Africa Takes the Lead to Support Refugees and their Hosts with Long-Term Solutions

June 7, 2017

World Bank Group

  • African countries are taking the initiative introducing progressive policies that enable refugees to become self-reliant, while supporting host communities
  • Building resilience and fostering social inclusion are two ways African governments are approaching refugee management differently
  • The World Bank is strengthening collaboration with UNHCR and other partners to promote lasting solutions to forced displacement with new resources available under IDA18

Taking the initiative to work towards lasting solutions, Andrew Ndaamunhu Bvumbe, the World Bank Group Executive Director for Africa Group 1 Constituency convened a High Level Panel Discussion on forced displacement in Africa and impact on Economies of Host Countries during the recent WBG-IMF Spring Meetings. Facing continued crises that cause displacement, Ministers and Representatives of Uganda, Chad, Kenya and Ethiopia, joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, at that Panel to discuss hosting challenges, share experiences and explore opportunities for the future. 

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2017 – During the 1970’s, Matia Kasaija fled his home country of Uganda for fear that he would be killed for his political views. For five years he lived as a refugee in Kenya before he was finally able to return home. 

“There is nothing that is as dehumanizing as being a refugee,” said Kasaija, now Uganda’s minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. “You become nothing, you have no status. It is very painful.” 

As forced displacement emerges as a critical development challenge, Uganda along with other African countries are leading the way with more progressive policies, embracing approaches that enable refugees to become self-reliant while supporting host communities.  

Now home to nearly 1.3 million refugees, Uganda faces the prospect of a significant increase in the number of refugees crossing into their country due to the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. 

“In Uganda we operate an open policy, because we have suffered,” said Kasaija. In addition to accepting all political and economic refugees, he said, the government supports them as much as possible by giving them agricultural land, and allowing them to access education and health services. “We try to settle them so that they can live a normal life.” 

As many as five million refugees and 11 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in Africa, with Uganda, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo hosting the largest numbers of forcibly displaced people.


Building Resilience, Fostering Inclusion

In Chad, many refugees who live in villages are sharing their “know-how” with Chadians and contributing to a better quality of life for all, said Ngweto Tiraina Yambaye, Chad’s minister of Economic and Development Planning. The challenges the country faces are immense, he said, from the increase in the demand for basic services to the strain on natural resources in areas already vulnerable to drought and floods. Yambaye said the government is confident that Chad will be able to build on its successes with viable, long-term responses to refugee crises. 

“We have now embarked on a path of more sustainable solutions, which will take into account the fragilities that create humanitarian crises, and help to shift from an image of relief to building resilience,” Yambaye said. “We need a permanent solution to the refugee situation, so that we can transform it from being a crisis to an opportunity.”

In Ethiopia, which now counts more than 800,000 refugees, the government is moving toward ambitious reforms to allow for social and economic inclusion of refugees.

“Refugees should be credibly allowed to live outside of camps, work, access mainstreamed education and health services, cultivate land, and even be provided with a four month or later integration for those who have spent more than 20 years in Ethiopia,” said Mezgebu Ameha, Director of Fiscal Policy Directorate, Ethiopia. “This represents a marked shift in our approach. It will have significant benefits for both refugees and Ethiopia, even though it is expected to be implemented gradually over a period of time.”

Henry Rotich, cabinet secretary of Kenya’s National Treasury, said after nearly three decades of hosting refugees in his country, he is well aware of the pitfalls associated with trying to manage an influx of refugees over long periods of time with short-term interventions. He pointed to the potential cost of conflict between hosts and refugees and competition for resources, as well as increasing insecurity. 

“Inclusion we have done partly. Some interventions have happened and we’ve seen in some cases, we’ve had refugees become part of society,” said Rotich, referring to a suburb in Kenya that is controlled by refugees and former refugees who have become Kenyan citizens. “We continue to do that on a limited scale, but it is something we are considering to see how we can scale up.”  

As the global community works to support these ground-breaking efforts by refugee-hosting countries themselves, a new US$2 billion financing ‘window’ for refugees and host communities was created under the 18th replenishment of the World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA). 

“These new resources will ensure that we can help host countries translate their vision into actual policy measures that will make a difference on the ground,” said Xavier Devictor, Advisor, World Bank Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group, who manages the forced displacement program. “By strengthening collaboration with UNHCR and other partners, we have a significant widow of opportunity to support countries in their efforts to help refugees and host communities become more resilient.”

“We have started experimenting with (the new approach) in Uganda, in particular, in Ethiopia, and in other countries in the region,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “If we succeed, we will have created a good foundation for this model to be the heart of the global compact on refugees.”