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Spatial Dynamics of Migration in the Horn Africa


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Spatial Dynamics of Migration in the Horn of Africa by Mitchell Sipus, International Development and Humanitarian Aid Consultant

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Spatial Dynamics of Migration in the Horn Africa

  1. 1. Spatial Dynamics of Migration in the Horn of Africa Mitchell Sipus October 14, 2008
  2. 2. Introduction The literature concerning economic and forced migration within Sudan, Ethiopia, and Libya takes on a different dynamic than the preceding studies of North Africa and the Middle East. With a continual focus on refugee camps and informal refugee settlements within urban and rural locations, the dialogue appears to be rooted within policy concerns for humanitarianism, economic development, and conflict prevention. In this manner, the representation of the refugee takes on greater significance, as the migrant is attributed with qualities of militarization, insecurity, dependency, and helplessness. The national policies established to confront the demands of the migratory population consequently appear to be formulated to prevent assimilation and to stem future migration as clearly portrayed by the creation of refugee camps. Although there is a clear basis for the existence of refugee camps as a means to curb the adverse impact of a large refugee population, the establishment of temporary camps creates additional problems. As refugee populations are dependent on the natural environment for livelihood support and survival, natural resources must be properly managed from the outset. The locations of these camps further affect the security of the population, as harsh environments and a close proximity to dangerous territory compromise the ability of the encampment to protect the population. This process further supports the militarization of the refugees, undermining the capability of international agencies to assist the refugee population. Yet it is clear that as these camps become further engrained within the socio-economic landscape of the host nation, they develop the capability to enhance the local economy as well. Such complex circumstances raises the question: as these camps change to accommodate larger populations, how does the state balance the insecurity of such settlements while absorbing the migrant community into its own greater society? City-Camps According to Karen Jacobsen, it is typical for protracted refugee settlements to become village-like settlements over time. “There are brick or cement buildings and houses, roads, schools, health clinics, that serve the entire host community, restaurants and coffee 1
  3. 3. shops. Thriving street markets offer a multitude of goods, including illicit ones, that were unattainable in the region before (Jacobsen 2002, 585).” Furthermore, it is a frequent occurrence for members of lower social classes within the host nation to migrate toward refugee camps to take advantage of improved health care and education opportunities. Yet the primary intention of the encampment is to provide protection for asylum seekers. When Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees settled in Sudan, the government was not comfortable with allowing free self-settlement, yet was certain the asylum should be provided. Thus encampment was initially seen as a practical solution since repatriation was not foreseeable. More importantly, it made sure that refugees were settled away from the border, assisting in their ability to become more self-sufficient (Kibreab 1996, 140).” However, refugee camps are distinguished from typical urban and village settlements, as they are often “characterized by crime and insecurity (Jacobsen 2002, 585).” Refugee camps are may also fail to provide adequate water, shelter, and sanitation services leading to a rapid growth of communicable diseases. Although there may be a population perception of refugees transporting these diseases from their origin country, these risks are more related to the over crowding and poor provision of services within the camps (Shears and Lusty 1987, 786). Cleary while refugees provide a greater convenience for facilitating agencies for the distribution of materials, while insulating protectionist policies for the host nation, the degree discomfort and insecurity within such camps could be considered a strong “push” factor for refugees to seek other forms of settlement. Refugee Camps and Security Founded with the intention to provide human security to vulnerable populations, refugee camps often fail to properly accommodate this demand, as camps are frequently known to assist in the housing rebel groups, paramilitaries, and discontented or violent populations. With the settlement entirely dependent on aid, such camps are considered a safe haven for violent groups to obtain supplies, to blend in with the victimized population, or to even provide an opportunity for training or recruitment. Consequently, refugee camps are easily perceived as tools for warfare, not humanitarian safe havens (Agier 2002, 319). 2
  4. 4. Large refugee camps are known to become breeding ground for militant and criminal organizations because they are harder to control. Camps located near the border may facilitate attacks by refugee militias. At times, it has also been observed that large numbers of you men or idle youth among the refugees will lead to greater violence. Finally, poor living conditions frequently encourage feelings of frustration and discontentment, leading to increased militancy throughout the refugee population (Lischer 2005, 9). As aid workers have a limited capability to increase the security of the encampment, it becomes necessary to distribute assistance throughout the population, an action known to exacerbate conflict. By feeding militants and protecting their dependents, aid agencies are known to inadvertently support the war economy and even provide the mechanisms necessary for combatants to gain legitimacy on the political front. The influx of aid and the inadequacy of security may eventually lead to a high level of political cohesion among refugees. As long as a low state capability remains, increased political cohesion among the refugees and an influx of aid may direct the population toward militarization (Lischer 2005, 7). Clearly, the continual threat of violence or militarization undermines the ability for refugee peoples to advance their situation, as the instability of their security also undermines development their economic, environmental, humanitarian, and political conditions. Stabilization of Camps via Asset Based Development While refugees might impose a variety of security, economic and environmental burdens on host countries, the also “embody a significant flow of resources in the form of international humanitarian assistance, economic assets and human capital.” Refugee camps function as humanitarian spaces wherein foreign investment, in the form of supplies and food aid, vehicles, and communication equipment are distributed through aid organizations. These organizations provide refugees with opportunities for employment and transport contacts with relief agencies. In addition, the refugee populations and provide a new source of “human capital in the form of labor, skills, and entrepreneurship, and they are conduits for remittance flows (Jacobsen 2002, 578).” 3
  5. 5. While various complications always reduce the probability for governments to accomplish any development interests, the influx of refugees may provide an additional set of resources to further this objective. Although insecurity may be characteristic of borderlands, or territories surround refugee camps, the establishment of long term refugee camps provides tools to further the reach of the state government within these territories (Jacobsen 2002, 578).” Extended investment within the region through improvements in physical infrastructure, water, health clinics, and school construction can provide incentives for social development within refugee and host communities. Various countries such as Kenya have been known for their implementation of environmental programs and the development of transportation infrastructure to have gone beyond the mitigation of adverse settlement impacts, but have actually diversified markets and expanded entrepreneurship (Jacobsen 2002, 581).” Conclusion Even in the event of repatriation, the expanded investment within refugee camps provides an array of lasting benefits. As the rehabilitation of the environment and then reclamation of previously settled space is frequently paid for by humanitarian agencies, the cost-benefit ratio is obviously in favor of the host government. In addition, the local community inherits physical infrastructure, buildings, and roads. Most importantly, through the creation of physical investment in an often marginalized territory, the develop initiative becomes a disincentive for the continuation of violence or militarization. An equitably distributed and diversified structural development initiative is likewise shared equally by all regional inhabitants; balancing the flow of economic and socio-political empowerment within the state. By taking advantage of the inflow of social capital and working alongside relief organizations to maximize the development capacity of international aid, it is clear that while the creation of refugee camps fails to accommodate the needs of refugees or the host nation, the extended investment into the development of refugee camps can provide long term benefits to all. 4
  6. 6. Works Cited Agier, Michel. 2002. Between war and city: Towards an urban anthropology of refugee camps” Ethnography London, SAGE Publications. Jacobson, Karen. 2002. “Can Refugees Benefit the State? Refugee Resources and African Statebuilding,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 40, No 4, pp 577-596 Kibreab, Gaim. 1996. “Eritrean and Ethiopian Urban Refugees in Khartoum: What the Eye Refuses to See,” African Studies Reivew, Vol 39, No. 3. p 131-178 Shears P. and T. Lusty. 1987. “Communicable Disease Epidemiology Following Migration: Studies from the African Famine,” International Migration Review, Vol. 21, No. 3, Special Issue: Migration and Health. P 783-795 Lischer, Sarah Kenyon. 2005 Dangerous Sanctuaries: Refugee Camps, Civil War, and the Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid. Ithica and London, Cornell University Press. 5