Africa’s Worsening Refugee Crisis

Pascal Dubois Africa, Analysis, Law & Institutions

The refugee crisis in central Africa, especially DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) often tops the lists among the worsts migratory crises besides the one occurring in Colombia. That phenomenon rarely makes headlines, is often shushed out until nothing can be done. In 2017, around 22 million people were displaced due to conflicts on the African continent. The bulk of the displaced were people of DRC and South Sudan. What’s little known from the public is that the situation there is now on par with the one in Syria in terms of raw suffering, amount of people displaced and severity. Furthermore, most of the people displaced are so due to several age-old conflicts having taken new forms and shapes.

There are many issues at the centre of the massive displacements we observe today. One of the biggest conflicts in question is the ethnic violence in the Ituri region of the DRC. Current estimates indicate about 13 million people will be displaced in 2018 in the region.  Because of the delicate political situation (the refusal of the current President to acknowledge the constitution) as well as other factors, everything indicates a further aggravation of an already exhausting conflict. Not only that, but neighbouring Burundi is also going through a crisis of its own. Conflicts in both countries have spilled into Uganda and Rwanda as well, both states are likely to intervene when they reach their respective breaking points. The Church, which has often acted as the mediator between the different groups involved has so far only acted reluctantly and is much more careful before deciding to meddle with the state of affairs. In addition to that, the situation in South Sudan further north has been a complete disaster and the civil war which was already the cause of a humanitarian disaster has further aggravated, forcing a large part of the population to flee. However, contrary to popular belief, only 5.6% of African refugees sought refuge outside of Africa, this perhaps puts in perspective the current climate in Europe. Drought is also a major factor aggravating the situation throughout these states as well as influencing significantly the decision to depart or not. Cultures have not had the same yield over the past few years, forcing people away from their land to seek better opportunities elsewhere. However, ethnic violence remains the main factor and was instigated in Ituri (see above) for instance. Conflict in Congo and South Sudan create significant pressures on the states around them, mostly in neighbouring Uganda which sees a fluid stream from South Sudan from the north and Congo from the west.

Evidently, current migrations policy not only does not work, it even seems to exacerbate certain existing issues. States like Uganda are largely left alone in their efforts to remediate to this crisis. Solutions such as burden-sharing work sometimes when well executed. For instance, Niger’s assistance has eased off some of the pressures on Uganda. Some political transitions are also critical in the next few years. Among the most mediatized is Kabila’s removal. A proper political transition would likely provide a new drive within DRC and stimulate not only economic activity and an increase in security. A pan-African free trade and free movement zone would also somewhat ease off the pressures although it is unlikely to be a solution considered by the various institutions at play. Furthermore, economic isolation and denial of assistance as it often plays out in Europe are not beneficial to anybody. Approaches such as the ones followed historically by Uganda of setting up a refugee with unused plots of land led to the development of both the state and the economy. Migrants business owners generally employ local people. Kenya has also started to follow this approach and Ethiopia is moving towards a similar solution. Economic inclusion is good both for the host country but also for the individuals themselves. But for that to be possible, local populations must be in favour of assisting migrants, which is at the heart of the problem. The longstanding strategy of local development as a way of reducing European immigrations does not work as it should because of corruption. If it remains rampant in targeted governments, local development alleviates the symptoms of the problems but not the issues themselves.

Some leaders are already at risk, perhaps even the future of the European Union. Germany is the European state which has single-handedly welcomed the most refugees so far, about 1.6 million. Whether it has integrated them successfully is debatable, but Merkel’s government has at least tried, at significant political cost for her party and coalition, to welcome refugees within. Other governments, on the other hand, are adding to the weight of this crisis. The recently elected Italian interior minister is fiercely anti-immigration with a significant emphasis on expulsion. To conclude, the treatment of a refugee is equally a significant issue debated around the world. The best example is the recent developments of separating families in the U.S. The reality is that a lot of today’s migration is forced, and we have no other choice but to find effective solutions to this situation. We need those solutions yesterday.

Pascal Dubois is Senior Editor at the Canadian Centre for Strategic Studies. An Alumni of Concordia University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Pascal will be pursuing a Bachelor of Economics. He currently works as a counsellor in the banking industry, having previously served as an associate at Simkin Legal. His fields of research include French and European politics.