The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, on Sunday called for governments and the public to renew their pledges to the OAU’s 30-year-old refugee convention. “This year especially, while much of the world’s attention is focused on the refugee crisis in Kosovo, let us not forget this important African anniversary and its enduring meaning for refugees all over the world,” Ogata said.
In a statement to mark African Refugee Day on Sunday, Ogata said the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa contributed significantly to international refugee law - especially in relation to defining refugees more broadly than before, the principle of voluntary repatriation and the concept of burden-sharing - and UNHCR would be “working throughout 1999 to promote its effective implementation.”
Speaking at the start of an African tour to remind the world of the continent’s refugees, Ogata also told journalists in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Monday that while Kosovo had attracted attention and funding because of its proximity to world powers and international media centres, the humanitarian effort there should not be to the detriment of programmes in other regions. Kosovo’s “immediacy” had helped put it at the top of the agenda, Ogata said, while in Africa at times, “when conflicts drag on for years and there is no solution in sight, and the causes are perceived to be leadership, power feuds, you find it very, very difficult to get sympathy, and commitment to solve these problems.”
UNHCR devoted 50 percent of its resources to African crises, Ogata added, and as of January 1999, there were 7.2 million people of concern to UNHCR in Africa, out of a global total of 21.1 million.
Figures released by UNHCR revealed the five African countries generating the highest number of refugees to be: Sierra Leone (with 410,900); Somalia (with 401,300); Sudan (with 372,900); Eritrea (with 342,300); and Burundi (with 299,400, not including 200,000 Burundians who have been in Tanzania since the early 1970s and who are not assisted by UNHCR).
The four African countries hosting the most refugees are: Guinea (with 413,700); Sudan (with 391,500); Tanzania (with 343,900, not including 200,000 unassisted Burundian refugees from the early 1970s); and Ethiopia (with 262,000). The stream of Congolese fleeing into Tanzania due to fighting in the DRC had reached 62,000 by the end of May and was perhaps the most regular flow of refugees anywhere on the continent at present, according to a UNHCR report received by IRIN.