Community essential for inclusion, participation of refugees in Africa In his message for this year’s World Refugee Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres affirmed, “Refugees need global solidarity and the ability to rebuild their lives in dignity.”

Dr Norman Pinduka-Correspondent 

The world last week celebrated the World Refugee Day. The day is celebrated on June 20 every year. 

The World Refugee Day is an opportunity to collectively honour, respect and celebrate the courage and strength of men, women and children who have and are fleeing from different situations related to persecution, terror, alienation, war and other crisis situations. 

This year’s World Refugee Day was celebrated under the theme “Act now for refugee inclusion, meaningful participation and resilience.”

In his message for this year’s World Refugee Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres affirmed, “Refugees need global solidarity and the ability to rebuild their lives in dignity.”

In remembering refugees on this day, it is pertinent for Africa to understand that being in solidarity with refugees and granting them the opportunity to rebuild their lives starts with embracing or welcoming them.

To welcome refugees is to react with pleasure to hosting them. This necessitates interacting with them in a respectful and responsive manner. 

It is also about accommodating and appreciating refugees and even encouraging them. 

To create a world where refugees are welcomed entails receiving refugees with warmth, sociability, and authentic delight; finding pleasure in their presence.

In advancing an Africa where refugees are warmly accepted and integrated into the daily activities of the society, authorities in states must be conscious of and recognise the value of community involvement in refugee protection. 

It is regrettable that grassroots initiatives begin to pop up across local communities to provide refugee support and a sense of welcome, yet the regulating of refugees lacks community involvement.

An Africa where refugees are welcome and included is attainable if efforts also go to the grassroots for local communities to be fully aware of who a refugee is. 

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A reflection on the plight of African refugees reveals that refugeehood – the condition of being a refugee that results in robust protection – has in some cases not ended the precariousness in their lives. 

Some refugees, however, continue to live in unwarranted conditions that continuously impact negatively on their basic human rights and human security, whether in camps or outside.

Arguably, refugee deplorable situations have been a result of the fact that they are not embraced at both the state and community levels for various reasons, chief among them being the centralisation of refugee governance. 

Receiving and resettling refugees has always been a highly centralised government role in the majority of African nations as well as other governments across the world.

Ironically, local communities are expected to warmly welcome refugees as they integrate or settle, yet they are not involved in the policing processes.

It is anticipated that communities with less knowledge about refugees and a lack of a clear understanding of who refugees are, will naturally welcome them with warmth. 

History proves that in refugee protection, community norms, rules, and regulations have an influence on refugees’ day-to-day lives in addition to international, regional, and domestic law. 

The failure to appreciate such local community dynamics in refugee protection and management remains a concern in many African societies.

Local communities play a crucial role in the welcome, integration, and inclusion of refugees. 

The notion of a refugee being a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such a fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country remains,” as encapsulated in the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Additional Protocol, is being used for status determination processes

The predicaments of refugees captured in such a definition and even those in the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa also ought to be known to local communities. 

Such an appreciation can contribute to the welcoming of refugees, which can be important for their inclusion in host states and communities.

This necessitates the use of local models, robust awareness, and education initiatives conducted in native languages. This also calls for mechanisms for refugee protection that are relatable and informed by the local community. 

Creating a welcoming world that is in solidarity with refugees without first fostering an atmosphere that is receptive and friendly in local communities is a costly task.

 Norman Pinduka (PhD) is a lecturer of International Relations and Politics at Africa University and writes in his personal capacity – [email protected].

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