Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto had harsh words for richer countries that do not take an equal responsibility for hosting refugees. Speaking at the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, on the eve of the United Nations general assembly debate, he said nothing better demonstrated the failure of international burden-sharing than the fact that 86% of the world’s 22-million refugees were hosted in 10 developing countries. Kenya is one of them.
Ruto was scathing about the shortage of financial support to his country to deal with the refugee crisis. Less than 1% of the $500-million pledged to help Kenya deal with refugees had materialised, he said. One of the consequences was the country’s decision to close its Dadaab refugee camp, the biggest in the world. Environmental degradation and security were the other reasons, Ruto said.
Dadaab, situated near the Somali border, was seen as a recruitment ground for al-Shabab. The decision to close the camp, taken in October last year, came soon after the European Union signed a multibillion-dollar deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees headed for Europe. Kenya said that voluntary international funding for the camp had been reduced in favour of “raising budgets in the northern hemisphere to [deal with] refugees headed to the West”.
At the same summit, South African President Jacob Zuma also emphasised Africa’s experience of the refugee crisis, saying “the forcible displacement of people has always, and continues to occur, across the globe”. He reminded member states that the plight of refugees should be treated with equal concern, whether the movements were large or small. The New York Declaration, signed by 193 countries, deals mainly with large movements of people.
South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, in an interview with the Institute of Security Study’s Peace and Security Council Report, said Africa had been experiencing large migrant flows, including fatal journeys across the Mediterranean, but no summits were called. “That would seem to suggest that the lives of Africans don’t matter,” he said.
He added that the New York Declaration “still reflects a bias towards the dominant countries” and that Africa would continue to push its position on this issue after the summit.
Oxfam International noted that the world’s six richest countries hosted less than 9% of the world’s refugees.
The summit did, however, recognise that African countries were models of how refugees should be hosted. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the Ugandan government had an “open door” refugee policy and had mobilised a broad range of partners and institutions in an innovative response centred on education and livelihoods, including for host communities.
Uganda’s Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Refugees Hillary Onek told the summit Uganda had received more than 120 000 South Sudanese refugees since July and, together with an influx from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, expected to have about 810 000 refugees by year end.
The government has a policy to protect refugees, he said, but it needs commitment from the international community to ensure sustained interventions and to build strong partnerships internally, regionally and globally to address forced migration.
Senegalese President Macky Sall emphasised the right to dignity: “In many cases migrants are good people who work hard to make a living and therefore contribute socially and economically in their host countries,” he said. “Rather than a systematic policy of returning migrants, the situation of migrants should be stabilised and this should be done by the appropriate regularisation of their status.”
Sall expressed concern about possible detention centres in African countries. “This question needs to be looked at seriously in light of the rules which govern the right of persons and their assets in integrated areas such as the Economic Community of West African States,” he said.
Despite the reservations of African leaders, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the meeting “represents a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility”, which was at unprecedented levels. He noted that the New York Declaration commits states to:
- Protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of their status;
- Increase support for the hardest-hit countries;
- Assist despairing people in protracted crises;
- Ensure that children get an education;
- Improve search and rescue operations; and
- Boost humanitarian funding and resettlement of refugees
UN member states will now work towards ratifying a convention in 2018 similar to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which will give specifics on how to deal with migrants.
Following the UN summit, US President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees brought together leaders from 50 countries. Several pledges were made to help countries deal with the refugee crisis. Obama acknowledged that refugees in places such as Ecuador or Kenya “don’t always get as much attention as some of the recent migrations, but they need help too”.
Pledges to the UN and humanitarian organisations working with refugees increased this year to $4.5-billion. This is still woefully short of what is needed. Whether these international gatherings have caused enough unease to help leaders overcome reluctant electorates and spring into action will probably only be known at the report-back session in a year’s time. — ISS Today
This article first appeared in the Institute for Security Studies’ Peace and Security Council Report.