USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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Too Many African Nations Fail Refugees

Kenya, Congo-Kinshasa, and South Africa each got a failing grade on USCRI's refugee report card for not adequately protecting refugees from violence and forcing refugees back across the border.  Both Sudan and South Africa scored an F for arbitrarily detaining more than 200 refugees and denying them access to courts.  Tanzania even made USCRI's Worst-Country-for-Refugees list for not letting refugees leave the camp and not allowing them to seek work.  Refugees across the continent continue to suffer because governments are not living up to their commitments.

"I came home and saw the bodies of my family in the rubble," Adnan Haji, 19, who recently arrived in Dadaab Refugee Camp after fleeing North-West Mogadishu, explained to UNHCR.  A shell had hit his home and killed his entire family.  "I will never get that image out of my head.  I took a bus and then walked for two days to get here, but I don't feel safe anywhere, not even here."

Innocent Somalia civilians are not only facing escalating violence once again, but as they flee to save their lives, they encounter additional mistreatment at the hands of Kenyan authorities.

For instance, a 17-year-old girl from Somalia seeking safety in Kenya was raped by Kenyan security forces.  Moreover, the Kenyan security forces have forced hundreds of other Somali refugees back across the border and into certain peril. Manyr refugees were beaten and had to pay bribes to officials in an effort to reach Dadaab refugee camp.

As fighting continues to put civilians in harm's way, some 66,000 new Somali refugees arrived at Dadaab, filling the camp three times beyond its capacity. This caused serious shortages of water, shelter, and other basic necessities.  While Kenyan authorities need to better protect these refugees, the international community has to be more adequately prepared to receive these helpless men, women, and children.

Further south, in Namibia, a group of 41 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo received death threats after complaining to Namibian government officials about the unsafe and unlivable conditions at the Osire refugee camp outside of Namibia's capital.  Fearing for their lives, they fled the refugee camp and were trapped for weeks in the no-man's land between Botswana and Namibia, with nowhere to go and no one to help them.

These are just a few examples of government failures to protect refugees.  But the United Nations,  as well as United States and other western governments, have further failed refugees across Africa and other parts of the world by allowing them to be warehoused in camps for 10, 20, 30 or more years without such basic human rights as freedom of movement, protection from violence, and ability to support their families.

For instance, 460,300 Somali refugees are warehoused in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen. In Kenya alone, there are 292,300 warehoused refugees from throughout the region.  Some have lived in these camps for 25 years or more.  Most refugees, like those in Kakuma Camp in Kenya, are not allowed to seek work in order to support their families.  "They should at least give the youth simple jobs such as cleaning or any job that does not requires much skills," said Eyinei Samuel, a refugee in Kakuma.  "Why should they recruit people from as far away as 500km--they can get them here."

But the news is not all bad for refugees in Africa.  Niger, for instance, leads the way as one of the best countries for refugees on the continent.  Contrary to popular belief, a country does not have to be wealthy in order to provide refugees with humane living conditions and basic rights.  One of the poorest nations in the world--coming in last on the United Nations Human Development Index--Niger earns an almost-perfect refugee report card.

A few reasons why Niger's refugee system works include the fact that there are no refugee camps in Niger. Refugees are free to travel within the country and they can choose their place of residence.  As long as they can document their refugee status, they have the same access to public relief, education, and tuition assistance as nationals, and for the most part, they are allowed to support their families without any restrictions.

Also on the list of countries considered among the best for refugees in Africa are Senegal, Malawi, Botswana, and Congo-Brazzaville.  Botswana and Malawi provide refugees with good protection, Senegal gives refugees access to courts and the freedom to move and travel, and both Congo-Brazzaville and Malawi allow refugees to work to support themselves.

You can see a complete list of countries and their refugee report card grades >>

Learn more about what you can do to end refugee warehousing in Africa and around the world >>

©2011 USCRI
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