Refugee Rights News






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With camps limiting many refugees, the UNHCR’s policy change is welcome

Posted on October 2, 2014 by Lucy Hovil

It is rare to witness a paradigm shift in refugee protection. But such a shift has just happened with the release of the new policy from the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) on alternatives to refugee camps.

For refugees and their advocates, who have been shouting for years about the perils associated with camps, the policy is almost too good to be true. As it states: “From the perspective of refugees, alternatives to camps means being able to exercise rights and freedoms, make meaningful choices regarding their lives and have the possibility to live with greater dignity, independence and normality as members of communities.”

It makes perfect sense. But why has it taken so long?

For decades, the default response to refugee crises has been to set up camps or settlements and coerce refugees into them. Camps, it was argued, were best suited to meet the social, economic and political realities in which refugees are living.

Yet a significant body of research has demonstrated the exact opposite, pointing to the fact that those refugees who have opted out of the camp system – even when that means forgoing any humanitarian assistance – have established an effective alternative approach to exile.

Read more.

Can better access to citizenship help resolve conflict and refugee crises in Africa’s Great Lakes Region?

Posted on July 24, 2014 by Lucy Hovil

The manifold problems of conflict and displacement in Africa’s Great Lakes region seem as complex as they do intractable. After all, with the exception of Tanzania, all the countries in the region have generated refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in large numbers over the past decades. But while not wanting to diminish the problems facing the region past and present, scale should not be conflated with either inexplicability or insolvability.

Read more.

The Role of Citizenship in Addressing Refugee Crises in Africa's Great Lakes Region

By Lucy Hovil & Zachary Lomo
July 15, 2014

With the exception of Tanzania, all the countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region have generated refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in large numbers over the past decades. And despite huge efforts to resolve conflict and displacement, by any standard the number of refugees and IDPs remains painfully high.

Read more.

The brutal consequences of exclusion in Sudan

Posted on June 6, 2014 by Lucy Hovil

This blog first appeared on openDemocracy (

The story of one individual can bring home the realities of living under a repressive regime that otherwise seem intangible. The recent story of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, a Sudanese woman who has been sentenced to death by a court in Sudan for adultery and “apostasy”, highlights one extreme consequence of such repression (see previous blog). In reality, marginalisation and exclusion on the basis of gender, creed and ethnicity/race is the norm not the exception in Sudan – a context in which the majority of Sudanese are being treated like second class citizens at best and non-citizens at worst.

Read more.

Reactions to the Sentencing of Germain Katanga: Some Comfort, Some Frustration

Posted on June 11, 2014 by Olivia Bueno

(This blog first appeared on the International Justice Monitor, a project of the Open Society Justice Initiative.)

On May 23, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down a 12-year prison sentence to the convicted Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga. Despite what was seen as a light sentence to some, it was not greeted with surprise in Ituri, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province where Katanga’s crimes took place. In the words of one local lawyer, “The acquittal of [Katanga’s former co-accused] Mathieu Ngudjolo and the changing of the mode of responsibility against Germain Katanga had already prepared the minds [of the community]…people were not expecting a heavy sentence.” Another civil society representative reflected that “the head of the outreach section [of the ICC in Bunia] had already prepared morale and the psychological aspect of the population…through various national and community radio and various sensitization campaigns…This is why people received the verdict well.”

Read more.

Casamance: political will is needed to address the situation of IDPs

Djibril Balde
May 30, 2014

For thirty two years, the armed conflict in Casamance, which has pitted the government of Senegal against separatist rebels of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), remains unresolved and the civilians displaced by it remain vulnerable. The MFDC rebellion, which is one of the oldest in Africa, is calling for the independence of Casamance. The conflict has led to repeated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including attacks on civilians, killings, burning of villages, carjackings on the National Highway of Ziguinchor (the capital of the southern region) and the laying of landmines. These violations have contributed to the forcible displacement of 40,000 people within Senegal and driven 17,000 to neighbouring countries such as the Gambia and Guinea Bissau.

Read the full article here.

Exile without End? The Struggle to Belong in Africa’s Great Lakes Region

Lucy Hovil
April 26, 2014

Being a refugee in the Great Lakes region is a dangerous occupation. Many are living in a protracted state of exile, unable to return to their ‘home’ countries, yet unable to acquire citizenship in their host countries. This indefinite state of exile, experienced by many in the region, will only end when belonging at a local and national level becomes less exclusive and when all actors recognise that a political rather than humanitarian solution is needed.

Read the full article here.

Conflict in South Sudan: refugees seek protection in Uganda and a way home

Lucy Hovil
April 4, 2014

The independence of South Sudan symbolised a moment of extraordinary achievement and hope. On the one hand, there was optimism that independence had heralded a new era of equal citizenship for those in the South that would override the tensions and divisions of the old Sudan. On the other, this optimism was always countered by a strong degree of realism: many feared that the new dispensation would simply reconfigure the lines of power and reinforce the history of exclusion that lay at the root of Sudan’s fragmentation. The recent escalation of conflict, which has led to the displacement of almost a million people, appears to be a clear indicator of an emerging state based on exclusion rather than inclusion.

Read the full article here.

In Ituri, Katanga Verdict Viewed as a Limited Success

Olivia Bueno
March 21, 2014

On Friday, March 7, 2014, Trial Chamber II at the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted, by a majority, Germain Katanga as an accessory to four war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property, and pillaging) and one crime against humanity (murder). While some welcomed the verdict, reactions to the decision focused as much on what had not been done, as what had. In particular, questions were raised about the failure of the prosecution to prove charges of recruitment and use of child soldiers, rape, and sexual slavery. Questions were also raised about the fact that Katanga was found guilty when his former co-accused, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, was acquitted, especially in the context of the judges’ last minute re-characterization of the mode of liability. Furthermore, Iturians are concerned about what the decision will mean in terms of the further search for accountability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and with regard to reparations.

Read the full article here.

Waiting for Judgment: Communities in Ituri Await the Katanga Verdict with Impatience

Olivia Bueno
March 6, 2014

The verdict in the case against Germain Katanga, the alleged commander of the Forces de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI), for war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to an attack on the village of Bogoro in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is being awaited with impatience in Ituri. Having followed trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for years (the verdict against Katanga will be the third in cases relating to the conflict in Ituri), much of the population are seasoned spectators of the ICC and are well aware of the impending verdict. Not surprisingly, there are mixed feelings regarding the possible outcome of the trial.

Read the full article here.

Why do we continually misunderstand conflict in Africa?

Lucy Hovil
February 10, 2014

Violence in Africa seems particularly prone to the scourge of one-dimensional descriptions. Often described as ethnic or tribal, and sometimes as sectarian, the media prescribes an adjective that quickly becomes accepted as gospel and this explanation is then hard to shift. Thus we are told that the recent outbreak of violence in South Sudan is ethnic (Nuer against Dinka); and fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) is sectarian (Christians against Muslims). It is seldom described in political terms.

Read the full article here.