Europe could learn a lot from poor nations welcoming refugees

As the World Humanitarian Summit is held in Istanbul, Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken says Europe could learn a lot from Tanzania’s solidarity with and generosity towards refugees

Europe could learn a lot from poor nations welcoming refugees

THE year before last, 180,000 people died in 42 conflicts around the globe.

Wars will happen. But even wars have laws. Almost 70 years since the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the failure to ensure respect for international humanitarian law has never been more apparent.

The World Humanitarian Summit is being held against a background of a world where innocent civilians are killed without consequence, homes, hospitals, and schools are destroyed by bombs and millions of people are on the move, enduring treacherous and often deadly journeys to find safety and dignity.

Leaders are tasked with an ambitious agenda seeking to reinvigorate commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian law.

Conflict, which is the greatest driver of protracted displacement is one of the key areas which governments are being asked to address, and is an area where the Irish Government has significant experience.

As the new programme for a partnership government states: “Our own experiences of conflict on this island give us a unique perspective on conflict resolution, and in particular on the value of dialogue and patient, sustained diplomacy”.

This experience should be brought to bear at the summit, but also as Ireland vies for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2020. A recent Oxfam report has stated unequivocally that rather than resolving conflict and seeking peaceful political solutions, the Security Council is routinely undermining its own resolutions and directly contributing to the crisis in Syria — which has displaced more people than any other emergency today.

In total, 125m people are affected by disaster and conflict worldwide. There are few places where this need is more evident than the sea of tents at the Nyarugusu and Nduta refugee camps in western Tanzania where thousands of people are currently caught up in a largely invisible and underfunded emergency.

Election tensions in Burundi last year led to weeks of violent protests and tens of thousands of Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, with the majority (130,000 people) arriving in Tanzania.

One image in particular did the rounds on social media in Tanzania last summer. Two smiling Maasai tribesmen, holding up a sign that read “Refugees are welcome to Tanzania, Africa”.

Can’t see the Facebook post? Click here

This gesture of welcome, of solidarity, of humanity from very poor people, stood in sharp contrast to a wealthy Europe focused on shutting people out rather than saving lives.

Despite the challenges faced by developing countries, they get on with it, matter of fact, providing a place of refuge. The numbers dwarf the efforts of wealthier regions — developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees, compared to 70% ten years ago.

During May 2015 alone, Kagunga, a tiny border village along Lake Tanganyika, saw more than 50,000 Burundian refugees arrive — the equivalent of the entire urban population of Waterford landing at Cobh in Co Cork over the course of four weeks.

The majority were taken to Nyarugusu camp, already home to 65,000 Congolese refugees, making it the third- largest refugee camp in the world.

Today Oxfam will be connecting the discussions taking place at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to refugee camps including Nyarugusu, through a series of mini-summits. A reminder that these are the people who will be affected by the commitments made in Istanbul.

People like Daphrose (47) from Burundi who now lives in Nyarugusu with her eight children, two of whom are orphans she took under her care while registering at the camp. She fled to Tanzania in May 2015 when her neighbours were killed by armed groups.

Daphrose has been a refugee her entire life: “My life as a refugee started when I was three. It has been a difficult life, full of struggles. I have had a life of constantly running.”

In 2005, Daphrose went back to Burundi from her previous stay in Tanzania, hopeful that peace had returned. She explained how it was during this time that she lost her husband.

“We had resettled back in the small piece of land that was given to us by the resettlement team. One day when we were in the field digging, the soldiers came and took my husband away with no explanation. I started trembling as I was full of fear. Two of them raped me and then the others took my husband. That was in my husband’s village, where he was born. I continued living there after that happened. I did not have any other place to go, I had no options. I was three months pregnant.”

This feeling of helplessness is pervasive in camps like Nyarugusu and the recently opened Nduta.

Another woman, Justina, who at age 27 is already a refugee for the second time in her life, told us: “A refugee is a person who does not have any options, they are not able to do the things they would like in life. A refugee’s life is reliant only on help. I don’t feel good being a refugee. I don’t feel good at all.”

The only way for hope to be realised for people like Justina and Daphrose is if the commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit are truly transformative. From Europe’s shores to Syria and beyond as well as those caught up in the forgotten crises of our world in countries like Tanzania, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, and South Sudan.

More than 60 years since the 1951 Refugee Convention, the need to uphold it has never been more vital.

At national level, this means ensuring those in need of protection are offered safety in Ireland by increasing options for safe and legal passage: including the provision of temporary humanitarian visas, expanded opportunities for family reunification, and through a widening of the current Syria Humanitarian Assistance Programme to include refugees from other countries.

The current Irish refugee protection programme was a useful first step, but the process is too slow and only a handful of families have been able to seek refuge since its inception last year.

We are in the middle of the worst refugee crisis since World War II with more than 60m people — half of them children — fleeing war, human rights abuses and entrenched poverty.

In the refugee camps of Tanzania and beyond, it’s clear that now is the time for world leaders, especially those governing countries with the resources to respond, to show the same generosity as the world’s poorest countries.

Jim Clarken is chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, currently visiting refugees in Nduta and Nyarugusu camps in western Tanzania and attending the World Humanitarian mini-Summit in Nyarugusu today.

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