It is once again with a sense of despair that we commemorate World Refugee Day – there are currently around 80 million refugees globally according to UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html ). This figure does not include internally displaced persons. Only those who have crossed an international frontier and have fled to another country. The individual suffering gets lost behind the statistics and the sheer magnitude of the numbers. It should be remembered that every one of the 80 million is a human being, created in the image of God, who has lost everything – house, family, friends, livelihood. Most have faced unimaginable horrors in their place of origin, and almost insurmountable difficulties to get where they are. The situation across Africa continuously deteriorates. In Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, rural villagers have seen their houses and crops burned down, their relatives killed (often beheaded) and have fled without food or water for distances of up to 200 km on foot through the bush, or spent days on the open sea in overcrowded fishing boats. We have seen humanitarian catastrophes emerge in Ethiopia and, most recently, in the South East of Nigeria. These are the new crises – there is still no relief in sight in ongoing crises like the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Boko Haram or South Sudan.

Donor fatigue has compromised the delivery of humanitarian assistance. So, for example, UN agencies have launched constant appeals to member states to respond to the crisis in Northern Mozambique, They have, however, still managed to raise only a fraction of the funding required.

Host countries are also increasingly reneging on their obligations under international law and treaties. So, for example, we have heard of more than 9 000 Mozambicans being denied refugee status in Tanzania, and being sent back to Cabo Delgado.

Even if donors gave generously and host countries provided protection to refugees, we are only addressing the symptoms of the refugee crisis without addressing the causes. Especially in Africa the connection between mineral wealth, violence and forced displacements is becoming clearer. The Congolese Bishops have issued statements saying unequivocally that the violence in the eastern part of that country is caused by the presence of vast mineral wealth, and that the ultimate agenda is to depopulate the countryside so that prospectors and multinationals can have free access. In Cabo Delgado (Mozambique), Christian and Muslim communities have been living in harmony for centuries – until one of the world’s largest deposits of liquid natural gas was discovered there. Local communities in the north of Cabo Delgado also say that the agenda is to depopulate the northern coastal areas, to give prospectors and multinationals a free hand. The current violence sweeping Southern Nigeria is not just religious in nature (the Muslim North versus the Christian South) or the result of clashes between cattle herders from the north and the communities in the south where they seek grazing. Legislators from the North in the National Assembly have publicly stated that all of Nigeria, including the oil in the South East, is theirs, and that they are claiming it.

Citizens of developed countries point to the intractability of conflicts in Africa. They never end! There is never a solution! They forget that they would not have had cell phones or laptop computers if it wasn’t for the Coltan that came from Eastern DRC, that the petrol they put in their cars probably came from the Niger Delta, and that most of the technological devices that their lives revolve around are manufactured from minerals that were extracted from the pristine sand dunes of the Indian Ocean coast, or the virgin jungles of Central Africa, at the cost of mass destruction of natural habitats, and violent , forceful displacement of local communities. They have never analysed the role of their own multinationals, working in collaboration with corrupt African leaders, to seize control of Africa’s natural and mineral riches. They have never questioned the acquiescence of their own governments in unconditionally supporting their multinationals, in the name of “protecting their economic interests”.

In the previous century, the industrial revolution was largely driven by rubber (extensively used in the automotive industry) – a product found in abundance in the DRC. The world was shocked to see photos of Congolese villagers enslaved to extract rubber from trees, given daily quotas, and who had their hands severed if they did not deliver their quota. In the modern version of this atrocity, multimillion Dollar extractive industry installations provide developed country industries with the minerals and raw materials they need to increase their own wealth, while the indigenous communities that were forcefully displaced to make way for the installations, languish in tents, without food, water or medical attention in “reception centres” or squatter settlements around the major local urban centre.

We call on the international community to respond with generosity to appeals for humanitarian assistance for refugees and the displaced. We call on countries to observe their obligations under international law and treaties to provide protection to refugees. But above all, we call on civil society to work fearlessly to expose the causes of conflict in Africa – the international interests and the local leaders that continue to profiteer from African conflicts. Unless we address the root causes of conflict, and stop wars in Africa, we will be commemorating World Refugee Day for many years to come.

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