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Refugees have helped the West expand its war on terror

Migrants captured on Aegean Sea [file photo]
Migrants captured on Aegean Sea [File photo]

In 2016 up to 150,000 refugees will pass through the West African country of Niger and cross its northern border into Libya or Algeria to catch a boat and make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. In May the landlocked country requested €1 billion to help prevent this “clandestine migration” and stop refugees using the country as a transit route to North Africa and onwards to Europe. Niger’s own population has been internally displaced by attacks launched by Boko Haram, as have Nigerian refugees in the country. Putting an end to the terror group’s activities is central to Niger’s policy.

On the other side of the continent, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery has said that Dadaab refugee camp – the world’s largest, which hosts mainly Somali refugees – in dusty Garissa County will close in November. The Kenyan government claim it houses Al-Shabaab militants who actively recruit from among its residents. To avert closure, US Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged $45 million of extra aid.

In February King Abdullah of Jordan announced that the “dam is going to burst” and that his country would not continue to take in refugees unless it is given extra support. Later that month a conference in the UK raised $8.3 billion to help countries surrounding Syria tackle the refugee crisis, with a focus on Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, Libya, has asked for help to rebuild its navy and coastguard so it can intercept boats carrying refugees – it also wants to catch vessels smuggling arms intended for Daesh militants. Britain has sent four boats as part of Operation Sophia to “monitor” Libya’s waters, intercept boats and turn them back for destruction.

It is unlikely that the refugees in these four countries will see much, if any, of this money, for a closer look at how they are treated indicates they are not of primary concern for the governments there. Zaatari refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border houses so many Syrian refugees it has become known as Jordan’s fourth largest city. Once, when UNHCR didn’t have enough money to pay the Jordanian government for electricity, they turned the supply off for nine months. Residents have protested against poor living conditions and a lack of food. In Libya, refugees in detention centres report that they are beaten, locked in their rooms and that they share a handful of showers between hundreds of people. Dadaab camp is also one of Kenya’s largest cities and yet refugees there receive around a third of the daily nutrition the UN recommends.

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As Ben Rawlence points out in the New York Times, refugees have become currency to negotiate favours with. One of the benefits of putting forward a muddled narrative in which refugees appear alongside pledges to fight insurgency groups is that it diverts criticism away from questionable policies at home. Niger, Kenya, Jordan and Libya have all used anti-terror laws to crack down on their own populations. Ironically – or perhaps purposefully – this has often affected not only critics of the government, but also the refugees themselves.

In Niger, security measures imposed by the government in their fight against Boko Haram have led to the suspension of certain food trades and the closure of markets, a measure the government says is necessary to cut off funds for insurgents. In reality it is affecting the flow of food aid to Assaga refugee camp. Journalists and activists have been put on trial and prosecuted under Jordan’s 2006 anti-terror law, which has penalised reporters for questioning issues such as corruption or living conditions in Zaatari refugee camp. Last year, through an anti-terrorism law, the Kenyan government tried to cap the number of refugees entering the country at 150,000, a measure they claimed would counter militant insurgency groups in the country.

On Europe’s part, it is buying loyalty in the war on terror – from countries that have little regard for human rights when it comes to refugees. By throwing money at the problem on the other side of the world it avoids finding its own meaningful, lasting and just solution to the refugee crisis.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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