PAP 4th Vice-President, Hon. Chief Fortune Charumbira remarks at the 2019 World Refugee Day commemorative event. 

 

It is my pleasure and an honour for me, on behalf of the President, Rt. Honourable Roger Nkodo Dang, and the Bureau of the Pan African Parliament, to welcome you in our beautiful Chamber today, to commemorate altogether the World Refugee Day.

Honourable Members, Excellencies, Distinguished guests, If you asked a member of my community in Masvingo, what makes a good African place to live, the answer will probably express a “commitment to the good of the community”, and an attachment to the place where their identities were formed, and also “a need to experience their lives as bound up in that of their community". As Africans, the quality of a good society can be measured by how we belong. This is at the heart of our African society. Desmond Tutu said: “Harmony, friendliness, and community are great goods. Social harmony is for us the summum bonum – the greatest good. Anything that subverts or undermines this sought-after good is to be avoided like the plague.” Africa’s ability to care for its people is based on its strength to understand that its people are belonging together, are part of the one organ of the human family and form a community in which harm done to one, is harm done to all.

On December 4, 2000, United Nations General Assembly decided, in agreement with OAU, to celebrate, as from 2001, World Refugee day. This was notably, to

  • pay tribute to the dedication of humanitarian workers and associated personnel, who risk their lives in the performance of their duties;
  • Reaffirm its support for the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner, activities that contribute to promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations, in particular those related to peace, human rights and development;
  • Note the crucial role of partnerships with Governments and international, regional and non-governmental organizations, as well as of the participation of refugees in decisions that affect their lives;

World Refugee Day is also the occasion to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems and emphasize on achievements.

African Union timely theme for 2019, is “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.”

This theme comes at a time when Africa is also marking major anniversaries for two pioneering and highly influential treaties:

  • The 1969 OAU (Organization of African Unity) Refugee Convention and the 2009 African Union Convention on Internally Displaced Persons.

To commemorate these milestone anniversaries and promote the new AU theme of the year across Africa – the continent most heavily affected by forced displacement with more than a third of the world’s forcibly displaced. Of the close to 1.3 billion Africans today, 29.3 million live outside our continent, and only 30% of these live in Europe. By comparison, it is probably a safe estimate that 4% of Africans live outside their country, as opposed to, for instance, 8% of Europeans living abroad. Africans love their home, their country, their continent. In a world where most populations are ageing, the old African continent is again emerging, and growing. It will have a population of over 2 billion in 2050.

I have trust in the fact that the African Union Agenda 2063 commits to addressing the protection of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons as well as migrants in all situations.  The vision of inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa can only better be achieved if we competently and comprehensively address the question of displacement of our people.  

As a parliament, we note how topical and relevant the AU Theme of the year is. Africa is looking after the largest number of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced People. Consequently, the Pan African Parliament, through its Committees, deliberated extensively on the AU theme during the sittings which held in Tunisia and Midrand in March.  In May 2019, the PAP Plenary resolved to take bold and effective political leadership to resolve conflicts in Africa through policies and strategies that strengthen national systems and structures that prevent conflicts and displacement on the continent. We called on parliamentarians to effectively contribute to the eradication of structural sources and drivers of conflict, including corruption, extreme poverty, gender inequality and other forms of discrimination, human rights violations, low political participation, organized crime, resource mismanagement, rule of law issues and youth unemployment.

As we consider the responsibility for Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced people today, Honourable Members, Excellencies, Distinguished guests we should consider what the problem is, distinguish between symptoms and causes in order to identify the solutions that will help us solve these problems. As this task is upon us, Honourable Members, Excellencies, Distinguished guests, we must do this with honesty and clarity and based on the facts as they present themselves today.

Refugees have left their home escaping inhumane conditions, the consequences of natural disaster or political persecution, have suffered loss of family members and loss of their home and their land, they have seen death, experienced injustice and fear, have suffered maltreatment, torture and sexual violence; they are traumatised. The numbers of refugees are increasing, with less food and clean water. Many of the young refugees who find no opportunities for training and work, move on, hoping that they will be able to ameliorate their situation. They are further exposed to abuse, exploitation, extortion, kidnapping for ransom and modern slavery.

Slavery, Honourable Members, Excellencies, Distinguished guests is surely one thing that our continent can never tolerate again. It is not supported with the values that our continent holds: “Ubuntu ethics can be termed anti-egoistic as it discourages people from seeking their own good without regard for, or to the detriment of, others and the community. Ubuntu promotes the spirit that one should live for others.”[vi]. Successful programmes should address the disintegration of the social cohesion of our communities, reintegrate those that returned, address their loss of economic self-reliance and change despair into hope.

As African Union we need to set an agenda to fight these crimes. This century will be an African century, and our continent will be built on African values. Refugees can be protected and safe, they can be reintegrated into our communities, with plenty of resources and they can contribute to our economies. This is not always easy, as globalisation is challenging these values. In our efforts to build caring communities, we need to be aware of the particular spaces of our rural communities, and those of our cities, the spaces across borders and those away from our continent, in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas. In this, we will find allies across the globe, there where we are respected with dignity.

On this particular day where we commemorate Refugees, I want to recognise the efforts of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives, their time, their thoughts, to ensure that the refugees enjoy their rights as human beings and also those who have contributed politically, socially, economically, psychologically and in many other ways to ensure that the refugee problem and its resultant problems are addressed meaningfully and sustainably.

We commend the efforts of Uganda, which is currently hosting 1.2 million refugees, for integrating refugees within communities, providing them with economic assets, such as land, and strengthening their resilience and self-reliance. Uganda has also provided social protection to its returnees from the war in the North, a programme that has proven to help communities get back on their feet. 

Ethiopia’s social protection programmes have helped pastoralist communities across borders to strengthen their resilience without curbing their mobility. In East Africa Cross Border programmes, long neglected, are established to strengthen health facilities for mobile communities living across the borders.

In my own region, our borders are amongst the liveliest communities in which people on both sides of the border belong together and trade. Especially in times of want, these border communities are places where creative solutions emerge to sort out daily problems. These experiences where positive results emerge, can guide us, as surely in Africa we already have home-grown and tested solutions. It shows that mobility as such is not the problem, on the contrary, mobility and migration have helped our communities to survive and to overcome hardship. With these many good examples, we have every reason to be hopeful that we can elaborate our policies in Africa, inspired by these positive results.

We will propose an alternative, and more functional policy. A policy that first of all does not fight the idea of mobility – which is crucial for economies and for the resilience and well-being of our communities. A policy which is focused on the protection of refugees. A policy which fights criminalisation and exploitation of refugees. A policy that capitalises on social and economic benefits that refugees bring. A policy that honours the dignity of each and every human being and we that Europe will follow.

In this alternative approach there is no place for closed borders. In this approach we will fight determinedly all those who abuse refugees for their own ends. We will take responsibility for our own continent and make it a thriving place where our people know they belong. To achieve this, we will need to be in charge of our own continent. What will this look like? One of our great intellectuals proposes a place where "Africans are not turned into scraps of a planet dotted with watchtowers. It must become its own center, its own power, a vast space of circulation, a continent-world. Africa must complete the project of decolonization, forging, for itself, a new African policy on mobility.

Africa has all the resources to achieve this. The basis of it will be its foundational values. One of Africa’s great scholars observes that these will have the quality to guide our continent into the future:

Having faith in the richness of the discussions that will take place this morning, we pledge as African Union to protect the Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced people on our continent, to root out the crimes that aim to exploit them and to forge collaboration with partners who respect the dignity of the people on our continent.

Allow me to wish you once more a warmful welcome in your Parliament, the Parliament of African people.

Thank You for your attention.