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Catholic Peace Entity Links Africa’s Growing Refugee Crisis to Craze for Natural Resources

A young man tends seedlings inside a refugee camp in Mozambique's Archdiocese of Nampula/ Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

The connection between natural resources, violence and forced displacements is becoming clearer in many African countries experiencing a rise in the refugee crisis, international peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has stated.

According to the peace entity that is monitoring the evolution of violence in a number of Africa countries, there are plans to depopulate regions endowed with mineral resources so that prospectors and multinationals can have free access to the resources.

In a message shared with ACI Africa ahead of the World Refugee Day celebrated on June 20, DHPI Director Johan Viljoen addresses the growing refugee and humanitarian crisis in the African countries where the organization has established humanitarian desks. He explains in detail the worrying donor fatigue and the resulting drop in the funding of humanitarian projects as well as the growing hostility of host communities to refugees.

Mr. Viljoen however underscores the need for the civil society to address the root causes of violence and displacement of civilians in African countries.

“Even if donors gave generously and host countries provided protection to refugees, we are only addressing the symptoms of the refugee crisis without addressing the causes. Especially in Africa the connection between mineral wealth, violence and forced displacements is becoming clearer,” Mr. Viljoen says in the statement dated Thursday, June 17.

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He adds, “The Congolese Bishops have issued statements saying unequivocally that the violence in the eastern part of that country is caused by the presence of vast mineral wealth, and that the ultimate agenda is to depopulate the countryside so that prospectors and multinationals can have free access.”

In Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, where alleged militants continue to wreak havoc on civilians, the DHPI official notes that Christian and Muslim communities have been living in harmony for centuries “until one of the world’s largest deposits of liquid natural gas was discovered there.”

According to the DHPI Director, local communities in the north of Cabo Delgado also say that the agenda is to depopulate the northern coastal areas, to give prospectors and multinationals a free hand.

The current violence sweeping Southern Nigeria, which the peace organization is also monitoring, is not just religious in nature, between the Muslim North versus the Christian South or the result of clashes between cattle herders from the North and the communities in the South where they seek grazing, Viljoen says.

“Legislators from the North in the National Assembly have publicly stated that all of Nigeria, including the oil in the South East, is theirs, and that they are claiming it,” the official of the peace entity of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) tells ACI Africa.

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The DHPI official says that the protractedness of conflicts in Africa is common knowledge especially in developed countries.

He says that the development in these countries, however, is a result of some of the conflicts, including child labor, forced displacements and killings. In Uganda, for instance, DHPI has reported about massive land evictions in which many civilians have been displaced and are now living in refugee camps.

“Citizens of developed countries point to the intractability of conflicts in Africa. That they never end! That there is never a solution! They forget that they would not have had cell phones or laptop computers if it wasn’t for the Coltan that came from Eastern DRC, that the petrol they put in their cars probably came from the Niger Delta, and that most of the technological devices that their lives revolve around are manufactured from minerals that were extracted from the pristine sand dunes of the Indian Ocean coast, or the virgin jungles of Central Africa, at the cost of mass destruction of natural habitats, and violent , forceful displacement of local communities,” Mr. Viljoen says.

Developed countries, the DHPI official says, have never analyzed the role of their own multinationals, working in collaboration with corrupt African leaders, to seize control of Africa’s natural riches.

“They have never questioned the acquiescence of their own governments in unconditionally supporting their multinationals, in the name of ‘protecting their economic interests,’” he says.

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The official of the SACBC peace entity says that in the previous century, the industrial revolution was largely driven by rubber, a substance that was extensively used in the automotive industry. The product is found in abundance in the DRC.

He continues, “The world was shocked to see photos of Congolese villagers enslaved to extract rubber from trees, given daily quotas, and who had their hands severed if they did not deliver their quota.”

The DHPI Director says that in the modern version of the rubber atrocity, multimillion dollar extractive industry installations provide developed country industries with the minerals and raw materials they need to increase their own wealth, “while the indigenous communities that were forcefully displaced to make way for the installations, languish in tents, without food, water or medical attention.”

Those who have been displaced to pave way for these multimillion-dollar companies are languishing in “reception centres” or squatter settlements around the major local urban centre in DRC, Mr. Viljoen says.

In his message ahead of the World Refugee Day, Mr. Viljoen notes that the refugee crisis in Africa is getting worse and that refugees continue to live in deplorable conditions across the world.

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He makes reference to the UNHCR statistics indicating that there are currently around 80 million refugees globally, saying, “This figure does not include internally displaced persons.”

“Only those who have crossed an international frontier and have fled to another country. The individual suffering gets lost behind the statistics and the sheer magnitude of the numbers,” the DHPI official says.

He urges those with privilege to remember that every one of the 80 million “is a human being, created in the image of God, who has lost everything, house, family, friends, livelihood.”

Mr. Viljoen notes that most displaced people have faced unimaginable horrors in their place of origin, and almost insurmountable difficulties to get where they are.

“The situation across Africa continuously deteriorates,” he says, and adds, “In Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, rural villagers have seen their houses and crops burned down, their relatives killed, often beheaded, and have fled without food or water for distances of up to 200 km on foot through the bush, or spent days on the open sea in overcrowded fishing boats.”

The official of the peace entity that is monitoring the evolution of violence in a number of other Africa countries observes, “We have seen humanitarian catastrophes emerge in Ethiopia and, most recently, in the South East of Nigeria. These are the new crises; there is still no relief in sight in ongoing crises like the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo or South Sudan.”

According to the DHPI official, donor fatigue has compromised the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

“So, for example, UN agencies have launched constant appeals to member states to respond to the crisis in Northern Mozambique, they have, however, still managed to raise only a fraction of the funding required,” he says.

Host countries are also increasingly failing to honor their obligations under international law and treaties, Mr. Viljoen says, and gives the example of Tanzania where authorities have refused entry to civilians fleeing violence in Cabo Delgado.

 “We have heard of more than 9,000 Mozambicans being denied refugee status in Tanzania, and being sent back to Cabo Delgado,” he says.

The DHPI Director calls on the international community to respond with generosity to appeals for humanitarian assistance for refugees and the displaced.

He makes another appeal to countries to observe their obligations under international law and treaties to provide protection to refugees.

“But above all, we call on civil society to work fearlessly to expose the causes of conflict in Africa – the international interests and the local leaders that continue to profiteer from African conflicts,” the DHPI official says, and explains, “Unless we address the root causes of conflict, and stop wars in Africa, we will be commemorating World Refugee Day for many years to come.”