Nation: How countries accept or reject refugees

African countries have taken divergent stances on whether to host refugees from Afghanistan. Last month, Uganda and Rwanda became the first on the continent to accept fleeing Afghani refugees following the power retake by the Taliban. South Africa, on the other hand, refused to take the refugees, saying its hands were full.

A statement issued by the South African department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) hinted there had been “overtures” to have the country accommodate refugees in transition to other countries of settlement. “The South African government is unfortunately not in a position to accommodate such a request. South Africa is already home to a substantial number of refugees and is seized with addressing their needs. Most of them already benefit from the social assistance and free medical health programmes offered by our country.”

Pretoria also said the wellbeing of the refugees could be better served in Pakistan, their first country of arrival.

Politics and economics

In general, there may have been political or even monetary considerations. Uganda, renowned for refugee hospitality in Africa, hosts about one million of them, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Hosting refugees is, however, a burden and Kampala has in the past tried to resolve conflicts in the region to ease this burden.

For Afghanistan refugees, being in transition means the temporary host must be enticed to accommodate them. The US, which requested Uganda to host the refugees, will be footing their accommodation bill. For Rwanda, hosting Afghani refugees may firm up its growing ties with Qatar. Qatar had been the mediator in talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban for most of last year and its influence on the troubled country is still immense. Rwanda will mostly host students who have relocated in preparation to settle in another country.

Which international law?

Accepting or rejecting refugees, though, must be based on law. In an interview with the Nation.Africa, Ms Eunice Ndonga-Githinji, Executive Director of the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK), said countries on the continent are bound by laws that ensure refugees’ rights are protected. “At the international level, there is the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees,” Ms Ndonga-Githinji said.

Her organisation is a non-profit that promotes the rights of refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers and other forced migrants in Kenya and the wider East African region. “Regionally, we have the 1969 OAU (Organisation of African Unity, now African Union) Convention governing the specific problems of refugees in Africa, and at the national level there are State laws such as the 2006 Refugees Act in Kenya. Most countries have bilateral agreements to facilitate this further.”

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