EA’s refugee nightmare
An upsurge in violence in Somalia, fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan has sent afresh wave of refugees fleeing their countries burdening economies in the East Africa region that can barely take the extra burden.
In the case of DRC; where government forces are battling mutinying soldiers who were previously aligned with the CNDP and PARECO rebels, an estimated 6,000 refugees have crossed into Rwanda and are being hosted at the Nkamira Transit Camp in Rubavu, stretching the facilities to the limit. Another 8,000 more Congolese have crossed into Uganda.
In response to the crisis, Rwanda has hosted two high-level Congolese delegations. The first meeting mid-last week involved the RDF’s Chief of Defence Staff Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga and his DRC counterpart Lt. Gen. Didier Etumba. A second meeting was led by the Minister for Defence, Gen. James Kabarebe and President Joseph Kabila’s special envoy, Col. Kalev Mutond.
The flow of refugees has somewhat eased up considerably after Kinshasa regained control of the eastern parts of the country, according to the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). It said in a statement that the military operation was “suspended on May 5, after the government took back a number of areas in the Kivu province.” But even as the hostilities in the DRC eased up, Rwanda and Uganda still shelter the thousands of refugees camping in their countries.
The Sudan flow
In Sudan, both humanitarian organisations and the United Nations have voiced concern over the plight of thousands of South Sudanese stranded at the Kosti river port on the While Nile, where they have been waiting for barges to take them back to their country.
Besides, the renewed hostilities between Juba and Khartoum have seen between 12,000 and 15,000 South Sudanese stranded at the Kosti barge embarkation station in Sudan’s White Nile state, and many of them have been waiting for months for transportation back to South Sudan.
The official Sudanese new agency, SUNA, is said to have reported over the weekend that authorities had ordered the South Sudanese nationals stranded at Kosti to leave their camps within a week.
“Kosti, a major town on the White Nile, is a significant transit point for South Sudanese returning to South Sudan,” says the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Ali Al-Za’tari.
“As those awaiting repatriation from Kosti to South Sudan are in a vulnerable position and lack many basic services including adequate shelter, vital and quick collaboration is needed from Sudan and South Sudan to alleviate the hardship of those stranded.”
Outstanding post-independence disputes between Sudan and South Sudan have escalated into armed confrontation along the border areas in recent months amid exchanges of hostile rhetoric.
South Sudanese troops had invaded Sudan’s oil-producing region of Heglig in South Kordofan state before departing recently, and Sudanese forces have been carrying out aerial raids inside South Sudan. The international community has repeatedly called for a return to negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues.
The case Somalia
In Somalia, both the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and UN-African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have warned militias and politicians against jeopardising a roadmap for ending the transition government in the country. They say sanctions and restrictions could be imposed on those who seek to obstruct the peace process.
“We have now entered a critical juncture of the transitional period of the peace process in Somalia,” the organisations tell The New Times in response to our queries. “We have come too far and too much is at stake for us to allow the process to backslide at the exact moment Somalia has its best opportunity for peace in decades.”
The alarm over the renewed influx of refugees is based on the bitter lessons learnt in East, Central and the Horn of Africa region in recent years. People fleeing their countries have led to one of the biggest proliferation of illicit small arms in the wrong hands; poaching and the illegal movement of contraband goods in the world.
In East Africa’s case, the violence in Somalia has led to piracy on the high seas, which has seen shipping cost escalate sharply and a debilitating decline in tourist numbers and foreign investment opportunities. “To this end, the United Nations, the African Union and IGAD are jointly issuing this unambiguous warning to all potential spoilers,” it added, noting that any groups which do not comply or actively obstruct the roadmap will be referred to the IGAD Council of Ministers, with recommendations from the three entities to impose restrictions and sanctions on them.
Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions are in the process of implementing a roadmap – known as the Roadmap for Ending the Transition in Somalia – devised in September last year, that spells out priority measures to be carried out before the current transitional governing arrangements end in just a few months, on 20 August.
“As we move closer to key benchmarks, such as the convening of the constituent assembly, adoption of a new federal provisional constitution, selection of a new parliament, we remain greatly concerned that the roadmap continues to be jeopardised by the actions of individuals and groups in and out of Somalia working to undermine the fragile progress we have collectively made in recent months,” the statement said.
Since 2007, AMISOM has been trying to bring peace to the country, which has had no functioning central government for the past 20 years, and which has been torn apart by factional fighting and has faced a series of humanitarian crises.