Africa: Refugees in Africa Faced Bitter Disappointments in 2016

This year, 471,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) voted in presidential elections. They voted even though most of them live in exile in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo and Chad, having fled an ongoing civil war which began in 2012.

Their participation reflects a collective determination to rebuild their country. Sadly, after a year filled with hopes of change, conflict has escalated in their country again.

This was an experience repeated throughout the continent this year. There was great hope that the number of Africa’s asylum-seekers and refugees would be reduced and great ambitions to find a durable and proper solution for those displaced due to persecution. But for many all that was left by year-end was bitter disappointment.

Huge numbers

Five African countries made the list of the top 10 major refugee-hosting countries in the world this year. Ethiopia was the highest, followed by Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Chad. By the end of 2015 African countries (excluding northern Africa) hosted 4,413 500 refugees.

The biggest drivers of these high numbers were conflict, political persecution and general instability.

The numbers are so high that Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has called for more help for countries hosting large numbers of refugees. All are overburdened by a lack of space and financial support.

There were several African countries that faced particularly challenging refugee issues in 2016.

South Sudan:

There was growing violence and insecurity throughout South Sudan in 2016.

Fighting between armed groups and government soldiers continued, mainly near Yambio, about 300km west of Juba. With this came increases in crime, attacks on government property, looting of civilian homes and sexual assaults reportedly by armed youth.

This drove South Sudanese mainly to Sudan and Uganda.

But people are fleeing from Sudan too. Nearly 250,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to South Sudan since the start of war in the Nuba mountains in 2011.

The country that has felt the brunt of this is Uganda. It already has severely strained resources. Its refugee programme is massively funded by the UNHCR with annual spending of about US$ 200 million dollars. With more than 300,000 South Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in Uganda this year, the UNHCR announced it was cutting food rations for those who had arrived before July 2015. This is an attempt to reallocate funds to new arrivals.

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By Cristiano d’Orsi, University of Johannesburg

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