News / Africa

Amnesty: Growing Danger for Refugees

A woman walks past a child playing with water in a refugee camp in Sevare, Mali, Jan. 26, 2013.
A woman walks past a child playing with water in a refugee camp in Sevare, Mali, Jan. 26, 2013.

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Joe DeCapua
Amnesty International says the world is growing more dangerous for refugees and migrants. The organization’s annual report says the rights of millions of people who have escaped conflict and persecution -- or migrated to seek work and a better life -- have been abused.


Amnesty says, “Another year has been lost for the Syrian people,” millions of whom have been displaced by conflict. It adds that little has changed in Syria, except the “ever increasing number of lives lost or ruined.”

Amnesty’s Netsanet Belay says, “Our view overall is that the Syria crisis remains unresolved largely because of failure of the international community to make bold commitments to safeguard citizens. It’s really troubling to see so many civilians still trapped in the cycle of violence. We regrettably noticed how some governments have blocked effective international response to the crisis.”

Belay, the human rights group’s Africa Program Director, said many other people were also forced to seek safety in 2012, within countries or across borders.

“Much of our research in the past year is indicating that, particularly in Africa, given the escalation of armed conflict and communal violence in several countries, including Mali, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, we’re seeing massive displacement of people from their homes internally and into neighboring countries.”

For example, 400,000 people had to flee northern Mali, while 200,000 had to flee Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. He blamed that on “indiscriminate bombing by the Sudan Armed Forces

As for the DRC, he says, “The total number of internally displaced people inside the country grew to more than two-point-four million. This is the highest it’s been since 2009.”

Besides describing displacement, the Amnesty International report also levels accusations of human rights abuses. Belay highlighted several.

“In Mali, in Bamako, in [the] north, we’ve seen several people die as a result of extrajudicial killings and summary executions. The same happened in Nigeria, where we’ve seen scores of civilians who were killed not only as a result of attacks by Boko Haram forces, but also by government and security forces. In Sudan, we’ve talked to innocent civilians, who have fallen victim. We’re talked to [an] 11-year-old girl, whose legs have been injured by bombs thrown from Antonov warplanes,” he said.

Amnesty also says governments failed to protect the rights of many of the world’s 214-million migrants.

“Migrants in African countries and migrants going from Africa to European countries are facing serious and massive human rights violations, both in terms of discrimination, treatment and asylum processing,” said Belay.

For example, Amnesty reports changes in South Africa’s asylum-seeking procedures led to intimidation and xenophobic attacks against foreigners. And it can be difficult for asylum-seekers to find safe havens.


Belay said, “Much of the asylum seeker and refugee population is hosted by the poorest of the world. The poorest of African countries are hosting the majority of refugees leaving their countries as a result of persecution or conflict. The European Union only allows about 5,000 resettlements per year for asylum seekers, where we have seen more than 200,000 people fleeing from conflict in Sudan to neighboring countries like Ethiopia and South Sudan.”

The report says levels of police brutality are rising in many parts of Africa. It highlights last year’s incident in South Africa when police shot dead 34 protesting miners. In Senegal, six people were killed by security forces in pre-election violence.

Also, Uganda is criticized for its ongoing crackdown on the media, while Somalia stands out as one of the most dangerous places for journalists. It also says human rights activists are being harassed in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, The Gambia and Nigeria.

Belay said, “The underlying cause relates to the lack of institutional mechanisms that create democratic accountable systems in countries. Most governments in Africa indeed have traveled great distances in building these institutions and structures, but they are not there yet.”
The Amnesty report says, “The excuse that human rights are an internal affair” cannot be used as an “excuse for inaction.” It adds that “respect for state sovereignty” also cannot be given as a reason not to act against injustice.

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