ADDIS ABABA, 12 February 2019: The African Union (AU), at a top level summit meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa this week, formally launched 2019 as the “Year of Refugees, Returnees and IDPs: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.”
The launch of the 2019 theme at the 32nd AU Summit comes at a time when forced displacement remains a major issue confronting the African continent. More than a third of the world’s forcibly displaced people are in Africa, including 6.3 million refugees and asylum-seekers and 14.5 million internally displaced people.
But the AU heads of state and government attending the gathering noted that there has also been progress in tackling forced displacement. UN Secretary-General António Guterres praised Africa’s approach and noted that the AU and UN are working together across the continent to tackle the scourge.
“Africa hosts nearly a third of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. Despite the continent’s own social, economic and security challenges, Africa’s governments and people have kept borders, doors and hearts open to millions in need,” Guterres, former head of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, for 10 years.
In his closing remarks, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, the new chairperson of the African Union called for a focusing of efforts “to solve the problem of refugees, IDPs and migrants in a comprehensive manner along with post construction and development plans and programmes.”
The AU’s 2019 focus on the forcibly displaced comes at a particularly appropriate time. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention on Refugees and the 10th anniversary of the 2009 AU Convention on IDPs in Africa (Kampala Convention). The AU and its partners, including UNHCR, plan several commemorative events across the continent during the year.
Over the weekend, the AU and the UN Refugee Agency co-organised a roundtable conference aimed at tackling the root causes of forced displacement in Africa and achieving durable solutions. UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi addressed the meeting and also attended the AU Summit. He also held productive bilateral meetings in Addis Ababa with the leaders of several African countries that are faced with the problem of forced displacement.
The AU and UNHCR also organised a high-level dialogue on the theme of the year. Speakers included the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat; UNHCR’s Filippo Grandi; UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock; and Director General of the International Organization for Migration Antonio Vitorino. Others were the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibe; Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross Elhadj As Sy; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Jeria, and UNDP’s Administrator Achim Steiner.