Thousands of people from Democratic Republic of Congo have crossed Lake Albert into Uganda between December 2017 and February 2018. They are fleeing inter-communal fighting in Ituri region of DR Congo. Refugees have reported that security has severely 
deteriorated in the area, with tens of civilians killed and hundreds of houses burnt down. According to the new arrivals, as of 20th February, many more people were gathering on the Congolese side of Lake Albert waiting for their turn to cross.

Refugees themselves also report that both the rebel groups and Congolese authorities are actively preventing people from escaping the violence, even stopping boats mid-lake.  This could be one of the reasons behind the sharp drop in new arrivals the last week. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Thousands of people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo crossed Lake Albert into Uganda between December 2017 and February 2018. They were fleeing inter-communal fighting in Ituri region of DR Congo. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Three countries protect half world’s new refugees

Published 19. Jun 2018
Turkey, Bangladesh and Uganda alone received over half of all new refugees last year. Never before has the world registered a larger number of people displaced by war and persecution.

"International responsibility-sharing for displaced people has utterly collapsed. Rich countries are building walls against families fleeing war, at the same time as less money is available for aid to people in conflict areas," said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.

The number of people forced to flee reached 68.5 million at the start of 2018, according to figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and NRC's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This is as many people as there are living in the United Kingdom.

"International cooperation and peace diplomacy are in deep crisis. The number of people displaced worldwide is increasing for the sixth year in a row, and fewer people are safely returning home," said Egeland.

Forty million people are displaced within their own countries, and another 28.5 million have crossed a border and become refugees.

Turkey was the country that received most new refugees last year - 700,000 people. It now houses over 3.8 million refugees, most of them from Syria. In comparison, the rest of Europe as a whole received about half a million refugees last year, and the US received about 60,000.

"When so few asylum seekers are arriving Europe and the US, we have the responsibility to increase our support to less rich countries that are currently hosting a large number of refugees, like Bangladesh, Lebanon and Uganda, and increase the number of people we receive for resettlement," said Egeland.

"The safety net we put in place after Second World War and which has provided millions of refugees with protection, is now being upheld by an increasingly small number of countries. If these countries do not receive sufficient support, the whole protection system will unravel. If so, this will have dramatic consequences not only for the people affected, but also for the stability and security in many parts of the world," he added.

By May this year, Uganda had only received 7 percent of the money needed for UN and other organisations to be able to provide necessary support to the large number of refugees from South Sudan and DR Congo. In Bangladesh the equivalent figure was 20 percent.

In addition to economic support to countries receiving a large number of refugees, 1.2 million refugees need to be resettled in a new country, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). These are people that are not safe where they currently are. Last year the UN member countries only received about 103,000 resettlement refugees.

The consequences of the lack of responsibility sharing was evident this month when the rescue vessel Aquarius with 629 refugees and migrants was denied entry to Italian ports.

"When people in need at sea become pieces in a political game, it is a grotesque symbol of the current lack of a proper system for international responsibility sharing," said Egeland.

NRC is concerned to see new border barriers raise in front of people fleeing war and persecution, and the refugees' rights being under threat.

"In many of the countries NRC work, people in power are referring to how European countries are closing their borders, when they want to defend their decision to close their own borders. We have to end this race to the bottom, and rather let us inspire by generous recipient countries like Uganda, where vulnerable refugees are being protected," said Egeland.

Facts
  • 68.5 million people were displaced at the entry of 2018.
  • 40 million people are displaced within their own country, according to NRC's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
  • 28.5 million people have fled their country and are refugees or asylum seekers, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
  • In 2017, 3.6 million sought protection in another country, either by themselves or through resettlement programmes. Turkey received close to 20 percent of all new refugees in 2017, Bangladesh 18 percent, Uganda 15 percent and Sudan 14 percent.
  • 667,000 refugees returned to their home country last year. Most returned to Nigeria (283,000).
Sources: UNHCR, NRC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)