Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Africa’s refugee crisis down to democracies, says former Ivory Coast PM

Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio said many refugees had been forced to leave their homes because of poor governance

Ethiopian migrants are led by a smuggler to a disembarking point on the uninhabited coast outside the town of Obock, Djibouti in July. AP
Ethiopian migrants are led by a smuggler to a disembarking point on the uninhabited coast outside the town of Obock, Djibouti in July. AP

African countries have the ability to greatly decrease the number of people leaving them as refugees, said Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, President of the Senate and former prime minister of Ivory Coast.

“Why does Africa has so many refugees?" Mr Ahoussou-Kouadio asked at a panel on refugee inclusion at the Paris Peace Forum on Tuesday.

"We have very rich countries but if we were to promote democracy and protect the people, if we had a better share of that, we wouldn’t have as many refugees.”

Ivory Coast has taken in millions of refugees in recent years. Of its 25 million inhabitants, 30 per cent are non-Ivorian citizens.

“We have a tradition of welcoming people in the Cote D’Ivoire and from 1989 to 1996 Liberia, a neighbouring country of ours, as well as Sierra Leone, went through wars and we took in 450,000 refugees,” Mr Ahoussou-Kouadio said.

Although Liberia and Sierra Leone are mainly English-speaking and the Ivory Coast is Francophone, he said refugees were integrated near the borders of the three countries without having to go into camps.

Many people on both sides of the borders spoke the same local dialects, meaning refugees could comfortably integrate into villages around these areas, Mr Ahoussou-Kouadio said.

He said many had to flee their countries because of “a governance problem” and the host populations must make them feel welcome if they are to successful integrate into society.

“You need to have rules and standards that really apply to people to make sure we really have democracy," Mr Ahoussou-Kouadio said.

“We should impose embargoes on those countries to force them to have democracy and then we will have fewer refugees.”

Rouba Mhassien, founder and director of the Sawa Foundation, which works with refugees in Lebanon, said the negative media coverage of migrants did not help integration.

“There are so many stakeholders who need to practise accountability," Ms Mhassien said.

"First of all, the media in a lot of countries hosting refugees has been very xenophobic and there is an anti-refugee discourse.

“Social media that allows hate speech is also not stopped in these countries."

Ms Mhassien, who was also on the panel, said some politicians even seized on this to deflect blame.

She said the Lebanese President Michel Aoun claimed some of the anti-government protests were funded by pro-refugee groups.

Updated: November 13, 2019 01:24 PM

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