[An Analysis of the Voluntariness of Refugee Repatriation in Africa]

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Chapter 2(74K)

Chapter 3(88K)

Chapter 4(89K)

Chapter 5(122K)

Chapter 6(105K)

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This thesis is about the changing dynamics of refugee repatriation in Africa. It is of interest to refugee researchers, disaster researchers, demographers and Africanists. For a more detailed description of the thesis see theAbstract.

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Voluntary repatriation has been identified as the ideal solution for most refugees in the African context. In the past, the causes of refugee migrations in Africa were often directly attributable to problems associated with the colonial era. During this period refugees were usually welcomed and well treated in exile and returned home willingly at the end of the conflict. More recently however, conflicts in Africa and the refugee situations created by these conflicts, have become more complex. At the same time, pressures on host nations and communities have increased, making refugees much less welcome in exile. As the international community, the UNHCR and NGOs have become more involved in dealing with refugee populations, they have sometimes been pressured into pursuing repatriation as the best option for refugees.

These diverse pressures have called into question the voluntary nature of several contemporary refugee return migrations in Africa. There is evidence that in some cases, refugees have been forced intentionally or by circumstances, or coerced into returning home. The thesis first outlines the international legal instruments that guarantee that refugee repatriation will be voluntary. Then the information and decision-making processes of African refugees are examined, followed by an analysis the diverse contexts of refugee repatriation. On the basis of this examination, the thesis derives a new typology of refugee repatriation that emphasizes the degree to which the returnees were permitted a free choice in their decision to return home. Several detailed case studies of African repatriation are presented to verify the new model.

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According to the most recent data available, there are nearly six million
refugees in Africa (US Committee for Refugees 1995, p. 42). These refugees fled their
home countries that were overtaken by violence and ravaged by famine. The refugees
have been forced to settle where they are generally unwanted and have often been left
to fend for themselves. The African continent is not unusual in the fact that there are so
many refugees. Large-scale refugee migrations have occurred elsewhere in the world
and these have lasted for decades without hope of solutions. However, Africa does hold
the dubious distinction that almost every country on the continent has at some time
been either a producer or a destination for refugees, or both. The existence of so many
refugees and refugee flows, seems to point to some systemic failure in modern African
society. At the same time, the fact that so many African refugees seem to adapt to their
situation and survive the experience of being in exile, also indicates some unseen
ability that is incongruent with the common perception of what a refugee is. This
chapter examines what a refugee is, how African refugees settle themselves in their
countries of asylum and how this can affect their eventual repatriation.
Kunz's Typology
In order to explain how refugees can be classified, Kunz (1981, p. 44) divided
them into three distinct groups, derived from refugees' attitudes towards their
displacement. Those refugees whose opposition to political and social events at home is12
shared by their compatriots, both refugees and those who remain in home areas, are
called majority identified refugees. Refugees who have left their home areas because of
active or latent discrimination against the group to which they belong, frequently retain
little interest in what occurs in their former homes once they have left. These refugees,
who feel irreconcilably alienated from their fellow citizens, Kunz calls events related
refugees. A third type of refugee includes people who decided to leave their home
country for a variety of individual reasons. These self-alienated refugees feel alienated
from their society not by any active policy of that society, but rather by some personal
In his work, while Kunz does not specifically address the problems associated
with repatriation, it can be suggested that the first type of refugee, the majority
identified would be the most likely to participate in a repatriation. Refugees who retain
a strong attachment to both the feeling of homeland and to people who did not flee as
refugees, are the most likely to want to repatriate. In the African context, the majority
identified category can be applied to a significant proportion of the current refugee
population, as well as almost all refugees created in the period of anti-colonial wars.
Kunz notes that "…these refugees identify themselves enthusiastically with the nation,
though not with its government." (p. 43).
Refugees from Namibia in the 1980s, from Angola and Zimbabwe in the 1970s
and from Algeria in the 1950s all fled their countries because of the effects of foreign
domination. These refugees however, did not altogether abandon their nations, rather in
many cases they actively participated in liberation struggles. Once liberation occurred,
they were anxious to return home to resume their former lives.
Some more recent refugee migrations in Africa tend to fit into Kunz's events
related category. Refugees who have been subjected to discrimination and often
outright violence feel that they are unwanted, or unsafe in their own homelands. After
becoming refugees, the desire to return home can only be aroused were there to be13
substantial change at home. Ethnic conflicts often leads to the creation of events related
refugees in Africa. An example of this type of migration are Burundi and Rwandans
displaced to each other's country and to Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. The majority of
these refugees were displaced by the ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi. Before
the recent upheaval in these two states in 1994, little hope was seen for the thousands of
refugees who had fled Burundi and Rwanda. Many refugees in Tanzania had settled for
an extended period and had been granted citizenship by the Tanzanian government.
In Africa, self-alienated refugees have played only a minor role in the largerscale refugee picture. There have been some cases, however where individuals or
groups of people have been displaced because of philosophical differences between
them and governments. For example, upwards of twenty thousand Jehovah's Witnesses
fled from Malawi to Zambia during the late 1960s and early 1970s (Coles 1985, p.
112). While the Jehovah's Witnesses were self-alienated, they were subject to
discrimination and harassment prior to their decision to flee. Elsewhere in southern
Africa, many of the refugees who fled South Africa to participate in the fight against
Apartheid could be classified as self-alienated. Recent political changes in South Africa
allowed most of the country's refugees to return home, where they have been able to
participate actively in that nation's new democracy. Individual cases of self-alienated
refugees abound on the continent. Many Ethiopian intellectuals who fled the tyranny of
the Mengistu regime could also be classified as self-alienated refugees, as could white
Mozambicans and Angolans who returned to Portugal during the 1970s. However, to a
great extent, the self-alienated refugees category is more relevant to other areas of the
world than it is to Africa.
Colonialism, Tribalism and Refugees in Africa
In an attempt to explain the very large number of refugees in Africa, some
researchers have provided one fundamental explanation: colonialism and its lasting14
effects in Africa. Much early literature on African refugees focuses on the fact that
yesterday's colonial policies and the boundaries that they imposed are to be held
directly responsible for today's refugees (Kibreab 1985, p. 32). The basic premise
suggested is that the colonial boundaries that were superimposed on Africa by
European colonial powers were artificial and therefore separated ethnic and linguistic
areas that were formerly closely linked into two or more colonies that often had
different colonial masters. Figure 2.1 provides a very general indication of the number
and distribution of ethnic groups on the continent.
During the colonial period, little attempt was made to develop a sense of
nationalism among the many ethnic groups in a colony. In some instances, colonial
governments would use inter-ethnic rivalries to their advantage. At the end of the
colonial era, old rivalries and conflicts between ethnic groups, that had been suppressed
during the colonial era, often came to the surface during the fight for control of the
emerging nations. In some cases, such as with Biafra and Katanga, the conflict resulted
in secessionist movements. Elsewhere, as in Southern Sudan, a protracted civil war has
developed from a secessionist movement. In other examples such as Namibia, Rhodesia
and the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique, the
desire to overthrow colonial governments and to achieve independence led to lengthy
guerrilla wars. In many of these examples, the violence and instability inherent in these
conflicts drove many people to seek asylum outside their homelands.
The colonial and ethnic explanations of Africa's refugee problem present some
difficulties. While the demise of colonial powers undoubtedly left many African states
as a heterogeneous collection of ethnic groups, ill-prepared for independence, the result
has not been universally chaotic. Although many states have singled out some ethnic,
religious or linguistic groups, and pursued discriminatory policies against them, the
majority of Africa's people remain unaffected in this way. The fact that African states15
Figure 2.1 Distribution of Ethnic Groups in Africa
Adapted From: Murdock 1959 insert16
are today, for the most part, tenuous alliances based on ethnic grounds would seem to
call into question the simple colonial/ ethnic explanation for refugee migration. Some
alternate explanation must be available that takes the complexities of modern Africa
into account.
While not denying the impact of the colonial precursors to contemporary
African society, Kibreab (1985; 1991) suggests that the current causes of refugees on
the continent run much deeper. He notes that "…at the heart of the African refugee
problem lies a lack of respect for fundamental human rights, including the right of
peoples to determine their own destiny…" (Kibreab 1991, p. 21). He continues:
"…The refugee problem in Africa is a result of an inter-play of political,
social, economic and environmental factors. It is not easy, therefore to
isolate one factor to the neglect of others and to state the real cause with
certainty. The factors that generate refugees are inextricably intertwined
with each other…" (Kibreab 1991, p. 23)
Colonialism is a fact in African history, but using it as a crutch to explain
continuing refugee migrations becomes less viable as the colonial era sinks further into
the past. Kibreab attempts to reduce the scale of the perspective, from the continental
level of the colonial theorists, to the micro-scale of the regional conflict. This reduction
in scale can prove useful. Each refugee migration, be it large or small, long or shortterm, has its origin in discrete socio-economic causes that do not occur elsewhere in the
same form. The causes and the solutions of refugee migrations in Africa lie in the
complex social and economic interactions manifest in everyday life. While inter-ethnic
conflict might be the catalyst in one refugee migration, another might be the result of
environmental stress brought on by economic and demographic pressures. The
governments of many African states are increasingly directly involved in situations that
cause refugee migrations, through enforced villagization, or the direct persecution of a
single ethnic group. The application of the 'colonial explanation' to all these migrations
does not, in the end, shed much light on the real reasons for these migrations.17
African Refugee Theory
The complex interplay of socio-economic factors which can lead to refugee
migrations does not affect each migrant in the same manner. The varieties of different
refugee migrations are as complex as the situations which can create them. People have
different perceptions of exactly what they consider is a threat to them. In some
situations the mere rumour of instability can be enough to impel people to move. In
other situations, people do not flee until they have been overtaken by violent conflict.
Because in the African context, the line between political and economic repression can
become blurred, many refugees could (and are) classified as economic migrants. In
other cases, ecological change can be the cause of mass migrations. This latter variation
of migration is usually ignored by contemporary definitions.
Rogge (1979, p. 55) derived a typology of refugees based upon an examination
of the activating agent for the refugee migration, the objective of the migration, and
whether the migrants possess refugee characteristics. Figure 2.2 shows the outline of
Rogge's typology, with more contemporary examples replacing the originals. This
more complex examination of refugee decision making is more in line with Kibreab's
explanation of the refugee situation in Africa.
Rogge's typology initially identifies two classes of involuntary migration:
forced and impelled. The typology continues by outlining seven distinct types of
refugees and their characteristics. It should be noted that the terms forced and impelled
were introduced into the migration literature by Petersen (1958, p. 261). According to
Petersen, the difference between these two classes of migration lies in the amount of
free choice an individual has when they are involved in forced migration. Forced
migrants are expelled from an area by an external force, such as a government, the
people involved have absolutely no choice in the matter of their removal. In Africa,18
Forced Impelled
in Malawi
in Kenya
in Angola
in Sudan
in Sudan
South Africa
Bantustans in
South Africa
in Ethiopia
in S. Sudan
Figure 2.2 Typology of Involuntary Migration in Africa
Adapted From: Rogge 1979, p. 55
in Zaire19
examples include Ugandan Asians expelled by the Amin regime in the 1970s, or South
Africans forcibly removed to homelands under Apartheid. Impelled migrants, on the
other hand, do retain some degree of choice regarding their possible flight. Before
making the decision to migrate, 'impelled' migrants have the opportunity to weigh the
factors involved and then make a choice between moving or remaining in the face of an
external threat. Recent African examples of impelled migration include Somalis or
Rwandans fleeing to neighbouring states. Most, but not all, African refugees fall into
the impelled category.
The motivation for a refugee's migration becomes important when their legal
status is determined. According to Rogge's typology, some types of refugees are more
likely to obtain official recognition than others. Ecological refugees, for example,
almost never receive official international recognition, but do sometimes receive
international assistance, such as Malians in Niger (1974) and Tigrayans in Sudan
African Refugees and International Law
The different types of refugees as identified by Kunz, Petersen, Rogge and
others are subject to various international and regional laws. In the African context,
three important legal instruments, two from the United Nations and one from the
Organization for African Unity (OAU), govern the manner in which refugees are
defined, what assistance they are able to receive and how they should be resettled.
Repatriation is also of central importance in these documents. The right of refugees to
determine how and when they should return home is clearly stated in two of the three
major documents. In addition, each document has clauses that affect the status of every
African refugee.20
United Nations Statutes
Following the Second World War, several million people remained displaced
throughout Europe. The newly formed United Nations was given the task of providing
a framework for the resettlement of these people. Following on the work of the
International Refugee Organization, that was part of the disbanded League of Nations,
the UN drafted the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and established
the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (Holborn 1975, p. 65). The new UN
Convention defined a refugee as any person who
 "…owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race,
religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political
opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to, or
owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that
country…" (UN 1951, I.1.A[2]).
In addition, the 1951 Convention limited the definition to anyone who was a refugee
because of events that occurred in Europe before January 1951.
In 1967 the UN, recognizing the limitations of the original Convention
regarding the clause which limited official refugees to people of European origin before
the 1951 date, approved a Protocol to the Convention. This Protocol extended the
definition of 'refugee' to include all people who have fled their homeland owing to a
well-founded fear of persecution (Onyango 1986, p. 5). The extension of the
Convention institutionalized the international refugee protection system, including the
UNHCR. Initially UNHCR's mandate was to run for three years. However since it first
expired, the mandate has been extended by the UN General Assembly every five years
(Crisp 1995, p. 256).
In the context of repatriation, the UN statutes include two principles central to
the refugee population in Africa. The first is the right to asylum. Once a nation has
ratified the Convention and the Protocol, refugees have the right to settle in that21
country. In addition, Article 33 of the Convention states that refugees have the right not
to be refouled, or returned to their country of origin against their will, while their life
might still be in danger. The principle of non-refoulement is an essential element in the
protection of refugees against forces that might want to expedite a solution to a refugee
situation. In principle, this article provides individual refugees with the choice of
repatriating when they choose to do so. In reality, however, when governments and
NGOs make arrangements for official repatriation programs, refugees are frequently
not consulted about their concerns with security in their home areas. Once governments
have decided that it is 'safe' for refugees to return, the agendas of the authorities
frequently over-ride those of the refugees or the conventions of international law. The
UNHCR is given the mandate to protect refugees covered by these international
The United Nations Statutes and Africa
When it was drawn up, the UN Convention was widely regarded as a 'western'
document that had little or no relevance to the African refugee situation (Onyango
1986, p. 4). The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol reflected a Euro-American
centred perspective of the concept of 'refugee' that was derived following the Second
World War (Paton 1990, p. 4). This perspective viewed refugees as a one-time problem,
that required a one-time solution: the 1951 Convention (Schultheis 1989, p. 8). The
United Nations Convention provided a universal definition of a refugee, with respect to
the aftermath of the Second World War. The definition's strength lies in the fact that it
concentrates on individuals and their rights regarding refugee status and protection. The
UN definition however, has a weakness that can be exploited when migrants have a less
well founded "…fear of persecution…", that allows them to be more easily excluded
from official recognition and its benefits, should a host nation wish to exclude them
(Goodwin-Gill 1990, p. 28).22
One type of migrant who is most likely to be excluded by the UN definition is
the so-called 'economic' refugee. Although some refugee migrations do have strong
roots in economic factors, people who use the lack of economic opportunities as a
reason for claiming refugee status are often denied that status (Schultheis 1989, p. 9).
Paton (1990, p. 4) argues that this discrimination originates in an abnormal separation
of politics from economics and is peculiar to the developed world, particularly the
United States. This separation is then used to justify the position that politically
motivated refugees are legitimate, while economically motivated ones are not.
The Organization for African Unity and Refugees
In the years preceding the formation of the OAU in 1963, many African peoples
were trying to achieve liberation from European colonial powers. During this period,
Africa's refugee population began to grow rapidly. By 1967, it is estimated that onehalf million people had been displaced outside their home countries (Onyango 1986, p.
3). In this early phase of the post-colonial era, most African refugees were the product
of anti-colonial struggles. Apart from the UN Convention, which had its deficiencies,
no legal instrument officially protected refugees on the continent; at that time to show
solidarity with peoples still under colonial domination, the OAU decided to establish its
own wide-reaching refugee policy.
In 1969, the sixth session of the OAU adopted its own Protocol for refugees.
The OAU Protocol incorporated the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, but expanded
the definition of who is a refugee. In addition to including the UN definition of a
refugee, the OAU definition includes anyone who:23
"…through aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or events
gravely disturbing public order in part, or in all of his country of origin,
or the country of which he has nationality, is obliged to leave his usual
place of residence to seek refuge outside this country." (OAU 1969,
Article 1)
The intention of the OAU definition was to extend refugee status to persons
fleeing colonial domination and anti-colonial warfare. The OAU definition was worded
in such a way as to make it easier for a nation to extend immediate protection of
refugee status to a large group of people at once, who were fleeing colonial oppression.
At the time this convention was drafted, there were only 900,000 refugees in Africa,
many of whom were expected to return home quickly at the end of colonial domination
(Bakwesegha 1995, p. 6). Unlike the UN definition, which places the emphasis on
individual persecution, the OAU definition concentrates on groups of people who are at
risk during a conflict (Holborn 1975, p. 189). More recently, the clause providing status
for those fleeing events gravely disturbing public order, has provided Africans with the
most liberal definition of 'refugee' in the world.
Article Three of the Convention prohibits the use of the protection of refugee
status in one country as a base for subversive activities against another OAU member
state. This provision is in line with the Convention's pretext that the acceptance of
refugees by a state should not be regarded as a hostile act by the state that generated the
refugees. Ideally, the granting of asylum should be a neutral decision, not influenced by
inter-state rivalries. In reality, subversive activities and sometimes outright hostilities
do occur across frontiers. The most recent notable example of refugees using one
country as a base for subversion of another occurred in Rwanda in 1990. In November
of that year, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mainly of Rwandan
refugees from Uganda, crossed into their homeland and seized control of the nation
(Khiddu-Makubuya 1995, p. 143).
Article Five of the OAU Convention specifically addresses the question of
durable solutions for refugees. (The full text of Article Five is included as Appendix I)24
The Convention assumes that voluntary repatriation should be the ultimate solution for
African refugees. Once the conflict that generated the refugees has ended, signatories to
the convention must work towards the promotion of voluntary repatriation. It should be
noted that explicit provision is made for the refugees themselves to determine the time
and manner in which they will return home (Bakwesegha 1995, p. 11). As with the
OAU definition of 'refugee', the assumption that repatriation must be the eventual
outcome of a refugee situation emanates from the era in which the Convention was
conceived. When it was drafted, the majority of African refugees had fled European
colonies or anti-colonial wars. Following national independence, rapid repatriation was
the most likely solution for these refugees.
The OAU definition of a refugee does not specifically address the economic
aspects of refugee migrations. However, the Convention's section dealing with
"…events seriously disrupting public order…" does provide a window for the granting
of refugee status to some 'economic' refugees. The problems surrounding official
definitions of who is, and who is not a refugee, have led researchers to create the phrase
'de facto refugee'. Any person who has fled their homeland to another country,
regardless of their legal status, is a de facto refugee. While the whims of government
officials might not define these people as 'refugees', they do exist, and share the same
characteristics as officially recognized refugees.
The OAU Convention, like the UN Convention and Protocol does not provide
recognition for internally displaced refugees. Both the UN and the OAU recognize the
states' authority to be paramount regarding matters within their own frontiers.
International protection and assistance cannot be officially provided to an internally
displaced population without the agreement of an internationally recognized
government (Schultheis 1989, p. 8). Recently there has been some adjustment in this
position at the international level. The crisis in Somalia, for example, prompted the UN
and the United States, after much delay, to decide that there was in fact no legitimate25
national government in Somalia and that it was therefore necessary to impose a solution
that included some responses to the large internally displaced population.
Whatever strengths and weaknesses are apparent in the international legislation
regarding refugees, the content of such agreements becomes irrelevant if governments
choose not to enforce them. Onyango (1986, p. 1) describes the OAU charter as
'pragmatic' and 'progressive'; and notes that (at the time) thirty-three member states
had ratified the agreement. However he also observes that only a few of these countries
have modified their national legal systems to reflect the Convention's principles.
Despite the existence of the OAU Convention, some African countries have not altered
national laws and statues to reflect the requirements of refugees. Because of this, there
exists the potential for selective abuses of refugee rights, for which the refugees have
little or no recourse on a national level. In many cases, refugee migrations in Africa are
so large and occur with little forewarning that questions of the validity of the refugees
claims for asylum are rapidly superseded by the more pressing basic needs of refugees
such as food and medical care. Among those states that have incorporated aspects of the
OAU's Convention into their domestic legal system are major refugee receiving
countries such as Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. In these countries, specific policies and
agencies for the management of refugees have been established. In many cases, these
agencies or governments have been able to react to large-scale refugee migrations
within their borders. In some cases however, such as in Sudan, national legislation
regarding refugees has not necessarily been applied evenly to all refugees.
Many African countries have signed and ratified the OAU Convention. Many
more have signed the UN Convention and Protocol on refugees (a compete list is
included as Appendix II). While some states have signed the OAU Convention and
ratified it in their legislative assemblies, others have signed but not yet ratified the
agreement. A few states have only signed the UN Convention or Protocol. Despite the
holdouts, this widespread acknowledgment of the responsibilities of states regarding26
refugees has been useful to international agencies such as UNHCR. In some cases,
UNHCR has been able to invoke provisions of these conventions in countries that have
signed them, thereby providing enhanced international protection to refugees
(Bakwesegha 1995, p. 15).
In the final analysis however, the UN and the OAU are ultimately bound by the
wishes of their member states. These international organizations and their component
agencies, such as UNHCR, are sometimes compelled to act when there might be
internal opposition to decisions made at a political level. Because of this constraint,
UNHCR has occasionally had to participate in repatriation exercises organized by two
sovereign nations, that it would otherwise not have initiated independently.
The manner in which refugees settle when they are in exile has a direct effect
upon their repatriation prospects. Many of the assumptions made about refugee
settlement and voluntary repatriation in Africa come from an the anti-colonial era of
African history. During this period, refugees were often welcomed in exile as comrades
in the fight against European colonialism. More recently, as refugees have become a
major burden to many states, there have been severe limitations placed on the land
available to refugees and the assistance that they receive. What follows is a summary of
how and why refugee settlement has changed in Africa and how the voluntariness of
repatriations can be affected.
Refugee Settlement: The Anti-Colonial Era
During the anti-colonial era, the majority of Africa's refugees migrated from
one rural area and settled in another. In some cases, such as in Sudan, (Karadawi 1987,
p. 115) some refugees did settle in cities, however most displacees found refuge in rural
areas, where they engaged in some type of subsistence agriculture or wage earning.27
Because of the lack of comprehensive surveys, the proportion of African refugees that
settled in rural areas is difficult to estimate. Rogge (1985, p. 21) states that until the
mid-1970s upwards of ninety percent of all refugees were settled in rural areas. Those
refugees that did settle in rural areas were either provided with land in a settlement
scheme, or settled themselves spontaneously wherever they found land available. While
the proportion of spontaneously settled refugees has never been accurately determined,
the 1979 Arusha Conference on African refugees fixed the fraction at sixty percent
(Rogge 1985, p. 123). Since this proportion represents little more than an estimate on
behalf of researchers and officials, it is clear that at the time the majority of Africa's
refugees were self-settled and did not rely on settlement schemes for land.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Robert Chambers (1979; 1982) conducted
significant research on the process of refugee settlement in Africa. Through his field
experience, he noted many of the characteristics of refugees that had settled without
external assistance in rural areas (1979, p. 386). His work provides a valuable insight
on how refugees settled during the anti-colonial era and in comparison with more recent
literature, becomes a useful benchmark on the extent to which refugee settlement has
changed over the last decades.
According to Chambers, refugees who had recently arrived in a settlement area
were instantly impoverished, since they had only what they could easily carry with
them during their flight. The refugees had frequently abandoned the tools with which
they formerly made their living, or the animals upon which they relied for food. Some
refugees, due to the vagaries of boundaries fixed during the colonial era, found
themselves among people of similar ethnic backgrounds, however this was not always
the case. Many refugees had traveled far enough to settle in regions populated by
different ethnic groups, where they were not as welcome. Whatever the case, the large
scale influx of an impoverished group of people, who at the least required some land28
upon which to settle or cultivate, placed extreme pressures on the relationship between
refugees and hosts.
Upon arriving in exile, many refugees had nothing to sell but their own labour.
During the period before the refugees planted and harvested their first crops, their
labour was one of their only saleable items. Unfortunately for a refugee seeking to enter
the local labour force, a refugee receiving area was usually saturated with other
refugees who had a similar goal. The pool of unemployed refugees had a tendency to
force down the average wage of available jobs. During the 1960s and 1970s there were
many areas of Africa that remained sparsely settled. Some governments provided land
for large-scale refugee settlement. However, much of this land was of marginal
agricultural quality, so refugees who moved in large concentrations still encountered
problems gaining access to fertile land on which to settle.
In some cases refugees became the targets of unwarranted persecution from host
governments. While this persecution sometimes took the form of eviction from their
lands, it also took the form of periodic refoulement or arrest of refugees. Because few
countries had clear domestic policies concerning refugees, local government officials
could use refugees as convenient scapegoats for problems that surfaced in a refugee
receiving area. However well refugees became integrated into a host society, in the long
term, they usually remained last on governments' priority list for land, food, water,
education and credit. The same processes that affected refugees upon settlement:
declining wages, rising prices, restricted access, inherently affected the host
community. While some large landowners benefited from a refugee influx by renting
land, selling food and hiring cheap labour, the poorer hosts were negatively affected by
all these factors. The limited pool of resources available in any one area was invariably
drained to the detriment of both refugees and poorer hosts.29
Refugee Settlement: The Contemporary Situation
While some of the characteristics of African refugees in Chambers' time still
ring true today, such as their instant impoverishment and the relative lack of services
provided for refugees, there have been significant changes (mostly for the worse) in the
conditions to which contemporary refugees are subjected. Since the early 1980s a series
of large-scale refugee migrations that are not directly linked to the anti-colonial era
have altered the way in which refugees are treated.
One change that has had a profound effect on refugees is the apparent demise of
the 'traditional hospitality' (Hansen 1979, p. 375) that was shown by locals to the
refugees that settled among them. As population pressures have increased, so has the
value of land in Africa. Increasingly as land is bought and sold, traditional land tenure
systems have fallen into decline. Refugees who once might have had access to land
through kinship ties, are now frequently unable to use these ties to obtain sufficient
land. Kibreab (1985, p. 68) heralded the end of 'traditional hospitality' in Africa. He
argued that this hospitality might once have existed in response to African migrations,
but since the rise of African nation states, and with the widespread introduction of the
private ownership of land, this concept has become a 'museum piece'. The lack of
available resources to already impoverished rural hosts virtually eliminates
opportunities for the hosts to provide assistance to the refugees. Increasingly, refugees
are being left to the whim of their local hosts, who can exploit them for cheap labour or
as a market for overpriced goods. Today, refugees who attempt spontaneous settlement
in Africa find themselves in an unwelcome competition for land, jobs and food. Where
land is unavailable or where governments want to restrict refugee settlement, they find
themselves confined to refugee camps that provide little more that basic services
(Hocké 1989, p. 37).
Because of the increasing restrictions being placed on refugee settlement in
Africa, UNHCR has had to emphasize the organized settlement of refugees. Today,30
refugees in Zaire, Burundi, Algeria, Sudan and elsewhere are confined to camps with
little or no opportunity to become self-supporting. The UNHCR maintains these
refugees in camps that offer the occupants little in the way of services or economic
opportunities. While in the early 1970s, upwards of sixty percent of UNHCR's African
budget was spent on organized agricultural settlements for refugees (Rogge 1985, p.
67), more recently, UNHCR has earmarked most of its African budget for emergency
relief for refugees (Kibreab 1991, p. 35). This shift of emphasis from long-term
organized settlement to short-term emergency relief has serious implications for the
process of voluntary repatriation. Refugees who are without hope in relief camps are
increasingly taking risks, or are forced into taking risks and are returning home. The
voluntary nature of some of these return migrations thus becomes very questionable.
The forced migration theories, especially those of Petersen and Kunz, have
introduced the concepts that underlie the current debate about the voluntariness of
repatriation. Particularly important to the question of repatriation is Petersen's
differentiation between forced and impelled migration. Many of his categories and the
sub-categories derived by Rogge, can be conveniently adapted to a contemporary
repatriation situation. Is repatriation in Africa, as the UN and OAU Conventions would
dictate, a free choice? Or is repatriation increasingly being impelled or forced upon
refugees? The international law regarding refugees provides a standard against which
nations that deal with refugees can be compared. From the basic theoretical framework
of African refugees, the focus turns to the specific question of how and why refugees
decide to return home.
Refugee settlement practices in Africa have changed substantially over the last
fifteen years. The increasing use of refugee camps as places to confine refugees, rather
than help them become self-supporting has led to an increased burden being placed on31
the international community. Many of these settlements, for example those in Kenya or
Zaire, have become little more than basic feeding centres for refugees. In many cases,
these organized settlements provide officials with an easily identifiable target
population for repatriation exercises.

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