Current Spotlight: African Refugee Crises

Since the outbreak of the Middle-East conflicts, attention on African refugees has significantly reduced, though the crisis continues in the African continent. UNHCR estimates the numbers of people of concern in African countries in 2015 is nearly about 14.9 million people.

It is likely the scale of displacement will increase in the years ahead due to instability and humanitarian crisis in different parts of Africa, mainly in Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi and Mali.

For decades, political volatility, sectarian violence, weather emergencies and other disasters, such as the Ebola epidemic, have been the key sources for displacement and migration of refugees in this region, yet little attention has been given to overcome this long-lasting crisis.

According to UNHCR, sub-Saharan Africa is the host to the largest number of refugees—nearly 4.1 million—and North Africa alone is the host for nearly 3 million refugees. Among other African countries, Ethiopia is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the fifth largest worldwide.

The scale of displacement on the African continent has continually increased due to shifting political climates and often unforeseen new challenges. Since the eruption of conflict in South Sudan in December 2013, there has been a significant increase in the number of internal displacement, resulting to some 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and an influx of over 450,000 refugees, mostly women and children, into the neighboring countries.

The ongoing crisis in and around CAR has produced up to a million IDPs and around 180,000 refugees. Currently, there are almost one million Somali refugees around East and Horn of Africa, and most of them have lived in camps for over 20 years. Thousands of unaccompanied Eritrean children continue to flee without their parents or guardians each year, and according to UNHCR during just October 2014, about 5,000 Eritreans had escaped into Ethiopia and additional thousands escaped into Sudan.

The number of IDPs and refugees across African continents are on the rise, while the third-generation refugees are still struggling in many refugee camps without any prospect for a stable future. There is a need to raise humanitarian efforts and allocate additional resources and programs for the protection of African refugees, while seeking an appropriate durable solution to the world’s most protracted refugees in the history of mankind.


Refugee 101: The Three Durable Solutions

With more than 19 million refugees around the world, half of which are women and children, there is a dire need to explore UNHCR’s three durable solutions and find out how countries can help bring safety and stability in refugees’ lives. Once a person is deemed a refugee, there are three different options with which a person can be moved and re-established so that he or she can lead a normal life. The three durable solutions – voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement – aim to end the cycle of displacement.

Voluntary Repatriation involves refugees returning to their country of origin voluntarily. A number of stakeholders, including UNHCR, host and origin countries, and international NGOs, are involved in the voluntary repatriation process. The process is initiated only when it is established that the return can take place safely and with dignity for those refugees who wish to go home, based on free and informed decision.

Voluntary repatriation is considered the most beneficial solution as it means refugees are returning to their home. However, due to ongoing conflicts in their country of origin and risk of persecution, millions of refugees are unable to return to their home, even if that is what they want. Based on IRIN reports, just 126,000 refugees were able to go home in 2014 compared to 415,000 in 2013.

Local integration involves permanently settling refugees in their first country of asylum. Most of the refugees are stuck in refugee camps for years with little or no opportunity to work or move freely outside the camp. As citizens of the country of asylum, local integration allows refugees to integrate into the local communities, build homes, and above all, it gives them hope and encouragement to start a new life.

Even though local integration is the next best option for those refugees who cannot return to their home due to continued violence, not all asylum countries are capable of providing it as an option. With Syria being deep in conflict, Jordan is hosting approximately 79,000 Syrians in its Za’atari camp, making it one of the country’s largest cities. It is a great burden for Jordan to host the increasing Syrian refugee population or to provide local integration to all, which leads to the third durable solution – resettlement.

Resettlement involves selecting and transferring of refugees from the country of refuge to another country which has agreed to admit them as refugees with permanent residence status. Resettlement provides protection and permanency so it is the most relevant durable solution for those refugees for whom neither repatriation nor local integration is possible. Additionally, it shows international solidarity and responsibility sharing.

The United Nations claims that we are facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 19 million refugees and 59 million displaced. Considering the fact that the first two durable solutions – voluntary repatriation and local integration – are difficult to exercise, it is up to the international community to step up and increase their resettlement numbers, instead of shunning refugees and shying away from responsibility sharing.

Refugee 101: What is a refugee?

With the refugee crisis front and center of most news headlines today, many are still unclear about the intricacies of refugee resettlement, migration, and the causes of these humanitarian issues. We are starting a series called Refugee 101, where your most basic questions will be answered that will help the public better understand refugees, their journeys, and how the United States is involved.

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Success Stories: Syrian family hoping to make Tampa their home (via WFLA)

A FANTASTIC example of our affiliates’ hard work to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms and help them rebuild their lives. Great work, Coptic Orthodox Charities!

Source: Syrian family hoping to make Tampa their home (via WFLA News Channel 8)

In the last few months, thousands of refugees have fled by boat across the Mediterranean. Ten years ago, one of our local ECDC staff was one of them.

He shares his story that so many others now face, and why the perilous journey is worth everything.

If I could try to put ordinary people in the shoes of refugees who have fled and continue to flee for their lives today, I would tell them that there is one main force, above all others, that drives a person to take any risk necessary in search of a better  life: freedom.
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