What you need to know:
- Complicating the world’s “refugee crisis” is the phenomenal rise of far-right populism as an “us versus them” ideology — in Europe and the United States.
- A clear progress from rhetoric to reality is paying off, translating to a new progressive refugee protection regime across the region.
- The new progressive refugee policies in the Horn of Africa reflect the more robust global response to the populist politics now eroding the global protection of refugees.
As the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) convened a three-day International Scientific Conference on Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration in the East and Horn of Africa on May 8-10, 2019.
The world is in the eye of a stormy and the biggest wave of refugees since World War II.
A mix of conflict, persecution, violence and natural disasters has displaced a record 68.5 million people around the world, among them 25 million refugees.
The Horn of Africa region — Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan — accounts for some of the world’s most protracted cases of displacement in the World.
The region has over 3.2 million refugees originating mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan and over 5.6 million Internally Displaced Persons within Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
Complicating the world’s “refugee crisis” is the phenomenal rise of far-right populism as an “us versus them” ideology — in Europe and the United States.
Populist politics has not only been a threat to global democracy and security but has also been responsible for the worst anti-immigrant sentiment and severely restrictive policies on asylum.
Anti-migration and anti-Muslim ideas and sentiments have served as the “great unifiers” among far-right political formations and communities, contributing to hostilities to refugee migrations.
Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was punctuated by anti-immigration rhetoric.
The campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union during the 2016 Brexit referendum was also characterised by strong anti-immigration sentiments.
The influence of right-wing populist parties in the world’s wealthiest asylum sphere has seen these countries adopt unilateral and security-driven responses to effectively limit the numbers and manage the flows of refugees and migrants.
Africa has its own share of anti-refugee populists. Ironically, South Africa — widely touted as the “rainbow nation” — has an anti-immigration problem.
Ahead of the crucial May 8, 2019 election, African nationals — a mixed bag of undocumented migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, and citizens — were targets of new bouts of xenophobic attacks.
South Africa’s official opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), took an overtly hard anti-immigrant stance signified by its campaign promise to “Secure Our Borders”.
The Horn of Africa is caught between a rock and a hard place as vicious geopolitical rivalries ripple through the region, exacerbating the crisis of refugee protection.
The rivalry has played out in a violent way in Yemen, which has been hosting refugees from the Horn of Africa.
The region is now experiencing reverse migrations as Yemenis fleeing war seek safety in Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan and other countries in the Horn of Africa.
Driving solution to the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa is the mantra of “African Solutions to African Problems”.
A clear progress from rhetoric to reality is paying off, translating to a new progressive refugee protection regime across the region.
Making new progressive refugee policies possible is a more resilient African state able to heal itself and reduce the prospect of massive influx of refugees.
For example, recently, an amicable end to the electoral crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the disputed victory of President Félix Tshisekedi in the December 30, 2018 election has prevented massive influxes of refugees.
Moreover, while mass protests have forced the removal of Sudan’s sit-tight President President Omar al-Bashir by the military on April 10, 2019, no massive flows of refugees have been witnessed.
The new progressive refugee policies in the Horn of Africa reflect the more robust global response to the populist politics now eroding the global protection of refugees.
In 2016, the world agreed on “The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” and the United Nations General Assembly adopted the comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in September 2016, which expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale.
A new Global Compact on Refugees adopted in December 2018 presents a progressive shift from pure humanitarian response to ensuring refugees have the opportunity to be self-reliant and can contribute to local economies in a way that also benefits their hosts.
The global compact as a new deal for refugees is finding its best model and expression in the Horn of Africa.
Here, IGAD convened a special Summit in March 2017, which adopted the Nairobi Declaration and its Plan of Action on durable solutions to Somali refugees and more attention to the refugee hosting communities.
The Nairobi Declaration is widely, and rightly, seen as the best application so far of the comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) at the regional level, providing what is emerging as the “IGAD Model”.
It has inspired new commitments towards refugees by regional states. In January 2019, Ethiopia, which currently hosts over 900,000 refugees, adopted a historic new law hailed as “one of the most progressive refugee policies in Africa”.
Ethiopia’s new law has granted more rights to refugees, allowing them the opportunity to be better integrated into society.
Uganda, which hosted 1,252,470 refugees and asylum seekers by the end of 2017, has also been praised for its progressive refugee hosting policy.
Uganda’s system of “settlement” has granted protection and freedoms to refugees to own property, move freely, work and enjoy services as other citizens, enabling them to attain appreciable levels of self-reliance.
In Kenya, the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, which hosted 186,692 registered refugees and asylum-seekers at the end of 2018, is emerging as a new model of providing integrated services to refugees and the host community as well as boosting the local economy.
However, despite the rhetoric of “Africa Rising”, Africa’s age-old hospitality to refugees has been limited by high levels of poverty and underdevelopment in refugee-hosting areas.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute (Kenya).