Secretary Tillerson Should Promote Safety and Rights of Displaced People During his Trip to Sub-Saharan Africa

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

We welcome your timely trip to sub-Saharan Africa. It represents a critical opportunity to reaffirm U.S. humanitarian support, while advocating for policies that promote the safety, dignity, and rights of refugees and displaced populations.

The situation in all five of the countries on your itinerary – Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Chad – deserves your attention and support.  At the outset, however, we wish to raise urgent challenges in Nigeria and Kenya that will require particularly swift action. 

In Nigeria, we urge you to impress upon the government the need to refrain from carrying out any immediate large-scale returns in the northeast state of Borno. While progress has been made against Boko Haram, the crisis is far from over. Refugees International is deeply concerned by recent calls for more than 1.3 million IDPs to return to areas recently liberated from Boko Haram. To this end, the governor of Borno announced a few days ago that all IDP camps would be closed by May 2018. These areas often lack basic services and remain highly insecure. Moreover, the Nigerian government has yet to set out a clear plan of how it intends to achieve safe, voluntary and sustainable returns to these areas.

In Kenya, the government must immediately resume the registration of refugee arrivals from Somalia. Without official registration, refugees are not able to legally access shelter and food assistance and are subject to arrest and deportation. In addition, the Kenyan government must end calls to close the Dadaab refugee camp, currently home to 230,000 Somali refugees, without offering alternative solutions other than return. The situation in Somalia remains dire. Last year alone, drought and conflict displaced nearly one million Somalis. Five million Somalis are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. Kenya has a long history of hosting refugees. Now is not the time for the country to turn its back on that tradition.

In Ethiopia, you should underscore America’s continued support for the government’s efforts to respond to widespread displacement and food insecurity. Severe drought has left millions of Ethiopians malnourished. Escalating conflict in the Oromia and Somali regions has displaced hundreds of thousands. Despite this, Ethiopia continues to open its doors to asylum seekers and currently hosts some 900,000 refugees. Furthermore, Ethiopia has pledged to end the encampment of refugees over the next decade and to incorporate refugees into the country’s national development plans. We urge you to support this new policy and commit to meet or exceed last year’s U.S humanitarian assistance levels of $500 million. At the same time, Ethiopia must end ongoing human rights abuses. These abuses are causing Ethiopians to seek refuge outside their boarders.

Djibouti hosts more than 27,000 refugees and continues to welcome asylum seekers, despite resource scarcity and widespread poverty. You should encourage the government to move forward with plans to promulgate new laws that grant refugees access to public services, including education.  The United States should also continue to provide financial support for the 2,000 troops Djibouti contributes to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

In Chad, the government deserves praise for hosting 400,000 refugees from surrounding countries. Chad’s open borders have been critical for those fleeing the conflict in the Central African Republic.  However, you should call upon the government to improve conditions for refugees and Chadians alike. To this end, Chad must fulfill its 2016 commitments to expand access to education and other public services for refugees. It must also engage with its civil servants to resolve an ongoing nationwide strike. That strike continues to disrupt essential public services like education and healthcare for the displaced and the wider population alike.

Thank you for your attention to these matters. The United States must continue to provide essential humanitarian support and work in countries across Africa to ensure that displaced populations receive vital life-sustaining assistance and protection.


Eric P. Schwartz



cc:        Deputy Secretary John Sullivan

            Ambassador Donald Yamamoto

            Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol O’Connell

           Admiral Garry Hall