Message from President Nelson Mandela on Africa Refugee Day

20 June 1997

It is a great honour to add the voice of South Africa to the call for solidarity in addressing one of Africa's most urgent problems. When African Heads of States and Governments decided, in 1969, to address Africa's unique refugee problems in accordance with the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), they laid the foundation for the 1974 Convention that has become a landmark in the protection of refugees in Africa.

Tribute must also be paid to international bodies, NGOs and individuals whose tireless efforts to solve the refugee problem have made an indelible mark on our continent's history.

Yet, our continent today has the largest refugee problem, in the world. Sadly, armed conflict and violation of human rights continue to be the fundamental causes. In turn large-scale population displacements pose a threat to regional and continental peace and security. Unresolved refugee problems become a source of instability, violence and further population displacements.

Dealing with these problems is inextricably linked to achieving peace, upholding the rule of law and entrenching a human rights culture and democracy. Solutions to the refugee problem therefore require us to realise the principles of the African Charter emphasising political and civil rights and improved socio-economic conditions.

The theme of Africa Refugee Day this year, "Together in Search for Solutions: is a call to all of us on the African continent to unite in the face of this pressing global problem. Africa's need for integrated approach is shared worldwide. No country can single- handedly accomplish these goals.

The ending of apartheid and destabilisation, and the entrenchment of democracy have helped to reduce the number of Southern Africa refugees. The memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and SADC goes a long way to addressing the consequences of apartheid's destablisation policies.

As long as armed conflict persists, Africa will need to formulate progressive and humanitarian refugee policies to deal with the crisis. To this end South Africa is committed to regional as well as inter-regional cooperation within the framework of the Organisation of African Unity.

Source: South African Government Information Website