Millions of people are forced to flee their homes every year as a result of conflict and persecution. But not all these emergencies receive the same amount of attention. In 2019, nine out of the top 10 most neglected refugee crises were in Africa, according to a recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and at the top of the list was Cameroon for the second year in a row.
“The deep crises represented by millions of displaced Africans are yet again the most underfunded, ignored, and deprioritized in the world,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the NRC, in a press release. “They are plagued by diplomatic and political paralysis, weak aid operations, and little media attention. Despite facing a tornado of emergencies, their SOS calls for help fall on deaf ears.”
Last year, Jan Egeland appeared on the Global Dispatches podcast to explain why Cameroon is experiencing such a profound displacement crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes.
The NRC looked at crises in 41 countries – each with more than 200,000 displaced people – and ranked the top 10 based on three criteria: lack of political will, lack of media attention and lack of international aid. According to the report, the most neglected displacement crises in 2019 were:
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Central African Republic (CAR)
China and North Korea were not included in the NRC’s analyses “due to lack of information and reliable figures.”
In Cameroon, three different crises caused mass displacement across the country in 2019. First, clashes worsened last year between the government and militant group Boko Haram, which carried out more than 100 attacks in the Far North region. Nearly half a million people were forced to flee by the end of the year. Second, violent political conflicts in the northwest and southwest of the country have given rise to a quickly deteriorating humanitarian crisis over the last three years. In November, UNICEF reported that nearly 2 million people were in need – 80 percent more than the year before. Almost 700,000 people were internally displaced, according to the NRC, while another 52,000 fled the country altogether. Third, food insecurity and violence from neighboring CAR caused 230,000 refugees to flee to eastern Cameroon by the end of the year. An agreement between the two countries and the UN Refugee Agency only managed to help about 3,000 refugees return home to CAR.
Despite facing three intensifying crises, Cameroon received scant international media attention last year – partly due to limited access for journalists – which contributed to being one of the lowest-funded humanitarian appeals in the world. By the end of the year, only 43 percent of the appeal was funded The report says the year was also “devoid of successful mediation and saw little pressure on conflict parties to stop attacking civilians.”
The situation wasn’t much better in the other nine countries that made the NRC’s list. For example, conflict has displaced 6.4 million people within the DRC, second only to Syria (13 million). Last year, it also faced the second largest hunger crisis in the world after Yemen and major disease outbreaks, including Ebola and measles. Yet, only 37 percent of the UN’s aid appeal for the country was funded by the end of the year. This was Burkina Faso and Niger’s first time on the list.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the world entered 2020 with nearly 80 million people displaced from their homes. Now, as the virus makes its way across Latin America and Africa, wreaking health and economic devastation, the NRC report says these countries need more support than ever.
“COVID-19 is spreading across Africa, and many of the most neglected communities are already devastated by the economic shocks of the pandemic,” said Egeland. “We need solidarity with these conflict-stricken communities now more than ever, so the virus does not add more unbearable disaster to the myriad of crises they already face.”
The report provides recommendations to policymakers, donors, journalists, humanitarian organizations, and the public on ways to raise awareness of the world’s most neglected (refugee) crises, especially as these countries face more uncertainty and instability in 2020.