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UK must provide support at home that it asks poorer nations to provide in Africa

5 March 2019

The UK must do more to share the burden of supporting refugees in Africa, a report by the International Development Committee found.

Key points

The report finds that the Department for International Development's work funding and facilitating aid to those forced to flee their homes in Africa is undermined by the approach to refugees and asylum seekers at home. Whilst it praises DFID's efforts to create ‘anchors', which enable refugees to rebuild their lives in the region, it calls for the Government to increase the number of the most vulnerable refugees offered resettlement in the UK from 5,000 to 10,000 per year and review the limitations placed on asylum seekers finding work in the UK.

There are over 20 million internally displaced persons and refugees in Africa, half of which are children. In 2018, the UK signed up to the Global Compact for Refugees which aims to improve support for refugees and share responsibility for hosting them more equally among wealthy and poorer nations. Dedicated funding for Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly low, and while the UK is generous, it could do more to encourage other nations.
The report also calls for more measures to increase self-reliance for refugees and displaced persons based on jobs, education and cash-based programming.
The Committee raises concerns that the Government's desire to address migration to Europe, particularly through its engagement in countries like Sudan and Libya, risks undermining its commitment to human rights and protecting vulnerable people on the move.

Chair's comments

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“During this inquiry we saw the impact that programmes to increase self-reliance can have on the lives of refugees, creating anchors that enable people to rebuild their lives in the region. At the Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya, 38,000 refugees have been granted the same access to markets, health facilities and schools as their host community. They use a special currency called Bamba Chakula which allows them to buy from local traders. It is a radical rethink of the way that we provide support to people fleeing conflict and insecurity and gives them an opportunity to normalise their lives and look to the future.

“This is, however, not an easy option for host countries. While we recognise the great improvements that the right to work and right to movement can bring, it can be unpopular and costly in nations where livelihoods are scarce and incomes low. That is why it is so important that the UK behaves at home as it is asking some of the world's poorest nations to do. We should not be asking nations to house and employ refugees when the numbers we take in are so small, and the employment freedoms limited. That is why we have called on the Government to raise the number of vulnerable refugees the UK takes in per year from 5,000 to 10,000, of which 2,500 should be dedicated for Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We have significant concerns about the Government's continued engagement with Sudan and Libya on migration and displacement. The brutality of the conditions of Libyan detention camps are well documented, as are human rights abuses in Sudan. The Government's work in these areas' risks undermining its commitment to human rights and its ability to protect some of the world's most vulnerable people.“

Main Findings:

UK obligation to host refugees

The UK must do more to help alleviate the burden placed on some of the poorest nations in the world. The work of DFID to provide support on the ground is welcome but there is a lack of willingness to host refugees that should be rectified. It is not a choice between one or the other. The Committee supports the call by the UNHCR for the UK Government to increase its resettlement numbers from 5,000 to 10,000 places annually, of which a quarter of places should be reserved for the most vulnerable refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017/18 only 448 refugees came to the UK from Sub-Saharan Africa and this is not enough.

Focus on internally displaced persons

The welfare of the 13 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa is consistently low on the international agenda. DFID should push for greater global action, including the establishment of a UN High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement this year.
In Africa, DFID should place greater emphasis on targeting and supporting IDPs through its humanitarian and development programmes, and explicitly define its work in this area. It remains unclear where IDPs are being supported by the UK and what funds have been allocated for that work. It should also support governments in Africa to uphold the principles of the Kampala Convention, which guarantees the rights of IDPs in Africa.

Humanitarian Reform

DFID needs to do more to support local and community-based organisations, particularly those led by women, who are vital partners in addressing forced displacement crises in Africa. The department must also find an effective way of tracking the proportion of its humanitarian aid funding that is directed to national and local responders, to better understand its success in achieving its stated goal of diversifying the supplier base. DFID should also be pushing its partners, including other donors and aid agencies, to make urgent progress on sustainable, multi-year funding for displacement crises.


Through the work of DFID, the UK remains a leader in supporting refugee education around the world. In line with commitments made in the Refugee Compact, DFID should work with host governments and communities to facilitate the integration of refugees into national education systems and provide appropriate financial and technical support for this to happen. The department should also substantially increase its own financial commitment to Education Cannot Wait when the fund is open for replenishment later this year.

Right to work and movement

The right to work and the right to movement are invaluable in enabling refugees to be more self-reliant, and grants people who have suffered the dignity and independence they deserve but can cause tensions in host countries. DFID should continue support in this area and we have seen the positive impact of their role in bringing the Ethiopia Jobs Compact to fruition. It should continue this work, whilst carefully considering the potential for unintended negative consequences.
The policy of severely limiting asylum seekers right to work in the UK while waiting for the Home Office to resolve their case needs to be urgently reassessed. The UK cannot expect action from poorer nations abroad that we are unwilling to allow here.

Joined up approach

UK Government policy on displacement and migration is opaque, disconnected and incoherent. Policies pursued by one department could come into conflict with the work of others. The Government should create a national strategy on migration and forced displacement to consolidate the work DFID is doing in this area and identify areas of conflict or potential for collaboration. The UK should have a progressive voice in the debate on displacement and migration and pursue policies at home and abroad that demonstrate a commitment towards helping the world's most vulnerable people.

Further information

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