Is the International Community at Fault for Africa’s Refugee Problems?


This week Kenya’s Deputy President blamed the international community for failing to deal with the world’s growing migrant crisis. Speaking during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, William Ruto accused global leaders of leaving the task up to Africa and other developing areas.

Kenya’s deputy also defended his country’s decision to close the world’s largest refugee camp, which is it says poses a threat to national security and the environment. So could the international community do more to help African nations cope with its regional migrant problems?


International community not doing enough

Mr Ruto is pretty confident in his answer to that question. He seems to the think the global community could (and should) be doing more to share the responsibility of hosting migrants.

“As we assemble here today, 86 percent of the world’s 22 million forced migrants and refugees are hosted in 10 developing countries,” Ruto said at the UN event.

“Nothing can better demonstrate the failure of international burden-sharing than this reality. It is also an indictment on the global framework for responding to human distress.”


Why are there so many refugees?

You don’t have to look far to understand why people are being forced from their homes in record numbers. Data from the UN says 54% of refugees worldwide come from the same three countries: Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.


While less than 20% of the world’s total currently resides in Western nations. Africa alone houses considerably more refugees than the whole of Europe and the Americas combined. However, most refugees fail to make it past the Middle East and North Africa.

It’s easy to see why Ruto and other officials might be frustrated. Almost half the world’s total refugee population comes from Afghanistan and Syria, where the US has both funded wars and started them itself. In 2015, the US dropped more than 22,000 bombs in Iraq and Syria, while reluctantly accepting around 10,000 Syrian refugees – but only after growing pressure from the EU.


Developed nations lose interest in humanitarian crises

Britain recently voted to leave the EU with a large section of voters believed to have opted out due to concerns over immigration. France, Germany, Italy and Spain are among the other European nations where immigration is becoming an increasingly tarnished word.

Then we have US presidential candidate Donald Trump who recently vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the country, should he win the election in November. Which would rule out any Syrian refugees who are trying to flee a civil conflict the US is partly funding and actively involved in, for example.

These people are in desperate need of a new home – somewhere they can try to rebuild some sort of life – but the offers to take them in are shrinking.


How does this apply to Kenya?

Kenya has more right to be concerned about the dangers of immigration than most. With more than 250,000 Somali refugees residing at Dadaab alone, Kenya thinks the camp is being used as an entry point for Al-Shabaab. And Kenya has paid the price for its own military involvement in Somalia with some of the most vicious terrorist attacks in recent times.

The difference is: when London or Paris are targeted by terrorist attacks, the world mourns. When almost 150 students are killed by terrorists in Kenya, the media coverage never quite touches the global stage. Meanwhile, civilians in Western countries become less tolerant of migrants with every attack, which leaves more of the focus on countries like Kenya.


Who should take Somali refugees?

This is the toughest question for Ruto and Kenya. After all, it’s not like Kenya is inundated with Syrian refugees; its problem is with neighbouring Somalia. Kenya is the first place thousands of Somali refugees make it to each year and that’s not about to change.

Kenya isn’t the only African country struggling to handle an influx of migrants either. Although it may have more bargaining power than some of its neighbours. After all, the Al-Shabaab’s fight is against its US-backed government. It’s another symptom of the supposed war on terror – or more accurately, Western powers forcing their political and economic ideals on developing nations.

More importantly, the international community can’t afford to lose Somalia to Al-Shabaab or the Islamic State. Kenya’s military involvement in the country plays a vital role in this battle, as well as its hosting of Somali refugees. Asylum is the only alternative to extremism for many Somalis, meaning the closure of Dadaab camp will only contribute to the size of Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State in Somalia. Neither Kenya nor the international community wants this.

Unfortunately for the people forced to choose between joining extremist groups and fleeing their country, the list of homes willing to welcome them is getting shorter.


Featured image:

flickr photo by IAEA Imagebank shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.