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Rich Nations’ Self-Interest Means Refugee Crisis to Worsen

While the UN speaks of durable solutions – and resettlement to third countries comes under a suite of options – fewer than 1 percent of the world’s refugees were resettled last year.

With richer nations such as the U.S tightening already strict immigration laws, refugees who have already gone through up to 10 years of background and medical checks are finding their chances of resettlement abroad are narrowing.

Following last year’s announcement of President Donald Trump’s travel ban and suspension of the U.S asylum program, many Somalis cleared for resettlement to the U.S found that their cases were put on hold while asylum policies were revised and updated.

Under Cameron’s premiership, the Home Office promised that the U.K. would host 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. While the U.K. has resettled over half this number, many argue that the scheme is tokenistic and does not go far enough.

Contrary to perception, countries in the Middle East and in Africa are overwhelmingly sharing this burden, not European countries nor the U.S.

The statistics are stark. Currently around 86 per cent of the world’s 65 million refugees live in ten developing countries. Five of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Conflict in the Great Lakes region and in South Sudan, protracted humanitarian crises related to drought in the Horn and in the Lake Chad Basin, has exposed the double-standards of the myth of “burden-sharing.”

While tens of thousands of Congolese continue to stream across borders, making their way hundreds of miles on foot or across rickety boats into Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia, the conflict threatens instability across the region.

A civil war in South Sudan, which began in 2013, similarly has seen over 1.5 million refugees flee the conflict to Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

While Uganda has been a kind host to refugees over the last few years, it cannot shoulder the burden alone. Whether unwilling or unable, international funding for Uganda’s refugee response last year fell $348.7 million short of what was needed.

The East African country is unique in its approach to hosting refugees, who have the right to work, access land and have a degree of freedom of movement. It has become a poster child for a United Nations push towards what it calls “durable solutions” to protracted refugee crises.

While Uganda has been able until now to host a refugee population which recently topped 1.4 million, it remains unclear whether this policy is sustainable while resettlement – which could lessen the burden on developing countries – remains as low as 1 percent.

Increasingly, with the global humanitarian funding architecture in crisis, refugees are encouraged to return to their country of origin.

In neighbouring Kenya, nationalistic rhetoric offers a stark comparison to that employed across Europe.

Dadaab, at 26, is the world’s oldest and second largest refugee camp. Hosting over 245,000 mainly Somali refugees, some argue that it is testament to the failure of the international community and host countries to find durable solutions.

Kenya, which has on several occasions expressed its desire to close Dadaab, is often at odds with the international community.

Unlike Uganda, Kenya follows a policy of forced encampment, with refugees only allowed to live within the confines of sprawling camps like Dadaab and Kakuma in northwest Kenya. They host around 170,000 refugees, mainly South Sudanese and Ethiopian.

But, worryingly, richer nations continue to pay lip service to of the concept of burden-sharing while it encourages countries with fewer resources to overwhelmingly host refugees.

Increasingly the governments of poorer, refugee-hosting countries are calling richer nations out.

“This is the standard practice worldwide. For example, in Europe, rich, prosperous and democratic countries are turning away refugees from Syria, one of the worst war zones since World War Two.” Kenyan Vice President William Ruto said after the EU-Turkey deal was announced in 2016.

Ruto’s claims came after the EU put pen to a deal with Turkey that ensures asylum seekers trying to reach Greece are deported to Turkey, the world’s largest refugee-hosting country.

Though the Kenyan High Court last year ruled the government’s attempts to close down the camp as “unconstitutional,” the question of sustainability and durability remains unanswered.

Due to a lack of resettlement options, or an inability to enact domestic policies that would increase refugee integration, a UN scheme called voluntary repatriation has become modus operandi not only in Africa, but globally.

In 2013, the Kenyan government announced plans to increase the repatriation of Somali refugees in tandem with eventually closing down Dadaab. With refugees claiming coercion and misinformation as to whether it would be safe for them to return, rights organizations continue to argue that the scheme does not meet international standards for voluntary refugee return.

Instead of becoming an exception, this has insomuch become a rule. Hosting around 254,000 Burundian refugees as a result of decades of intermittent political violence and instability, the governments of Burundi and Tanzania shook hands on a deal to repatriate those willing to return home.

While political repression continues, and uncertainty as the country’s citizens go to the polls to vote on a referendum which would change Burundi’s constitution. This would mean that the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, could extend his tenure until 2034 and many fear returning.

In February, the then outgoing UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein recently named Burundi among the world’s “most prolific slaughterhouses” and despite that over 20,000 Burundians have returned from Tanzania since September while peace talks with opposition groups have stalled.

In the last year, Tanzania has also revoked prima facie refugee status to Burundian refugees in a move government officials argued would discourage new asylum applications.

In an interview last year, Joseph Siegle, director at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, told the Guardian that Tanzania, a low-income country, is finding the  process of hosting refugees burdensome.

“Magufuli’s desire for the Burundian refugees to return home reflects the strains that hosting the approximately 240,000 registered refugees are having on Tanzania. Indeed, Tanzania hosts more Burundian refugees than any other country.”

The UN in February noted that its Tanzania appeal is nearly $100 million underfunded.

Though a $100 million World Bank loan had been promised to help Tanzania host refugees, Magufuli argued that the scheme was “too costly”. He argued that the country shouldn’t have to borrow, and take on debt, even at preferential rates, to ameliorate a refugee crisis when developed countries are passing the buck to poorer countries.

Often money isn’t the only problem. The language of consistency and equal partnership are just as important.

Undoubtedly the scheme will affect those seeking asylum in Tanzania, a country which has remained stable and open to refugees since it became independent, but its rejection of the World Bank loan should serve as a stark warning to richer nations. End the myth of burden sharing and engage in hosting refugees yourself.

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