Africa

Africa

Conflict, violence and drought forces millions to flee

The little village of Shisha counts 60 newly arrived internally displaced families. It almost doubled the village population on a very short period of time. Miglo Barre is carrying the wood, fabric and cords necessary to build a tent for her family. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/NRC The little village of Shisha counts 60 newly arrived internally displaced families. It almost doubled the village population on a very short period of time. Miglo Barre is carrying the wood, fabric and cords necessary to build a tent for her family. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/NRC

The little village of Shisha counts 60 newly arrived internally displaced families. It almost doubled the village population on a very short period of time. Miglo Barre is carrying the wood, fabric and cords necessary to build a tent for her family. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/NRC

The little village of Shisha counts 60 newly arrived internally displaced families. It almost doubled the village population on a very short period of time. Miglo Barre is carrying the wood, fabric and cords necessary to build a tent for her family. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/NRC

While Europe supports the closing of borders in Africa, migrants and refugees find new routes. Still, most displaced people stay in their own or neighbouring countries. To prevent new and intensifying displacement crises, the world community needs to invest significantly more on the continent.

In 2017, a total of 22.4 million people were displaced by armed conflict and violence in Africa. This is 7.2 million more than ten years ago. In the same period, the overall African population has increased by almost 300 million to 1.3 billion, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The largest growth in displacement numbers happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and South Sudan, where conflict forced millions to flee in 2017.

The suffering in DR Congo is on par with Syria

Nyirarukundo Anonciate and her husband Saidi Olivier fled with their five children from Mutarungwa village to Mpati IDP settlement in July 2016. “Since we arrived to Mpati we have had many problems. We lack food, clothes and proper shelter. The children are not in school because we don’t have the money for school fees. Every day I struggle to supply food for my family,” says Saidi. Video: Christian Jepsen/NRC

Nyirarukundo Anonciate and her husband Saidi Olivier fled with their five children from Mutarungwa village to Mpati IDP settlement in July 2016. “Since we arrived to Mpati we have had many problems. We lack food, clothes and proper shelter. The children are not in school because we don’t have the money for school fees. Every day I struggle to supply food for my family,” says Saidi. Video: Christian Jepsen/NRC

In October 2017, the international community declared that the crisis in parts of DR Congo had reached level 3, the highest level on the UN's scale. The country had the highest number of new displacements in the world both in 2016 and in the first half of 2017. Still, aid organisations could not raise more than 56 per cent of the funds they needed in 2017.

The UN estimates that in 2018, 13 million people will need emergency relief in the country. More than 5.2 million people have fled their homes. There are indications that the violence in the eastern part of DR Congo will escalate further in 2018. Meanwhile, the crisis in neighbouring country Burundi continues. Increasing chaos in the region could cause Uganda and Rwanda to intervene, risking further destabilisation throughout the entire area.

We are seeing signs that many of the armed groups in DR Congo are growing more political, fighting either for or against the government. President Kabila's mandate to govern ended in December 2016, but it is still uncertain when new elections will be held. The situation is polarised, and the catholic church has withdrawn from their role as mediator between the government and the opposition.

It is likely that we will see new a new wave of refugees and more internally displaced people in a region that is already incapable of protecting and assisting everyone in need. The civilian population has seen decades of extreme acts of violence and displacement, but received almost no international attention. DR Congo needs more support from the international community, as both the humanitarian and political crises are likely to worsen. Without a political solution to the conflicts in DR Congo, we risk a massive crisis in the entire region.

Fleeing due to drought

The weather phenomenon El Niño has, since 2015, impacted parts of eastern Africa and areas further south on the continent. As recently as 2017, more than 1.3 million Somalian people were forced from their homes due to drought, flooding and conflict, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 6.2 million people will need help to survive in 2018. That is half of the Somalian population. The nomads are losing their livelihoods when their cattle die, farmers are unable to grow enough food for their own families, and in the cities, grocery prices are rising. On the horn of Africa, the UN estimates that 5.2 million women and children are acutely malnourished, and that 15.2 million are suffering from a severe lack of food. On the dry savannahs near the Sahara, the population is very exposed to climate change, as they are already at the mercy of the environment. In many places, the effects of El Niño only add to existing challenges. Armed conflicts are intensifying the humanitarian crisis, making it more difficult to reach the people in need of aid.

From bad to worse in South Sudan

The youngest country in Africa, South Sudan, was thrown into a bloody civil war in December 2013, only two years after the independence in 2011. Since then, the population has faced a humanitarian disaster caused by deep political divides, broken promises and broken peace agreements.

The situation worsened in 2017 and, in February, the UN declared a famine in parts of the country. By the end of the year, 4.8 million people still lacked reliable access to food, and 4.3 million people had been forced to flee. The conflict keeps farmers from working their land, women are being sexually assaulted, and hundreds of thousands of children are not in school.

“I’m pleading for humanitarian aid for all the displaced in Nyunzu. They need assistance,” says Pastor Mbuyu, 43. He’s looking after this group of displaced people sheltering in a small thatched roof church in eastern DR Congo. Photo: Christian Jepsen/ NRC

“I’m pleading for humanitarian aid for all the displaced in Nyunzu. They need assistance,” says Pastor Mbuyu, 43. He’s looking after this group of displaced people sheltering in a small thatched roof church in eastern DR Congo. Photo: Christian Jepsen/ NRC

Insecurity and poverty in the Sahel region

A Malian migrant woman with her children is transferred by bus to a temporary shelter upon their arrival in Bamako on December 13, 2017, after being repatriated from Libya by the IOM (International Organization for the Migration). Photo: Michele Cattani/AFP/NTB Scanpix A Malian migrant woman with her children is transferred by bus to a temporary shelter upon their arrival in Bamako on December 13, 2017, after being repatriated from Libya by the IOM (International Organization for the Migration). Photo: Michele Cattani/AFP/NTB Scanpix

A Malian migrant woman with her children is transferred by bus to a temporary shelter upon their arrival in Bamako on December 13, 2017, after being repatriated from Libya by the IOM (International Organization for the Migration). Photo: Michele Cattani/AFP/NTB Scanpix

A Malian migrant woman with her children is transferred by bus to a temporary shelter upon their arrival in Bamako on December 13, 2017, after being repatriated from Libya by the IOM (International Organization for the Migration). Photo: Michele Cattani/AFP/NTB Scanpix

The coastal West African countries are relatively stable, and the displacement crises from the 1990s have been resolved. Further east, in the Sahel region, the situation is different. Here, we find some of the poorest, most vulnerable countries in the world. Climate change and large flows of migrants and refugees cause great challenges in the area. In addition, organised crime, such as human trafficking and weapons smuggling, as well as worsening security, make it difficult to reach people in need.

FACTS

Untitled Document
  • The Sahel region is an area of land that consists of the savannah south of Sahara. It reaches across the African continent from Senegal in the west and Somalia in the east.

  • Sahel covers parts of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic.

  • The marginalisation of regions and groups of people is an important underlying cause for the violence and conflict in the Sahel region.

A Nigerian woman and her son camp outside Agadez's Direction Regionale de l'Etat-Civil after their asylum request to Niger was rejected. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/Polaris/NTB Scanpix

A Nigerian woman and her son camp outside Agadez's Direction Regionale de l'Etat-Civil after their asylum request to Niger was rejected. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/Polaris/NTB Scanpix

Threats of terrorist attacks and the influx of refugees and migrants have made the EU realise that the fates of Europe and Africa are interconnected. The EU is now trying to halt the flow of people into Europe, but the long-term results remain to be seen. The countries in the Sahel region, such as Mali, Niger and Nigeria, are in great need of support, both in the short and long term. Porous borders, large areas without governmental presence, lack of good government, corruption, and the marginalisation of some ethnic groups have all paved the way for conflict and organised crime.

The fall of the Libyan regime changed the security situation in Sahel

In 2011, several African countries warned against the consequences of a military intervention in Libya to remove the Ghaddafi regime. Now, the security situation in large parts of the Sahel region is more precarious than ever.

In Libya, three governments are striving for power, and large areas are controlled by different militia groups. This makes both migrants and refugees very vulnerable, left with little or no protection. Libya is described as one of the worst countries for people in transit. Half of the women have been subjected to sexual assault, and young girls are forced into prostitution.

The conditions vary in the detention centres where migrants and refugees are kept confined. But in the worst camps, people are living in prison-like conditions and are exposed to torture and assault. In April 2013, three months after French soldiers entered northern Mali, the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA was established. Despite a peace agreement from 2015 with some of the armed groups, the violence has escalated, and MINUSMA has not been able to provide effective protection for the civilian population. This, as well as inadequate reconstruction of infrastructure, is the reason why few of those who have fled Mali to impoverished neighbouring countries such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger have returned home.

Refugees and migrants are finding new routes to Europe

Migrants look out of a barred door at a detention center in Gharyan, Libya, in October 2017. Photo: Hani Amara/Reuters/NTB Scanpix Migrants look out of a barred door at a detention center in Gharyan, Libya, in October 2017. Photo: Hani Amara/Reuters/NTB Scanpix

Migrants look out of a barred door at a detention center in Gharyan, Libya, in October 2017. Photo: Hani Amara/Reuters/NTB Scanpix

Migrants look out of a barred door at a detention center in Gharyan, Libya, in October 2017. Photo: Hani Amara/Reuters/NTB Scanpix

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 3,139 refugees and migrants died in attempts to reach Europe across the Mediterranean in 2017. Most of these took the sea route from Libya, heading for Italy. Since 2000, more than 33,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean, making these waters the most dangerous border crossing in the world.

Since 2017, the number of people crossing the Mediterranean to Italy has fallen significantly. This is due to the European support to the Libyan coast guard, which intercepts boats with refugees and migrants. European countries have also increased their support to important transit countries such as Niger, Libya and Tunisia. This has helped them strengthen their border controls, thus keeping migrants from reaching European beaches.

However, numbers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), show that 28,349 migrants and refugees reached Spain from Morocco and Algeria in 2017. This is twice as many as in 2016, and a sign that people smugglers are adapting to the altered conditions. We're seeing the same in the Sahel. If Niger manages to close the border to Libya, new routes will likely develop via Chad and Algeria.

New conflict patterns make the situation worse for the civilian population

Over the last 20 years, we have seen an increasing number of internationally led interventions in African countries. These are explained by the war on terror, the fear of growing security challenges, and the dissolution of government authority in several of the countries. Two out of three discussions about armed conflict in the UN Security Council relate to African countries, and there are more ongoing peacekeeping missions in Africa than in the rest of the world combined.

The tasks facing the peacekeeping forces in countries such as Mali and South Sudan have become increasingly complex as the conflict patterns have changed. The civilian population are without protection and are often purposely targeted. Today, the armed groups are typically smaller militia; fragmented, local rebel groups; and external groups seeking local partners, such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda. This makes securing peace agreements and creating stability more difficult.

Elections and political challenges in many countries

The quality of governments in African countries has, on the whole, improved over the last years, although it is not progressing as fast as it used to. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in a number of countries, such as Kenya, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, Liberia and the Gambia. The election in DR Congo was, however, delayed yet again. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa in a military coup, and elections are scheduled for later in 2018. In South Africa, former union leader and current businessman Cyril Ramaphosa was named the new president for ANC. He replaces Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of corruption.

Several states face continuous challenges through secession demands from ethnic and linguistic minorities. In 2017, we saw an increase in these kinds of demands from groups in Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya. Protests against marginalisation are often met with little understanding, and few attempts at inclusion from governments.

The crisis are becoming protracted

Thousands of people from DR Congo have crossed Lake Albert into Uganda, fleeing inter-communal fighting in the Ituri region of DR Congo. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC Thousands of people from DR Congo have crossed Lake Albert into Uganda, fleeing inter-communal fighting in the Ituri region of DR Congo. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Thousands of people from DR Congo have crossed Lake Albert into Uganda, fleeing inter-communal fighting in the Ituri region of DR Congo. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Thousands of people from DR Congo have crossed Lake Albert into Uganda, fleeing inter-communal fighting in the Ituri region of DR Congo. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Several of the conflicts in Africa, like in DR Congo and Somalia, are protracted and very complex. Therefore, these conflicts are often overlooked both by donors and the media. On the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) 2018 list of neglected displacement crises, six out of ten countries were African, and DR Congo made the top of the list.

In Nigeria, Burundi and in the Central African Republic (CAR), we risk seeing continued violence and the rise of new protracted crises. In the areas around Lake Chad alone, 424,000 people were internally displaced in 2017, 65 per cent of them in north-eastern Nigeria. 543,000 refugees from CAR are now residing in neighbouring countries, primarily Cameroon, DR Congo and Chad. This is the highest number since the crisis broke out in 2013.

In 2017, Morocco again became a member of the African Union (AU), 33 years after it withdrew. Many of the AU's member countries protested, referring to Morocco's continued occupation of Western Sahara, also known as the last African colony. This occupation has lasted since 1971, and the Sahrawi people are still denied the chance to decide the future status of Western Sahara through elections. Saharawi refugees have lived in refugee camps in Algeria since the 1970s.

In a more positive development, Ethiopia announced in June 2018 that it will fully accept and implement the peace deal that ended its border war with Eritrea. Ethiopia’s acceptance of the ruling made by the 2002 border commission is an important step to better the relationship between the two countries.

People flee within their country or to neighbouring countries

The vast majority of displaced people in Africa are either internally displaced or refugees in one of their neighbouring countries. 14 million people are internally displaced in Africa. Uganda has received the most refugees, as many as 1.4 million in total. In 2017 alone, more than 500,000 people fled to Uganda. The refugees are treated better there than in most other African countries. They are allowed to seek employment, and many are also allocated pieces of land. However, several cases of corruption in connection with aid to refugees have been exposed. For example, there are ongoing investigations into whether some actors have tampered with numbers to receive more money.

Sudan has received more than 770,000 refugees from South Sudan alone. In Africa, only Uganda has welcomed more refugees.

Countries are getting more restrictive

Tanzania has traditionally been a hospitable country to refugees. However, the country has become considerably more restrictive over the past few years. There have been reports that refugees from DR Congo are denied the chance to seek protection in the country.

For a long time, Dadaab in Kenya was the largest refugee camp in the world, but about half of all refugees there have returned to Somalia over the last few years. Kenyan authorities wanted to close the camp and return the refugees to Somalia, but the decision was overturned by the Kenyan supreme court in 2017.

The asylum system in South Africa is under pressure

South Africa stands out from other African countries by having an asylum system similar to ones found in Europe. The country has generous legislation, giving asylum seekers the right to work when they are waiting for their application to be processed. However, the asylum system lacks resources, and a number of reports have showed that refugees are not treated according to the law.

Africa needs stronger cooperation

Nyagoah Gatluak carries boxes of corn soya blend back to her home with her relatives after a food distribution in Ngop, Unity state, South Sudan in March 2017. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/NRC

Nyagoah Gatluak carries boxes of corn soya blend back to her home with her relatives after a food distribution in Ngop, Unity state, South Sudan in March 2017. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/NRC

African countries have formed regional unions to create a supranational framework. These unions keep peacekeeping troops and have mediating missions. One example is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which encompasses 15 member states. ECOWAS has been, and still is, important to overcome the dividing lines between former French and British colonies in West Africa.

The AU unites 55 countries with a goal to promote cooperation on the continent. In 2009, the countries came together to create a new convention on internally displaced people, the Kampala convention. The convention is in large part based on the UN's guidelines on internally displaced people. The problem is the gap between the words on paper and what is actually done to protect people fleeing inside their own countries.

A continued strengthening of the regional organisations will help promote economic growth and give opportunities to solve ethnic conflict, for instance through mediation.

Development requires responsible leaders

In large areas of Africa, people need a new beginning. The first thing we need to do is solve the humanitarian challenges. 22.4 million refugees need protection and humanitarian relief. The international community plays a critical role in this. But to ensure progress, the areas in Africa plagued by conflict need both money and knowledge to facilitate development. Large money transfers presuppose increased trust in internal factors such as a well-functioning government. African leaders need to take more responsibility to achieve this.