ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The U.N. Secretary General has commended African countries for opening their borders to refugees and people fleeing violence while other parts of the world, including the developed West, close boundaries and build walls.
Antonio Guterres made the remarks Monday in Addis Ababa where several dozen African leaders are attending the summit of the African Union.
"African nations are among the world's largest and most generous hosts of refugees," said Guterres, attending the summit for the first time as head of the U.N. "African borders remain open for those in need of protection when so many borders are being closed, even in the most developed countries in the world."
Guterres didn't make a direct reference to the recent executive orders signed by U.S President Donald Trump to build a wall along the Mexican border and also ban the entry of people from seven Muslim nations, including three in Africa, but his comment drew enthusiastic applause from 2,500 attending the opening, including African leaders, officials, diplomat and dignitaries.
Speaking later at a press conference, Guterres said he hopes the U.S ban will only be temporary. "It is clear for me that refugee protection is something that is absolutely essential ... The U.S. has a large tradition of refugee protection."
Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 18 million refugees, about 26 percent of the world's refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The refugees have fled conflicts in Somalia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi.
The world's largest refugee camp is Dadaab in Kenya which houses more than 300,000 refugees, mostly from neighboring Somalia. However, the Kenyan government last year announced that it intends to close Dadaab, which has been open for more than 20 years, saying that the camp is a security threat because it harbors Islamic extremists.
The African Union Commission selected Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chad's foreign minister, as its new chairman to succeed outgoing chairwoman, South African Nkosazana Dlami- Zuma. Guinea's President Alpha Conde has succeeded Chad's President Idris Deby as chairman of the African Union.
The African leaders approved Morocco's request to rejoin the body. Morocco left the pan-African bloc 32 years ago after a majority of the member states recognized the disputed territory of Western Sahara as a member. Morocco claims the territory in defiance of U.N. resolutions for a referendum on the independence.
Gambia's new leader, Adama Barrow, did not attend the summit but send his deputy.