On Friday 6 May, the Kenyan government announced that refugees from Somalia will no longer be accepted in Kenya, citing security fears.
According to a statement that was signed by interior ministry official Karanja Kibicho, “the Government of the Republic of Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement further indicated that under the directive, newly-arrived asylum seekers will not automatically receive refugee status and the government will step up efforts to have those who are already living in the country removed. Mwende Njoka, interior ministry spokesman, disclosed that “the message is clear, we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees in the country,” adding that new regulations were aimed at refugees from Somalia but that those from other countries may also be affected, noting “the problematic ones are the Somalis. They’re the ones we’re starting with.” Kenya hosts around 550,000 refugees in two camps in Kakuma and Dadaab, the world’s largest, many of whom have fled decades of war in neighboring Somalia. In 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somali, along with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) signed a so-called tripartite agreement, which was aimed at encouraging Somali refugees to return home voluntarily. However since then, only a few thousand have taken up the offer, which has left Kenya frustrated at the slowness. According to Kibicho, “Kenya has been forced by circumstances to reconsider the whole issue of hosting refugees and the process of repatriation,” adding that the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), which s responsible for refugee registration and management, had been “disbanded.” However a DRA employee reached by phone at work on Friday afternoon expressed surprise, stating that he knew nothing of the directive.
Government and security officials regularly asset that Islamic militants from al-Shabaab thrive and recruit among Somali refugees. These claims however have been denied by independent observers and by the refugees themselves who point out that many of them have fled al-Shabaab’s depredations. Following deadly al-Shabaab assaults on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre and Garissa university, senior officials threated to close Dadaab camp and remove the refugees. In April 2015, just days after that attack in Garissa, Deputy President William Ruto promised to close Dadaab “in three months,” however that deadline, like the previous ones. Friday’s statement again conflated refugees and terrorists emphasizing, “the immense security challenges such as threat of the Shebaab and other related terror groups that hosting of refugees has continued to pose to Kenya. New arrivals from Somalia will no longer receive ‘prima facie’ refugee status but will have to argue their cases individually. However the agency that has been tasked with processing those applications, the DRA, is to be shut down.
On Monday 9 May, the United Nations warned that Kenya’s decision to stop hosting refugees could have “devastating consequences” for hundreds of thousands of people. It has urged the country with the world’s largest refugee camp to reconsider the move. The UN agency has voiced alarm at the announcement, warning against “the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have. A statement released by UNHCR disclosed that “the safety of hundreds of thousands of Somalis, South Sudanese and others has (long) hinged on Kenya’s generosity and its willingness to be a leading beacon in the region for international protection,” adding, “tragically, the situations in Somali and South Sudan that cause people to flee are still unresolved.” UNHCR has appealed to Kenya to continue hosting the refugees, warning that it risked worsening the current global refugee crisis if it did not. In its statement, the agency reported that “in today’s global context of some 60 million people forcibly displaced, it is more important than ever that international asylum obligations prevail and are properly supported, “adding, “in light of this, and because of the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have, UNHCR is calling on the government of Kenya to reconsider its decision.” A group of charities working in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya added their voices on Tuesday to those calling on Nairobi to reconsider a decision to stop hosting Somali refugees. The eleven charities described the Kenyan government’s decision to close Dadaab and Kakuma camps as “unfortunate, adding, “the recent announcement will have far reaching implications for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have called Kenya a place of refuge.” The eleven non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which together provide basic services including healthcare and clean water in the two camps, acknowledged Kenya’s burden in hosting refugees from around the region, however they urged the government not to implement its ne plan. The NGOs, which include the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that closing the camps “violates the general principle of voluntary repatriation” and puts the refugees at risk, many of them women and children. Despite fears raised by aid agencies, human rights group sand the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Kenya has insisted that it will go ahead with the plan however no timeline has been released.
On Wednesday 11 May, the interior minister announced that Kenya is drawing up a timetable to close Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts about 350,000 Somalis, because of security concerns. According to Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, the country has set up a taskforce to handle the closure plan. Speaking at a news conference, the minister disclosed that “they will present the timetable based on all the resources required,” adding that state funds had been allocated in order to proceed with the programme. He also disclosed that “the government has commenced the exercise of closing the complex of Dadaab refugee camp,” without specifying what new action had ben taken beyond a voluntary repatriation programme that is already in place.
On Tuesday, 26 April, South Sudan’s rebel chief Riek Machar finally returned to the capital Juba, where he was sworn in as vice president of a unity government that was formed in order to end more than two years of civil war in the world’s newest country. His return, which was delayed by a week, is seen as a critical step towards cementing a fragile peace agreement that was brokered in August 2015.
The conflict in South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, has pitted government troops loyal to President Salva Kiir against those of Machar, who was dismissed as vice president five months before the war began in December 2013. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than two million people forced from their homes.
Key Events in the War
- 15 December – Heavy gunfire erupts in Juba, where tensions have been rising since July when Machar was dismissed as vice president. Kiir blames Machar for an attempted coup, however Machar denies this and accuses the president of purging his rivals. Fighting spreads and rebels seize control of key towns.
- 10 – 20 January – Uganda sends troops to back Kiir. Government troops recapture the northern city of Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, and Bor, the capital of the eastern state of Jonglei.
- 15 – 17 April – According to the United Nations, more than 350 civilians are killed in Bentiu and Bor.
- 26 August – A UN helicopter is shot down, with three onboard killed. Each side blames the other.
- 1 February – Kiir and Machar sign a new agreement to end the fighting, in what is the latest in a series of deals. However like the others, it is broken within days.
- 30 June – According to a UN rights report, South Sudan’s army raped then torched girls alive inside their homes. The report warns of “widespread human rights abuses.” Rebels have been accused of similar atrocities.
- 2 July – UN and US sanctions decided against six leaders from both sides.
- 17 August – Machar signs a peace agreement in Addis Ababa.
- 26 August – Kiir signs the peace accord, however he issues a list of “serious reservations.” Fighting continues.
- 3 October – Kiir nearly triples the number of regional states, undermining a key power-sharing clause of the peace agreement.
- 28 October – African Union investigators list atrocities committed, which include forced cannibalism and dismemberment.
- 5 November – UN experts warn that killings, rapes and abductions continue and that both sides are stockpiling weapons. Over two dozens armed groups are involved in fighting characterized by shifting alliances, opportunism and historic grievances.
- 27 November – The UN reports that some 16,000 children have been forced to fight, amidst a growing humanitarian crisis. More than 2.8 million people, almost a quarter of the population, needs emergency food aid.
- 8 February – UN agencies warn that at least 40,000 people are being starved to death in the war zone, with rival forces blocking aid.
- 12 February – Kiir reappoints Machar as vice president.
- 11 April – A 1,370-strong rebel force completes their arrival in Juba ahead of Machar’s expected return.
- 12 April – South Sudan’s rebel deputy chief Alfred Ladu Gore arrives in the capital.
- 25 April – South Sudan’s top rebel military commander Simon Gatwech Dual returns to the capital.
- 26 April – Machar returns to Juba and is sworn in as vice president. UN Security General Ban Ki-moon calls for a new unity government to be set up immediately.
It has been a year since Burundi plunged into chaos, however peace efforts remain deadlocked as the country remains divided and violence continues.
While the Burundian government is insisting that a year of unrest is at an end, with the capital Bujumbura relatively calm after a string of attacks, which included a failed coup in May 2015, tensions across the country remain high, with the international community warning of the risk of a new explosion of violence. Hundreds of people have been killed and a quarter of a million have fled the country in the wake of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision last April to run for a third term in office, a vote that he won last July despite opposition boycotts. According to presidential press chief Willy Nyamitwe, “after the election fever and the violence that accompanied this process, the situation has returned to normal,” adding that “now the time is to work for development and the fight against poverty.” On the ground sources have reported that after weeks of battles between security forces and those opposed to the president’s third term, the capital is certainly calmer, adding that the once near-daily grenade attacks have also decreased. While the government crackdown over the past year involved the brutal repression of street protests, today, security forces stem opposition more discreetly after rights groups reported dead bodies being found on the city’s street on an almost daily basis. Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein disclosed that reports have emerged that the use of torture has increased since the beginning of the year, adding that many people now “live in terror.” Diplomats have also disclosed that the crushing of the opposition has further undermined any respect for the law, with one official describing how “power is now in the hands of a small hard core,” mainly top generals close to President Nkurunziza since they fought together in the bush in the 1993 – 2006 civil war between the mostly Tutsi army and predominately Hutu rebel groups. The UN has reported that more than 400 people have been killed since the beginning of the crisis, adding that thousands more have been arrested and more than 250,000 have fled abroad. Rights groups have also indicated that torture and extrajudicial killings have become commonplace. Despite efforts to bring the opposition together under the main umbrella opposition group CNARED, whose leaders are in exile, it remains split and there seems to be minimal chance that there is a solution in the near future. The international community, while critical of what has happened in Burundi over the past year, has also been unable to find a real solution to the ongoing crisis, and the Burundian government seems to be exploiting these divisions. Despite repeated calls for “inclusive dialogue,” the government has remained defiant and has refused to sit down with the opposition in exile, which it accuses of being behind the violence. Without a concrete solution, the pressure across Burundi will continue to mount, with analysts already warning of a “potentially explosive situation” amidst the continued violence with fears that the conflict is increasingly based along ethnic lines.
The United Nations child agency has reported that Boko Haram’s use of child bombes has increased over the last year, with one in five suicide attacks being carried out by children.
According to a new report, girls, who are often drugged, were behind three-quarters of such attacks that were committed by the militant Islamist group in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria. This represents an 11-fold increase, with four such attacks carried out in 2014, compared to 44 the next year, including January 2016. Analysts note that this change in tactics reflects the group’s loss of territory in Nigeria over the past several months. A regional offensive by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon last year drove Boko Haram from much of its territory it held in northern Nigeria, effectively undermining its six-year campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate. Despite this loss of territory, the militants have struck back with suicide bombing and hit-and-run attacks targeting civilians.
Meanwhile aid agency Mercy Corps reported on Monday that Boko Haram has lured young entrepreneurs and business owners in northeastern Nigeria to join the Islamist group by providing or promising capital and loans to boost their businesses. According to Mercy Corps, seeing successful business ownership as a way to escape poverty, many Nigerian youths, ranging from butchers and beauticians to tailors and traders, have accepted loans for their businesses in return for joining Boko Haram. The report from the US-based aid agency notes however that this lure of business support is often a trap, as those who cannot repay their loans are either forced to join the militants or are killed. Report author and Mercy Corps peacebuilding adviser Lisa Inks has disclosed that “Boko Haram is tapping into the yearning of Nigerian youth to get ahead in an environment of massive inequality,” adding, “it is incredibly clever – either such loans breed loyalty or Boko Haram use mafia style tactics to trap and force young people to join them.”
According to the latest statistics released by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, six in ten Nigerians live in absolute poverty, on less than one dollar a day, a figure which rises to three quarters of the population in the northeastern region of the country. Many young people told Mercy Corps that they would struggle without the support of powerful “godfathers” to provide capital for their businesses, or cash transfers for equipment and goods. Mercy Corps, which conducted interviews with 145 people including young former Boko Haram members, family of former members and youths who resisted joining, has reported that Bok Haram has therefore been able to fill a critical gap in financial services.
The report has called for increased access to financial and business services, more support for conflict-hit communities and greater efforts to reintegrate people who have fled the militant group.
On 29 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constitutes an international emergency as officials voiced confidence that remaining isolated cases in the affected countries can be contained.
Speaking to journalists, WHO chief Margaret Chan stated that “the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” officially ending the emergency, which was first declared in August 2014. While the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has ended, officials have warned that flare-ups are likely to continue, with Chan stressing on Tuesday that all three previously affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – remain vulnerable to these flare-ups, including an ongoing cluster of cases reported in Guinea, which has left five people dead. Last week, health officials in Conakry reported that 961 people who may have come into contact with the victims in the southern region of the country were being monitored. Chan also warned against complacency towards the virus, which remains in “the ecosystem” in West Africa, adding that vigilance is crucial, including reacting quickly to new cases. She noted that “particularly important will be to ensure that communities can rapidly and fully engage in any future response, cases are quickly isolated and managed.”
The deadliest-ever outbreak of the tropical disease emerged in December 2013, and since then it has killed more than 11,300 people mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked anxiety about a possible global pandemic and led some governments to threaten or unilaterally enforce travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries. The WHO consistently pushed back against such calls, with Chan again on Tuesday reiterating that “there should be no restrictions on travel and trade with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and that any such measures should be lifted immediately.” In the wake of the recent cluster of cases reported in southern Guinea, Liberia has closed its border with the country until further notice.
During the outbreak, the United Nation’s public health agency faced criticism over its initial response to the spread of Ebola, including accusations that it took far too long in order to publicise the threat level. In May 2015, the growing criticism forced the WHO to launch a sweeping shake-up of its emergency response systems. These efforts were seen this year, when the WHO was quick to sound the alarm in response to the rapid spread of the Zika virus.