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).
The emergence of South Sudan has once again brought sharp focus on inherited colonial boundaries and the quest for redrawing them.The process that led to the independence of South Sudan,including the immense challenges it is currently facing in building a new state, has raised questions on whether new states will emerge and the viability of such entities. As an expedient politico-legal move, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1964 adopted the principle of uti possidetis (Latin for “as you possess, so you may possess”). Primarily aimed at maintaining the sanctity of colonial boundaries, the adoption of this principle was underlined by two interrelated motives. The first was to prevent violent conflicts between African nations over disputed territories and the second was to stem the tide of secessionist movements within national boundaries. The independence of Eritrea in 1993, South Sudan in 2011 and a number of dormant and active secessionist movements across the continent strongly indicate the problematic nature of colonial boundaries and the structure of statehood in post-colonial Africa. Since the 1960s, there have been secessionist movements in places like Nigeria (Biafra), Congo (Katanga), Angola (Cabinda), Senegal (Casmance), Mali (Azawad), Somalia (Somaliland), Ethiopia (Ogaden, Eriterea and Oromo), Sudan (South Sudan), Zambia (Barotse), Tanzania (Zanzibar), and Coromos (Anjouan) – see www.sscnet.uncla.edu/polisci/wgape/papers/4_Engelbert.doc.