South Africa Regional Office


Operation: Opération: South Africa Regional Office



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Key Figures

2018 year-end results
19,720 people of concern received legal advice and support
6,730 people with specific needs received social assistance and psychological support
>6,000 people of concern were reached through HIV outreach activities
1,150 people of concern were assisted through self-reliance and livelihood projects
110 refugee students were assisted with DAFI scholarships
2019 planning figures
40,000 people of concern will receive legal support 
20,000 people of concern will be assessed for vulnerabilities 
5,000 people of concern will receive psychosocial support
5,000 people of concern will receive targeted assistance in the form of vouchers or subsidy for food and accommodation

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2018 275,377
2017 281,574
2016 310,575


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South Africa Regional Office

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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019

Operational environment

In 2018, UNHCR continued to support the authorities in South Africa with guidance and advice on issues relating to refugees and asylum-seekers. UNHCR also engaged with the Government on the development of a project plan to address the asylum appeal backlog.
Access to the asylum system, documentation and insufficient refugee status determination capacity were the most significant challenges faced by UNHCR’s population of concern in South Africa.

Population trends

South Africa hosted the largest number of people of concern in the Southern Africa region with close to 89,300 refugees and 184,200 asylum-seekers.
By mid-year 2018, some 8,400 new asylum applications were received. New arrivals came from Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia and Zimbabwe. 

Key achievements

  • The Protection Working Group coordinated prevention and response to incidents of xenophobia in six different provinces;
  • The Refugee Helpline with a dedicated toll-free number responded to 4,737 queries throughout the year;
  • Outreach activities included community meetings with over 100 people of concern, 15 focus group discussions and more than 1,600 home visits;
  • Best Interest Assessments were conducted for 1,170 children;
  • A total of 192 SGBV survivors received cash assistance, 174 were assisted with safe accommodation and 348 received psychosocial counselling.

Unmet needs

  • UNHCR’s social assistance support for people with specific needs reached a very small percentage of people of concern, mostly asylum-seekers who do not have access to social security in South Africa.
  • As asylum-seeker and refugee children are dispersed all over the country, identification of children at risk remained challenging and limited to the larger urban centres. A large number of people of concern remained out of sight due to limited resources to increase community-based protection programmes.
  • Due to funding constraints, the livelihoods programme could not be implemented in provinces beyond Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, as foreseen in the Livelihoods Strategy for South Africa. Additional resources would allow UNHCR to support more refugees to rebuild their lives, become self-reliant and contribute to host communities (including through the inclusion of nationals in livelihoods projects) and in doing so, foster social cohesion in economically disadvantaged areas.


Working environment

South Africa currently has a well-developed and liberal refugee legislation, but legislative restrictions are underway prompted by the scale of mixed movement, the consequent overburdening of the asylum system, as well as pressure to address the needs of the local population. South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal societies, largely owing to the legacies of apartheid, with an overall unemployment rate of around 30 per cent. 

While South Africa represents good practice with refugees benefitting from social welfare on par with nationals, asylum-seekers and refugees are regularly subject to violence arising from xenophobia. The violence and discrimination mostly target those engaged in livelihood activities, therefore limiting their ability to become self-reliant. 

Due to the government review of active asylum claims, people of concern in South Africa decreased from 1.2 million to more than 309,000 at the end of 2016.  The estimated number of people of concern in South Africa by end of 2017 is close to 361,500, and some 407,700 by end of 2018. These figures take into account the appeal backlog which is likely to remain unaddressed. 

Key priorities

 In 2018, UNHCR will focus on:
  • Supporting the asylum system through policy review, backlog reduction, capacity development on refugee law and implementing quality assurance mechanisms in refugee status determination procedures;
  • Supporting the government’s efforts to prevent and address xenophobia;
  • Improving access to services for people with specific needs by enhancing outreach and community-based protection mechanisms;
  • Promoting comprehensive solutions for refugees, including through local integration and livelihoods.
Latest contributions
  • 17-JUL-2019
  • 16-JUL-2019
  • 11-JUL-2019
  • 10-JUL-2019
  • 08-JUL-2019
    European Union
  • Kuwait
  • 05-JUL-2019
  • 04-JUL-2019

    private donors

  • European Union
  • Japan
  • 03-JUL-2019
  • 02-JUL-2019
  • 30-JUN-2019

    private donors

  • Argentina
  • Sweden

    private donors

  • Spain
  • Oman

    private donors

  • United Arab Emirates

    private donors

  • Kuwait

    private donors

  • Saudi Arabia

    private donors