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"Refugees in Africa: The Challenges of Protection and Solutions"

Cotonou, Benin, 1 - 3 June 2004

The Regional Conference for African Parliaments on "Refugees in Africa: the challenges of protection and solutions" took place in Cotonou, Benin, from 1 to 3 June 2004. Organised by the African Parliamentary Union, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and with the sponsorship of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Conference aimed to permit an exchange of views among parliamentarians on a subject which is of particular interest in Africa, and to outline lasting future parliamentary and inter-parliamentary action. It was hosted by the National Assembly of Benin. The main objectives of the Conference were to:

  • Promote awareness of international and regional refugee law.
  • Share best practices relating to preserving the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum, the physical protection of refugees, as well as local capacity-building.
  • Exchange views on new initiatives regarding durable solutions for refugees.
  • Assess progress on follow-up to the 2002 APU/IPU/ICRC Niamey Conference on International Humanitarian Law for the Protection of Civilians during Armed Conflict.

The Conference culminated in the universal adoption of a Declaration (reproduced below) and a Programme of Action (available on PDF file).


We, Speakers and Members of National Parliamentary Assemblies of Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, and Uganda,

Having met upon the invitation of the National Assembly of Benin, from 1 to 3 June 2004 in Cotonou, during the Conference on “Refugees in Africa: The Challenges of Protection and Solutions”, organized by the African Parliamentary Union (APU) with the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), and in association with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and presided over by the Speaker of the National Assembly of Benin, the Honourable Kolawolé A. Idji,

Recognizing that no country is immune from the risk of generating and receiving refugee flows, and that therefore protecting refugees is a shared duty of all States and is a matter of respect for basic human rights,

Deeply concerned about the number of protracted refugee situations and the continuing presence of large populations of internally displaced persons in Africa, as well as the presence of armed elements in some refugee camps and forced recruitment, the serious violations of the universally recognized principle of non-refoulement, the growing xenophobia and intolerance against refugees, and threats to the physical safety of refugees, especially women and children who are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, but also the elderly,

Paying tribute to African countries which have provided protection and solutions to refugees over the decades in spite of limited resources,

Committed to doing everything in our power to maintain the generous tradition of asylum on the African Continent, and to ensure that refugees receive effective protection and have access to durable solutions as early as possible,

Heartened that, as a result of numerous ongoing peace processes in Africa firmly supported by the African Union and its Member States, there is today an enormous potential for durable solutions to refugee problems, especially voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration,

Aware of the dilemmas posed by mixed movements of refugees fleeing persecution or war and persons migrating for economic reasons,

Welcoming the substantial contribution which the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, as well as the G8 Africa Action Plan, can make to spurring economic development and maintaining peace in Africa,

Recognizing that the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, together with its Protocol of 1967, as complemented by the 1969 OAU Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, remain the foundation of the international refugee protection regime in Africa, and have provided a resilient framework within which millions of refugees have been able to find safety from armed conflicts and persecution,

Stressing the continuing relevance and importance of the expanded refugee definition set out in the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention,

Acknowledging that an understanding of the plight of refugees fosters acceptance whereas ignorance breeds hostility; that refugee protection includes not only legal and physical protection, but also the ability to lead a meaningful and dignified life while in exile; and that this requires the empowerment of refugees to be self-reliant, so that they may make a positive contribution to the life of their host communities and prepare for durable solutions,

Convinced of the need for more effective preventive measures at national, regional and international levels to address the root causes of refugee flows and other forms of forced displacement, and prevent the eruption or continuation of armed conflict,

Recognizing that good governance, observance of the rule of law and respect for human rights are the best form of prevention, while also contributing to peace, stability and economic development,

Welcoming the fundamental role played by UNHCR and ICRC, in pursuance of their respective mandates, to protect and assist refugees and find durable solutions to their problems, and to protect and assist civilians in times of conflict,

Desirous that the Regional Parliamentary Conference on “Refugees in Africa: The Challenges of Protection and Solutions”, and its predecessor, the 2002 African Parliamentary Conference on International Humanitarian Law for the Protection of Civilians during Armed Conflict, initiate a process aimed at strengthening observance of the rules of international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law in our States,

Determined to find durable solutions to the plight of refugees, while continuing to provide effective protection,

Hereby adopt the annexed Programme of Action, outlining various courses of action for Parliaments, and accordingly:

   Honouring and strengthening international refugee, human rights and humanitarian principles

  1. Pledge our continuing commitment to strengthening observance of humanitarian principles and to build on the undertakings contained in the Niamey Final Declaration of 2002* , and reaffirm our determination to ensure that our States and all parties to an armed conflict honour their obligations under international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law.
   Finding durable solutions
  1. Recognize that as a first step, self reliance of refugees be promoted as an important means to decrease dependency, maximise the initiative and potential contributions of refugees, and prepare them for durable solutions.

  2. Undertake to foster conditions conducive to the implementation of durable solutions for refugees, notably, their voluntary repatriation to the country of origin or, where appropriate, their local integration in the country of asylum, or resettlement to a third country, recognizing that the success of durable solutions depends in large measure on the availability of adequate resources provided in a spirit of international solidarity and shared responsibility.

  3. Call on UNHCR, development partners and international and regional financial institutions, to redouble their efforts to support countries of asylum to facilitate refugees' self-reliance, and countries of origin to ensure sustainable reintegration following the return of refugees.
   Ensuring physical and legal protection
  1. Pledge to protect refugees and asylum-seekers, especially women and children, from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence, recognizing that the States hosting refugees bear responsibility for their physical protection.
   Maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum
  1. Undertake to ensure that the competent authorities safeguard the civilian nature and humanitarian character of the institution of asylum and of refugee camps and settlements, without which the basic tenets of refugee protection would be compromised.
   Strengthening the role of Parliament
  1. Resolve to ensure that our parliaments fulfil their role in the process of acceding to the instruments of international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law, the adoption or amendment of national legislation in line with international standards, ensuring that adequate funds are allocated to implement such legislation, and overseeing the work of the Executive.

  2. Undertake to encourage a wide-ranging debate on the state of national legislation to implement international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law, and on relevant practices and situations which require our attention.

  3. Encourage our national parliaments to establish a standing committee, or sub-committee, dealing with all matters related to refugees and international humanitarian law.
   Promoting a change in attitudes towards refugees
  1. Undertake, as men and women elected by the people, to do all in our power to foster a positive attitude towards refugees and displaced persons, so as to improve their protection and ensure their contribution to the socio-economic development of their host communities.

  2. Commit ourselves to refrain from perpetuating negative stereotypes about refugees and to ensure that they are not exploited politically, including during electoral campaigns.
   Implementing follow-up actions
  1. Undertake to forward this Declaration and Programme of Action to the attention of our Governments, and to urge the competent authorities to take every measure necessary to heed and address the concerns reflected therein.

  2. Resolve to reinforce our cooperation on refugee and returnee matters with UNHCR.

  3. Commit ourselves to reporting to the African Parliamentary Union on progress in implementing this Programme of Action in our countries, as well as on progress on the objectives stated in the Niamey Final Declaration.

  4. Request the organizers of the Conference to forward this Declaration and Programme of Action to the African Union for information and distribution at the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the Executive Council and to the Pan-African Parliament. We also request them to forward this Declaration and Programme of Action to the competent organs of the African Parliamentary Union, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, UNHCR and the ICRC, as well as other relevant actors, UN organizations and development partners.

  5. Request the African Parliamentary Union, IPU, UNHCR and ICRC to widely disseminate the Declaration and Programme of Action of this Conference with a view to facilitating the follow-up.

  6. Request the African Parliamentary Union to ensure that the Follow-Up Committee on the Niamey Conference also follows up on the Cotonou Conference, convenes at each statutory APU meeting to examine progress in the implementation of the Niamey Final Declaration and the Cotonou Declaration and Programme of Action, and reports on its findings to the IPU’s Committee to Promote Respect for International Humanitarian Law.

  7. Request the African Parliamentary Union to explore with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, UNHCR and ICRC, the possibility of convening a conference in 2006 to review progress made on the follow-up to the Niamey and Cotonou conferences.

    * Adopted at the African Parliamentary Conference on International Humanitarian Law for the Protection of Civilians during Armed Conflict, held in Niamey from 18 to 20 February 2002