Harrowing tales of men, women and children drowning in the Mediterranean, after taking treacherous journeys by foot, car and boat; crossing borders in search of safer pastures has hitherto proven to be a truth stranger than fiction. However, the deadly voyages are just a tip of the iceberg of the plight suffered by refugees and migrants, who flee their native countries seeking safer havens in foreign lands. Instead, to the few who make it to the other side, they face an uncertain future. For most, this hope is extinguished upon setting foot on foreign soil, where they are met with unspeakable violence, endure untold horrors and experience extreme human rights violations such as assault, detainment and even sexual defilement.
Consequently, psychological trauma plagues this lot, which in most cases leads to dysfunctional behaviors that impair their ability to cope with social or family life. Heretofore, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa since 2014. More than 17,000 of those have been on the Central Mediterranean Route described by the United Nations (UN) as the most dangerous migration route in the world. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26% of the world’s refugee population. From asylum seekers, stateless persons, internally displaced persons, returnees, to those escaping climatic disasters, hunger, war, religious or political affiliation and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, all comprise of the gigantic refugee populace.
A 2020 report titled ‘On this journey, no one cares if you live or die’ by the UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Centre at the Danish Refugee Council, vividly details how most people taking these routes suffer and witness brutality and inhumanity at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, militias and in some cases even State officials. It documents killings and widespread violence of the most cruel nature perpetrated against desperate people fleeing war, violence and persecution.
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Currently the ongoing crisis of abuse of migrants in Ceuta, an enclave in North Africa bordering Spain, is just but a singular scenario of the arduous journey taken by migrants fleeing Morocco for Spain, for a chance at a new life. This is in the wake of the unemployment crisis especially among educated youth, which has fueled them to take such desperate measures, for most have nothing to lose. The ones fleeing war-torn Libya which has become a main transit point for migrants have their eyes set on Europe but are intercepted and returned to Libya upon arrival. The depth of the refugee crisis in the continent has been rising to alarming levels, leaving many facing an uncertain future within the continent and abroad. This calls for an immediate global response to this humanitarian disaster to be galvanized. The Covid-19 pandemic further aggravated an already dire situation especially with the dwindling of funds from the international community.
Deepening Refugee Crisis – Case Studies
No corner of the vast African continent has been left unscathed by the monumental humanitarian crisis, which has become an existential wound. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) while unveiling its annual index, stated that countries in Africa dominated the list of the worlds’ 10 most neglected displacement crises, with DRC topping the list, followed by Cameroon, Burundi, Venezuela, Honduras, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Mali. According to its report, the DRC harbours the world’s most neglected number of displaced people and in 2020 well over two million people were displaced. “DRC is one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century. A lethal combination of spiraling violence, record hunger levels and total neglect has ignited a mega-crisis that warrants a mega-response. But instead, millions of families on the brink of the abyss seem to be forgotten by the outside world and are left shut off from any support lifeline,” said NRC Secretary-General, Jan Egeland.
The recent eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Goma, DRC, claimed the lives of many and created countless climate refugees, as most inhabitants of the area fled their homes into neighbouring Rwanda. More than 450,000 people fled Goma in the days following the eruption, as the city continued to be hit by over a thousand tremors, raising fears of another eruption. However, most refugees and displaced persons from the DRC have fled due to the deadly spiral of violence which has become endemic in the eastern part of the country leaving villages burnt to the ground, men, women and children sexually assaulted and killed while some are abducted. The heightened conflict between Hema and Lendu, the largest ethnic groups in Ituri arises from communal land disputes. Going on for decades now, these tense intercommunal grievances over control of land and resources have resulted in the displacement of millions. Just recently the indiscriminate attacks have resurfaced, with fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killing civilians in displacement camps in the eastern region with guns and machetes, burning others alive in houses.
Similarly, Burkina Faso recently experienced the deadliest attack in the country since 2015 that left over 130 people dead and scores injured. Since 2018, continuous and intense violence has plagued the Sahel region of Burkina Faso between various armed groups and Burkinese armed forces. The fighting has birthed a serious humanitarian crisis, with large-scale displacement and arrival of refugees from neighbouring Niger and Mali. According to the UN, in 2020 it became the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis, with over one million people displaced and some 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid, in a country with a population of 20 million.
In Northern Mozambique, ongoing conflict continues to displace thousands; according to the UNHCR, since March 70,000 people have fled bringing the total to 800,000 since the start of the conflict in the country’s gas-rich Cabo Delgado province. Thousands have attempted to cross the border into Tanzania and claim asylum, but have been pushed back. The agency has appealed to Tanzania to cease forcibly deporting asylum seekers fleeing the violence.
In Kenya, internally displaced persons continue to suffer in refugee camps thirteen years on, since the worst post-election violence to grip the country in 2007/08 that left thousands killed and over 600,000 families displaced, seeking refuge in internally displaced camps which has now become a home for some still waiting to be resettled.
Root of the problem
What really is the root of this rapidly growing massive humanitarian crisis? A majority of displaced people in the continent emanate from countries with conflict-prone regions. The conflicts stem from intercommunal disputes over land, minerals and resources; political and religious affiliation. Others flee the rising poverty levels, economic turmoil, unemployment and natural disasters. However, the underlying vice that ignites the spark is corruption, which has been rife and deeply entrenched in most countries.
For instance, in as much as the recent volcanic eruption in Congo was a natural disaster that could not be controlled, the effects could have been minimized had the Goma Volcano Observatory been functioning properly, but it was not—due to corruption. Reports reiterate that the observatory was unable even to pay for internet connection to remote monitors or transport staff to observation points. If systems had been working accordingly and having taken lessons from the last eruption of Nyiragongo in 2002 that killed 250 people and displaced others, it could have minimized the scale of destruction. However, DRC is not alone; many countries on the continent have recorded stunted growth and matching development to population growth has been a quagmire, due to rampant corruption. This has been the case for Kenya, Congo, Uganda and Malawi. Countries like Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Cameroon and Mauritania have been crippled by decades of negligence and theft rendering them incapable of handling terrorists. Climate-induced natural disasters have birthed climate refugees, who have fled their homelands due to the devastating effects spelled by climate change such as drought, floods and famine.
Potential Feasible Solutions
Having established the root causes to the drastic surge in the number of refugees in the continent, the formulation of feasible solutions is critical. Addressing corruption in most African states can be the ultimate solution to help mitigate the refugee crisis because it would mean that development would be sustainable and that wealth from the diverse natural resources across the continent would actually benefit not just a few individuals and groups, but the entire country’s citizens. Curbing corruption would additionally attenuate the unemployment crisis and rising poverty levels. In countries prone to natural disasters, funds allotted for disaster preparedness and management would actually go towards that to offset potential impact. Instead of economic turmoil we would speak of thriving economies, given the continent’s wealth in terms of minerals and natural resources.
Peace negotiations between warring communities through mediation could go a long way to settle major intercommunal conflicts as witnessed in Kenya, which brought to an end the ethnic-based 2007/08 post-election violence. In light of this, the UN Security Council emphasizes the importance of addressing the fundamental drivers of conflicts in Africa and calls for all stakeholders to intensify their efforts towards the realization of the objectives outlined in the African Union Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want and UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Environmental conservation to curb the adverse effects of climate change, can reduce the number of climate refugees who are forced flee their home countries due to extreme climate-induced natural disasters.
Olympic Refugee Team – A Message of Hope and Solidarity
In an effort to confront the global refugee crisis, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created the Refugee Olympic Team to send a message of hope, solidarity and inclusion to millions of refugees around the world. The first of its kind participated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Following the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, members of the IOC 2020 Refugee Olympic Team were recently announced in the first week of June which includes some African refugees.
‘Together we heal, learn and shine’ the 2021 theme for the UN World Refugee Day, focused on the power of inclusion; a day set apart to honour the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution.
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By June Njoroge