Senay Terefe, is Senior Protection Coordinator at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Regional Bureau for East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region.
In a bid to respond to the refugee influx due to the widening, protracted conflicts in the horn region, humanitarian assistance is no-more enough. Coupled with the persisting climate impacts, the region is becoming a hotspot of humanitarian crisis. Sudan’s crisis is only the latest add to this.
Underfunded, humanitarian agencies like UNHCR are making a gear shift currently, from humanitarian assistance to integrating refugees to host countries’ development agenda. Aid is no more viable to assist large number of refugees for longer period. As the result, shifting the scarce funds to refugee-centered development projects in host countries, is the new dimension of humanitarian policies, argues Senay.
Senay was in Addis to validate IGAD Policy Framework on Refugee Protection. The Reporter’s Ashenafi Endale has caught up with Senay. Excerpts:
You are validating IGAD’s new refugee policy now. What is UNHCR’s contribution in this? What are the changes and alterations made to the existing refugee policy in the horn of Africa?
Indeed, we have been validating IGAD’s new refugee protection management policy for three days. The policy aim at ensuring harmonizing standards, in terms of access to asylum, documentation, registration, and likewise solutions to forced displacement and refugee situation in the IGAD region.
So it was intended for all member states of IGAD, with the exception of one member state. The purpose is to ensure UNHCR’s support to the regional approach to address refugee issues in the horn region. So we are making sure that the region’s policy is based on the best practices of international refugee standards.
We are involved in IGAD’s new policy drafting from the very beginning. We look forward to its endorsement following this meeting and its operationalization.
There are ranges of conflicts in the horn of Africa currently, including Sudan, Ethiopia. How the surge in refugee in the horn, is affecting the institutional capacity of UNHCR, IGAD, nations and other bodies. Is it because of the rising conflict in the horn that IGAD is forced to amend its refugee policy?
The IGAD region has been facing large scale refugee crisis. The latest one of which is the Sudan crisis, which has impacted several countries in the IGAD region and beyond. We definitely believe that coordinated regional approach is beneficial to ensure access to protection of refugees, returnees, IDPs, and persons at risk of statelessness.
This policy is really looking at harmonizing procedures. When procedures are not harmonized, protection of refuges cannot be consistent with international standards. This policy ensues those gaps are better addressed and there is a regional ownership.
I would not there is a change or new policy. It is more about re-enforcing commitments in the IGAD region. IGAD has been a key agent in addressing refuge issues in the region, to meet the Nairobi declaration. It has been working on Somali refugees, Sudanese refugees, and others.
The partnership between IGAD and UNHCR, dates back to 2017. This policy is comprehensive and looks at full spectrum of international refugee protection. This is very good policy, including for refugees from Ethiopia.
Reports and scholars say the horn of Africa is the second most unstable region next to the Middle East. Do you agree?
It is undeniable that there have been factors of instability in the horn of Africa. But I also believe that there is resilience of the people in this region. Tremendous policy changes are also achieved. You have one of the most progressive policies to the refugee management in the IGAD region. Especially in countries like Uganda, Ethiopia and others have introduced inclusive policies allowing refugees to access national public services, health, education, and other infrastructures. I have to recognize, despite the instability in the region, there is resilience and innovative approach to the refugee management in the region. This is something that should be supported by the international community.
The IGAD region is highly impacted by instabilities. There quite a number of large refugees.
UNCHR does not resolve the root causes of the conflicts. This political process where IGAD and member states are involved. We need to work hand in hands, to solve the root causes.
Coupled with the protracted conflicts in the region and underfunded refugee management projects, do you see an end to this?
Ending this crisis is the mandate of UNHCR. We are working to bring an end to this protracted refugee crisis, and stop new refugee influx. But this requires the political will of the states.
We have achieved major refugee crisis management, notably in West Africa. We can repeat that in east Africa. When the political willingness comes and all the root causes of refugee are addressed, we can bring an end to the refugee crisis in the horn.
But local integration of refugees, is also in our policy now. Integration of refugees with host society enables to make refugees productive, generate income, and be part of the development agenda. Refugees can contribute a lot to the economy of the host country.
The Sudan crisis is spilling over refuges to neighbor countries in all direction. Do you think UNHCR is able to manage that?
The Sudan crisis is a test to the coordination capacity of the IGAD member states. The humanitarian catastrophe is impacting all countries in the region.
Emergency preparedness is one component if our policy. Early warning is also critical. Drought is also testing the region. Therefore, it is time for the horn region to work hard on early warning and proactive approaches ahead of emergency.
There is disagreement on whether ex-combatants in the horn should be handled as refugees.
Ex-combatants are parts of the political landscape. Our policy, allows people who declared they have abandoned armed conflict, and how seek protection, can attain refugee status.
Ethiopia has refuge aw that governments refuges in the country. So it is about how to implement these laws..
What is the refugee and humanitarian funding gap?
There are several crisis in the horn region. The Sudan crisis is one grad crisis. There are others unresolved. The conflicts and climate induced crisis are depleting the funds. The humanitarian assistance in the region is underfunded. So we also need to shift our focus to development funding, besides humanitarian funding.
So our response to crisis must be innovative. That is what UNHCR is doing. We need to focus on the development aspect of refugees management, not only the aid aspect. By partnering with individual governments in the region, and other actors, development donors must come onboard.
World Bank, African development bank, must be actively engage. Funding protracted conflicts and climate crisis fore longer period is difficult. But if we focus on development, it can address the root causes of refugee, apart from integrating and reconstructing refugees.
So we have to look at the rational and most effective solutions in the short and long term approaches in refugees integration. Funding refugees aid support cannot address the problem, there is serious shortage of funding. This funding gap is going to continue. This is not reality only for the horn of Africa. Funding gap is wide in the global level.
This means are you going to reintegrate refugees and introduce development projects so can refugees remain in the host countries?
Yes. These projects already exist. The projects are designed to be inclusive of refugees, and integrate refugees to the national economic growth agenda. Individually, IGAD member countries also need to allocate funds at national levels for refugees development projects. The horn is one of the most poverty strike areas. So pooling resources from the international community and national governments, is crucial.
Are there projects currently in the pipeline that interfaces refugee assistance and development aspects?
There are several projects. There are several refugee hosing areas in Ethiopia. The Somali region, northern Ethiopia, and others are good example. Ethiopia has good experience of integrating refugees. The rest of other countries can extract this experience form Ethiopia.
We hope this policy also addresses cross border migrations. This policy is about coordination to handle cross border refugee management in the horn region. We must work together.
I do not think any country in the horn can handle the refugee crisis alone. Cooperation and resource pooling is not optional.
The UK has introduced a law that redirects refuges to Rwanda. That means African refuges trying to seek UK asylum, end at Rwanda. How do you see UK’s refugee law from human rights aspect?
That particular initiative, is known as externalization. The UNHCR is not favorable with refugee externalization policy in any country. We know Rwanda plays key role in refugee management. We also support Rwanda.
A lot of refugees are usually stranded in Libya. That is key priority for us. But shifting the asylum responsibility is not optional by any means. It is rather responsibility share that is recommended.
In December, there will be a meeting in Geneva. The second global refugee forum. We want to strengthen responsibility sharing. Responsibility shifting is completely unacceptable.