Migration crisis reveals 'the failure of burden-sharing'
African leaders attending the recent United Nations (UN) Summit for Refugees and Migrants said African countries bear a responsibility disproportionate to their resources to host refugees and migrants.
As 193 countries committed to the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, African countries wanted to know why it took a crisis in Europe for the UN to respond.
Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto has harsh words for richer countries that do not take an equal responsibility for hosting refugees. Speaking at the 19 September UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, on the eve of the UN General Assembly debate, he said nothing better demonstrates the failure of international burden-sharing than the fact that 86% of the world’s 22 million forced migrants and refugees are hosted in 10 developing countries. Kenya is one of them.
Ruto was scathing about the lack of financial support to his country to deal with the refugee crisis. Less than 1% of the US$500 million pledged to help Kenya to 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 additional considerations for wishing to close the camp, he said. Dadaab, situated near the Somali border, was seen as a recruitment ground for al-Shabaab. The decision to close the camp, in October 2015, came soon after the European Union had signed a multibillion-dollar deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees headed for Europe. Kenya at the time said that voluntary international funding for the camp, near the Somali border, had been reduced in favour of ‘raising budgets in the northern hemisphere to [deal with] refugees headed to the West’.
Both big and small movements of people should get attention
South African President Jacob Zuma also emphasised Africa’s experience of the refugee crisis and said ‘the forcible displacement of people has always, and continues to occur, across the globe. While we recognise that the large movements of refugees and migrants present unique challenges to affected states, South Africa also cautions member states not to forget that the plight of forcibly displaced persons should be treated with equal concern, whether they form part of large or small movements of people.’ The New York Declaration deals mainly with large movements of people.
South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, in an interview with the PSC Report, said Africa had been experiencing large migrant flows, including fatal journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, 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.
African countries described as model hosts
However, the summit did 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 has 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, Relief and Refugees Hilary Onek told the summit Uganda had received over 120 000 South Sudanese refugees since July 2016 and, together with an influx from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, expected to have over 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 in the protection regime in the country and to build strong partnerships internally, regionally and globally to address the question of 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.
Anti-poverty non-governmental organisation Oxfam International noted at the summit that the world’s six richest countries hosted less than 9% of the world’s refugees.
Ban Ki-moon upbeat about solutions
Despite the reservations expressed by the 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.
Ban said the main commitments in the New York declaration were:
- To protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of their status
- To increase support for the hardest-hit countries
- To assist despairing people in protracted crises
- To ensure that children get an education
- To improve search and rescue operations
- To boost humanitarian funding and resettlement of refugees
According to the UN, although there is nothing legally binding about the New York Declaration, countries are morally bound to their commitment by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other fund-raising agencies. Countries were thus likely to pressure each other to honour these commitments.
UN member states would now work towards ratifying a convention in 2018, similar to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, giving specifics on how to deal with migrants.
Big pledges to deal with the refugee crisis
Following the UN summit, US President Barack Obama's Leaders' Summit on Refugees brought together leaders from 50 countries. Several big 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 the gathering has caused enough unease to help leaders overcome reluctant electorates and spring into action will likely only be known at the report-back session due in a year’s time.