Regional Instability Leaves No Room for Refuge

By Limnyuy Konglim
The conflicts in central and eastern Africa are so intertwined that I sometimes confuse myself when taking in my daily dose of displacement and humanitarian news. For example, this week, MINURCAT, the UN peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad, deployed peacekeepers to a town in northeast CAR to protect Sudanese refugees from a Central African rebel group. Similarly Uganda’s national army has been allowed to operate in the CAR, Sudan, and DRC in an effort to track down the Ugandan-bred Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. Throughout 2009 and with increasing intensity in recent months, the LRA has attacked villages and camps in southern Sudan, DRC, and CAR. CAR, itself is host to refugees from Sudan, Congo, and Chad, despite the fact that internally displaced Central Africans have described their current situation as one in which, “God alone is watching us. There is no security.”

It is inexplicable why Sudanese, Congolese, Chadian, and Central African civilians are forced to flee their homes, only to seek refuge in other conflict ridden countries. Unfortunately, however bizarre this fact, it lays credence to exactly how muddled and complicated the conflict situation is in this region. And with so many actors involved in an indefinite war, one can only wonder if it is possible to design a peace processes that will mitigate so many grievances.

Foreign-backed rebel groups in the pursuit of power and national resources are not a new phenomenon in regional crises. Many current long-standing conflicts are remnants of decades-old political grievances that have yet to be fully resolved. Yet national governments are taking on a drastically minimized role in providing assistance and, more importantly, protection of their own citizens. Porous and uncontrolled borders allow undisciplined rebels to enter foreign lands and terrorize innocent civilians. If you are a citizen of one of the conflict ridden states in central and east Africa, where do you seek protection? For this reason, foreign, national and international security forces have been faced with the moral imperative of extending the limits of their mandates and responsibilities to prevent the further suffering of communities whose self-sufficiency has already been stretched to the limit.

The act of seeking refuge in a region plagued by violent conflict is at the very least ironic and too often virtually unachievable. Absent and often-violated rules of law have left civilians vulnerable, unprotected, and left to fend for themselves. Humanitarians and foreign peacekeepers, who also place their lives at risk, can only do so much. As the depths of conflicts continue to spread, national governments can not continue to ignore their responsibility to protect civilians. The extreme need for security sector reform has never been clearer.

It is for this reason that while Refugees International advocates to donors and policy makers for funding and support of life saving assistance and protection mechanism, we also emphasize the need for investments in the reform of security sector institutions. Peacekeeping forces in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have facilitated a great deal of progress, but it is also necessary for these governments to work towards building their own capacity and providing civilian protection that is effective, free of corruption, and adheres to international human rights standards.