Africa sets an example to humane treatment of refugees

African generosity, solidarity and commitment towards refugees and internally displaced persons is clearly illustrated in the African Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa.

Addressing the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, held on February 10-11, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UN Secretary-General António Guterres praised the generosity, solidarity and commitment exhibited by the African Union (AU) for humane treatment of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.

The UN chief said that African countries provide almost half of all UN peacekeeping troops, including some two-thirds of all women peacekeepers and the majority of UN police.

He saluted the sacrifice of African soldiers in AMISOM (the African Union Mission in Somalia).

Today, Africa hosts nearly a third of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons. Despite the continent’s own social, economic and security challenges, African governments and people have kept borders, doors and hearts open to millions in dire situation.

On the contrary, the Western countries, which have more resources, are more or less unwilling to welcome the refugees with open hands. To make matters worse, for example, the US President Trump, on February 15, signed an executive order declaring a national emergency to secure funds to build a border wall on the southern border between the US and Mexico to prevent people from entering the United States illegally.

However, the decision, characterised as gross abuse of power, is likely as not to be challenged in court. President Trump had recently said “enough is enough to turn away people attempting to cross the border”.

He further said that “all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration.” This sounds as if most of the illegal or heinous acts committed in the USA are attributable to illegal or undocumented immigrants.

Indeed, reading between the lines, that’s a sweeping statement which doesn’t distinguish between those who have well-founded reasons, including refugees and asylum-seekers, in light of the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1967 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and those who migrate in search of greener pastures. 

Of course, every day, all over the world, people make one of the most difficult decisions in their lives: to leave their homes in search of a safer, better life.

Unlike the rest of Western world, Canada, most recently, announced that they want more than 1 million immigrants to enter the country by the end of 2021. In an annual report to Canadian Parliament, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen wrote that Canada’s “future success depends on continuing to ensure they [immigrants] are welcomed and well-integrated.”

The report showed that Canada’s goal is to bring in 330,800 immigrants in 2019, 341,000 in 2020, and 350,000 in 2021, for a total of 1.02 million immigrants. The message sounds exciting for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants who would like to change their lifeline. 

Turning back to the African Union efforts, there’s a steady progress in conflict resolution on the continent, which shows the determination of the AU with the support of the UN to bring stability on the continent.

However, conflicts remain the major cause of refugees and internally displaced persons. African compassion or fellow feeling toward refugees and internally displaced persons reflects a sense of humanity and sympathy for suffering people. 

Indeed, African generosity, solidarity and commitment towards refugees and internally displaced persons is clearly illustrated in the African Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa.

Inasmuch as it’s yet to enter into force, it creates a sense of moral obligation upon African States to treat fellow Africans humanely. The African Refugee Convention was adopted due to increasing numbers of refugees in Africa. It was important to find ways and means of alleviating refugees’ misery and suffering as well as providing them with a better life and future.

In this context, it is worth saluting UN Secretary-General António Guterres for launching the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, which aims at supporting existing systems to be more effective, better equipped, safer and more robust.

African humane treatment of refugees and internally displaced persons comports well with the core principle of non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law.

Equally, the compassionate treatment of refugees and internally displaced persons is an obligation that springs from the1951 Refugee Convention. A key legal document that forms the basis for taking care of refugees.

Currently, the Convention has been ratified by 145 States. It defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.

A similar obligation stems from the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, where member states are all 193 Member States of the United Nations that agreed to protect those who are forced to flee and support the countries that shelter them as an internationally-shared responsibility that must be borne more equitably and predictably.

The New York Declaration developed a ‘Global Compact on Refugees’ with these objectives: ‘ease the pressures on host countries; enhance refugee self-reliance; expand access to third-country solutions; support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity’.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.