The socio-cultural impact of cross-border refugee flows and the possible spread of conflicts in host countries in Africa

Money Politics (Part III): Development of international monetary system
April 10, 2015
Youth and politics
April 17, 2015
Show all

The socio-cultural impact of cross-border refugee flows and the possible spread of conflicts in host countries in Africa

Refugees in Africa

Refugees in Africa

Many developing host communities often face forms of socio-cultural change, including a challenged sense of identity and the increased visibility of ethnic, religious, racial and ideological tensions between refugees and locals. Factors which might lead to social instability in the host country include barriers deriving from the differences in culture and values between host country nationals and the refugees themselves. These barriers may lead ethnocentrism and xenophobia cultural conditions increasingly common amongst many developing nations today. In this regard, it is argued that the increasing numbers of refugees in host countries can strain relations between states as well as threaten international security.

A refugee may be described as  someone  who has been forced to flee his or her country because of political instability in their place of origin which could manifest as fear or actual subjection to persecution on account of identity, ideology, and political opinion. Meanwhile, the refugee flow in general is associated with an increased risk of internal conflict in one country, and a neighboring state that receives refugees. Refugee flows may cause violence to spread, for example by facilitating the spread of rebel networks and weaponry which requires a shared group identity between refugees, rebel groups and an aggrieved host population. In this regard, refugees from Sudan and Chad, have shared seasonal migratory patterns, in particular the area inhabited by the Masalit people, which is an ethnic group that shares a common language. The most pressing issues the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has to deal with in the Chad Refugee Camps concern children that are being forcibly recruited by Chadian and Sudanese armed groups. Children in the Chadian refugee camps are said to be also vulnerable to gender-based violence and early marriage.

Furthermore, one of the most plausible links between cross-border refugee flows and the spread of conflict has to do with the impact of migration flows on the ethnic balance of host countries. Cultural similarity may facilitate refugee integration, but refugee flows can also foster tensions among ethnic groups leading to intra-state tensions or conflict. In connection to this, the Northern Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp , which is home to ten nationalities and twenty ethnicities, has been seen to be experiencing rampant political violence both between distinct ethnicities of common nationality (example, Sudanese Dinka and Didinga) and differing nationalities (Sudanese and Somali). The Camp workers attribute the violence to imported ethnic tensions and to interethnic competition for camp resources.

In Tanzania, the refugee influx of people arriving from Burundi and then Rwanda was high in 1993. The presence of large refugee populations in Benaco camp in Tanzania inexorably altered social dynamics in Tanzanian host communities. Most elderly people in Tanzania perceived a breakdown of the traditional social structure and a change in the attitudes of youth toward their elders and their roots during the time of the refugees. Moreover, refugees may create severe tensions in receiving areas if they are seen as culturally unwelcome “foreigners’’. For instance, following the 1994 Rwandan genocide and government takeover by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, millions of Hutu refugees fled the country to the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This severely affected relations between Congolese Hutus, Tutsis, and other ethnic groups. As a result, refugee inflows may be especially problematic if they exacerbate pre-existing, local ethnic animosities and conflicts.

Ethnic tension usually results from shifts in a host country’s ethnic balance. First, the refugee influx may increase an ethnic minority’s ranks. If the majority group senses a demographic threat, it may attempt to repress the minority, which in turn may take up arms against the majority. Similarly, a refugee movement may enlarge the majority ethnicity. Even if this majority does not abuse its demographic clout, ethnic minorities may turn to violence to compensate for their inferior numbers. Additionally, ethnic conflicts fuelled by refugees may sometimes cause secession of the minority ethnic group from within their state, and may lead to the group deciding to separate and form its own state. The minority group in a new formed state may also attempt to secede and join fellow ethnic group in another neighboring countries.

In conclusion, refugees can serve as catalysts for conflicts within the host community. The refugee populations are no longer passive victims of sub-Saharan strife; they are active facilitators of insecurity and violence, both among themselves and within their origin and host countries. As a result, policymakers should help African states adopt political identities that consolidate numerous ethnic groups into unitary national identities. Adopting the Deconstruction model elaborated by Poststructuralist, Jacques Derrida, of reversing the original order of the binary pair of terms to demonstrate how the exclusion of the outside is central to the inside is central to understanding cultural practices. In most African states, the majority of nationalist movements and resultant political parties were ethnically defined, drawing their support base from the fragmented ethnic social structures of the colonial era.

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/5573544683/in/photolist-jrMtz8-jrPb2a-jrCyZB-jrMo8Y-jrFTi3-jrQh2c-611DZo-

Cheludo Butale
Cheludo Butale is currently a PhD candidate at Cyprus International University. Her main research interests lie in the area of International Security, Global Governance, International Political Economy and International Development. She is an Authorial Board member of A Different View , mother body International Association for Political Science Students based in Netherlands, and has previous work experience from Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Botswana Government.

Comments are closed.