African Refugee Convention Turns 50 to Warm Welcome

press release

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — This week, 50 years ago, Organization of African Unity (OAU) member states gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to adopt the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969 OAU Refugee Convention).

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warmly welcomes this milestone for the Convention, which was adopted on September 10, 1969 as the world's first regional refugee protection treaty and the regional complement to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. "It was a progressive treaty that expanded on the definition of refugee among other advances, and it remains relevant half-a-century later," said Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR's representative to the African Union (AU).

In 1969, many African states had recently gained their independence, while others were still under colonial or minority rule. The Convention reflects this context. In addition to the international refugee definition from the 1951 Convention, the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention affords refugee protection to individuals who fled because of "external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order." This broader regional definition, as well as the Convention's provisions on voluntary repatriation and solidarity, ensure its influence and value till this day.

The 1969 OAU Refugee Convention also addresses responsibility sharing, an issue that has now gained global prominence with the affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) in the UN General Assembly in December 2018. The Convention provides that where a state "finds difficulty in continuing to grant asylum to refugees", it may appeal to other parties to the treaty and they "shall in the spirit of African solidarity and international co-operation take appropriate measures to lighten the burden".

It is in this spirit that also on Tuesday, Rwanda formally agreed to evacuate refugees and asylum-seekers living in dire and life-threatening circumstances in Libya. The memorandum of understanding was signed in Addis Ababa by the Rwandan government, UNHCR and the African Union. UNHCR welcomes Rwanda's commitment to help refugees and asylum-seekers from Libya as a fitting tribute to the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention's anniversary. The deal embodies the spirit of the regional instrument and, now, of the GCR.

Several African states have, since 1969, adopted progressive refugee laws and policies in line with the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention. Others are revising their refugee laws and policies to reflect both the Convention and the GCR, as well as the changing nature of displacement in Africa.

The AU declared 2019 as the "Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa", in part to commemorate the 1969 OAU Convention's 50thanniversary. The Convention has been ratified by 47 of the AU's 55 member states; UNHCR calls on African states that are not yet party to the Convention to ratify it, and on others to fully implement it.

For more information, please contact:

In Addis Ababa: Leo Dobbs, +251 944 308444, [email protected]

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