Earlier today, I was in touch with a Somali friend, Farah, who has been living as a refugee in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, for the past several years after he fled fighting in Somalia. I asked him what he thought about President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya this week. He said, “I am happy. I hope he talks about refugee rights.” He then said, “The talk of everyone in Nairobi is that the most powerful man on earth is coming to Kenya.”
It is a Saturday evening in El Salvador, and my Refugees International colleague and I are riding in the back of a car with our heads on our knees. We are on our way to meet with a displaced family who are being hidden in a "safe house." We have been asked to stay undercover for the last five minutes of the approach – a security precaution to protect both ourselves and, more importantly, the family we are about to meet. It makes a profound impression upon us both as to the immediacy of the threat faced by those displaced by violence in this country.
Below is the text of a speech delivered by RI Senior Advisor on Human Rights Sarnata Reynolds at the Oslo Conference on Myanmar's Systematic Persecution of Rohingyas.
I have been asked today to speak about the challenges and opportunities for positive policy and political engagement on the mass atrocities & ethnic cleansing facing the Rohingya.
There are many points to make on each side, but I will limit mine to three observations in the interest of time.
Periodic violence, reprisal attacks, recent displacement – the town of Bambari, almost right in the middle of the Central African Republic (CAR), is emblematic of the continuing crisis in the country. In 2013, many areas in CAR descended into intercommunal violence following the overthrow of the government by an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north known as the Séléka. Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, started fighting against the Séléka (composed primarily of Muslims).
The over 360,000 Sudanese refugees currently in Chad have been there for over a decade. They fled to Chad after violence in their towns and villages in Darfur. And that violence in Darfur unfortunately continues.
Twelve years ago, when I was a high school student living in a small New England town, I remember hearing about Darfur. I remember seeing news reports about the terrible conflict there, and about the hundreds of thousands of people whose villages had been burned or bombed, forcing them into exile.
The political struggle underway in Burundi has thrust that tiny Central African nation into the global spotlight. Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term despite being limited to two by Burundi’s constitution, and by the terms of a peace deal signed in 2000. Nkurunziza’s supporters maintain that his first term did not count because he was appointed by parliament rather than elected. His political opponents disagree.
A few days in southern Turkey, in cities which have received Syrian refugees, leaves a complex feeling of both achievements and failures.
Turkey is currently the largest refugee hosting country in the world. More than two million Syrians have arrived over the past four years, and more are arriving as the conflict back home continues unabated. Every day, living conditions inside Syria become more precarious and dangerous.
More than two years since a rebel movement launched a violent campaign against the Central African Republic government, the country is continuing to experience a major humanitarian crisis. In March 2013, the Seleka group (an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north) overthrew the central government in Bangui, and since then sectarian violence between Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, and former members of Seleka, who are mainly Muslims, has permeated the country.
For more than 24 years, refugees have fled instability in Somalia for the comparative safety of Yemen. Now, as indiscriminate violence grips Yemen, civilians there are packing up their lives and hoping to find safe haven in Somalia.