FES paper Making Women's Roles Visible

IJR Policy Brief 43: The challenge of protecting urban refugees in Southern Africa

More than half of all refugees in the world are currently living in urban areas (both legally and illegally), and Southern Africa is no exception – in the face of growing urbanisation, more and more refugees are avoiding refugee camps in order to self-settle in towns and cities, more often than not with less social protection and fewer basic human rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to protect refugees worldwide regardless of their location. Through the Policy on Alternatives to Camps (‘Alternatives to Camps’) policy, the UNHCR aims to ‘pursue alternatives to camps, whenever possible, while ensuring that refugees are protected and assisted effectively and are able to achieve solutions’.1 However, the UNHCR seeks to pursue this policy independently of domestic refugee laws and the authorities of host states. This has proven to be problematic, since the effective execution of the UNHCR’s mandate depends largely on the cooperation of host states with the Office of the High Commissioner. In Southern Africa, this situation creates contradictions, barriers and challenges with regard to implementation, which results in the lack of refugee protection as illustrated by the recent withdrawal of Tanzania from the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) – a multi-stakeholder coordination model with regard to refugee matters that focuses on the humanitarian and development needs of both refugees and host communities. Based on a robust understanding of the needs of both refugees and host communities, the UNHCR’s urban refugee policy objectives need to be adapted to, or reconciled with, domestic refugee laws in host countries so as to avoid contradictions in the implementation process. Equally important is adequately demonstrating the positive impact that refugees can have in host countries, particularly at the economic level.

1. UNHCR, (2014). UNHCR Policy on Alternatives to Camps.

Author: Kurisani Mdhluli
Pages: 12
Dimensions: A4
Date of publication: 2023