Refugees: Strangers as Neighbors

Third Equator Peace Academy, December 2017

Today there are more refugees in the world than at any other time in modern history. The number of refugees has grown from 13 million in 2005 to well over 20 million by 2017. This number does not include an estimated 40 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). While the refugee crisis is well publicized in Europe, it is important to note that Africa hosts more refugees than Europe, although this reality is not represented in world media. For example, by October 2015, the six European countries with the highest number of refugees had 904,814 refugees. In contrast, six African countries hosted 2,561,564 refugees, with Uganda being one of these six.

Despite assurances of international conventions, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Article 12), millions of Africans live as refugees and/or in forced migration status as a result of long-term conflicts. They are often denied the most basic of rights and life chances and become neglected populations in foreign states. What is more, many who are displaced, or become trapped in the context of diverse humanitarian crises, end up living outside existing legal, policy, and operational frameworks for the protection of refugees and IDPs.

It is against this backdrop that the 2017 Equator Peace Academy (EPA), will convene an engaging two-week experiential school aimed at understanding the impact of forced displacement on populations. The EPA is a biennial international program—established under the auspices of Uganda Martyrs University and CEDAR–Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion—that works to understand and overcome the types of social segregation and violence that have so often characterized relations between different communities in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

This year’s EPA focuses on the refugee phenomenon in northwestern Uganda and is organized under the theme Refugees: Strangers as Neighbors. The refugees in northwestern Uganda are predominantly from South Sudan and constitute a number of different ethnic groups, among them the Dinka, Nuer, Lutuko, Madi, and Acholi peoples. Their life as refugees is the direct result of the failure of the South Sudanese state to establish a civil society of mutuality and neighborliness among different peoples and ethnic groups. The school will visit refugee settlements in the Adjumani and Koboko districts of Uganda.

The EPA is an affiliate of CEDAR, whose programs combine pluralistic perspectives on religious thought with social scientific research on tolerance and civil society and an open, dialogic, approach to pedagogic practice. Its goal is to transform both the theoretical models and concrete practices through which religious orientations and secular models of politics and society engage one another. As with other CEDAR affiliates, the EPA program combines academic courses with intensive group-building processes and the construction of working relationships across religious and ethnic identities. Its didactic goals are both social and cognitive.

Applications to the program will be opened in Spring 2017. Questions should be sent to EPA@CEDARnetwork.org.

The EPA is a CEDAR affiliate program working in collaboration with Uganda Martyrs University.