Thank you, Chair.
I am honoured to deliver this statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States, which covers the regional updates in the three Africa regions.
African countries continue to face significant challenges of forced displacement, due to several new and escalating conflicts across the continent. The direct and indirect impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has added further complexity, leading to increasing needs and rendering it more difficult to address the needs of the forcibly displaced people.
The EU and its Member States commend the long-standing solidarity and generosity of the African countries that are hosting refugees and offering protection and more inclusive and comprehensive responses. In the spirit of burden- and responsibility-sharing and the pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum, we remain firmly committed to help address the needs of refugees, displaced persons and host communities across Africa through humanitarian and development support. We also continue to support African countries to strengthen protection capacities and tools and by offering resettlement opportunities to many EU countries on a voluntary basis for persons in need of international protection.
The EU and its Member States fully support UNHCR’s work and engagement to help provide protection, assistance and support durable solutions to forcibly displaced people across the African continent, often in a very challenging context. In this respect, we welcome UNHCR’s advocacy for quick adoption of protection measures in the context of COVID-19 challenges. We are particularly concerned about the gendered impact of COVID-19 and its disproportionate affect on women, girls, persons with disabilities and other persons in particularly vulnerable situations. We urge UNHCR, and all its partners, to strengthen its gender-based approach to prevent, mitigate and respond to sexual- and gender-based violence, combat human trafficking, child labor, forced marriage and other risks facing women and girls, and prioritize meeting the needs of those in the most vulnerable situations.
The relationship with African countries and the African Union is a key priority for the EU and its Member States. The new COVID-19 reality makes this unique relationship all the more concrete and important. In this respect, our Team Europe response is a tangible expression of solidarity to address the short and longer-term impacts of the pandemic. So far, some EUR 40 billion have been mobilised in this context. We also reiterate our commitment to fair and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines in Africa. Recently, we have therefore increased our joint support to COVAX to a total of EUR 2.2 billion.
The EU Trust Fund (EUTF) for Africa has been a key tool to address forced displacement and its root causes as well as instability in some African countries and to better deal with migration related challenges. The EUTF Africa has also contributed to our immediate Team Europe response, by quickly reallocating resources to address the health and economic crisis in several countries across the three regions, thus helping our African partners mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the EUTF allocated EUR 377 million to strengthen the health systems of partner countries, put in place emergency response and prevention, and support the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Horn of Africa, the EUTF has provided a total of EUR 56 million to support the health systems and EUR 144 million to address the economic impact of COVID-19. In the North Africa region, the EUTF very quickly allocated EUR 20 million for the COVID-19 response programme for Libya and a EUR 10 million Emergency Response Facility to COVID-19, focusing on populations in the most situations.
In addition, the EUTF continues to support life-saving assistance and sustainable solutions for refugees, for instance through the UNHCR Emergency Transit Mechanism in Rwanda, which received an additional EUR 2.5 million in 2020, bringing the total contribution to EUR nearly 13 million. Overall, the Evacuation Transit Mechanism has supported nearly 4,000 persons of concern to be evacuated mostly from detention centres in Libya to Niger and Rwanda; and over 3,500 have been resettled to Europe and other Western countries.
The EU and its Member States reiterate our support to promote regional approaches to provide help and finding lasting solutions for forcibly displaced persons, while also providing support to host communities affected by protracted displacement situations. In this respect, we welcome the efforts made within the framework of the Support Platform for the IGAD region and the complementary efforts of the IGAD-led regional initiative to seek solutions to protracted displacement in Sudan and South Sudan, agreed at the margins of UNHCR Executive Committee in October 2020. The EU and its Member States are committed to continue its support to those collective efforts.
We support the efforts of UNHCR towards long-term solutions for forced displacement and its increasing collaboration and partnership with development actors and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank. The EU and its Member States believe that development support helps forcibly displaced persons to rebuild their lives with dignity and develop their self-reliance. This is all essential to create durable solutions.
Internal displacement continues to heavily affect several African regions, due to conflict, natural disasters and the negative impact of climate change. Given the resulting magnitude of needs, robust joint-up efforts by mandated agencies are essential. Strong co-operation is required to create a maximum of synergies and address the needs of people in vulnerable situations an efficient and effective manner. In this respect, and aware of the COVID-19 related challenges for the UN High-level Panel on Internal Displacement work, we welcome the consultations carried out at country level by UNHCR together with other United Nations agencies and NGOs, several of which took place in the African continent.
Furthermore, we appreciate that several countries in the region have been chosen as pilot countries for the new UNICEF-UNHCR partnership “Blue Print for Joint Action”. We welcome this cooperation, which can help meet the challenges of refugee inclusion and leave no child behind.
Given the important role of UNHCR in the humanitarian response system and large presence in the field, we count on UNHCR to continue to uphold and strongly advocate for respect for international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. This is crucial for preserving humanitarian space and ensuring access in an increasingly complex operating environment – in Africa and elsewhere. In this context, we strongly count on UNHCR to advocate for and ensure that return of refugees and IDPs are conditional to a conducive environment and are voluntary, safe, informed, dignified and sustainable.
The EU and its Member States reiterate our commitment to help our African partners in addressing forced displacement, not only financially – through humanitarian and development support – but also by contributing to raising global attention regarding these crises. In this context we recognize the importance of flexible and predictable funding to allow for UNHCR to respond to new, and changing needs and operational requirements, we reiterate our support for UNHCR’s efforts to broaden its donor base and call upon more states to contribute their fair share to global efforts to respond to forced displacement.
We have some more detailed comments on some of the specific crisis presented by the regional directors. However, for the sake of time I will not be able to read out our full statement, but I kindly encourage everyone to read our full statement that will be shared with UNHCR and posted on the EU delegation website.
Let me now refer to a few crises mentioned in the presentation by the bureaux.
The fragility of the Horn of Africa region has been further exacerbated by the conflict in Tigray in Ethiopia that started in November 2020. The EU and its Member States are extremely concerned by the ongoing hostilities and violence in Ethiopia and by the lack of meaningful access to most of Tigray. International law, human rights and humanitarian principles must be respected. We call on UNHCR to promote and ensure protection of Eritrean refugees and respect for the principle of non-refoulement. Full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need must be ensured in all areas. While acknowledging the work of the Ethiopian Government to address some of the needs of the population, we stress the necessity to significantly scale up assistance. Full co-operation is needed with the UN and all humanitarian organisations on the ground. Particular attention is required to the regional spill-over of the Tigray conflict. Sudan is already hosting 60,000 Ethiopian refugees and additional displacement may be difficult to manage in an organised manner. We recognize the importance to support Sudan in its response to the new refugee influx and urge UNHCR and other humanitarian actors to immediate scale-up and increase pre-positioning of assistance in light of the coming rainy season.
The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan remains severe. We are especially worried by the extreme food insecurity in the country, in particular in countries facing famine-likely conditions. The EU and its Member States call for an immediate system-wide scale-up of the UN-led humanitarian response.
The Somalia context remains difficult due to limited access and the multifaceted challenges the country and region is facing, including conflict and insecurity, adverse effects of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU and its Member States continue to support aid organisations to deliver life-saving assistance to people in vulnerable situations, including people affected by conflict, drought, floods or food shortages, to enable them to meet their most urgent needs and make sure that protection challenges are systematically addressed.
The situation in the Great Lakes region also remains critical due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with needs in 2021 projected to be even higher than at the beginning 2020. Almost 20 million people are facing food crisis in the DRC – the largest food crisis in the world in terms of numbers of people affected. One of the main reasons is the high prevalence of conflict and violence, especially in the East. At the same time, the DRC is prone to epidemics, including ongoing outbreaks of cholera, measles, Ebola and COVID-19. Besides, following the political transition in Burundi in 2020, we call on UNHCR to monitor closely that any returns happen in respect of the principles of safety, voluntariness and dignity. However, we remain conscious that over 300,000 Burundians will need humanitarian assistance also in 2021.
The protection crisis in Mozambique is of growing concern. We count on UNHCR to monitor the evolving situation and play a strong role of coordination to provide assistance and protection to in response to the growing number of internally displaced persons and to avoid that the protection crisis spread further in the region.
We continue to be seriously concerned by the Lake Chad crisis, in particular in Northeast Nigeria. Due to attacks, most recently on Dikwa, hundreds of thousands of IDPs in the region are left without assistance. We strongly condemn attacks on humanitarian aid workers. Humanitarian space needs to be preserved, safe and unhindered humanitarian access guaranteed, and protection as well as freedom of movement for affected civilians ensured by all parties, in line with the international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. The same holds true for the Central African Republic, where the continued post-electoral violence has further worsened the already difficult humanitarian situation and resulted in new forced displacement, including to neighbouring countries.
The humanitarian crisis affecting the countries of Central Sahel remains one of the worst in the world. In many areas, violent extremism and organised crime as well as inter-communal violence and conflict entail rising needs and shrinking humanitarian space. Coupled with high food insecurity and under-nutrition, the negative impact of climate change and the effect of the COVID-19 related measures, this leads to a higher number of people in need of assistance and protection. It also leads to constantly growing forced displacement, in particular in Burkina Faso.
Last but not least, we express our gratitude to all the staff of UNHCR and its partners in Africa for their continued dedication to assist people in need.