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Burden sharing part of the solution for Central Africa’s displaced and refugees

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A recent ECCAS Conference has focused on the protection and well-being of forcibly displaced persons in the region

By Ambassador Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo

At the recent Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Conference in Yaoundé on April 27, the focus was on the protection and well-being of forcibly displaced persons in the Central Africa region. ECCAS member states are committed to the shared values of the African Union (AU), whose legal instruments relating to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), in particular the OAU/AU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa of September 1969 and the Kampala Convention of the African Union for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa of October 2009, form an integral part of the body.

These two instruments, based on the principle of solidarity, have profoundly broadened the horizons of responses to forced migration crises.

For example, by establishing the quasi status of prima facie refugees, the OAU/AU Convention has made it possible to take charge immediately of the victims of many conflicts in neighbouring countries. It is indeed on this basis that Central African refugee groups have been received and assisted in other states in our region. The Kampala Convention represents the very first binding treaty instrument imposing legal obligations on states to protect and assist displaced persons. Taken together with the OAU/AU Convention, these two instruments and those of the United Nations (UN), notably the Convention of 28 July 1951 and its Protocol of 31 January 1967, both about refugee status, outline a common vision and determine the minimum standards that accompany it, which are shared and accepted by all.

The fact that some states in the region have not ratified the regional instruments, will not render futile the obligation imposed on us by the revised ECCAS treaty to develop the Community’s policies and strategies for responding to forced migration crises. An effort to ratify these instruments should make our region an area of unwavering protection of both the rights of people, including the most vulnerable among them, and the sanctity of human life, which is highly exposed in times of crisis.

The underlying issue of the forced migration crisis is that of human security. In some areas of our Central African region, we face crises of forced displacement resulting primarily from the effects of socio-political conflicts and the emergence of new security threats, such as terrorism, and violent extremism that is increasingly associated with it. However, some of these crises are also increasingly linked to the consequences of climate change.

The vulnerability of the victims of these different situations has been aggravated since 2020 by the consequences of the management by states and co-operation organisations, both bilateral and multilateral, of the Covid-19 pandemic. This management redirected resources to health priorities, thus further impacting on many victims of forced migration, such as refugees and IDPs. It is necessary to face the diverse and multiple causes of forced displacement in the search for solutions.

In relation to the Central African crisis, one cannot help but notice that many refugees and displaced persons are not displaced for the first time. This is easily explained by the succession of crises in this region, which have created the condition, or even the profile, of “multiple refugees”. Such a situation calls for reflection on the succession of crises and renewed reflection on durable solutions. There is no doubt that in the crises of forced migration that have put many communities on the roads of the different states of our region in search of security, the three traditional durable solutions of integration, repatriation and resettlement very quickly reveal their limits. These limitations must lead us to focus our attention on the causes of the repetitive cycles of crises.

There is no better promotion of durable solutions than to direct our efforts towards improving governance and spreading the peace and security dividend in the member states of our Community. We will provide lasting solutions to the crisis of forced displacement in Central Africa by trying to help institutions translate the promises of human rights, the rule of law, democracy, the fight against corruption, harmonious and sustainable development of territories based on redistributive justice and equity into reality on a daily basis.

It is because such an approach is the best way to prevent conflicts that generate the sad spectacle of refugees and IDPs that it constitutes a sustainable situation that is far better than each of the three traditional durable solutions. Making a country or region like ours a “safe space” for victims of forced migration is the best of the durable solutions. Even voluntary repatriation will only be truly sustainable if the country is guaranteed to truly emerge from the crisis repetition syndrome that paves the way for their succession by becoming a “safe country”.

The revised ECCAS treaty reaffirmed in its fundamental principles its commitment to the respect of human rights and the protection of vulnerable populations. The Community is determined to take a new step to “deepen community solidarity among the states of the region” and is committed to taking all appropriate measures to manage migration flows to and from the region in a concerted manner. In this regard, ECCAS will make the principles of non-indifference, solidarity and shared and collective responsibility work. These principles mean that in the search for sustainable solutions to the crises of forced migration in the region, no member states can be indifferent to what affects another state.

The exercise of solidarity, collective and shared responsibility, should lead to a regional reinterpretation of the “burden sharing” principle. It will not only be a matter of including in our Community policy sharing the financial and material burden of the cost of managing refugee and displaced person situations. It will also require committing ourselves collectively to changing the situation in a particular country of origin, a member of the Community, by trying to transform it into a “safe country”, so that it ceases to be a country producing refugees or displaced persons.

This burden sharing will reinforce within the Community the awareness of the need to make all our states, and therefore our region, a “safe space” for all and no longer a producer of forced migrants. The forced migration situation in the Central African region continues to increase in scope and complexity, hence the need to consider a concerted and sustainable approach.

The path we have just outlined opens up such an approach. Its adoption and full implementation will represent a break with the past and a paradigm shift. It allows us to rethink the phases of humanitarian action that follow the emergency phase, in particular the recovery/rehabilitation and development phases.

Patterns of forced displacement have evolved from short-distance movements within rural areas to long-distance movements to urban centres. This puts additional pressure on land availability, housing, public services and livelihoods, and exposes the displaced to new risks such as forced labour, sexual exploitation, trafficking and discrimination. The promotion of human security, which is a part of humanitarian work, requires great vigilance in this regard.

Given the magnitude and complexity of the situation of refugees from the Central African Republic in the region, the member states of our Community are called upon to find ways to respond to the immediate and growing needs of refugees and their host communities in a more inclusive, comprehensive, innovative and co-ordinated manner. This means that the need to find durable solutions should not distract us from the need to find solutions to the problems that arise today, in the name of the humanitarian imperative.

While highlighting the importance of implementing the principle of shared responsibility in the region, it is also necessary to imagine the implications outside the region through the strengthening of international co-operation at all levels.

The care of refugees and displaced persons requires substantial financial resources at the national and regional levels. Refugees in our region are almost always hosted by communities that share everything with them to the point of sacrificing their comfort in a sustainable environment. Because these consequences are rarely compensated, there is a need for greater justice for host communities. This particular form of compensatory justice can be achieved by promoting the funding of development projects for both refugees and host communities.

In some cases, the repatriation of refugees will be difficult, especially in protracted crisis situations. Local integration should be considered, but it should be accompanied by substantial support for the host country. Voluntary repatriation should be accompanied by support for improved governance in the country of return.

As for resettlement, although it is popular with refugees because it gives them the opportunity to settle in the developed countries of the North, it should be recognised that it entails a loss of human capital for the countries of origin and even the host countries. It may, however, be acceptable if it is accompanied by an improvement in the situation in the country of origin and leaves the door open to the possibility of a subsequent return to the country of origin when the situation there has evolved.

*Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo is the President of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). is the President of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)

*This article was first published in the ACCORD. It cannot be republished.