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

Published: 20 Jun 2014

(20 June 2014) On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) is launching a paper aimed at policy makers dealing with refugees. Based on nine case studies across the region carried out by IRRI over six years, it contends that the framework of citizenship can contribute positively to a better understanding of, and better policy responses to, forced displacement in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

In the context of the paper, citizenship is understood both as access to legal citizenship, and more broadly as a recognition of the right of a person to belong in a community and the power of that acceptance/belonging as a means of accessing other rights. While there are many causes of political conflict and displacement in the region, unequal or inadequate access to citizenship has been a major contributing cause.

Not only has the failure to ensure inclusive citizenship contributed to displacement, but it has also made it harder to resolve. Exclusive understandings of national citizenship limit refugees’ access to citizenship in host states and inhibit local integration. The regional adoption of refugee policies that focus on encampment in isolated areas further undermine a refugee’s right to belong – these policies send a strong message that refugees cannot live as equals to the citizens of their country of exile and can only belong in a limited geographic space deprived of freedom of movement. At the same time, the continued operation of these exclusionary policies has made return “home” impossible for many.

This paper, therefore, makes a series of recommendations for how a deeper understanding of the connections between citizenship and displacement can be integrated into policy responses to displacement that will allow for more sustainable solutions.

Programmes: Rights in Exile
Regions: Great Lakes Region
Type: Library, Paper