The number of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled in the last two decades, the United Nations’ refugee agency noted in a report released ahead of the June 20 World Refugee Day. By the end of 2016, a record 65.6 million people were displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.
In 2016, the growth in displacement figures was largely driven by the conflicts in middle eastern countries such as Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. But conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa also forced millions of people to flee their homes in countries such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. The region also hosted a large and growing number of refugees, which continued to exert enormous pressure on public services and local infrastructure in neighboring countries.
1. Uganda is now Africa’s biggest refugee host
Largely because of the crisis in South Sudan, Uganda edged out Ethiopia in 2016 as Africa’s top host of refugees. Uganda also reported the largest number of new refugee arrivals worldwide, with almost half a million South Sudanese arriving in the second half of the year alone.
The Bidi Bidi camp in northern Uganda is now the world’s largest refugee camp. At least 270,000 refugees are crammed into a patch of land that is meant to hold a fraction of the current load. But because of the country’s progressive refugee laws, refugees are allowed to work, own land, travel, and access public services including education. Yet the large inflows continue to dent the government’s ability to handle the situation. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, Uganda has received only 17% of the money needed to provide the most basic support to refugees and host communities.
2. South Sudan records Africa’s biggest exodus of refugees
In 2015, more than half of all the refugees worldwide came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. But in 2016, South Sudan replaced Somalia in the top three position, producing 1.4 million refugees—alongside 1.9 internally displaced persons (IDPs). A majority of those displaced were children and women, who were fleeing inter-communal violence, economic decline, disease, and hunger.
Since the civil war started in 2013, the humanitarian response has been quite challenging. The power struggle between president Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar besides the impending famine in parts of the country has left tens of thousands dead and millions of others hungry. And during this critical time, the government announced in March that it would hike the permit fees for professional humanitarian workers by 100-fold.
3. Somali refugees are returning home
Voluntary repatriation remains the main durable solution for refugees applied by the United Nations. As part of the Tripartite Agreement signed between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR in 2013, Somali refugees—many of whom were born in Dadaab camp and had never set foot in their own country—were being given the chance to return home.
In 2016, more than 36,000 of those refugees returned home—alongside small numbers from Yemen. This contributed to the decrease in Somali refugees in the country from 417,900 in 2015 to 324,000 in 2016. The number of Somali refugees worldwide also declined to 1 million in 2016.
4. South Africa receives most asylum claims
South Africa was a recipient of a large number of new individual asylum claims, receiving a total of 35,400 in 2016. At 8,000, the applications from Zimbabwe were the highest—even though they were substantially lower than the 2009 figures which stood at 149,000. The country also had a total of 218,300 pending cases—with asylum seekers coming from as far as Somalia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.
5. Eritrean asylum applications increased ten-fold
Almost 10% of Eritrea’s 5.8 million population were counted as refugees by the end of 2016. Eritreans also submitted some 7,400 claims for asylum in 2016, a tenfold increase compared to the 700 lodged in 2015. Eritreans applied for asylum in countries like Italy and the UK, where 1,300 asylum claims were filed.