AFRICA: Africa World Press Guide

compiled and edited by WorldViews

Multiple causes, terrible consequences

Refugees in the world," Adelman notes, "Africa has more than five million." Other estimates put the number of refugees and displaced peoples (refugees within their national borders) even higher. Whatever the number, Adelman is correct: in the popular mind, as well as in reality, Africa and refugees appear to be inextricably intertwined.

As with all sweeping generalizations about the vast and diverse continent of Africa, however, the too-easy linkage between refugees and Africa needs to be deconstructed. Where are the most intense concentrations of refugees and displaced persons in Afr ica? What are the causes of these social disruptions? In which instances have refugees been driven from their homes by natural phenomena (e.g., droughts)? In which cases have they been displaced by war? What attendant factors are critical to study in rela tion to the refugee crisis (e.g., landmines as obstacles to repatriation)? What initiatives are Africans taking to meet the challenge of refugees?

International refugee problem

The refugee crisis in Africa needs to be situated in an international context. Books that place Africa's refugee crisis in a broader geographical framework include:

Two highly recommended educational resources are:

African context

The conference papers gathered together in The Migration Experience in Africa (Baker and Aina 1995) set a helpful historical framework for the study of population movements in Africa by underlining the fact that "the phenomenon of migration is not new in Africa." Africa, as one observer has noted, is--and always has been--a continent "perpetually on the move."

The following books describe and analyze the features of movements of people in Africa today and highlight the numerous and diverse reasons for the displacement of people.

"In Africa alone, it has been estimated that around 3.5 million refugees were repatriated between 1971 and 1990...[and] during the same years, millions more Africans went home after periods of exile within their own countries.
--Tim Allen and David Turton, In Search of Cool Ground (Allen 1996), p. 1

When Refugees Go Home: African Experiences (Allen and Morsink 1994) examines the little-noticed fact that millions of African refugees have returned successfully to their homes after periods of internal or external displacement. "It is important for those anxious about the welfare of the world's displaced millions," editors Tim Allen and Hubert Morsink remind their readers, "to seize the opportunity to put returnee as well as refugee needs and aspirations on to the agenda of [international] meet ings, and to keep them there by persistent lobbying" (p. 12).

In a follow-up study to When Refugees Go Home, editor Tim Allen presents more than 20 papers that question many accepted truths about the situation of displaced peoples in Africa and about international relief and development efforts in Africa. See In Search of Cool Ground: War, Flight and Homecoming in Northeast Africa (Allen 1996).

Keeping up

Displaced Peoples and Refugee Studies: A Resource Guide (Davies 1990) is the most thorough and up-to-date guide to library and other documentation sources for further study of involuntary migration on an international scale. Edited by the Refugee S tudies Programme, University of Oxford, the clothbound reference book offers expert guidance to directories, handbooks, annuals, teaching aids, journals, monographs, and other printed resources on the worldwide problem of refugees and displaced persons. N ames and contact information are also provided for research institutes, donor agencies and foundations, refugee network organizations, and libraries and documentation centers with holdings on the topic of refugees.

See also the volumes issued annually by the organizations listed below.

Landmines and refugees

"Landmines are undoubtedly the biggest impediment to refugees going home."

This observation by Suzannah Cox, of the British Refugee Council, underlines the importance of broadening the study of refugees to include critical--but little-known--factors like landmines as deadly obstacles to repatriation. See:

Contact:International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 54A Main St., Cockermouth, Cumbria CA13 9LU England. Tel: 0900 828688. Fax: 0900 827088.

Reference and Periodical Resources