As we look upon this picture, one can surmise that these people are refugees fleeing their country; why though, what were the conditions? This picture is of a group of refugees fleeing from Rwanda. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), these refugees were part of one of the largest mass exoduses in history. Roughly 2.5 million Rwandans fled the 1994 genocide and its aftermath. The effects of the Rwandan genocide also impacted the outlying countries and would affect the entire continent. How did an internal conflict that would lead to a civil war have consequences far reaching enough as to pose a serious threat to the security of an entire region? “Refugee manipulation” has become a very important idea for understanding ways in which transnational actors are sources of conflict. The refugee crisis is and has been the catalyst for conflict. Much can be learned from the genocide that erupted into the Great African War. The genocide led to mass refugee movements that fostered internal conflicts, and that in turn led to an outbreak of regional war. The events that transpired before and after the Rwandan genocide were the epicenter for this great war, and the movement of refugees that ensued destabilized the fragile peace and political balance in the region.
DEFINING A REFUGEE
The term “refugee” is not well defined. There is a need for a precise definition, for the term “refugee” constitutes a very powerful label, expressing need and concern for humanity, and calling for national and international attention. The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention was one of the first pieces of legislation covering refugees. It also set into place obligations of the host state relating to refugee camps, along with the role of refugees in the state. Initially, this definition applied solely in the European sphere, but after 1967 was expanded to apply throughout the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention establishing UNHCR spells out that a refugee is someone who:
owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.1
This was later modified in 1967 by the Convention’s Protocol to include “persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country.”2 Refugee is defined by the UNHCR in this way, but each nation has its own definition and protocols governing labeling those who claim the status of a refugee. The United States, for instance, defines “refugee” as:
…any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, The term “refugee” does not include any person who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.3
For most countries there is an additional condition requiring the “refugee” to provide proof establishing himself/herself as a refugee. To establish that the applicant is a refugee, the applicant must show that race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.
SECURITIZATION OF THE TERM “REFUGEE”
The 20th century has been labeled the “century of refugees” by the UNHCR, for within this time there was a steep increase in numbers worldwide. By the end of World War II in 1945, the worldwide count of refugees was at 2.1 million, a number that fell to 1.5 million by 1960 due to mass resettlement. By 1970, the number had risen to 2.5 million and 8.9 million by 1980. This number then doubled, reaching 17.2 million in 19904 then reaching an overall high at 20 million in 1992.5 There were 43.3 million forcible displaced people worldwide at the end of 2009.6 During the last decade of the 20th century, governments, international organizations, and the public became increasingly aware of the problems faced by refugees and internally displaced people. Overall awareness has grown partly because of the large numbers involved and the experiences hosting refugees. The political and military activities of refugees in a host country have heightened risks to the stability and national security of the region/nation. Refugees are being viewed as future and potential threats to regional, national, and international peace and stability.
To understand why refugees, typically seen as a non-security issue, are viewed as potential threats, one must look at how security is defined within the scope of security theory. The main theory of securitization within international relations holds that an issue becomes a security threat not because it necessarily constitutes an objective threat to the state (or another relevant object), but because that actor or state has deemed it to be a security issue. The state then declares that relevant action must be taken in order to protect its survival from such threat. By claiming such actions, the actor has declared that it has the right to enact measures beyond the normal routine: extraordinary measures to ensure its survival. Security thus is not about an actual threat, but is something stipulated by the state as an issue of security. The state must also convince its citizens to accept the threat as something real and actual. Thus this definition of security is connected to social theory and the idea of manipulation of “truth.” Securitization is not an easy task; one must convince a targeted audience of the existence of a threat (Mogire 2011, Buzan et al 1998, Kingdon 1995).
The Copenhagen School of thought supports this idea: “Copenhagen School theorists argue that in international relations something becomes a security issue when it is presented as posing an existential threat to some object – a threat that needs to be dealt with immediately and with extraordinary measures.”7 The Copenhagen school relies primarily on two premises: “designation of an existential threat requiring emergency action or special measures and the acceptance of that designation by a significant audience.”8 In the case of refugees, emphasis is placed on individuals or groups of individuals – rather than on states – as threats. Expanding the purview of security to include not just the central notion of military and state actors but also non-traditional actors such as refugees and individuals, states now regard refugees as threats to sovereignty and identity.
Refugee securitization links refugees to the idea of a threat. This idea solidified at the end of World War II. Although the concept of transnationals effecting change is nothing new, such phenomena are largely overlooked by the prevailing theory of Realism. Realism suggests that threats to states arise from other states, rather than from individuals. In the 1980s and the early 90s, however, terms such as “threat,” “war,” “combative,” and “intrusive,” became associated with refugees as they came to be seen as a problem. This shift likely occurred because of recent mass movements and their impacts in Africa. Policy makers concluded that refugees were a contributing factor to war, and it became common to focus on the needs of the host and their protection from these “invaders” (Loescher 1992, Zolberg, Suhrke, and Aguayo 1989). The UN issued a number of statements supporting this idea of a threat. For example, Sadako Ogata stated that, “Refugee problems invariably affect key state interests. They are related to matters of national, regional, and even international peace and security...” (Ogata 1997).9 This tendency to securitize transnational movements and refugee flow can also be tied with the idea of walled sovereignty;10 states have adopted these “walls” of legality and protection as means to protect their identity. States therefore have relegated refugees to a category of “others,” as undesirable. Sovereignty and identity are the two concepts that the state holds most dear: they are what differentiates a state from others, and represent national unity and pride. With an increasing flow of refugees fleeing into other states seeking a better life, countries fear that their identities will lose definition.
To summarize: securitization is a concept created by the state which is then reinforced by its audience, and influenced by the state in order to protect its identity and sovereignty. Thus a general negative notion is attached to refugees, for they are seen primarily as invaders. This notion will continue to gain purchase, as states become increasingly concerned with protecting borders and maintaining security from what we deem “others.”
MILITARIZATION OF REFUGEES AND CAMPS
To understand the security threat of refugees, one must examine the issue of refugee militarization. The militarization of refugees and their camps creates a state of lawlessness within the local region, often resulting in political violence caused by refugees. This leads to the possibility of a retaliatory strike against the host country from either the country of origin or that of a rebel group.
The term militarization describes a volatile situation including “non-civilian attributes of refugee populated areas, including inflows of weapons, military training, and recruitment. Militarization also includes actions of refugees and/or exiles who engage in non-civilian activity outside the refugee camp, yet who depend on assistance from refugees or international organizations.”11 The issue of militarized camps is not entirely new, but has become more prominent since post-colonialism and the destabilization of Africa. Many refugee camps throughout Africa have become “hotspots” for rebel recruitment, promoting political violence. This phenomenon of refugee militarization captured international attention as a result of the Great Lake crisis, which then led to what is known as “the Great African War.” However, the challenge extends beyond Africa and is now recognized as a global problem, impacting Balkans, Palestine, and East Timor.
During the Cold War, nations used militarization and refugee movements as a tool for the destabilization of a particular region to gain leverage over a situation or another state. Loescher says, “The strategic and political interests of the West and its allies to maintain pressure against and to destabilize revolutionary states in the Third World, and through them, to raise the costs to their patron, the Soviet Union, were served by the continued military use of refugees.”12 During the Cold War, both Western powers and the Soviets and their allies used refugees as means to pursue their ideological agendas and strategic interests, ignoring humanitarian precepts. The strategy was either to exploit an existing conflict or to aggravate a situation to promote conflict. The Cold War ensured a continuous flow of weapons to refugee groups in various theaters, for weapons were treated as incentives for potential allies (as in the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation).
Militarization begins with the movement of refugees due to political violence, followed by a flow of rebels, weapons, and materials accompanying the mass of refugees into centers holding the displaced people. These camps become bases of operation for future attacks against the country of origin. War is then conducted through raids across borders, with camps providing the necessary manpower and supplies. Mogire states, “Refugee militarization has also become a common phenomenon as rebels increasingly find it easy to expedient to use refugees and refugee camps to pursue their armed insurgencies.”13 Camps are targeted because of the vulnerable circumstances of their refugees. “Camps constitute a captive audience, extremely vulnerable to psychological and physical pressure from anyone in a position of authority, particularly from fellow refugees, who capitalize on refugees’ instinct to “stick together” in the face of adversity and alienation.”14
There are several reasons for the militarization of camps. They are protected by international law, so there exists a “protected status” of people in the camps ensuring a degree of safety from possible reprisals. These camps allow guerrilla groups to become less dependent on third party political and economic backing. Camps provide localized manpower and constitute a hub for international aid, facilitating future resupply. Camps provide legitimacy to an organization, justifying a leadership that claims to fight for the rights of those in the camp. There also exists proximity to international borders, enabling operations to be conducted close to a home base and making it easier to retreat quickly, avoiding unnecessary casualties. Ultimately, “humanitarian relief assistance in refugee camps often serves as a magnet for and indirectly provides armed elements with economic resources independent of external patrons.”15 Given a base of operations and accessible supplies, often free of charge, camps sometimes are profitable. The lack of security in camps helps rebel groups obtain supplies without having to comply with the jurisdiction of the host government. Integration is key for a rebel group to exist and continue in its actions; camps provide that cover to rebel forces, enabling them to avoid detection while they pursue their missions. Finally, many of these conflicts are secessionist movements occurring along borders. When militant groups are forced to flee the country, they typically relocate nearby in order to maintain geographic proximity to their theaters of operations and retain the material benefits of their refugee status.
Militarization occurs when rebel forces use camps and refugees as tools for the continuance of conflict. But the root cause can be traced in the actual flow of the refugees from political violence. The militarization of camps is tied to another term, “refugee warrior.” The terms “refugee warrior” and “refugee warrior communities” were first coined by Zolberg, Suhrke, and Aguayo in their influential 1989 study Escape from Violence. Zolberg defined refugee warrior communities as, “not merely a passive group of dependent refugees,” but as “highly conscious refugee communities with a political leadership structure and armed sections engaged in warfare for a political objective, be it to recapture the homeland, change the regime or secure a separate state …”.16 The concept of refugee warrior creates a complicated situation in which refugees, often seen as victims, now are seen as potential security threats. This is troubling, for it means that a group of secessionists has established itself as lawful refugees as a mask to disguise efforts to reclaim the country of origin. This situation occurs in a number of places, such as Africa, and Palestine, in their effort to establish a sovereign nation. It is worth noting that such armed resistance is a violation of international law, which states that refugees upon entry to camps are to be disarmed.
There are two reasons for a refugee to become militarized: manipulation into becoming a warrior or voluntarily deciding to fight. For years, refugees have been used as pawns on a massive scale to promote and tear down governments. The conflicts in which refugee manipulation has taken place include not only some of the most enduring and bloodiest in the world today, but also cases that imperil the stability of the receiving state. “Refugees turned resources” is the term commonly used in this context. This manipulation of the refugee regime has ramifications for the international scene. “Refugees turned resources” help prolong civil wars and threaten the security of surrounding regions. In cases where the military flees to another country, they need not admit defeat, for if they can secure and claim refugee status, they can then access international aid given to them to prolong the war. What is more, as Stedman and Tanner note, “Facing military defeat at home, the warring party uses the suffering of refugees for its own political purpose… As along as armies control the population, they can demand a seat at the table.”17
Manipulation complicates distinguishing between non-combatants and combatants. There is no easy way to differentiate, so innocents are in many cases caught in the cross fire of conflicts, and this leads to cuts of humanitarian aid. The UNHCR has related challenges; their objective is to support victims of conflict, but when some victims themselves are fighting, it becomes difficult to determine who should receive aid. When a camp is militarized, it takes control of the rations and the process of supplies, so one cannot help a certain group without assisting militants as well. “When armies are facing military defeat at home, the warring party uses the suffering of refugees for its own political purpose: to siphon off aid, establish the international legitimacy of their cause, and, by manipulating access to them, ensure that they will not repatriate. As long as armies control refugee populations, they can demand a seat in negotiations.”18 International assistance cannot remedy the situation, because if aid continues supplies end up in the hands of warriors, but if aid is withheld then innocents face danger of starvation or other extreme hardship.
Another challenge arises from the volunteer freedom fighter. The volunteer who commits to a military organization without being forced into it is a potential threat. For one who commits voluntarily is one who may manipulate others into joining. Those that sign up voluntarily join these military organizations because they believe them to be socially meaningful or economically rewarding, or because they are ideologically driven. Those forced from their countries into exile are more likely to join insurgent groups to retake their country; if a group can offer the political power necessary to retake a homeland, militarization becomes likely. Mogire suggests that, “…only a few political refugees will readily accept their new status as a permanent condition and, as a result, many will become involved in resistance movements.”19 A modern example of voluntary engagement can be seen in the Palestinian cause. Since the creation of the Israeli state, Palestinians have fought the Israelis using insurgent techniques to advance the agenda of independence and equal rights. These are modern refugee warriors. Nationalism and ideological notions are the primary reasons for voluntary enlistment. An earlier example occurred after World War Two, as Jewish refugees left Europe for the Middle East to establish a Jewish homeland. Uniting behind a common nationalistic ideal of Zionism prompted militarization. The Jewish refugees were some of the first nationalistic refugee warriors. Voluntary and united, they were in a strong position to effect change.
The militarization of refugees and their camps pose an international danger to the security and peaceful stability of regions. Refugee warriors can inflict a change in a region, drastically changing its political structure. But it is not only refugee warriors who make an impact, but also the states that manipulate situations in order to gain control or destabilize a local government or region, as seen with the Great Lakes Crisis. Here, the flow of refugees from ethnic conflict was the ripple that erupted into a regional war involving much of Africa: thus refugee crises have been catalysts for wider conflicts. Catalyzing forces include manipulations by host states and their exploitation of refugees, militarized camps that present targets for foreign interventions, which endangers those not involved with military groups, and domestic political turmoil, which can have spillover effects for other states and may provoke conflicts and regional destabilization.
The Role of the Receiving State
There are many legal and normative dimensions of international law affecting refugees. International law requires that assistance must be given to refugees and be carried out in a nonpolitical, civilian, and strictly humanitarian manner. The role of a host country includes many responsibilities in securing, protecting, and safeguarding incoming refugees. Military attacks on refugees and camps of any kind are illegal according to international law. The fact is, political and military interference are quite common and demonstrate the gap between law and practice, however, there is no process or framework for addressing the problem. The role of the harboring state is in most cases the exploitation of the situation to further its interests.
Upon the influx of refugees, the receiving nation has the obligation to protect and ensure the security of those fleeing from both external and internal threats. In November of 1998, the UN passed a resolution on the role of the host country, noting, “…primary responsibility of States hosting refugees to ensure the security and civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements in accordance with international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law…”20 Apart from the protection given by UNHCR statutes and international law, refugees also fall under the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I. This additional protection recognizes the vulnerability of refugees as aliens in the hands of a party to the conflict and the absence of protection by their State of nationality. Article 44 of the 4th Geneva Convention states that, “In applying the measures of control mentioned in the present Convention, the Detaining Power shall not treat as enemy aliens exclusively on the basis of their nationality ‘de jure’ of an enemy State, refugees who do not, in fact, enjoy the protection of any government.”21 What this means is that the host country must treat incoming refugees not as possible enemies, but as civilians fleeing their country. Interestingly, these laws were created by Western states themselves isolated from conflicts but nevertheless imposing legal requirements on other countries near war zones, typically third world countries. These countries often are already economically and politically unstable, and an influx of refugees can worsen matters: “Refugee situations impose a wide range of economic, environmental and infrastructural costs on the countries where they are to be found. A sudden influx of people from a neighboring or nearby state can increase market price, and decrease local wages; lead to deforestation and the reduction or contamination of water supplies; and place a significant strain on roads, bridges, warehousing facilities and the availability of land.”22
Even given economic challenges, there is a silver lining: with the burden that states have to bear with the incoming movement of refugees, there comes the flow of resources and aid. Refugee camps become hubs for such resources in the form of relief supplies and food aid, vehicles, employment, contracts from relief organizations that include employment and material. There then are the refugees themselves, offering human capital, labor, skills, entrepreneurship, and the creation of a whole new market for products. Although refugee aid is intended primarily for those in the camps, some of it ends up with the host community, for both food and non-food items are traded on local markets and benefit surrounding communities. In many cases, when aid arrives a portion is made available to the host community in order to offset the negative impact of the refugees on the area. “These refugee resources represent an important statebuilding contribution to the host state, but security problems and other hindrances inhibit the state’s ability to access and control them.”23 Refugees could potentially be an economy booster, but due to the conflict that follows, chances for a stable environment that allows for such improvement diminish. The reality is that host countries may not have the will or capacity to direct resources to a mass flow of refugees who may be settled for an unknown period of time.
The somber fact is that most mass movements of refugees fleeing are migrations into other third world countries. Some “90 per cent of the world’s refugees are sheltered in the world’s poorest states, [including] declining economies, chronic unemployment, and shortage of land and other resources…”24 A country is third world when underdeveloped economically, behind technologically, and contains widespread poverty. A mass flow of refugees into a country poses a harsh economic burden, and risks economic collapse and security destabilization. Capacity is key for determining whether the state can withstand the driving force of an influx in refugees. Many cannot, and, “For states that, for lack of capacity or resources, cannot legitimately guarantee that refugees will not organize attacks across the border against their country of origin, this poses a real problem.”25
On the flip side is the concept of “will:” do states have an exterior motive to refrain from controlling refugees who have taken asylum in the country? Willingness describes the state’s attitude toward enforcing security in refugee-populated areas.26 Though most states do not have the capacity to exert total control over the situation, most have the power to manipulate it. A state sympathetic to the plight of a certain group may willingly act in such away as they will not take responsibility for the well being of hosted refugees. In this scenario, cross-border violence and attacks may occur. Ethnic ties are the greatest factor affecting a host state’s willingness to provide security. Ethnic ties between refugees and the local populace or the leading party in the government can be a deciding factor. In some cases, the government will use refugees or another ethnicity as a roadblock to prevent rebels (from another ethnicity) from resisting the government.
The economic situation is vital for determining the political goals and grievances of the receiving state. The refugee crisis studied at the host level suggests that the continuance or importation could and can be blocked at the state level before it spreads outward. The state’s political goals and the support it receives can be a deciding factor on civil war. Capacity was seen in the form of resources of the state and the likelihood of the continuance in conflict through refugees. “Will” is the desire of the state to prevent further violence. Economic gain is not the primary incentive for the spread of civil war, but more for political gains and the desire to address their grievances against the original state.
IMPORTATION OF CONFLICT THROUGH REFUGEES
“Armed conflict is the central cause of massive refugee flows in the world today, and the political causes of armed conflicts frequently carry over to the country of displacement or to the camps themselves.”27 In many crises the influx of refugees threatens the stability of the region and can lead to the spillover of conflict into another country. As cross border attacks occur between refugees and combatants in another country, there is the risk of escalation and international war. The refugee crisis of 1994 genocide in Rwanda provides a key example of this phenomenon. The actions of the Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire eventually sparked two international wars that led to a mass population displacement.
There are three types of refugees within the context of militarization: situational, persecuted, and exiled. Situational refugees flee their home to escape intolerable conditions and general destruction wrought by civil war. Their general goal is to return home through peaceful means. They have very little political motivation to cause violence and will typically follow the direction of humanitarian groups. Persecuted refugees are those that flee due to direct persecution. Often they are willing to retaliate against their oppressors. They often join others who have been persecuted, and sometimes join military groups if invited. Lastly, exiled refugees are those that are forced to leave due to political action. They have the highest propensity for violence and often act to overthrow the government that had forced them into exile. This group is composed mainly of leaders and soldiers forced to flee because their government was overthrown.28
Refugee flows resulting from “forced migration” often arise from armed political conflict. Forced migration often refers to the pressured movement of a people away from their home or region, and is often associated with violent coercion. Forced migration, as defined by “Forced Migration Online,” describes “People who are forced to flee their homes for one or more of the following reasons and where the state authorities are unable or unwilling to protect them: armed conflict including civil war; generalized violence; and persecution on the grounds of nationality, race, religion, political opinion or social group.”29
Lischer describes five types of refugee-related political violence:30
Types of Refugee Related Violence:
- - Attacks between the sending state and the refugees
- - Attacks between the receiving state and the refugees
- - Ethnic or factional violence among refugees
- - Internal violence within the receiving state
- - Inter-state war or unilateral intervention
There are numerous instances of cross-border attacks occurring between the sending state and that of the refugees. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, for instance, Hutu and Tutsi refugees initiated attacks against their former government. These attacks would target citizens of the opposite ethnicity as well as government infrastructure. Attacks between refugees and the sending state often result in the escalation of conflict and the raising of tensions throughout the region.
Instances of conflict between the receiving state and that of refugees are not very common, but do occur. The most common instance are riots and protesting between the local populace and refugees; in these situations violence occurs as a result of locals taking the law into their own hands. Local people will feel excluded from the benefits being received by the refugees and in many cases will take their anger out on the refugees.
Ethnic conflict among refugees is common, and is tied to internal violence. To give just one example, in August 1998, UNHCR reported that a quarrel between two women at a tapstand in Hagadera “turned into an inter-clan block fight in which four women were injured.” A few days later, “two refugees armed with a knife attacked a 40 year-old man in a revenge attack linked to the quarrel at the tapstand. He sustained serious injuries and was admitted to hospital.”31 Ethnic violence can lead to an outbreak of continuance violence which can result in a state of lawlessness capable of spreading. Incidents such as these create the possibility of an ethnic war in the area.
The last category is when violence occurs when refugees act as a catalyst for conflict between nations. In many instances, those that are driven out from their homeland will use their time in exile to regroup and launch an invasion of their home countries. In 1990, Tutsi refugees in exile launched such an attack against Rwanda to regain their country after being expelled earlier. From Uganda, they were able to push out the Hutu government. Hutu refugees in Zaire in turn would use their time in exile to also regroup and initiate a series of continued attacks against Rwanda. This escalated into a regional war when Rwanda invaded Zaire, which then, because of various alliances, involved half of Africa. Attacks between the sending state and refugees have the highest propensity for an escalation of an international conflict between various nations. This type of conflict occurs more frequently than any other type.
Crime is traditionally viewed as something that is an internal issue related to domestic law-enforcement, but crime cannot be viewed solely as a domestic issue. Crime in the 20th century has become an international concern, with markets being globalized in such a way that international crime has become very profitable. Transnational organized crime is an ever-changing industry, adapting to markets and creating new forms of crime. It is an illicit business that “transcends cultural, social, linguistic and geographical boundaries and one that knows no borders or rules.”32 How does this relate to refugees? With camps functioning as hotspots for future involvement in rebel activities, there is a tendency toward instability in the region and an upward trend in crime throughout the vicinity of the camp. Banditry, theft of property and animals, armed resistance can be traced to the influx of refugees into an area either by their direct involvement or movement of militia or rebels that follow.
Along with the ‘usual’ crime that follows a mass movement of a population is the issue of light weaponry and its smuggling. The proliferation and trade of such items has adversely affected human security and stability. Further use of weapons has prolonged civil wars and regional conflicts, creating an environment that further encourages their use and trade. Small arms and light weaponry has become a profitable market worldwide, and “were the dominant weapons used in all of the 95 internal conflicts around the world in the period between 1989 and 1996.”33 There are a number of ways in which refugees proliferate small arms, including movement by formerly militarized units who still bear their arms as they cross national borders and the use of refugee camps as storage sites for arms. Refugees are sometimes key in the transportation of small arms across borders and the camps provide the very protection from rival rebel groups and sending states. The Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya became a hub during the Sudanese civil war and provided weapons used by the SPLA. Weapons smuggled into Kenya from Somalia have fallen into the hands of Kenyan and Somali bandit gangs.
Contemporary refugees are characterized as victims because they flee a given situation. The fact is that not everyone is a victim. With every refugee, there are active and ex-combatants as well as former armed elements: soldiers, rebels, paramilitary forces, police and private individuals. Through direct or indirect involvement, refugees have “imported” many types of conflict and insecurity ranging from crime to the far more serious inter-state conflict.
BACKGROUND ON CENTRAL AFRICA
With the increased number of armed conflicts in Central Africa, there exist various social and security challenges caused by mass movements of refugees. Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler assert that “Africa is the most conflict ridden region of the world and the only region in which the number of armed conflicts is on the increase.”34 Africa has more civil wars than any other single continent: 46.7 percent of all civil wars were in Africa.35 Refugee movements contribute to many of these intrastate wars. Africa’s disproportionate share of civil wars, coupled with the influx of refugee populations in many host countries, help to explain the inordinate political violence experienced by African refugees. How does a continent such as Africa come to have this burden? Much can be tied to its range of ethnic backgrounds. Ethnicity on its own does not constitute a cause of civil war, but as it becomes politicalized and connected with hierarchical standards ethnicity becomes problematic. Politicized violence arises typically from power and the need for resources among people, in most cases the elites. These elites belong to a particular ethnic class and this identity becomes basis for making claims on and seeking redress from the political system.
The colonization of Central Africa took place between 1870s and 1890s, when European states conquered and partitioned much of Africa, and divided various lands into holdings. These areas were then stripped of resources and colonized and its people in many cases either forced into a sub-citizen status or slavery. Tribal customs and traditions often were discarded and replaced with putatively “civilized” notions of society. In most cases, colonial governments could not fully control their holdings, so relied on local power structures to ensure order. These various factions and ethnic groups were then given special status within society.
In the context of central Africa, there are two dominant ethnic classes: Hutu and Tutsi. The troubled and complex dynamics of the relationship between the Hutu and the Tutsi predate the Rwandan genocide and the various ensuing wars. Their ethnic tension was intensified through the hierarchical standards established by European colonists. The Hutu or Bantu people were the indigenous persons of the regions presently known as Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. The Tutsi or Cushite people were originally from Ethiopia and migrated to Central Africa. The Cushite were cattle-herding warriors, and impressed their power upon the Bantu. Interestingly the Tutsi people were never numerically superior to the Hutu, and were always the minority. The Tutsi governed with a rigid hierarchical system in which the wealthy, even those who were Hutu, retained power.36
It was during the colonial era that British army officer John Hanning Speke created the racial hypothesis known as the “Hamitic Theory.” Speke suggested that the “Tutsis are more European than the Hutus. Their caucasoid facial features, combined with their smoother personalities was proof enough for him that they were more cultured than the Hutus. This theory was basis for all racial and cultural division between the Hutu and Tutsi in later years.”37 One race was seen as superior to the other, giving one even more power. The Belgian rulers put the Tutsi in power as royal masters over the Hutu. With independence, the monarchy was dissolved and Belgian troops withdrawn, creating a power vacuum both Tutsis and Hutus fought to fill.38 39
The internal strife that occurs within one state may impel groups in a neighboring country to assist their ethnic kin across the border. This cooperation generates rebel groups within refugee camps and the region, or motivates the host country to initiate cross border raids to weaken a particular group. This is what happened in central Africa, placing half the continent in war, causing the deaths of millions with the displacement of millions more. The following case study exemplifies the terms described above and provides context through a series of stories about the Great Lakes crisis occurring from the 1950s until the 2000s.
Case Study: Great Lakes Crisis of Central Africa
The Great Lakes Crisis is the common name associated with the conflicts beginning in 1994 with the Rwandan genocide coming to some closure with the Second Congolese War in 2003. In April 1994, with the genocide in Rwanda over, two million people had fled the country to neighboring hubs throughout the Great Lakes Region. Many of these refugees were originally Tutsi, but with the tide of the war shifting the resulting mass became ethnically Hutu, fleeing the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). After the genocide, the RPF re-established Tutsi control of the Rwandan government. The Hutu refugees then established bases in refugee camps situated in Zaire where they would initiate raids into Rwanda. In a report by AEEG, the death toll of those massacred in the Rwandan genocide is estimated to be 1,952,078 people.40 Millions died as a result of the wars that followed. How did genocide turn into a continental war?
The first link in this chain of events was the 1959 upheaval in which Hutu rebels began their rebellion against their Tutsi and Belgian oppressors. As the Hutu seized power and began stripping Tutsi communities of their land, many Tutsis retreated to exile in neighboring countries, where they formed the RPF. The RPF would be located primarily in Uganda, though Tutsis would be spread between Zaire and Burundi, training their soldiers and waiting for the time to unite and strike. By early 1961, victorious Hutus had forced Rwanda’s Tutsi monarch into exile and declared the country a republic. After a U.N. referendum that same year, Belgium granted independence to Rwanda in July 1962. Tutsis created resistance groups throughout the neighboring countries, and in 1988, the RPF was formally created in Uganda. This was a Tutsi backed organization in which fought politically and with violence to regain Tutsi governmental control. At the time there was a general dislike and killing of Tutsis, resulting in a movement of Tutsis to Uganda. “While 50,000 to 70,000 Tutsi arrived in the initial refugee influx, periodic ethnic violence resulted in a refugee population of about 200,000 by 1990…”41
In 1981 civil war broke out in Uganda after a rigged election. The election was supposed to have instituted a democratic government after the fall of the dictatorship of General Idi Amin. The new president and victor of these manipulated elections, Obtote, spurred conflict and redefined the definition of citizenship. Obote distrusted the refugees in the south because many had supported Idi Amin while he was in power. “In 1982 Obote, hoping to resolve the refugee problem and prevent challenges to his administration, expelled 60,000 ethnic Rwandans, accusing them of antigovernment activities...”42 Many Rwandan refugees caught in the middle of the Ugandan internal struggle for control joined the rebel movement against Obote. By early 1986, with the ousting of Obote, Rwandans found themselves sharing a certain amount of power with the government. At the same time, many of the native Ugandans resented the stay of the refugees and demanded their return home.
In neighboring Burundi, on October 21, 1993, the country’s first democratically elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by Tutsi extremists. As a result of the murder, violence broke out between the two groups, and an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people died within a year. A 1996 UN report into Ndadaye’s assassination and its aftermath concluded that “acts of genocide against the Tutsi minority were committed in Burundi in October 1993”. (This was not the first time there were acts of violence against the two ethnicities. In 1972, the Tutsi controlled army conducted mass killings of Hutu.) In October 1993, in the aftermath of the assassination of the president and amidst the ongoing the Burundian civil war, a genocide occurred against Tutsis, in which as many as 25,000 were killed, followed by military and Tutsi civilian reprisals indiscriminately killing a similar number of Hutus.
On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was killed as his plane was shot down. The RPF blamed Hutu extremists in the Rwandan Government while the Government claimed that the RPF was responsible. The downing of the plane served as catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in apparently well-planned attacks, on the orders of the interim government. This genocide had been carefully planned by members of government, including high positioned Hutus, and was supported and coordinated by the national government as well as by local military and civil officials and mass media; stockpiles of machetes were handed out as the massacres commenced.
When the peace agreement ended, the Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, methodically taking control of the country from the north moving southward, cutting off government supply routes and taking advantage of the deteriorating social order. The international response was limited, with major powers reluctant to strengthen the token few hundred in the UN peacekeeping force. The RPF took control of Kigali on July 4, 1994, and the whole country by July 18, 1994. A transitional government was sworn in with Pasteur Bizimungu as President. Approximately one million people, mostly Hutu, fled to Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Once the Tutsi had gained control over the country, Hutu leaders, soldiers, and citizens feared reprisals against the Hutu population. By the end of August, UNHCR estimated that there were 2.1 million Rwandan refugees in neighboring countries located in 35 camps.
The two million refugees located in Zaire on the Rwandan border helped further destabilize the region. The Rwandan population in Zaire constituted a state in exile. Hutu leaders and ex-FAR (the ex Rwandan military) announced a provisional state within the camps and the area that surrounded them. In many cases, those left in Rwanda were encouraged or forced to move to these camps as a way to bolster the camps’ support systems. The more people living in the camps, the more established they became. Leaders in the camps militarized the situation, training for attacks across the borders. These raids targeted mostly the civilian population to show that the government could not provide security. “By 1995, the ex-FAR had expanded its operations to include small raids against soft, non-military targets, as well as acts of sabotage, political assassination of local government leaders, murder of genocide survivors and witnesses, and ambushes along remote roads. At times, the ex-FAR also directly engaged small RPA units.”44
The refugee camps in eastern Congo served as de facto army bases for the exiled Interhamwe and genocidaires. They terrorized and robbed the local population with impunity until October 1996, when eastern Congolese Banyamulenge (Tutsi) led an uprising to force the Rwandans out of the Congo, sparking the first Congo War. The Banyamulenge were a minority of the South Kivu population, ethnically composed of Tutsi Congolese. Given the heightened ethnic tensions and the lack of government control in the east, the Banyamulenge rebellion’s goal was to seize power in Zaire’s eastern Kivu provinces and combat the extremist Hutu forces that were attempting to continue the genocide in their new home. However, the rebellion did not remain Tutsi-dominated for long. President Mobutu’s harsh rule had created enemies in virtually all sectors of Zairian society. As a result, the new rebellion benefited from massive public support and grew into a general revolution.
All this time, the Zairian government had been supporting the Hutu refugees and allowing the military build-up in the camps. Zaire was on the verge of civil war, its government was in shambles and people all across the country were frustrated. By supporting the refugees in the camps, Zaire was able to use the refugees as a way to block the incoming attacks from the rebels in the north. A virtual buffer zone was created by means of bodies. “Mobutu saw in the refugee’s arrival a multi-layered political opportunity…allow[ing] him to put proxy military pressure on his enemies in Kigali and Kampala; and finally he might use the refugees in local Kivu politics by distributing voter cards to them…Zairan protection enabled [refugees] to not only rearm but also to keep harassing Rwanda militarily from their safe havens in the camps…”45
Constant attacks from these “safe havens” led to a tension that finally exploded; in September, 1996, a number of African countries led by Rwanda invaded Zaire. This was the start of the First Congolese War. Rwanda and its allies, Uganda and Burundi, backed the Tutsi rebels in the north while Laurent-Désiré Kabila launched an attack across the border. The combined effort was called the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, or AFDL. The bulk of Kabila’s fighters were Tutsis, and many were veterans of various conflicts. By December, they controlled eastern Congo, and in May 1997 they marched into Kinshasa and overthrew Mobutu’s government. The country was re-named the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kabila took over as president in September 1997.
Once in power, President Kabila attempted to curb the influence of his Rwandan and Ugandan allies. He began a wide recall of Ugandan and Rwandan forces out of Congo. Kabila found that the Hutu were better allies politically and made up the vast majority in his country; he began to side with them, allowing another build-up of forces along the eastern border near Rwanda. In response, Rwanda threw its support to the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) from eastern Congo, which was fighting to topple Kabila’s government. This also led to a renewed alliance with the Tutsis in the north of Congo. With Kabila firmly backing the Hutus, the rebels in the camps began to renew their cross border raids against Rwanda inflicting terror along the border.
In 1998, Rwanda and Burundi invaded Congo, initially interested only in hunting down the military and political leaders responsible for the 1994 genocide and permanently preventing future attacks across the border. Soon, however, Rwanda and Uganda became absorbed in exploiting Congo’s extensive mineral resources. This launched the “war of occupation,” which lasted from 1998-2003. In search of support, Kabila turned to Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia, paving the way for what was dubbed Africa’s First World War. Neighboring countries came to Kabila’s rescue, temporarily halting the Rwandan and Ugandan troops. The five-year conflict pitted Congolese government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, against rebels and soldiers backed by Uganda and Rwanda. All this can be traced back to the Hutu and Tutsi conflict. The crisis in central Africa continued for a number of years with intermittent moments of peace between 1998 and 2003. Congo remains an area of constant conflict due to rebel groups that are still active in the region.
Alliances with Congo-Why?
Angola had no confidence that a new president would be more effective than Kabila and feared that continued fighting would lead to a power vacuum that could only help UNITA
Zimbabwe supported Congo back government in exchange for rights of various resources. They were also backed economically by the French and other powers.
Namibia intervened in the conflict, although it has been suggested that Namibia was interested in Congo's natural resources, especially copper.
Chad agreed to send 2000 troops. France had encouraged Chad to join as a means of regaining influence in a region where the French had retreated after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Sudan was mainly fighting rebel groups operating out of Congo, enjoyed the taking of resources from region.
The war that began nine months ago is in reality made of up several other conflicts with the result that six separate disputes are being waged on Congolese territory. In addition to the Congolese rebels challenging Kabila’s leadership, there is the war between Rwanda and the ex-FAR and Interahamwe; between Uganda and its own rebels, as well as Sudan; between the Angolan government and UNITA; between the Burundian government and the FDD rebels; and between Congo-Brazzaville and militias backing Lissouba, the deposed former president.
This account has been only partial, but was meant to give context to the terms outlined in the beginning of this paper. During the course of this entire conflict, the international community was for the most part non-responsive. “We are in a box. I asked you as experts: How can we get out of the box? We could not, but it was interesting to see that the fate of the refugees was the concern to some members of the international community, whereas for many others the main worry seemed to be about how business as usual could be reinstated…”46 This quote summarizes the facts of the situation, but does not forgive the global community’s lack of action, or, at the very least, attention. The so called “African problem,” as some call it, cost the lives of millions and could have been prevented at multiple times. The international community acted in a manner that was beneficial to their interests but with little regard for the precarious situation unfolding. Nor at the same time does the full burden of the responsibility belong to the international community; also responsible are the participants, the individuals who acted in such a disturbing manner. What do we take away from all of this? Similar events can occur elsewhere in the world, and the association of refugees and war is not solely an “African problem.” Given motive (persecution), and the typical state of unrest that follows any refugee migration, horrific events can ensue. More attention needs to be paid towards the conditions contributing to violence, and I hope that the international community will in the future pay close attention to situations of mass migration of refugees.
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American University Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. “History of the Tutsis and the Hutus,” http://www.wcl.american.edu/humright/center/rwanda/jigsaw1.pdf (accessed December 4, 2013).
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Collier, P., and A. Hoeffler. “On The Incidence Of Civil War In Africa.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46, no. 1 (2002): 13-28.
Crisp, Jeff. “The political economy of violence in refugee- populated areas of Kenya.” African Affairs 99, no. 397 (2000): 601-632.
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Mamdani, Mahmood. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Mogire, Edward O. Victims As Security Threats: Refugee Impact on Host State Security in Africa. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011.
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Eric Schneider is a senior as well as an Army ROTC cadet from Thousand Oaks, California pursuing a degree in Political Science (National Security) with minors in Leadership, History, and Asian Studies. His research with trans-nationals and the movement of conflict started when he worked at a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya as a teacher to aspiring college students in coalition with JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services). After graduation he will serve with the US Army as an officer.
He would like to thank Professor Brett Shadle for his support and then those still in Kakuma for telling him their stories.