South Africa: Identifying Forcibly Displaced and Stateless in the 2022 Census 

Drafted in collaboration with Statistics South Africa.


As of December 2021, South Africa hosts over 242,000 refugees and asylumseekers [1] mostly originating from different African countries including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. As there is no encampment policy, refugees and asylum seekers reside amongst host communities primarily in the country’s urban areas. Given the complex environment of mixed population flows in the broader migratory context, getting a clear picture of the refugee situation in the country can be challenging.  

Taking the opportunity of the recent 2022 Population and Housing Census, Statistics South Africa decided to include questions on reason for leaving previous residence that may be used to identify forcibly displaced persons using the IRRS as guidance. In addition, on an experimental basis, identification of stateless persons was also trialled based on the citizenship question. 



2022 Population and Housing Census 

The Fourth Population and Housing Census in South Africa was conducted from February to May 2022. Implementation was challenging as a result of the post-COVID-19 pandemic environment, leading to lower rates of contact in some areas and an extended data collection period that was completed once the 90% contact threshold had been reached. Broad-based publicity campaigns were conducted, including collaboration with migrant/refugee-orientated organisations where relevant. 

The census aims to inform the formulation, monitoring, and implementation of policies and programmes for the socio-economic and sustainable well-being of the population. The inclusion of refugees, stateless persons and IDPs in this effort may also produce data to strengthen the evidence-base for related policy processes in the South African context. The Post Enumeration Survey was finalised in February 2023, which will help assess the undercount for the overall population. Results from the census are expected to be published in May 2023. 

The Use of the International Recommendations 

The inclusion of questions that help to identify forcibly displaced and stateless populations into a national census exercise is, fundamentally, an example of putting the IRRS and IRIS into practice given that the census represents the backbone of any national statistical system.  

More specifically, key elements of the IRRS were used to inform the process including guidance on question/answer formulation for the reason of migration. Whilst efforts had been made in the past to incorporate this, such as during the mid-census survey in 2016,20 at the time there was no consolidated or definitive guidance. Through efforts of the Expert Group on Migration Statistics (co-chaired by Statistics South Africa and IOM during 2018-2022) as well as guidance provided by EGRISS, the 2022 census benefitted from authoritative guidance in this regard outlining the list of possible responses for the reason for migration.  

In addition, the IRRS also present guidance on coordination amongst stakeholders to ensure statistical production benefit from the perspectives of different experts. In the context of South Africa, the Migration and Urbanization Forum served as an important platform in this regard. Established by the Department of Social Development and Statistics South Africa in 2021, the Forum provided key insights into ongoing research with migrant and displaced populations and to identify associated critical data gaps and challenges. Consultations and exchange with partners facilitated by the Forum’s quarterly events and regular reports to Cabinet, helped inform work on the census. 


South Africa’s 2022 census represents an important case study for implementing the IRRS. In addition, the opportunity it presents to identify stateless and internally displaced persons on an experimental basis, only adds to the richness of this example. Given the challenges faced during the data collection phase the quality of results (particularly for subgroups of the population) may however be compromised – let’s wait for results to be available. Either way, it is however important to document and share lessons learned particularly from efforts to implement the recommendations in a post-pandemic political climate and through national census processes. This is a commitment that Statistics South Africa shares in line with the broader EGRISS community. 

[1] See UNHCR – Refugee Statistics 

[2] See South Africa’s Community Survey 2016: South Africa – Community Survey 2016 (