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Khartoum Declaration on Africa's Refugee Crisis

Publisher Organization of African Unity (OAU)
Publication Date 24 September 1990
Citation / Document Symbol BR/COM/XV/55.90
Cite as Organization of African Unity (OAU), Khartoum Declaration on Africa's Refugee Crisis, 24 September 1990, BR/COM/XV/55.90, available at: [accessed 17 October 2017]
Comments Adopted by the OAU Seventeenth Extraordinary Session of the Commission of Fifteen on Refugees, meeting in Khartoum, Republic of Sudan, 22-24 September 1990.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


1.The problem of refugees in Africa has reached unmanageable proportions. Of the world's total refugee population of 15 million, Africa has a share of over 5 million, representing about 35 per cent. This alarming refugee population is rapidly increasing at a time when the Continent is faced with serious problems of economic recovery and transformation compounded by reduction in external resources, the excruciating debt and debt servicing burden, deteriorating terms of trade, collapse of commodity prices as well as the vagaries of climate.

2.Africa fully realizes that the major root causes of the refugee problem are situated within Africa, and that the total eradication of these causes is the primary responsibility of the Africans themselves. However, considering the critical economic situation facing the Continent as reflected and articulated in the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos, the African Priority Programme for Economic Recovery (APPER), and the United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development (UNPAAERD), it is clear that Africa's capacity to handle the problem is limited especially considering that the majority of the World's Least Developed Countries are situated in Africa. This glaring fact has been recognized by the international community, particularly in the International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa ICARA I and II, the International Conference on the Plight of Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons in Southern Africa (SARRED), as well as the United Nations system. Additionally, the African refugee crisis was extensively deliberated by the 26th Summit of the African Heads of State and Government as reflected in their 'Declaration on the Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World'.

3.Despite all the limitations, African Governments and people have continued to make considerable efforts in providing both material and financial assistance to refugees in Africa, especially in the form of social services including education, health, transportation, water, as well as infrastructure development. But while such services involving provision of basic refugee needs require medium to long term planning, the emergence of what may be described as donor fatigue syndrome coupled with declining political will on the part of some of the traditional donors has resulted in the tendency of funding life saving and life sustaining activities to the detriment of medium and long-term development projects.

4.In practical terms, while for almost four decades UNHCR has had the resources to meet the needs of refugees, at the end of 1989 the Office needed, for the first time, authority to carry over a major year-end deficit of US$38 million under general programmes. This deficit was incurred despite the significant reductions, already made in UNHCR's 1989 activities. This, therefore, means that the budget reduction measures have negated the very principles and the spirit of ICARA I and II which essentially urged for durable solutions for refugee problems in Africa.

5.The decrease in the UNHCR's emergency preparedness and emergency response capacity has severely affected existing programmes especially in the form of local integration or repatriation which have now been scaled down, postponed or cancelled altogether. In this respect, it has been extremely difficult for the asylum States, without the necessary additional financing, to provide adequate food and water supply, health and sanitation, as well as such other services in the wake of continuing refugee flows. There are many examples of such situations in Africa. They include the cases of Sudan, Ethiopia and Malawi, and more recently West Africa, involving the emergencies of refugees fleeing away from the internal conflict in Liberia.

Action taken by African States At the National Level

6.One of the more practical solutions in dealing with influxes of refugees in Africa hinges on the principle of voluntary repatriation. Countries of origin and countries of asylum have embraced this principle. Unfortunately, as experience has shown, such repatriations require massive financial resources which neither the countries of origin nor the countries of asylum can afford on their own without external assistance.

7.Evidently, Africa has tried at the national, sub-regional and regional levels to find durable and lasting solutions to the refugee problem on the Continent. At the national level, African Governments have continued to demonstrate willingness to work towards greater and genuine democratization of governance and decision-making processes, within the framework of African values and existing socio-economic conditions allowing for popular participation. African governments continue to demonstrate greater sensitivity to ethnic issues which otherwise were the major source of internal conflict and civil strife. Additionally, African governments have shown greater awareness and concern to socio-economic conditions facing the African people. To this end, they have accepted structural adjustment programmes of the IMF and the World Bank, at a great social cost, in the name of improving the living conditions of the people.

At Sub-regional Level

8.At sub-regional level, consultations are taking place to establish confidence-building measures between and among asylum countries and countries of origin with a view to creating an enabling environment conducive to conflict management and conflict resolution. For example, the countries of the Horn of Africa are working, within the IGADD 1framework, to find lasting and durable solution to the conflicts in the Horn of Africa, which has been recognized as a major root cause of refugee flows in the sub-region. It is worth noting that similar efforts have been made in the Southern African sub-region with respect to Mozambique and Angola, and more recently in West Africa with respect to ECOWAS 2and the Liberia conflict. Other examples of conflict resolution within Africa and by Africans include the current efforts being exerted by the Commission of Mediation of the Mauritania/Senegal conflict, as well as efforts directed towards resolving the Chad/Libya dispute and the conflict between SADR 3and the Kingdom of Morocco.

At the Continental Level

9.At the continental level, the African Heads of State and Government have resolved to enter into continuous dialogue on the question of root causes of refugees, within the framework of the relevant resolution adopted by the Summit in this regard. They have resolved to translate into action their collective and individual commitment to the defence and promotion of human and peoples' rights and to the peaceful settlement of internal and inter-State conflicts; and to continue respecting the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other States in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity and that of the United Nations, without necessarily remaining indifferent to internal situations that may lead to influxes of refugees on the Continent.

10.Despite all these efforts towards new awareness, sensibility and commitment on the part of African Governments to deal with the root causes of refugees, the international community seems to be gradually losing the political will and moral obligation to support the efforts being undertaken on the Continent. Unfortunately, just as the 1980s have been aptly described as 'a lost decade in development' for Africa, so too could the same decade be described as 'a tragic decade for refugees' in Africa.

11.In the light of these actions taken by African States the OAU Commission of Fifteen on Refugees decided to call upon the International Community to take note of the following:

At the International Level

12.Considering the actions undertaken by African States, individually and collectively, we call upon the international community to redouble its efforts in providing both material and financial assistance as well as moral support to the OAU and its constituent Member States in promoting lasting solutions to the African refugee problem.

13.We especially call upon the Forty-First Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme to re-examine and review the present financial crisis facing the UNHCR and to provide the High Commissioner with the requisite financial and material resources to effectively carry out his mandate. We realize that the dwindling financial resources of the High Commissioner have had serious negative impact on the programmes and projects of the refugees on the Continent, particularly at this time when the number of refugees is steadily increasing and the capacity of the Continent to deal with such a situation is declining. We equally call upon the 45th Session of the General Assembly also to re-examine and review the issue of dwindling resources for refugees.

14.While the African governments commit themselves to the eradication of the refugee problem in the Continent, a partnership must be forged between the international community on the one hand, and the African peoples and Governments on the other. This partnership must be predicated on international solidarity and commitment. We consider this to be the necessary condition for successful eradication of the refugee problem on our Continent. To this end, we hail the steps already taken by African Governments and their commitment to undertake further bold measures to deal with problems of refugees in Africa.

15.Furthermore, the Commission decided to make the following recommendations to both the OAU Member States and the International Community for purposes of follow-up actions:

Follow-up Action

(a)Member States undertake to continue with the efforts already started at the national level, particularly in the area of further democratization of society and governance with a view to creating greater awareness among the people and their institutions to work towards total eradication of the root causes of refugees.

(b)Member States undertake to enhance the capacity for management and conflict resolution. In this regard, efforts being under-taken at sub-regional and regional level must be encouraged and supported.

(c)Member States continue to create and promote mechanisms for absorbing new influxes of asylum seekers, especially in times of emergencies.

(d)Member States should among themselves, strengthen co-operation in order to avert new flows of refugees.

(e)Member States continue to encourage and support efforts relating to voluntary repatriation of refugees and their rehabilitation in material, financial and moral terms.

(f)Member States undertake, and within the framework of Resolution CM/Res. 1278 (LII); necessary consultations with the appropriate authorities with a view to ensure the convening of ICARA III.

(g)The Commission calls upon the international community to effectively support all efforts undertaken by Member States at national, sub-regional and continental levels by providing additional financial and material resources which will enhance the capacity of Member States to manage and eradicate the refugee crisis on the Continent. For the purpose of achieving the above-mentioned objectives we shall continue to sensitize and mobilize the international community to show the requisite political will and respond more forcefully to the needs and aspirations of the refugee populations in Africa. The need to co-ordinate our efforts within the spirit of international solidarity is an imperative to the achievement of our objectives.

1 IGADD - Inter-Governmental Authority for Development and Drought (ed.).

2 ECOWAS-Economic Community of Western African States (ed.).

3 SADR - Sahrawi Democratic Republic (ed.).

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