UNHCR and UCT launch the Cape Town Programme in International Refugee Law

By United Nations - Office of the UN High Commissione

CAPE-TOWN, South-Africa, November 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- UNHCR and the University of Cape Town today launched the inaugural session of the Cape Town Programme in International Refugee Law. This Programme seeks to improve the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Southern Africa by fostering constructive dialogue between policymakers, academics and civil society.

Senior government officials from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe are attending the four day programme where they will be encouraged to explore the legal and policy changes required to bring the region closer to international standards of refugee protection.

Governments in the region are concerned about national security, trafficking, human smuggling and abuses of the asylum system. This has resulted in stricter border controls. Identifying people in need of international protection is difficult due to the severe capacity constraints faced by the national asylum systems. While nearly all countries are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 OAU Convention, most have done so with reservations regarding freedom of movement and access to employment. All of the countries, with the exception of Angola and South Africa, have encampment policies that restrict freedom of movement and limit possibilities for self-reliance. Populations in the camps have lived there for decades finding it difficult to envision a better future. With this training, UNHCR hopes to encourage governments to look at refugees from the point of view of the positive contributions they can make to their new host communities and with a view to ensuring their human rights are respected.

“UNHCR provides training to government officials all the time, but what is unique about this programme is that we will focus on the specific challenges of refuge protection in Africa and how to strengthen refugee protection as provided for in the various refugee conventions,”said UNHCR's Regional Representative for Southern Africa, Clementine Nkweta-Salami.

The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa which came into force 40 years ago will be reviewed in depth, along with the protection regime enshrined in 1981 OAU African Charter on Human and People's Rights and on regional traditions and values concerning the protection and assistance to others.

“We are excited to be partnering with UNHCR on this programme and to have such distinguished African scholars and experts present to discuss this important issue of our time with government officials who can make an impact on improving the rights of refugees,” states Fatima Khan, Director of the Refugee Rights Programme at the University of Cape Town.

Southern Africa currently hosts some 415,000 refugees and asylum seekers mostly originating from the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa.