IRRI Newsletter: In Case You Missed It (Jan- July 2017)
Published: 30 Jul 2017
The first six months of this year has continued at a pace for IRRI. Not only have the areas we work in continue to be challenging but we have worked hard to ensure the voices of the displaced and conflict affected communities are not only heard but heeded at the international level. In addition, our Associate Director, Olivia Bueno, who was involved in founding the organisation, sadly move on to other work. We are delighted that she remains in touch professionally and personally, and we have recruited a new member of staff to lead our programme on the causes and resolutions to exile – Thijs Van Laer – who joins us in our Kampala office. We also published our 2016 Annual Report summarising all our activities in 2016 and looking forward to our work in 2017.
IRRI’s work is as important as ever and we rely on donations to enable us to continue to do this work. There are various ways you can donate to IRRI, including through PayPal, workplace giving, bank transfer or if you are based in the US, through Amazon Smile.
This newsletter includes updates on the following areas of IRRI’s work: Rights in Exile programme, Uganda, Causes and Resolution of Exile programme, South Sudan ,Burundi, DRC, Gambia, Cameroon, Sudan, Peacekeeping, R2P, ICGLR, Citizenship
Rights in Exile
Our Rights in Exile programme has continued with its efforts to improve the rights of those in exile over the first six months of the year. In early 2017, we submitted a paper to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee’s Inquiry into forced displacement and humanitarian responses in Central and East Africa. Our submission also led us to be called to present oral evidence to the Inquiry and some of our key issues were subsequently raised in a letter from the Chair to the UK’s Secretary of State, Department for International Development.
We published January, February, March, April, May and June’s edition of the Rights in Exile newsletter and continued to provide support, advice and resources to refugees from around the world both in person and through electronic communication. We have also contributed to a new project by the World Bank, entitled survey “Migration and the Law”, which aims to contract a unique database benchmarking migrant and refugee integration policies as described in formal law and regulations, to help better inform governments, policy makers and international organisations on the regulatory gaps that hinder successful integration of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. IRRI provided input to the case studies of both Senegal and Uganda. We also published a blog, entitled The Kampala Convention: Time for Ratification, encouraging states in Africa to ratify and implement the Kampala Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people.
We have also been following the increasing trend away from refugee protection toward protection from refugees and focused on the US in a blog “Yet there’s no place for us”: Trump’s Executive Order epitomises a global trend of exclusion”. In a similar vein, we presented at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre conference “Beyond Crisis: Rethinking Refugee Studies” under the title “With or without policy? Forging spaces for belonging.” We also published a piece in NewsDeeply: When Refugees are Cast as Outsiders, They create new ways to belong.
Our concern has also led us to undertake a piece of research looking at the implications of increasingly securitised refugee responses on the lives of Somalis living in three countries of exile – Kenya, Uganda and the US (forthcoming). We are also researching causes of migration and protection challenges faced by mixed migrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea, asking whether existing approaches have been successful and whether they will continue to promote or undermine human rights standards in practice.
Uganda has seen an unprecedented influx of refugees which has placed significant strain on the resources and capacity of the country and donors to respond. Between January – May 2017 alone, over 300,000 refugees arrived, mainly from South Sudan. There has been a lot of focus on the positive aspects to Uganda’s refugee hosting policy, which whilst recognisably better than many in the region, is still not perfect. In order to balance this, IRRI has worked hard to present the “[t]he reality behind Uganda’s refugee model” including exposing some of the myths that have been created as a result. We have also attempted to increase the focus on the causes of exile of refugees from South Sudan rather than predominantly on its consequences in terms of refugee flows.
In June, Uganda held a Uganda Solidarity Summit and, along with many of the other NGOs based in Uganda, IRRI was actively involved. We attended the summit and participated in the NGO side even and main pledging day. To contribute to the discussions, we published a blog highlighting the need for money and political will to ‘support’ Uganda (“The donor dollar is important, but it is no substitute for good refugee policy”), was a panellist in a BBC Africa debate on “Is Uganda the best place to be a refugee” and responded to several media queries. We also participated in an event hosted by IIED on urban refugee livelihoods in Kampala, part of a bigger project looking to improve understanding of the effects of urban humanitarian crises on the functioning of local markets.
Cause and Resolutions of Exile
The conflict in South Sudan has been the main cause of the influx of South Sudanese refugees to Uganda. As part of our Causes and Resolution of Exile programme, IRRI has been working with other NGOs to engage on the situation there and increase our outreach to policy makers. Examples of our work include signing onto an open letter to African Union leaders in support of a national dialogue in South Sudan and statement urging the UNHRC to renew and strengthen the mandate and capacity of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. IRRI also took part in an experts panel at an event hosted by Konrad Adeneur Stifung entitled “Civilians at a crossroads: unpacking the South Sudan Crisis”
Burundi: IRRI also engaged with and provided direct support to the visit in Uganda of the UNHRC-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, in May 2017. In June, IRRI carried out research with Burundian refugees in Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): IRRI has worked together with other civil society actors on the ongoing political impasse and the violence in the Kasai region, where we have called on the UN to investigate the ongoing violence. We also started planning research with Congolese refugees to be conducted in late 2017.
Gambia has seen a peaceful handover of power. In the aftermath of this change, we published a blog on the need for accountability: _ “Gambia in search of justice: the cases against former Interior Minister Ousmane Sonko”, which looked at the case proceeding in Switzerland. With positive changes in the Gambia, IRRI has decided to deprioritise our work there for the time being
With less focus on the Gambia, IRRI has focused more on the situation in Cameroon, which has a long and complicated history but where tensions have been increasing recently. Our concern is that this situation has the potential to worsen with an increase on the limitation of basic human rights. We spoke with a number of civil society organisations in order to better understand the history and context on the ground leading to a blog entitled “Why We Shouldn’t Ignore What’s Happening in Cameroon” and we will continue to focus on raising the profile of the issues that key to either the resolution or exacerbation of these existing tensions.
The situation in Sudan has changed considerably over this period. Early in 2017, the US temporarily eased its sanctions in response to Sudan’s “cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism and addressing regional conflicts”. The ceasefire in the Two Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that has been in place since last year has, for the most part, continued. NHRMO continues to monitor the situation on the ground and has published three quarterly reports covering October to November 2016, December 2016, January to February 2017 and March to May 2017.
Despite the changes in the international community’s perception, Sudan still has a hostile human rights environment with ongoing harassment of civil society and interference with the media. IRRI continued to follow and push for the release of the TRACKs members who were detained back in May 2016 until their eventual release this March, and worked with our partners to raise the profile of the unlawful detention of Sudanese human rights defender, Dr Mudawi, and his colleagues.
We also undertook field research for the third paper in our series on civilian perspectives on peacekeeping forces. This paper focused on the AU mission in Somalia, AMISOM. Based on the findings, we sent an internal briefing to UNSC members prior to discussions about the AMISOM mandate renewal and wrote a letter to the AMISOM leadership with our findings. The report “They Say They’re Not Here to Protect Us”: Civilian perspectives on the African Union mission in Somalia and an accompanying video were published at the end of May. Continuing the work on UNAMID, we published a blog to raise concerns over the proposed drawdown of forces there: “Discussions about UNAMID must Prioritise Protection”. We will also be publishing a paper bringing together the findings of all three papers in the series. Related to this, and due to our concerns as to the actions at the UN to reduce the budgets of peacekeeping operations, we joined over 100 other civil society organisations to sign onto an open letter to Congress urging continued support and leadership in the United Nations.
We have continued our work on the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), including our on-going engagement with the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), as member of the Steering Committee. As part of the Africa Group within GAAMAC, IRRI attended a workshop to ensure the production a “Manual on Best Practices in Strengthening National Mechanisms for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities”. We finalised our paper on the African Union and R2P which will be launched in early September to coincide with the UNGA informal interactive dialogue on R2P.
We also continued as thematic lead and steering group members of the Uganda Civil Society Forum (UCSF) of the ICGLR. We worked hard to increase the engagement in external activities of individual ICGLR UCSF members by creating and managing two online platforms to increase engagement and discussion, one with a specific focus on Burundi and another more general. This has resulted in joint actions on five regional issues and helped us to ensure the ICGLR UCSF members are more linked in with regional and international initiatives. We also participated in the “People’s Parliament” event organised by the UCSF on preventing sexual and gender based violence.
Our work with the Citizenship Rights in Africa (CRAI) coalition is ongoing. We continue to update the website with new articles from across the continent to create a stronger knowledge base for those working to avoid statelessness and to push for full and unfettered citizenship rights for all. We have also continued to publish the associated regular newsletter that you can subscribe to here. We also participated in a training session on statelessness and the right to a nationality, organised by UNHCR.