Respecting the rights of urban refugees in East Africa through a human rights approach to urbanisationPosted: 7 September, 2015
The city is the new refugee camp…
~ International Rescue Committee
Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) defines refugee as ‘a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence due to a well-founded fear of persecution base on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country or to return there for fear of persecution’. Due to contextual issues, article 1 of the 1969 Organisation for African Unity’s Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969 OAU Convention) added a second paragraph to the 1951 Convention to incorporate people that have been displaced due to liberation wars and internal upheavals.
Meanwhile, there is no internationally recognised definition for urban refugees. However, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) defines an urban refugee as a refugee who satisfies the international requirements for obtaining a refugee status and has self-settled in a city or town. Recent decades have experienced rapid population growth with most cities witnessing urban sprawl. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in 2009 that an estimated 58 percent of the world’s 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities.
Despite it being mostly rural region, UN Habit has projected that Sub-Saharan Africa and for that matter countries in Eastern Africa will have more than half of its population residing in urban areas by 2026. Characteristically, there has been increasing flow of refugees to urban areas in this region too. According to official UNHCR 2015 statistics, four Eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia) host more than 1.5 million refugees. These refugees are mostly from 9 countries (Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo).
‘Statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. It would be deeply unethical to perpetuate the pain it causes when solutions are so clearly within reach.’
– Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Statelessness as a legal problem has far reaching political and economic challenges which have attracted rising attention from scholars, human rights activists and international organisations in recent years. Officially, statelessness means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. The UNHCR started collecting data on stateless persons in the world in 2006 and confirmed in 2011 that the number of stateless persons around the world is in excess of 10 million despite conceding that obtaining the actual statistics is difficult.
The most affected are regions that have suffered or are experiencing armed conflicts or economic migration. Large numbers of stateless population are largely due to policies and laws which discriminate against foreigners despite their deeper roots in the states concerned. For instance, more than 120 000 persons in Madagascar are stateless on the basis of discriminatory citizenship laws and administrative procedures. Moreover, about 170 000 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 are recognised as stateless in Tanzania despite cogent attempts by international and local organisations to have the situation rectified.