Over the last several years millions of people in Africa who have fled their homes in the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region due to conflict, climate-related events and political violence are facing worsening situation in 2023. The global economic downturn, repercussions from the Ukraine war and the pandemic, and floods and droughts stoked by climate change have exacerbated existing difficulties in finding livelihood activities, feeding families and educating children.
According to the UNHCR there is a growing need for cooperation in nine of the region’s 11 countries, especially Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. Low funding would preclude all but the most vital life-saving support, while full funding would mean those forced to flee will not merely survive but have a chance to return to full and productive lives.
According to reports from Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) for 2023, more than one million refugees from 26 countries including Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Kenya are being hosted in refugee camps in various parts of the country through coordination offices in Assosa, Gambela, Alem Wach, Semera, Jigjiga, Melka Dida and Moyale. RRS provides services in these branch offices which include registration, water and sanitation, food and non-food provisions, shelter, livelihood support, health services, education and supply of energy. Apart from the refugees, the government also caters to more than 5 million IDPs that are sheltered in various centers across the country.
A couple of weeks back, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) held a three-day workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to review and validate the regional bloc’s Policy Framework on Refugee Protection. The policy aims to provide a common mechanism for refugee management in the IGAD region, which encompasses eight countries in East Africa.
The IGAD region, encompassing such countries as Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda, is home to millions of forcibly displaced people due to a range of interrelated factors that compelled them to move. A Review and Validation Workshop of the IGAD Policy Framework on Refugee Protection is happening in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Therefore, it is high time to have a regional policy framework to address fresh and renewed armed conflicts, climate catastrophes and events seriously disturbing public order that trigger new and secondary displacements.
In this respect, the IGAD Policy Framework on Refugee Protection is believed to address multiple and interlinked concerns resulted from the complex displacement situation in the region.
It is to be recalled that the Government of Ethiopia has ratified and enacted one of the most progressive refugee proclamations in the continent of Africa. The Proclamation has clearly outlined the admission, registration, documentation, status determination of refugees and asylum seekers.
The refugee program in Ethiopia is the most organized program operating in the context of international standards with various refugee centered projects based on local needs. Several years back the author of this article has made a working and consultancy project for refugees from South Sudan in Sherkole Refugee Camp in Benishangul Gumuz State. The refugees from Maban ethnic group had no written materials and books in their own language. For the first time in their life, the refuges were supported to translate basic development related materials in their own language. They were very excited by the project which was sponsored by a UNHCR affiliated international NGO based in Holland.
Moreover, RRS works on creating a smooth relationship with host communities through systematic integration that is based on respect for the refuges and their rights to move from place to place in their respective host communities.
As the proliferation of wars has continued unabated and as ethnic conflicts are already multiplying across the world, the issue of refugees is already a global issue that deserves close attention. Refugees are not migrating to the next country not only because of wars and conflicts. Natural disasters like irruption of volcanoes, floods take their toll every year across the globe.
One of the most tragic challenges that refugees in Africa face is the trauma that is created on them due to uncertainties about the future. As they usually loose most of their belongings upon departure, they are not sure of what will happen upon their repatriation.
Refugees being hosted in Ethiopia are putting a lot of pressure on the environment because they lack the necessary energy resources for their daily life. One of the most important programs that RRS is doing in Ethiopia focuses on providing alternative sources of energy for the refugees in order to reduce their heavy dependence on fuel wood from local forest areas.
What is to be done to ease the plight of these refugees? The author of this contribution would like to make some short and long term solutions for reducing the number of refugees across the world.
First, it is important to verify the types of refugees as opposed to those who migrate to other apparently well developed countries in search of employment or to meet their financial needs. This would help to develop diverse strategies by host countries to address their needs in a manner that is compatible with their livelihood needs. In this context, it is necessary to devise gender sensitive programs that focus on female headed families, abandoned children and those refugees with larger families.
Second, the UNHCR and other humanitarian global and local and regional organizations need to focus on safeguarding the safety and security of refugees with special emphasis on gender violence, rape and other crimes committed on the refugees.
Third, access to higher education scholarships, training and professional opportunities for refugees is essential. Yet, just one percent of refugees attend university compared to 34 percent of people globally.
Fourth, refugees are human resources that are displaced due to the political squabbling among government across the world. Unfortunately, they are considered as liabilities. Large numbers of them are already stateless and such process has continued unabated. This issue needs to be addressed in the context of international law and UN conventions.
Proper and adequate international funding needs to be earmarked to at least give a better life for refugees residing in host countries. The world will certainly flooded with more refugees over the coming years. A viable solution needs to be put in place before it is too late to worry.
BY SOLOMON DIBABA
THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2023