“Silent” Refugee Crises Get Limited International Attention
Despite the major focus by media and publics on a handful of refugee crises around the world—the Syrian, Afghan, and Venezuelan ones among them, and recently Yemen—displacement situations worsened during 2018 in a number of countries that received much less attention, and perhaps as a result less in the way of humanitarian aid.
Arguably at the top of the list of neglected crises were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), whose displacement rivals that of Syria even as it has received far less attention; South Sudan, where widespread starvation has set in; and the Central African Republic (CAR), where displacement reached record levels. Crises in Burundi, Ethiopia, Nigeria, the occupied Palestinian territories, and Myanmar also were eclipsed by others in 2018.
Issue No. 10 of Top 10 of 2018
While issues involving refugees and asylum seekers headed to developed countries often attract the most attention, witness the massive coverage of the European migration crisis in 2015-16 or the current intense focus on the movement of several thousand asylum seekers from Central America to the U.S. doorstep, 85 percent of the world’s estimated 25.4 million refugees are in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is host to more than one-fourth of the world’s 68.5 million people forcibly displaced within or beyond their country’s borders.
Some African countries face critical humanitarian funding shortfalls and massive food insecurity; the crises in the DRC and South Sudan, where just 31 percent and 33 percent of international appeals had been funded as of September, were particularly highlighted as needing more resources. And a number of these countries are facing their own displacement crises even as they simultaneously host refugees from neighboring countries.
Child at a camp for internally displaced persons in the Central African Republic. (Photo: Amanda Nero/International Organization for Migration)
This article examines a few of these “silent crises.”
Democratic Republic of the Congo
As of October, an estimated 782,000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers were hosted in neighboring countries, of which approximately 148,000 fled in 2018, particularly to Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. While civil war ended in 2003, more than 4.5 million people remain internally displaced. The DRC also hosts more than 536,000 refugees from neighboring countries. Beyond ongoing displacement, the country is experiencing its worst Ebola outbreak, declared in August, creating a dangerous combination of conflict and disease. The conflict also has disrupted agriculture, putting 2 million children at risk of starvation. And more than 300,000 Congolese were expelled from Angola in October, accused of being in the country without authorization; at least 2,373 of these were registered refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that this push of Congolese back to a desperate situation could quickly unravel into further crisis.
Figure 1. Top Destinations for Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Democratic Republic of Congo, October 2018
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Operational Portal Refugee Situations, Democratic Republic of Congo,” accessed December 7, 2018. Available online.
Since becoming the world’s newest country in 2011, South Sudan has faced violent conflict, drought, and famine that have displaced more than 4.7 million South Sudanese, including nearly 2.2 million to Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the DRC. South Sudanese became the third largest refugee population in the world in 2017, after Syrians and Afghans. Conflict, ongoing displacement, and drought have taken a toll on agricultural production with farm land abandoned, leaving 6 million in dire need of food assistance. With men caught up in the fighting, women and children make up 85 percent of South Sudanese refugees. Since 2013, civil war has also brought sexual violence, most recently in a November incident in which around 125 women and girls seeking food were beaten and raped. Despite a peace deal signed in August, the outlook remains grim as violence continues and food insecurity is predicted to worsen in the year ahead.
Figure 2. Top Destinations for Refugees and Asylum Seekers from South Sudan, October 2018
Source: UNHCR, “Operational Portal Refugee Situations, South Sudan,” accessed December 7, 2018. Available online.
Central African Republic
Sectarian violence has spread since a coup d'état in 2013 and more than one in five residents have been displaced. Nearly 637,000 people were internally displaced as of November, 232,000 in the first half of 2018 alone, with more than 575,000 others having fled to neighboring countries. One in four children in the country is a refugee and “almost every Central African child needs protection from the fighting and its far-reaching effects.” Attacks against civilians, aid workers, and displacement camps are common. An increasing number of Central African Republic refugees are returning home, some to destroyed homes, and may lead to new conflict with existing residents.
Figure 3. Top Destinations for Refugees from the Central African Republic, October 2018
Source: UNHCR, “Operational Portal Refugee Situations, Central African Republic,” accessed December 7, 2018. Available online.
Amid volatile conflict situations, mass food insecurity, and the possibility of an expanding Ebola outbreak, the complexity of conditions unfolding in parts of sub-Saharan Africa suggest the world’s eyes should not remain averted from these neglected crises.
- World’s Most Neglected Displacement Crises, Norwegian Refugee Council
- Guardian photo essay, The 10 Places in Crisis the World Chooses to Ignore
- UNHCR Central African Republic Situation
- UNHCR Democratic Republic of Congo Regional Refugee Response Plan
- UNHCR South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan
- Refugees Bear Cost of Massive Underfunding, UNHCR
- International Neglect of Central African Republic Will Lead to New Catastrophe, Norwegian Refugee Council
- Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Council on Foreign Relations
- Civil War in South Sudan, Council on Foreign Relations