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Refugees & Forcibly Displaced People

Christian Perspectives on Development Issues

ISBN13: 9781853905377

ISBN10: 1853905372

Publisher: Veritas

Extent: 100 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 8.3 x 5.7 x 0.3 inches

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  • The reasons for migration and refugee flows are often complex, say Mark Raper SJ and Amaya Valc?árcel, but the main reasons are violations of human rights, military conflict, and the violence of poverty. This is Chapter 3 of Raper and Valc?árcels book, Refugees and forcibly displaced people.
  • Amaya Valcarcel

    Mark Raper

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    Every refugee and forcibly displaced person is a symbol of the denial of human rights in our world. Sadly such denial is all too widespread as the worlds population of refugees and forcibly displaced persons has reached 50 million. While fleeing persecution and human rights abuses, these same people often find that in their host societies, they are victims of unjust asylum procedures, racism and xenophobia. As the refugee phenomenon is a global one, the challenges in tackling the problems refugees face are often global as well.

    This booklet, starting from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, offers a prophetic vision of refugees issues at the start of a new millenium. Drawing on the practical experience of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and others, the authors urge policymakers and individuals, to build a culture of welcome for the stranger rather than allowing a culture of disbelief or suspicion to become the hallmark of our response. They also point out the benefits of recognising and utilising the rich contribution which refugees and asylum seekers can make to our societies and communities.

    Published in the 50th anniversary year of the founding of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the book marries an ethical approach to refugee policy with some practical case examples of what constitutes a truly Christian response. As such it is an important guide for a broad audience of readers, whether concerned citizens, development workers, religious groups or political representatives.

    - Irish Catholic

  • CHAPTER 3: The root causes of forced migration
    In 1997, Pope John Paul II stated:

    The Church looks with deep pastoral concern at the increased flow of migrants and refugees, and questions herself about the causes of this phenomenon and the particular conditions of those who are forced for various reasons to leave their homeland. In fact the situation of the worlds migrants and refugees seems ever more precarious. Violence sometimes obliges entire populations to leave their homeland to escape repeated atrocities; more frequently, it is poverty and the lack of prospects for development which spur individuals and families to go into exile, to seek ways to survive in distant lands, where it is not easy to find a suitable welcome.

    For many years the task of distinguishing refugees from ordinary migrants did not present serious difficulty to states. Migration and refugee flows were regarded as has already been indicated, discrete phenomena. As has already been indicated, it has now become increasingly difficult to make a clear distinction between 'voluntary' and 'involuntary' population movements, between people who are fleeing from threats to their life and those seeking to escape poverty and social injustice. There are in many countries extreme conditions in which the requirements of survival are not met. What moves people to seek a better life often includes the search for security from such a hostile environment that may not include 'persecution' as such. Today, more than ever, refugees are part of a complex migrptory phenomenon, in which political, ethnic, economic, environmental and human rights factors are all contributory causes. A recent UN report commenting on this situation noted that many people are prompted to leave their own country by a mixture of fears, hopes and aspirations which can be very difficult, if not impossible, to unravel.

    Human right violations
    As must now be abundantly clear, violations are the principal root cause of forcible displacement and respect for fundamental human rights is a key factor in the search for a durable solution to any situation of displacement. Violent internal conflicts in countries such as Colombia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, in which civilians were and continue to be targeted and forced displacement is a deliberate tactic of warfare, lead to an ever-growing number of internally displaced persons.

    Professor C. Mwabila Malela of the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo has noted that 'Africa is sinking because of bad political and economic choices made over the years'.(1) Although a handful of African leaders seem open to democracy, for example in Nigeria, Benin, South Africa and Senegal, others have personalised power, undermining national institutions of governance as they do so. According to Alison Des Forge, Human Rights Watch Consultant on Rwanda (2), 'we have got used to a repressive system over the years. There are those who wish to hold on to power whatever it takes.' Power has become synonymous with enriching oneself, and most wars are a scramble for the wealth Africa has to offer. Perhaps one of the reasons behind the emergence of critical situations is that the international community has focused too much on individual leaders as the saviours of their respective countries rather than on the members of the whole civic society'.(3)

    Many of todays conflicts are characterised by mass human rights violations committed with impunity. Repugnant practices recur, like the recruitment of child soldiers and the use of antipersonnel landmines. Since ideological conflicts have dissipated with the fall of the Berlin wall, instigators of war have increasingly turned to the exploitation of ethnic identity to fuel their battles.

    Setting the afflictions of Africa in a global context, we discover an impotence among international structures to address these conflicts. In terms of action for justice, the international community is weak. However, it is possible to set limits to the way conflict is conducted, to make it clear that mass killings as a way of keeping power are simply unacceptable. The International Criminal Tribunal on the Genocide in Rwanda offers a chance to hold those entrepreneurs of evil to account. Although its performance has been termed 'less than spectacular', it at least offers the possibility of applying international legal standards. At a global level, while a statute for the establishment of an international criminal court was opened for signature in 1999, and 112 countries have become signatories, the court can only come into force when the statute has been ratified by 60 countries. Up until September 2000 19 countries had ratified the Rome Statute. One of the obstacles likely to delay the establishment of the court is current opposition by the United States.

    In setting standards of accountability, one lesson the world should learn from Africa is that keeping silent in the face of widespread atrocities is the 'greatest assistance one can give to evil doers'. This is the conviction those who witnessed the 1994 Rwanda genocide came away with, notes Des Forges, adding that concrete and immediate steps can be taken by letting the world know what is happening. 'People who are trying to change things from within must have support. The courage to denounce evil is hard to find and if one feels alone, it can be impossible.'

    Public denunciation is one means of intervention. Then there is the quiet, painstaking work of research undertaken by human rights investigators, taking information discreetly to a number of authorities. Another way of bearing witness to the suffering of victims of war is simply by being present alongside them. However, relief operations are rarely impartial. Philip Reyntjens of the University of Antwerp and Brussels (4) has noted that 'Every humanitarian action has an impact in the context it is in, it is never neutral. This means that we have to be conscious of what we do , and constantly informed of the context we work in, having always in mind the principle of preventing prejudice. For JRS as an organisation based on faith and as an international body, a key task is to avoid being manipulated and to ensure that it, as an international agency, has a perspective which cuts across local divisions.'

    Another means of tackling situations of human rights violations is to use cultural strengths to build a peaceful society. Professor Mwabila notes that 'It is through their culture that African countries can come to terms with themselves'. Central characteristics of African cultures include fortitude and close family and community ties, along with a 'total sharing' within a clan-based structure where no one exists alone. 'In the absence of government, there are communities trying to manage their own affairs. In Mogadishu, Somalia, for example, the majority of schools are private enterprises,' notes Dr Mudiappasamy Devadoss SJ of UNESCO. Civil society has also been heralded as a sign of hope as it gains ground in Africa, increasingly clamouring for accountability, democracy and peace. Des Forges sums this up by noting that 'The hopeful signs are there, though they are not to be found in the circles of power, but among the people we work with'.

    Poverty is a form of violence
    While the incidence of persecution, armed conflict and human rights violations are obvious factors underlying forced displacement, they are not the only factors. What turns local conflicts into humanitarian disasters is poverty. People who live at the margins cannot survive long without a field to cultivate or a market in which to sell their produce. They have to move to keep alive.

    Over the past three decades, the income differential between the richest and poorest fifth of the worlds population has more than doubled, from 30:1 to 74:1. (5) In less developed regions of the world, no fewer than 89 countries now have lower per capita incomes than they had ten years ago. One fifth of the worlds six billion people now live below the World Banks official poverty line of a dollar a day.

    The remedy offered by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the poorest economies has included tough economic reform prescriptions under structural adjustment programmes. But these adjustment policies demanded by the worlds most affluent states, whose views dominate decisiontaking at the Fund and Bank, carry a high human and social price: unemployment, declining real wages, reduced public services and growing income differentials. The same countries with low and declining standards of living are particularly prone to complex emergencies, refugee outflows and other forms of forced displacement. Former President of Tanzania the late Julius Nyerere, making the link between poverty andconflict in developing nations, noted that 'poverty is like a gunpowder keg waiting to ignite'. (6) And there is little room for optimism as the gross inequality of distribution of economic resources shows no sign of abating.

    The immediate cause of forced displacement today remains the insecurity that arises out of conflict. Of the refugee situations where JRS works, only the Bhutanese refugees, of whom there are almost 100,000 in Nepal, did not result from direct conflict. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the number of violent and destructive conflicts in Africa and around the globe is at its highest level since 1945. Refugee numbers have quadrupled since then, reaching a peak over the period 1993-95. Numbers would have climbed still higher, were it not for large-scale forced returns. Some 1.75 million Rwandan refugees were shunted back home to an unresolved situation.
    SIPRllisted 27 major armed conflicts in 1998, only two between India and Pakistan and between Eritrea and Ethiopia , were interstate. All the others were internal conflicts. Communal conflicts result from the breakdown of states, rising fundamentalism, the battle for scarce resources and from real or perceived inequalities. Where tribalism, ethno-nationalism or religious differences are evident, conflict is often fomented by ambitious leaders who appeal to ethnic or religious identity. Where power is contested, economic problems can provide opportunity for scapegoating. These phenomena are not new but appear to be on the increase rather than declining.

    Yet these conflicts are also fuelled by western donor nations. World military expenditure in 1998 was about $ 700 billion and world arms production is highly concentrated among a few industrial countries. The major conventional arms suppliers for the period 1995 to 1999 were the USA, Russia, France, the UK and Germany. Indeed 80% of conventional arms exports come from those countries which constitute the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the same countries charged with taking a lead role in promoting world peace. (7)

    A flourishing trade in both heavy weaponry and light arms is one of the principal threats to the national and regional security of Africa. The weapons arrive in exchange for diamonds, gold, timber and oil. Thus the international community is sucked into Africas conflicts by its readiness to cash in on the continents natural resources.

    Corruption, lack of efficient administration and poor infrastructure make governance both difficult and costly. The combination of weak states and rich natural resources has resulted in a dangerous environment which fuels conflicts. Western companies are also increasingly fuelling these conflicts without weighing the potentially disastrous consequences of their involvement. There are countless examples. Canadian Talisman or China Petrol are developing Southern Sudans rich oil resources, seemingly forgetting over four million people displaced as a result of Sudans civil war. The Dutch company De Beers has been accused of buying Angolan diamonds from rebel UNITA forces.

    The weakening of the nation state
    The collapse of national security and the weakening of the nation state are recurrent features in countries that experience conflict. Armed conflicts are characterised by fragmented political authority. Forced population displacements, inevitable during and after conflicts, in turn threaten regional, national and personal security. Despite the end of the Cold War and the so-called triumph of democracy, life has become increasingly difficult and dangerous for many populations since the super powers withdrew from their former stabilising roles. A number of nation states have effectively collapsed, including Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and of course, the former Soviet Union. Now Indonesia may be on the brink of a similar fate. Even the creation of new states , 27 in the last 10 years , is a sign of volatility. In many countries citizens have lost confidence in their governments ability or will to protect them. In Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia, the apparatus of government is controlled by minority factions that fail to treat everyone equally. Moreover, in fragile states when the economy declines or global forces shift the balance of power within a country, governments are tempted to react with force to control their people. (8)

    1. In April 2000, a symposium on Africa was held at the Deusto University in Spain. The symposium, Africa on the Threshold of the 2) st Century, was organised by the Institute of Human Rights, of the University of Deusto, JRS and Alboan, an international development agency based in Spain. For a summary of the presentations see JRS website [] under Africa Refugee Day.

    2. Ibid.

    3. On this particular point see also Trocaire Development Review 1998: Proceedings of Trocaire 25th Anniversary Conference on the theme People, Power and Participation , the Role of Human Rights Movements in Democratisation.

    4. Africa on the Threshold of the 21st Century, Symposium, April 2000.

    5. UN Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 1999, New York, Oxford University Press.

    6. Julius Nyrere addressing Concern Worldwide/Oxfam in Ireland conference, Towards a European Common Foreign and Security Policy, Dublin, November 1996.

    7. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute arms transfers database.

    8. See Trócaire Development Review 1999, section on Perspectives on Africa , The State and Civil Society.
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Refugees & Forcibly Displaced People