War in Africa: Out of sight, five million are refugees

THE PLIGHT of a million displaced ethnic Albanians has diverted attention away from 5.3 million Africans who have fled their homes to escape wars, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata.

Speaking yesterday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, at the start of a 10-day tour of the Great Lakes region, Mrs Ogata said the need for aid to refugees in Kosovo should not overshadow the requirements of victims of other conflicts.

"Kosovo as an emergency appeal is getting a quicker response because of its proximity to important aid agencies, the media and world powers. Some of the [African] programmes do not get money, especially dragged- on refugee situations that do not lead to solutions.

"The Europeans are very much interested in Kosovo refugees. Maybe they are less interested in Africa," she said.

According to UN figures, 15 times more money - $1.60 (pounds 1) - is spent each day on each refugee from Kosovo, than on each African in a similar situation (11 cents or 7 pence). The UNHCR devotes 50 per cent of its resources to African refugees.

Mrs Ogata's tour is to include Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Tens of thousands of people have fled eastern Congo for Tanzania since rebels began a campaign 11 months ago against President Laurent Kabila.

Both Burundi and Rwanda have seen decades of political unrest which has forced hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge abroad, mostly in Tanzania. Mrs Ogata's trip will also take her to a camp in Congo which is home to about 145,000 refugees from Angola's 24-year civil war.

Mrs Ogata said there were currently 700,000 refugees in the Great Lakes region but that the crisis was more than one of statistics.

"It is really not just a question of numbers but of the complexities, the impact on the whole stability of the region, the misery of the people," she said.

According to UN figures from the beginning of this year, Africa has 3.3 million refugees and 2.1 million people who are displaced within their own countries. The total represents about one-third of the world's 16.8 million refugees and displaced people.

Mrs Ogata's visit coincided with Africa Refugee Day on Sunday which marked the anniversary of the signing of the African Refugee Convention by African nations. Thirty years later, the number of African refugees continues to rise.

Calling the anniversary a "sad day for Africa", Kenya's independent Sunday Nation newspaper lambasted Africa's leaders for the ongoing refugee crises.

"African leaders must see in the 3.3 million African refugees evidence of their failure to reconcile the continent and rise to the call of the myriad of problems that bedevil it," the newspaper said in its lead editorial. "The time has come for Africa to stop being a manufacturer of wars and refugees."

The East African Standard, Kenya's second daily, added that the international community "has been fairly generous so far", but warned that African countries, after more than 30 years of independence from colonial rule, had to begin looking after their own affairs.

Congolese rebels arrived in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, yesterday ahead of a ceasefire summit on Saturday.

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