Refugee and Labour Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: Shelter Provision and Settlement Policies for Refugees

Refugee and Labour Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: Shelter Provision and Settlement Policies for Refugees

Refugee and Labour Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: Shelter Provision and Settlement Policies for Refugees

Refugee and Labour Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: Shelter Provision and Settlement Policies for Refugees

Excerpt

The study of refugees, although a vital topic, has generally been neglected by the academic community and the aid agencies. In order to redress this situation SIDA has commissioned a series of background reports that highlight this important theme. Report No 1, by Dr K. B. Wilson and titled Internally Displaced, Refugees and Returnees from and in Mozambique, was published in November 1992, with a second edition in December 1994.

This present study, published by SIDA and Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, comprises two separate reports. The first, by Dr Jonathan Baker, is an overview of refugee and labour movements in sub-Saharan Africa, while the second, by Dr Roger Zetter, discusses a central concern for refugees, that of shelter provision and settlement policy.

Baker provides recent data on refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, and two features emerge from his discussion. First, the region has the highest number of refugees of any continent and hosts 36 per cent of global refugees. Second, the plight of internally displaced populations as a result of conflict has not been accorded the attention that it deserves, often because of government sensitivities. Consequently, any degree of accuracy regarding the numbers of internal refugees is fraught with great difficulty.

Dr Baker highlights the burden imposed upon individual host countries by refugee inflows: Malawi being an excellent case in point which, until very recently, provided sanctuary to more than one million refugees from Mozambique. He also emphasises that refugees should not be perceived as only a ‘problem’ and discusses the positive contributions made by refugees to host countries.

In the second part of his study, Baker focuses on international labour migration in sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike much conventional wisdom which views labour migration as a negative phenomenon, he presents a more balanced argument and states that it can also be considered as a capital accumulation strategy which can bring about positive developments in rural areas of origin. However, he states that one should not understate the threat of expulsion facing migrant workers from host countries, nor the psychological problems involved, separated as they are from the security of family networks. In this regard, parallels may be drawn between the plight of refugees and migrant workers.

Dr Roger Zetter, in his overview study of refugee shelter provision and settlement policy, addresses some central concerns and challenges some of the underlying, but misleading, assumptions regarding this important topic. Although the provision of shelter is one of the basic needs of refugees, host governments and humanitarian agencies usually adopt short-term responses. The apparent dilemma facing policy makers and governments is the contradiction between the permanency of housing and the presumed temporariness of refugees. More generally, Zetter argues that “shelter and settlement policies are . . .

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