African Union summit in Ethiopia focuses on refugees

The mass movement of people will be one of the main subjects discussed at the African Union summit in Ethiopia.

Kyangwali Refugee Settlement And Reception Centre in Uganda Which Has Seen A Huge Rise In Refugees Entering From The Democratic Republic Of Congo
Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 percent of the world's 25.4 million refugees [Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Security across the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa has been beefed up as dignitaries and heads of states from across the continent gather for the annual African Union (AU) summit which kicked off on Thursday.

Metal detectors and security officers have been placed at the entrances of major hotels in the city.

This year’s summit will focus on refugees and internally displaced persons. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 percent of the world’s 25.4 million refugees, according to the UNHCR – the UN agency for refugees.

That figure has recently been rising because of ongoing crises in countries like the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

According to the UNHCR, 85 percent of the displaced people are in developing countries.

Three African countries – Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia – are among the top 10 countries hosting refugees in the world.

Human rights campaigners say it is time the AU took concrete steps to address the issue of refugees in Africa.

“African Union member states will not suddenly find money to give to refugees,” Achieng Akena, executive director of the Pan African Citizens Network, a civil society group that campaigns for democracy and human rights in Africa, told Al Jazeera.

“Africa needs to do better in integrating refugees and allowing them to work. Refugees, like other people, need to live a life of dignity,” Akena added.

AU passports

Refugees and IDPs are not the only topic the African leaders are discussing during the summit.

The AU will reveal the long-awaited design of a passport for all African countries. It is hoped that the passports will bring the continent one step closer to free movement of its people.

The AU’s Commission will present details concerning the design, production, and issue of the passport at the summit.

The passports are expected to replace existing nationally issued AU member state passports.

The passports, when rolled out, will exempt bearers from having to obtain visas for all 55 states in Africa.

Currently, only the Seychelles and Benin offer visa-on-arrival to Africans.

But experts say it might be years before citizens have the new passport.

“Free movement of African citizens is generally a good idea. The question is whether it can be implemented,” Elissa Jobson, head of Africa regional advocacy at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

“There will be concerns from the more developed countries that they will have a lot of migrants seeking to come to their countries for economic reasons,” Jobson said.

New chairperson

The 55-member pan-African body will also appoint a new leader to succeed President Paul Kagame who is stepping down.

Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is expected to be confirmed for the role.

Source: Al Jazeera