. Having left home in my teens during the war of liberation against apartheid in Namibia, I spent years in refugee camps in Angola and Zambia and benefitted immensely from the generosity of the Angolan and Zambian people. I want to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your big heart,” she said.
UNFPA strongly believes that durable solutions to forced displacement should include women and adolescent girls’ empowerment, as this is critical for peace, security and sustainable development of Africa, said Dereje Wordofa, Assistant Secretary-General and UNFPA Deputy Executive Director.
“When in possession of opportunities, education, safe environments, health care and services, regardless of their status [ … ] Africa’s young will continue to thrive.”
“Twenty-five years ago, a global revolution started in Cairo. The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) for the first time enshrined individuals’ right to make their own reproductive choices freely and responsibly.”
To harness the demographic dividend for Africa, investment in the continent’s youth is needed, he urged. “When in possession of opportunities, education, safe environments, health care and services, regardless of their status as citizens, migrant, forcibly displaced or refugee, Africa’s young will continue to thrive.”
Africa is under-appreciated and under-represented
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, said Africa’s tremendous contribution to the UN continues to be under-appreciated and the region’s voice under-represented in the international system.
“We have what could be called a ‘solidarity deficit’ – multilateral decision-making processes, policies and programmes that should be skewed towards the needs, views and priorities of Africa are not yet there.
We need durable solutions – voluntary return or repatriation as appropriate, but also resettlement and integration.
“We need durable solutions – voluntary return or repatriation as appropriate, but also resettlement and integration. And we need greater political and financial support for transitions at the humanitarian-development nexus. The Global Compacts on refugees and migrations adopted last year provide a solid basis for us to move forward, and I call on leaders in Africa and across the world to implement them both,” she urged.
Ensure access to sexual and reproductive health for migrants and refugees
“It is critical to ensure that migrants and refugees have access to health and education services, including sexual and reproductive health, while protecting the health of host populations through improved implementation of international health regulations, said Mabingue Ngom, UNFPA Regional Director for UNFPA West and Central Africa.
Ekhlas Ahmed, a youth representative and former refugee from Sudan, spoke of her experiences:
“Everything started with the voice … Once I found my voice, I never stopped using it to ensure that women, girls and young refugees are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
As part of the 2019 Africa Dialogue Series, the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA), the Permanent Mission of the African Union to the United Nations, and UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, organized a side event at the United Nations Headquarters on 23 May on “Emerging issues from Africa ICPD Regional Reviews (Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development +5): Linkages between mobility, human dignity and refugees, returnees and IDPs – Celebrating successes and addressing challenges.”
The panel discussion was one of four Africa Dialogue Series 2019 side events organized around the 2019 theme of the African Union – “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.” Moderated by UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa Mabingue Ngom, under the chairmanship of UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Dereje Wordofa, it brought together a diverse panel.