Unless you are directly affected by one of these crises, my guess is not much. It’s not because you don’t care. Quite the opposite. You are a compassionate person, who cares deeply about people who have been forced to flee their homes. That’s why you clicked to read this article. The reason these crises are unknown to you is because you’re not being told about them.
What is a displacement crisis – and why are some neglected?
A displacement crisis occurs when people are “displaced” from their homes in large numbers due to conflict, disaster or persecution. When this happens, aid organisations usually mobilise to provide assistance to those in need.
However, although humanitarian aid should be based on needs, and needs alone, some crises receive more attention and support than others. It’s down to a complex and vicious cycle, starting with political will.
There are some crises that are of little geo-political interest to world leaders. Perhaps the conflicts that are causing the displacement have little security impact on their own countries, and so there is no motivation to help end them.
Take Burkina Faso as an example. Violence in northern Mali spilled into Burkina Faso in 2018, igniting insecurity that engulfed large swathes of the country. Civilians were caught in the crossfire. Hunger levels rose dramatically, and Burkina Faso became the fastest growing displacement crisis in 2019. But because the majority of those fleeing didn’t cross any international borders, the crisis gained very little international attention. The people of Burkina Faso, who have had their lives turned upside down in such a short amount of time, are suffering unnoticed.
In other conflicts, the opposite is the case: there are many actors with conflicting political interests, and no-one is willing to compromise.
Then, there are those conflicts that have lasted a long time – so long, in fact, that the public get tired of hearing about them and find it difficult to believe that anything can be done to change the situation.
DR Congo is a good example of this. Tracing back to colonial times, “the Congo” was presented in popular culture as a place of violence – as exemplified in Joseph Conrad’s classic novella from 1899, Heart of Darkness.
Now, when violence is causing significant hunger and displacement in modern-day DR Congo, the world shrugs its shoulders. There is no urgency to end the crisis, and people suffer greatly as a result of the indifference.
Finally, there’s the media. The lack of media attention can be linked to the amount of political attention a crisis is receiving. If a crisis is seen as irrelevant to the international community, the media will be less inclined to report on it.
Out of sight, out of mind
There’s also an issue with distance and access. Crises in faraway places are far less likely to be reported on than issues that are at the front door. And for places that are very dangerous and difficult to access, journalists are often unable to obtain the information and material they need to report on the crisis.
This is true in Cameroon. The organisation Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for greater freedom of expression, ranks the country 135th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index. It reports frequent detention and prosecution of journalists. It also reports that the internet is often cut off in some parts of the country. Few international journalists are able to gain access to the conflict areas.
But ultimately, it’s down to you
The media machines produce content that they think you want to read. In healthy democracies, politicians respond when their constituents are outraged and demanding action.
So, the more you see, hear and know about these neglected crises, the more politicians and the media will stop neglecting them. And this means, in turn, more people knowing and therefore caring about them. We must be outraged that the suffering of millions of people goes unnoticed.
We can’t do much alone. But together, we can break the cycle of neglect.
NRC will not ignore these crises. We are responding to the most neglected crises in the world, helping people in desperate need.