n Africa Conflict Monthly Monitor - The displacement dilemma : East African refugee crisis demands policy change - : East Africa - issue in focus

Volume 2013, Issue 02
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East Africa is in the grip of a refugee crisis, a crisis that extends back decades but has grown more acute with time. As a region plagued by internal security threats, from the violence of rebel insurgency in Somalia, Sudan and Uganda to coastal piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the consequential displacement of populations persists. While host countries grapple with the dilemma of how best to manage refugee influxes in the face of long-term displacement, international actors such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and international aid organisations have pursued their own policies of encampment and humanitarian assistance. This has added further layers of complexity to a multiplicity of interests on how to determine the means for east Africa's refugees to be best protected and allowed to live.

Assisted by trends of pervasive conflict, increasing levels of humanitarian assistance, and the growth of a comprehensive human rights regime, the purposes of refugee camps have altered significantly. Refugee camps in east Africa have come to represent permanent encampments as opposed to temporary safe havens. While policies of repatriation and camp extension have dominated proposed alternatives, it is only through a process of greater integration of refugees into the host community that the proven economic benefits, accruing to host communities as a result of aid influxes and economic initiatives emerging from the refugee populations, can be capitalised upon. However, as demonstrated by the UN's October 2012 decision to open new camps to accommodate Somali refugees in Ethiopia, general governmental fear of the political costs associated with refugee integration - the warping of national demographics through an influx of new nationalities and a reduction in domestic support resulting from such demographic changes - ensure that encampment remains the prevalent course of action.

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