Return to: Index of "Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Press Releases and Statements"
Index of "Population, Refugees and Migration" || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/03/28 TESTIMONY:  P.OAKLEY ON REFUGEES IN CENTRAL AFRICA
BUREAU OF POPULATION, REFUGEES, AND MIGRATION



                           Phyllis E. Oakley 
                          Assistant Secretary 
              Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration 
 
 
                               Before the 
 
                     Senate Appropriations Committee 
                    Subcommittee on Foreign Operations 
 
                              March 28, 1995 
 
 
Thank you Mr. Chairman.  I very much welcome the opportunity to be here 
today to discuss with you a region of the world that demands a 
substantial share of our attention and humanitarian resources. 
 
The humanitarian crisis in Central Africa, in particular, has been a 
leitmotif of my tenure with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and 
Migration.  In the fall of 1993, I had the pleasure of meeting with the 
then President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye.  We sat in my office 
reviewing the possibilities for repatriation of Burundi refugees in 
Tanzania, Rwanda, and Zaire -- many of whom had been out of the country 
for over 20 years -- and reflecting on the circumstances that had led to 
his being the first democratically-elected president of Burundi -- a 
Hutu who had himself been a refugee at one time.  A scant two weeks 
later, he was dead, murdered in a coup attempt that unleashed a new 
round of ethnic massacres and refugee flight, burying again the hopes of 
return of many of the earlier refugees.  Not six months later, similar 
underlying tensions in neighboring Rwanda culminated in the genocide 
that has so staggered all of us.  The records for rapidity and magnitude 
of refugee outflow that had been set by the proceeding Burundi crisis 
were shattered by the new Rwanda crisis.  A quarter of a million people 
crossed into Tanzania in the space of 24 hours last May while over one 
million fled to Zaire in a matter of days in July.  

I have visited the region twice in the intervening months -- with 
Secretary of Defense Perry during the U.S. military humanitarian action 
in Zaire known as Operation Support Hope, and just last month to revisit 
Goma, Zaire before attending the Regional Conference on Assistance to 
Refugees, Returnees, and Displaced Persons in the Great Lakes Region 
that was held in Bujumbura, Burundi.  I would add here that I was 
exceedingly impressed both by the U.S. military presence and effort in 
those early days of the crisis and by the improvements that have been 
achieved since then by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the 
cooperating partners in the international and non-governmental 
community. 
 
The African continent today hosts just over six million refugees, or 
about thirty percent of the world's total.  Almost every country except 
the island nations hosts refugees.  Sadly, about half of the countries 
of the continent have generated those refugees.  Yet despite the 
popularized image of Africa as a continent of refugees, all manner of 
suffering, and collapse of nation states, and despite the steady growth 
in the overall number of African refugees over the last decade, the 
African share of the world's total refugee population has not grown.  
Africa also has the largest share of the world's internally displaced 
persons, which means that cooperation between the Bureau of Population, 
Refugees, and Migration and our colleagues in USAID's Bureau of 
Humanitarian Response is particularly close in Africa. 
 
What these broad brush strokes obscure is the dynamism of the African 
refugee scene.  From the late 1970s through the 1980s, Ethiopia (then 
including the now independent country of Eritrea) accounted for the 
greatest number of African refugees by far.  Only Mozambique, which 
generated some 1.6 million refugees in the last half of the 1980s, came 
close.  Since the fall of the Mengistu regime in May 1991, there have 
been almost no new Ethiopian refugees and indeed repatriations from the 
neighboring Horn countries are underway or finished.  Since the signing 
of the General Peace Agreement in Mozambique in October 1992, over 1.5 
million Mozambican refugees have returned to that country.  Uganda, 
which produced hundreds of thousands of refugees under self-destructive 
regimes, has welcomed nearly all of those former exiles home and is now 
itself a major host to over 300,000 refugees from Sudan, Zaire, and 
Rwanda.  The return of Namibian and South African refugees was of course 
a part of the transformation of those two countries.  Even Somalia, 
despite its well-known problems, is experiencing today refugee return 
rather than refugee outflow.  Of course, we are watching the evolution 
of events there closely given the possibilities of large-scale 
migrations.  On a sadder note, I must point out that the countries of 
West Africa, which had largely escaped the scourge of large numbers of 
refugees until the very late 1980s, now shelter some 25% of the 
continent's refugees.  The unwillingness of the Liberian factions to 
come genuinely to a peace agreement is particularly worrying as the war 
there has uprooted nearly two million Liberians (some 800,000 of whom 
are refugees).  It has already spilled over into Sierra Leone, uprooting 
nearly one million people there, and could threaten the stability of 
other neighboring countries as well. 
 
As the numbers of refugees and conflict victims in Africa have grown, so 
have our requests for appropriations to provide a fair share of 
budgetary support for international and non-governmental organizations 
which are our implementing partners in ensuring protection and 
assistance for these refugees.  We believe that in large scale refugee 
crises such as Rwanda and Bosnia, it is necessary for the UN to take 
overall responsibility for coordinating the humanitarian effort.  This 
is also cost-effective, as the U.S. support is typically 20 to 25 
percent.  The American people, through the Congress, have always been 
extremely generous and forthcoming on humanitarian assistance for 
refugees.  We are grateful for that support which enables the United 
States to play an important leadership role in stimulating an adequate 
international response to humanitarian needs.  Time and again I have 
seen other players look to us to take a first step -- for example on the 
critical question of security in Rwandan refugee camps.  Rather than 
resist when others thrust us into leadership, we should be proud that we 
have been able to provide that leadership to maintain a multilateral 
framework for refugee assistance.  In this framework, the USG is but one 
of many who have responsibility for action in behalf of the world's 
refugees and conflict victims. 
 
International assistance represents 70 percent of the total request of 
$671 million in the Migration and Refugee Assistance Appropriation.  For 
FY 1996, the President is requesting $472.7 million for international 
refugee assistance of which we anticipate some $169.1 million being used 
to respond to needs in Africa.  This compares to an FY 1995 
appropriations of $421 million of which $157.5 million is currently 
programmed for Africa. 
 
In addition to this account, the United States also responds to crises 
such as Rwanda with funds from the Emergency Refugee and Migration 
Assistance Fund ("ERMA").  In FY 1994 Congress provided $30 million in 
supplemental appropriations to ERMA, which enabled us to support the 
initial emergency relief efforts for over three million refugees and 
displaced persons from Rwanda and Burundi.  The U.S., together with the 
international community, will be providing substantial assistance in 
1995 for these populations.  I should of course point out that we face 
some major refugee uncertainties in other parts of the world such as 
Bosnia and the Caucasus.  For FY 1996 the President is requesting a 
replenishment for ERMA of $50 million. 
 
As I mentioned earlier, increasingly we have had opportunities to 
support repatriation and the initial reintegration of refugees as well 
as the most basic ongoing life support for those still in exile.  
Wherever sufficient agricultural land or employment opportunities exist 
coupled with a willingness of the hosts to provide these assets to 
refugees, we have pushed UNHCR to aggressively pursue self-reliance 
activities that would enable refugees to provide for themselves rather 
than requiring international aid in succeeding years.  Moreover, we have 
pressed UNHCR to assure that during refugee emergencies and afterwards, 
certain basic international standards of assistance -- such as adequate 
water and nutritionally balanced rations, attention to the special needs 
of unaccompanied and/or traumatized minor children, and reproductive 
health care for refugee women -- be met in Africa as they more regularly 
have been met elsewhere in the world.  I am pleased to report that UNHCR 
and its partners have already risen to that challenge.  The emergency 
response in Central Africa that has brought down mortality rates to 
acceptable levels within a reasonable period of time is a tribute to 
those improvements. 
 
That success is presently threatened by serious shortfalls in food aid 
which is managed principally by the World Food Program (WFP), in 
cooperation with non-governmental organizations, because worldwide 
contributions fall far short of current needs.  The UNHCR has had to cut 
rations for Rwandan refugees in Zaire, Burundi, and Tanzania far below 
even the emergency subsistence ration of 1500 KCAL per person per day.  
Rations are also being cut for displaced in Burundi and Rwanda.  The 
nutritional and health consequences are obvious.  Also of concern is the 
possibly resulting security threat to the relief workers managing the 
programs in the refugee camps since the rumor is already circulating in 
refugee camps that the donor community is trying to starve the refugees 
into returning to Rwanda.  Similarly, the internally displaced in 
Burundi have threatened that refugees shall not be fed if they have to 
go without food. 
 
The USG -- through USAID's Food for Peace program -- has provided 
substantial amounts of food aid for these refugees and has taken steps 
to expedite deliveries and to examine all food programs worldwide to see 
if more could be made available, especially in Central Africa.  We are 
also making a concerted, high-level effort with other donor countries 
whom we believe have not yet done their fair share.  We are aggressively 
pursuing all avenues to handle this extremely serious problem, and we 
hope it can be handled.  We will keep you informed of the status of our 
efforts. 
 
There is wide agreement that return of refugees is vital to the 
reconciliation and future stability of Rwanda and that return must be 
voluntary.  While it might be attractive to think of using food to bring 
people back to Rwanda, and we certainly intend to provide assistance 
during their return, we must also abide by the international principle 
of non-refoulement -- that is, no bona fide refugee should be sent back 
involuntarily to the source of his/her persecution.  While feeding those 
among the refugee population who are presumed to be guilty of genocide 
along with the innocent refugees is repugnant, there are few realistic 
options at present for separating the populations.  From a practical 
standpoint, cessation of assistance in the camps would not only 
seriously jeopardize the security of relief workers, but could also 
create a new emergency and exacerbate Rwanda's instability by causing 
mass, precipitous, unorganized movements, either into Rwanda or further 
into neighboring countries. 
 
Our focus must be on creating conditions inside Rwanda which encourage 
bona fide refugees to return, while improving security in the refugee 
camps in order to break the intimidation by the leadership that prevents 
returns.  We must also bear in mind refugees' understandable fears of 
return because the new government is arresting and incarcerating some 
1,300 people per week and there are reports of reprisals against 
returning refugees and internally displaced persons.  The Rwanda 
situation is a complex humanitarian undertaking, involving such issues 
as human rights, justice, restoration of a functioning economy, and land 
tenure, and demands our close cooperation with other governments, 
international agencies, and non-governmental organizations. 
 
Before I leave the subject of food aid, I want to sound an early alarm 
bell concerning the availability of food aid in future years.  Analysts 
who are now at work on the pending Farm Bill have reported the 
likelihood that the United States may have reduced food availabilities 
for international assistance in the future.  If this proves true, we 
will face very difficult choices in the allocation between emergency 
food programs and food-for-development programs. 
 
This critical food aid problem comes at a time when the traditional and 
legendary hospitality of the African countries for those forced to flee 
is coming under ever greater stress.  At the recent regional refugee 
conference in Bujumbura, the representatives from Tanzania, Uganda, and 
Zaire all spoke passionately of environmental degradation accelerated by 
the presence of refugees and of insecurity for their own citizens in 
border areas who are often outnumbered by their guests.  The life-saving 
international assistance provided for refugees also creates jealousy on 
the part of the nationals of poor countries who themselves suffer from 
underdevelopment.  We count on the political will of African countries 
to maintain the principles of first asylum, but also must hear their 
pleas that this is becoming ever more difficult. 
 
There is a growing acceptance of the need to accelerate solutions for 
refugees, particularly voluntary repatriation, wherever possible.  I 
think all would agree that the seeds of the recent Rwandan civil war and 
genocide are to be found in the long-unresolved situation of those and 
their descendants who were forced to flee after the 1959 "revolution" 
and who were explicitly denied a viable future either in their country 
of origin or their countries of asylum.  Similarly, there is a universal 
worry that the current refugee situation could spawn still more conflict 
if not handled properly.  To further underscore this point, let me just 
mention another African refugee situation that is less well publicized, 
but where we all face a similar situation.  In 1988, ethnic violence 
against resident aliens in both Senegal and Mauritania led to thousands 
being uprooted and pushed back to their home countries.  Against this 
backdrop, Mauritania began to expel some of its own citizens, members of 
the Afro-Mauritanian Pular-speaking groups, and confiscate their 
desirable lands in the Senegal River valley.  Some 60,000 of these 
people have been refugees in Senegal since that time with little near-
term prospect of recovering either their citizenship or their goods, at 
least in any kind of formal process.  A number of armed opposition 
groups have found fertile ground for recruits in these circumstances; 
and it is feared that as food aid and other assistance for the refugees 
are phased out -- on the assumption that refugees will have achieved 
self-reliance -- the refugees may become more of a destabilizing 
influence in the region. 
 
These two situations illustrate the need for the United States and 
others to remain actively engaged diplomatically to help address what 
are fundamentally political issues, but which cannot be divorced from 
the underlying issues which force people to flee.  They also illustrate 
the importance of our having adequate tools available to promote 
population stabilization and sustainable development, to help deal with 
root causes of refugee flows, and to facilitate recovery after a 
humanitarian crisis.  In this regard, I salute the forward-looking plan 
that our colleagues in USAID and State have developed, and with which we 
have cooperated, known as the Greater Horn of Africa Initiative.  Simply 
put, humanitarian action cannot be a substitute for political action or 
engagement in the economic development of Africa. 
 
We are all giving increasing attention as well to  preventive diplomacy, 
that is -- trying to anticipate and understand the cleavages within 
societies and the nascent conflicts that could be suppressed or 
channeled in productive ways so that people can resolve their seemingly 
inevitable differences through negotiation and compromise rather than 
armed conflict.  Last December, Assistant Secretary Moose and I convened 
a group of non-governmental organizations who have also been giving much 
thought to this area of endeavor, to review what actions we might take 
to head off extremism and ethnic bloodshed in Burundi.  The Secretary 
General of the United Nations has had a special representative in 
Burundi for 16 months now with the same objective in mind.  We do not 
know if we will be successful.  But I think all would agree that 
mitigating the conflicts that destroy human life and economic potential 
and suck neighboring peoples into the quagmire must be a guiding 
principle for our actions in Africa and around the world. 
 
In closing, I would like to say a few words about the admission of 
African refugees to the United States -- one of the "durable solutions" 
for those relative few unable to return to their homes or to stay in 
exile. 
 
UNHCR estimates that the overwhelming majority of African refugees 
eventually will be able to return to their countries of origin or 
integrate locally in neighboring countries.  Nonetheless, there are 
instances where third-country resettlement is the best solution for an 
individual.  In its annual assessment of global resettlement needs for 
refugees, UNHCR estimates that 8,650 Africans will require third-country 
resettlement in 1995. 
 
The U.S. is ready and willing to participate in international efforts to 
find resettlement for such individuals.  This year the U.S. anticipates 
accepting up to 7,000 Africans for admission as refugees which is 
approximately 80 percent of the UNHCR-estimated need.  Our guidelines 
designate five African groups as of particular humanitarian concern to 
the United States.  They are:  Somalis, Sudanese, Zairians, Liberians 
and Rwandans.  While our admissions program primarily focuses on these 
groups of concern, other nationalities may access our program on a case-
by-case basis as well, if UNHCR identifies them as needing resettlement 
and refers them to our program. 
 
The new emphasis on UNHCR's role as a referral mechanism for 
resettlement reflects the Administration's increased interest in 
multilateralism and burdensharing in international resettlement efforts.  
As the primary organization responsible for monitoring refugee 
situations, UNHCR already plays a lead in coordinating international 
assistance to refugees.  We intend to coordinate our admissions program 
with the UNHCR's international efforts toward refugee resettlement as 
well, as part of an integrated package for the protection of refugees. 
 
We are optimistic that this new approach will diversify our admissions 
program in Africa and will permit us to reach those refugees in most 
immediate need of resettlement. 
 
(###)
To the top of this page