Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Neglected Refugees

1. Sudanese refugees in Chad: Nearly a decade of conflict in Sudan‘s western Darfur region displaced some 1.8 million Sudanese. Of these, more than 264,000 fled into neighbouring Chad, where they continue to live in 12 camps along the country’s eastern border with Sudan. Chad is one of the world’s poorest countries and, according to UNHCR, the working environment is “extremely challenging” due to the region’s lack of infrastructure and natural resources. Women in the camps report they sometimes have to walk all day to find firewood, and lack of access to arable land has made the refugees almost entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. Several peace accords between the rebels in Darfur and the Sudanese government have failed to calm the region’s volatility, leaving the refugees reluctant to return home. Meanwhile, humanitarian workers say the long-running nature of the crisis has led to donor fatigue.

2. Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan: Eritreans have been crossing into eastern Sudan since their country started to agitate for independence from Ethiopia in the 1960s and, more recently, to escape Eritrea’s policy of indefinite military conscription. Currently, about 66,000 Eritreans are living in refugee camps in Gedaref, Kassala and Red Sea states, which are among the poorest parts of Sudan, and a further 1,600 cross the border every month. Many of the newer arrivals view Sudan as a transit country, continuing north with the goal of reaching Europe or Israel. This has made them a target for abuse by smugglers and human traffickers. Those who remain in Sudan cannot legally own land or property and struggle to find jobs in the formal sector. In 2002, refugee status was revoked for those who had fled the independence war and subsequent conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but repatriation was halted in 2004 after widespread international criticism of Eritrea’s human rights record.

3. Sudanese refugees in South Sudan: Over the past 18 months, an estimated 170,000 people have fled conflict between Sudanese government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, pouring into South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states. Humanitarian agencies are bracing for a further influx once the rainy season comes to an end and impassable roads reopen. Aid workers fear that swelling refugee numbers, flooding and disease outbreaks could aggravate the crisis, and UNHCR is urgently appealing for an additional US$20 million to manage basic needs in the camps. Poor infrastructure in South Sudan has made delivering emergency assistance both expensive and difficult.

4. Internally Displaced Personss in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Defections from the Congolese army, which gave rise to the M23 armed group, have led to a resumption of violence in the DRC’s North Kivu Province in the last six months. More than 260,000 people have been displaced so far, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A further 68,000 have fled to neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. The IDPs are living in dozens of makeshift camps across the province, where aid agencies are providing shelter, protection, food and health services, despite a severe funding shortfall and recurrent attacks on aid workers. The new wave of IDPs adds to the 1.7 million already internally displaced in the country, according to UNHCR.

5. Horn of Africa refugees in Yemen: Yemen has long been a transit country for migrants trying to reach Saudi Arabia in search of work, but since 2006 it has also become home to increasing numbers of refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Despite conflict, poverty and a sometimes xenophobic environment in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees and migrants arrived in 2011, bringing the total number of registered refugees to 230,000, in addition to an estimated 500,000 migrants. Their presence has been largely overshadowed by last year’s uprising and political crisis, which displaced hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and contributed to rising poverty in a country that was already the region’s poorest. Refugees living in mostly urban areas are forced to compete with locals for scarce jobs and resources, a situation that has aggravated tensions and increased the vulnerability of many refugees. A funding shortfall of about $30 million has forced UNHCR to limit its assistance.

6. Malian internally displaced and refugees in neighbouring countries: During and after the April takeover of northern Mali by Tuareg rebels, who were quickly supplanted by Islamist groups, some 34,977 Malians escaped to Burkina Faso, 108,942 fled to Mauritania and 58,312 went to Niger. Some 118,000 Malians have been internally displaced, 35,300 of them within the north itself, in the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. UNHCR faces severe funding gaps in each of the host countries and in Mali, and increasing insecurity is shrinking humanitarian access to populations in need of protection. For host governments and aid agencies, the refugee influx has compounded the food and livelihoods crisis affecting the Sahel region. Should a planned intervention by the Economic Community of West African States be launched in northern Mali, refugee populations are likely to grow further.



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