Forced Displacement in Africa: “Anchors not Walls”

UK Government, House of Commons, International Development Committee, 2019


The International Development Committee of the UK House of Commons has published a report summarizing the findings of its inquiry into forced displacement in Africa, which examines: (a) the effectiveness of DFID’s work to support refugees and IDPs in Africa; (b) the adequacy of DFID’s support to host countries; (c) whether DFID gives sufficient priority to forced displacement, and internal displacement in particular; (d) the effectiveness of DFID interventions to address the root causes of displacement, human trafficking and smuggling; (e) priorities for action against sexual exploitation and abuse in relation to forced displacement; (f) effectiveness of DFID’s support of delivery partners; (g) effectiveness of UNHCR; and (h) potential impact of the Global Compact on Refugees and how the compact might be supported by the UK Government. Key findings include:

  • Inadequacy of funding for the refugee responses in Sub-Saharan Africa, which hosts over 20 million IDPs and refugees. It calls for an overhaul of the ‘begging bowl’ approach to raising funds for refugee crises, and the creation of a new system that recognizes that countries hosting refugees are providing a global public good. The Committee questions the approach of the World Bank’s IDA18 sub-window that requires many host countries to take on additional debt in order to support refugees. It suggests that the UK government should use its influence and example to encourage other donors to increase their contributions to refugee crises in Africa. The Committee was unable to establish how much DFID is spending on forcibly displaced persons, and it calls for more transparent data on spending by country, distinguishing between refugees and IDPs.
  • Over half of those displaced in Africa are children; the vast majority of whom are missing out on an education. The report advocates for the integration of refugees into national education systems in host countries in line with the aims of the Refugee Compact.
  • The right to work and move freely are essential if refugees are to be more self-reliant, but granting these rights can create tensions in host countries. Countries like Uganda and Ethiopia that persist with progressive, and often unpopular, policies should be equipped with the necessary resources and support. Schemes, such as the Ethiopia Jobs Compact, must be considered carefully to avoid unintended consequences. Donors should lead by example; DFID cannot continue to ask poor countries to grant refugees the right to work while the UK Government limits asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK.
  • Protection of those on the move remains vital, especially women and children, who are the most vulnerable to violence and abuse. DFID should ensure that the highest safeguarding standards are met by all of its partners on the ground, and appropriate mechanisms are in place to support those who have experienced, or feel under threat from, sexual abuse and exploitation, including by aid workers. Putting women at the forefront of refugee responses could lead to better protection for those at risk and greater self-reliance for refugee women. Child protection must be central to any refugee response programme carried out by DFID and its partners.
  • Where there is the potential to be repatriated, refugees must have access to comprehensive information about the situation they will return to and sufficient support for reintegration. The Committee has significant concerns about Somali refugees being returned from Kenya and asks DFID to use its influence with UNHCR and the Kenyan Government to ensure that ‘push’ factors—such as the poor conditions in the Dadaab refugee camps—are addressed, proper process is followed and refugee returns are entirely voluntary.
  • Donors should support host countries (technical and financial support) to find complementary pathways or to integrate refugees, where there is very little chance of them returning home. The report highlights the Kalobeyei settlement, on the outskirts of Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, as a good example of greater self-reliance for refugees alongside integration into the host community. The UK Government must also look at the example it is setting through its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
  • Opportunities for refugee resettlement should be expanded. The UK takes a very small number of refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa (448 out of 5,756 in 2017/18). The Committee calls on the UK to increase the number of annual resettlement places to 10,000 and argues that a quarter of places should be reserved for refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • UNHCR’s work remains urgent and essential and should continue to be supported by the UK. However, cases of corruption, mismanagement, or other harmful conduct cannot be ignored. Where cases arise, UNHCR must act urgently to put safeguards in place whilst it investigates, to prevent disruption to its life-saving operations. DFID should react swiftly and proportionately to protect UK aid, whilst limiting the impact on refugees who rely on UNHCR’s services.
  • DFID should push for robust accountability processes at the international level, including the development of indicators to track progress, in order to ensure continued commitment to, and tangible results from, the Refugee Compact.
  • 13 million IDPs living in some of Africa’s poorest conflict-afflicted countries are being failed by their governments and the international community. DFID must place greater emphasis on targeting and supporting IDPs through its humanitarian and development programmes, working, where appropriate, in partnership with governments to do so.
  • When responding to displacement crises in Africa, it is essential that the UK Government continues to uphold the commitments it made under the Grand Bargain, agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. This includes a commitment to localization, i.e. humanitarian spending directed through local organizations. DFID needs to find ways to effectively support local and community-based organizations, including those led by women. It must also find an effective way of tracking the proportion of humanitarian funding that is directed to national and local responders.
  • The Committee highlights the transformative effect of cash-based assistance on the lives of refugees, in encouraging dignity and self-reliance as well as being an effective way to deliver humanitarian support.
  • The report highlights the need for sustainable, multi-year funding for humanitarian support in displacement situations.
  • The report highlights the need for a more coherent approach to migration and displacement across the UK Government. UK policy on displacement and migration is frequently opaque, disconnected and incoherent. DFID encourages host governments to give refugees the right to work, whilst the Home Office limits asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK. DFID pushes for durable solutions for refugees, whilst the Home Office limits resettlement places in the UK.
  • There is a real risk that policies pursued by some parts of the UK Government could come into conflict with the work of others. The UK Government’s desire to address migration to Europe, particularly through the Khartoum Process and engagement in Libya, is undermining its commitment to human rights and protecting the most vulnerable refugees.
  • The UK Government needs to take a comprehensive look at its policies on migration and forced displacement in order to address these inconsistencies and formulate a coherent cross-Government approach. Above all, “the [UK] Government must begin to practice what it has preached”.