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Refugee Crisis: Term Definition Essay

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Updated: Nov 6th, 2021

The Kuwait Conflict (1991)

Since 1896, the relationship between Iraq and Kuwait has experienced a series of conflicts that has not been appropriately solved. The conflicts acted as factors in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. The conflict has its roots in the Mubarak Al-Sabah’s ascension to the throne, an action that was facilitated by a termination of his two brothers, Jarrah and Mohamed. The family and followers of the two murdered brothers took refuge in Basra but proved to be a threat to the ruling Al-Sabah. This forced him to sign an agreement for protection with the British Government in 1899. Although the supporters and family of the late brothers have launched several attacks since then, they have never actually had a break through because the British government has always been there to support the Kuwait government. Kuwait has experienced attacks in 1901, 1902, 1938, 1961 and the recent attack in 1990 (El-Najjar, Chapter 6).

Prior to the Iraqi invasion of 1990, the Iraqi Kurds had been fighting for a meaningful autonomy and self governance. 4 million Kurds who inhabited Iraq just after independence had engaged the government into revolts that never had an end. Desperate to stay in power, the Ba’ath Party extended some self governance powers tot the Kurds but were cautious not to offer them dominion over the oil rich regions which were rightfully Kurdish lands. The Kurds were confined to Erbil, Suleimaniyeh and Dohuk which was just half the lands that belonged to the Kurds. At the same time, the Ba’ath Party embarked on the process of ensuring that the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanakin were Arabic. This was achieved by the eviction of Kurdish inhabitants and settling of poor Arabs from the southern regions. In 1974, under the support of the United States, Israel and Iran, the Kurds embarked on another revolt under the rule of Mulah Mustafa Barzani. In 1975, the revolt was brought to an end after agreement on the border between Iraq and Iran was reached. As an aftermath, thousands and thousands of Barzani tribesmen were forcibly relocated to the southern region of Iraq which was barren and situated deep into the desert (Barbara, 1996).

In the late 70s, the Kurdish population in Iraq experienced another attack from the regime. Hundreds of thousands of Kurdish inhabitants at the borders of Iraq and Turkey and Iraq and Iran had their villages destroyed completely. The victims were forcibly taken to settlement camps in that were crudely prepared for them in regions that were under army control. They were not supposed to move back to their original homes. In the mean time, the Iraqi government continued to “Arabize” the oil rich northern regions. This continued till the 1990 conflict (Barbara, 1996).

The Faili Kurds are among the groups of people that have experienced the test of bitterness from the Iraqi government. Most of them being inhabitants of urban centers in the southern and central regions of Iraq especially in Baghdad, about 130,000 of them were forcibly deported by the Iraqi government to Iran claiming that they were not Iraqi citizens. In real terms, they were being deported because they were not loyal to the government (Human Rights Watch, 1993).

In addition to the above mentioned, the Iraqi government had reduced the garrisons in the Kurdistan regions were reduced or abandoned. Most of the army soldiers that had been deployed in the region were removed. This resulted into a better life for the Kurdish inhabitants who were referred to as the Peshmerga which translates to ‘those who face death.’ They thrived once again. Under Barzani’s son, Mas’oud, they formed an alliance that helped the Iranian government to capture Haj Omran, one of the border towns. The response from Iraq was swift; Iraqi troops attacked the Barzani settlements and took with them between 5000 and 8000 young men aged 12 and above who, up to this moment, have never been found. It is said they were killed. Later, under the increased collaboration between the Kurdish guerrillas and the Iranian government, the Iraqi government launched the anfal campaign by using a chemical weapon that left 5000 Kurds dead while another population of between 50,000 and 200,000 Kurds were killed during the operation. About 3000 Kurdish habitations were destroyed. The rest, about 500,000 people were relocated forcibly to mountain regions and others into concentration camps (human Rights Watch, 1993).

Immediately after the war in Kuwait, the inexperienced and disorganized Kurds launched revolts against the Iraqi Government. They wrongly thought that eth Iraqi government would collapse soon and that they would get protection from the US in case of trouble. This was a miscalculation as the government of Iraq launched attacks that left most of the Kurds for refugees. On the other part, the Shi’a in the Southern parts of Iraq also launched an uprising. With their life styles completely based on rivers Tigress and Euphrates, the Marsh Arabs would not survive without the waters. This acted as the weapon for the Iraqi government. They diverted the waters of the two rivers subjecting the Shi’a Arabs into water prone diseases like cholera and diarrhea. This was, according to the Iraqi government, a punishment for supporting rebels who were against the government. Furthermore, the Shi’as were subjected to arrests, detentions, military operations, tortures and summary executions. In 1999, their leader and spokes person Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al Sadr was assassinated. This again resulted into more riots and arrests and summary executions. Houses were burnt villages destroyed as a form of punishment for those villages that were labeled rebellious. It is estimated that the tribulations against the Shi’a Arabs persisted until 2001. Reports by Amnesty International also point out that the population of Shi’a Arabs has since reduced from 250,000 to 40,000 since 1991 to 2003 (Amnesty International; Human rights Watch, 2003).

During the retaliation by the Iraqi government, most of the Kurd refugees had to run for shelter in the neighboring countries. On its part, Iran welcomed the fleeing refugees. However, Turkey closed its borders purporting that welcoming refugees would cause a destabilization of the country. This left hundreds of thousands in the cold mountains that were inhospitable. The international community reacted very slowly and reluctantly. They failed to order Turkey to open up the border for the Iraqi Kurds. It was later that the Turkish government proposed for safe haven for the Kurds in the Northern regions of Iraq. To be precise, more than 400,000 refugees were denied entry on the Turkish frontier while Iran took up about 1.4 million refugees.

Basing on the great overflow of refugees within the country and in neighboring States, and the Turkish government’s refusal to offer refuge to the Kurd refugees, it is estimated that about 1000 refugees died every day from the harsh weather conditions and lack of humanitarian support. The UN had to come up with solutions that would solve the problem. As a result, they came up with resolution 688 that ordered for the stoppage of repression by the Iraqi government and also to allow the humanitarian organizations to offer aid to the refugees. It also called upon the neighboring countries to assist in the humanitarian activities (Human Rights Watch, 2003). The Kurdish refugees were also offered a safe zone in the northern parts of Iraq where the US, UK and France banned the Iraqi government from deploying any of its aircrafts to that area.

Rwandan genocide

Several factors led to the Rwandan genocide. According to African scholars, one of the greatest causes was the ethnic grouping of the Rwandan population into two ethnicities, the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsi ethnicities. These divisions were laid by the Belgians during colonization period (Lang, p. 4). Studies show that the Belgians introduced and constructed the ethnic identities and aligned themselves with the Tutsi minority who wanted to remain on the helm of power. During the 40s and fifties, the Hutus were agitated by the spirit that swept the African continent; the spirit of democratization and decolonization. The Hutus wanted to participate in the process of governance. This triggered the on set of the conflict. The Tutsi could only suppress the majority Hutus with the help of the Belgians. Unfortunately the Belgians had to leave. As a strategy, they hand picked their allies and put them in leadership positions. Come the year 1962, Rwanda was an independent nation with a government that was a majority Hutu. The elites who also controlled the most of the decision making processes were Hutus. The first president Gregoire Kayibanda and the second president Juvenal Habyarimana were both Hutus.

Under the second president, Hutus formed the elite that formed intricate systems that assisted them to stick to power and access political and social benefits. The Tutsis felt that the Hutus blocked democracy and infringed human rights. This caused the Tutsis to flee to Rwanda before coming back from the North in a revolt as Rwandan Patriotic Front under Paul Kagame. The war eventually came to an end in 1993 after the Arusha cord was signed.

According to Lang (p. 11) it was this accord that let hell break lose. He points out that the peace accord was signed with an international guarantee that was not seriously observed. This leads to serious consequences when the accord breaks down. Jones therefore points out that trouble erupted when the implementation of the Arusha accord failed. The accord proposed that a neutral force be deployed in Rwanda to maintain peace. The United Nations estimated that 7000 to 8000 peacekeepers would be adequate. However, the Security Council knew that they could not deploy such a large peacekeeping force to Rwanda. This shows that while the United Nations took part in the Arusha accords, they failed to honor the accord by failing to provide the appropriate number of peace keepers in Rwanda.

Melvern (p. 31) identifies another failure of the United Nations in terms of the than secretary General, Boutros-Ghali. According to the investigative journalist, Egypt had been supplying small arms to Rwanda. These very arms were used as weapons during the genocide. She points out that it was Ghali who intervened into a deal to supply the small weapons after the contract seemed to be heading on the wrong side. This means that Boutros-Ghali the then Secretary General of the United Nations had pushed for a contract to supply small arms to Rwanda by Egypt.

Several institutions and nations have been accused of laxity in the prevention of the Rwandan genocide. Among the accused are the United States, the former colonizers especially France and the United Nations. On its part, the United Nations has been the most criticized by critiques. This is because the United Nations has the responsibility of maintaining and keeping international peace and security. Failure to achieve this in Rwanda therefore leaves all critiques pointing their fingers at the organization.

The structural functions of the United Nations mandates that the security Council is the only arm of the united Nations that can order deployment of peacekeeping forces to a region and that the authority to mandate such missions lies only in the same arm of the United Nations. After the Security Council has decided to embark on a peace keeping mission, it is the responsibility of the Secretariat to provide adequate information and analysis that will facilitate the activity. Finally, the General assembly funds the operation. This complex interrelationship between the different arms of the United Nations is blamed for having caused the genocide in Rwanda. It was from such complicated structural formations that critiques believe the Secretariat failed to offer appropriate information to the Security Council and thus fueled the Rwanda genocide (Melvern, p.111). A good example is the way the Secretariat refused to report to the Security Council the fact that what was actually happening in Rwanda was an ethnic cleansing. They maintained that it was a civil war and thus the UN was not supposed to take part.

Barnett (pg.6) further points out the weakness of the UN in terms of the Secretariat’s culture of decision making. He points out that the Secretariat decides on what amount of information the member states should know about an affair. In the Rwandan case, Brigadier-general Dallaire sent a telegram to the UN headquarters asking informing them that an informer had pointed out that the Hutu dominated government had collected enough weapons and were planning for a mass slaughter of the Tutsis. He wanted the mandate to confisticate the weapons and also protect the informant but the UN headquarters refused to give him the mandate to do so. This decision was justified within the specifications and operations of the UN peacekeeping. This is also cited as a weakness.

During such crises, it is normal for humanitarian agencies to work hard in the assistance of the victims of the war. This was the case in Rwanda. Unfortunately, the agencies were faced by a great dilemma in terms of their moral responsibility. According to the ethics, it is expected that the humanitarian organizations offer assistance without any conditions and to who ever and wherever need be. According to specifications of the humanitarian agencies, the responsibility of the wellbeing and safety of citizens is solely on the respective governments. The humanitarian agencies only come in when the governments have failed to or are unwilling to shoulder this responsibility. In the Rwandan case, most of the refugees in the Zairian camps were themselves the perpetrators of the violence. In addition, the refugee camps acted as sanctuaries and also places where recruitment took place for the Hutus. It was therefore the responsibility of the Zairian government or the United Nations to ensure that they disarmed the camp dwellers. On the other part, it was the humanitarian agencies that were responsible for the existence of these camps. Without them, the camps would not be there. As a result, some agencies left an example was the medicins sans frontier. Others remained and continued assisting the refugees. Eventually, the Rwandan army attacked the camps and killed even more people (Schweizer, p. 549).

The soviet-afghan war

Before the 18th Century, Afghanistan was a region prone by invasions and attacks from India’s Moghuls and the Safavids of Persia. It was until the 18th Century that the Pashtuns had gathered enough power to govern themselves. During the same period, the Durrani got authority over their homeland regions around Kandahar. Under Ahmad Shah Durrani, they formed an empire that was second to the Ottoman and which was Muslim oriented. After his death, the empire experienced a series of revolts from tribal chiefs that eventually forced Shah’s son to move to Kabul from Kandahar making it the capital.

When Shah’s grand son Zaman took over from his father, he wanted to establish power over India which was already under the British interest. This made the British approach the Shah of Persia to threaten Zaman’s empire from the west so that his attention is diverted from India. To achieve this, the Shah equipped Zaman’s brother and made him take over Kandahar. And later proceeded to Kabul where he captured his brother, blinded him and sent him to jail. The region continued with wars between tribes and chiefs until after the Second World War when Abdurrahman Khan took power in Kabul and gained control on almost all parts of the modern Afghanistan.

Abdurrahman was interested in the creation of a single unified kingdom. O achieve this, he had to end the rule of tribal chiefs. He did this by forcibly moving unfriendly Pashtuns to non Pashtun regions in the North. To further cause divisions in the tribes, he formed provincial governorships within the kingdom. These boundaries were not in coincidence with the tribal settlements. It was during this reign that the modern Afghan boundaries were formed. The boundary between Afghanistan and the British India were formed in 1893 which are currently the Afghanistan-Pakistan boundaries. They were called the Durand line and were formed to mark the regions of interest between the India and Afghanistan.

It was the interest of Russia in Afghanistan that caused pressure on British India to develop interests in Afghanistan. The British were interested in establishing power in India and the greatest threat to achieving this did not lie within the disjointed afghans nor did it lie in the French but it was viewed to come from Russia who were expanding their empire from the North. On its part, Russia was interested in accessing the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the only way through which they would achieve this was through India. However, they would not reach India without passing through Afghanistan. They, therefore, had to conquer this nation that impeded their movement. To be precise, the British did not have any interest in Afghanistan. They only engaged a battle for Afghanistan after discovering that the Russians were moving closer to their region. On their part, the Russians did not have interest in Afghanistan either. It only happened that the Nation was on their way to the warm waters.

During the First World War, Afghanistan was none aligned. It remained neutral throughout the war. The years that followed were marked by struggle to modernize the nation. These were years after the Anglo-Afghan war which resulted in a treaty that marked the independence of Afghanistan in 1919. Several institutional reforms were undertaken. This included the reforms in the education sector. In 1921 the Afghans signed a treaty of friendship with the Bolshevik. The institutional reforms infuriated Muslim leaders who organized revolts which overthrew Amanullah. The forty years that followed were marked by relative calm before a constitution was drafted in 1931 that shared power between the monarchy, religious leaders and encouraged free enterprise fro citizens. This facilitated economic development.

In 1933, the 19 year old Zahir overthrew Nadir Shah and was crowned king. He steered development and also improved on foreign relations. This went on until the Second World War where Afghanistan remained neutral. When Daud Khan took power in 1953 as the prime, he reverted to the 1921 friendship pact with the Bolshevik and thus developed a total reliance on Russia for assistance both economically and militarily. On seeing the increased support of Afghanistan by Russia, the United States also came in to support the same country so that it wins its allegiance. The two countries therefore embarked on a stiff competition. In 1973, Daud Khan seized power from Zahir and abolished the constitution proclaiming himself as leader of the republic and chairman of the central committee. In 1977, two parties, The Banner and the Khalq formed a coalition under the name People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. They seized power in 1978 before the coalition failed to agree on the Marxist reform programs. This triggered another war and rebellion.

It was under this disorganized governance torn apart by war and without a constitution that Russia decided to invade. It wanted to support its clients so that they don’t get overthrown. The war did not go unresisted. The mujaheddin mounted gorilla resistance that was backed by the United States who supplied them with weapons and humanitarian aid which found its way to them through Pakistan. The destructive Russian troops inflicted suffering upon millions of Afghans who were forced to seek for refuge in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.

Colville (1997) points out that more than 600000 afghan refugees had fled to either Pakistan or Iran. The number kept increasing to staggering heights. By 1990, the number of afghan refugees was 6.2 million both in Pakistan, Iran and other parts of the world. The two countries have played an important role in effort to provide refuge to the afghan refugees. Both countries welcomed the refugees with their open door policies. They both readily offered refuge to the refugees. One difference that is open in the two countries is that while Pakistan housed the refugees in “villages,” Iran had most of its refugees free and allowed them top mingle with the Iranian society. They are free to access benefits in terms of education, employment and medical facilities. Only a very small percentage of refugees are housed within Camps, about 20000.

The refugee treatment by the internal communities differed greatly between Pakistan and Iran. While Pakistan refugees received great assistance and generosity with the international agencies embarking on what was by then the greatest humanitarian aid in history, Iran barely received any assistance due to their poor relations with the Western world (Colville, 1997). It is said that Iran did not make any effort in asking for assistance. This remained so until 1986.

Although the refugees started returning home before the soviet troops had withdrawn, the greatest flow of refugees back home was witnessed in 1992 when more than 1.2 million refugees found their way back home with increased optimism. By 1997, a total of 3.9 million refugees had returned to Afghanistan. Repatriation has completely stopped in Iran. By 1995, about 200,000 had returned to Afghanistan from Iran. The next 20 months witnessed only 10,000 refugees returning back home. The rest remain in Iran.


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  2. Barbara, Robson. ‘Iraqi Kurds: Their History and Culture’, Center for Applied Linguistics, The Refugee Service Center Refugee Fact Sheet Series No.13, 1996
  3. Barnett, Michael. Eye Witness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda. New York: Cornell University Press, 2002
  4. Barthorp, Michael. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839-1947. London: Cassell, 2002
  5. Colville, Rupert. “.” UN Human Council for Refugees. 1997. Web.
  6. Cultural Orientation.net. “Afghans: Their History and Culture.” 2002.
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  8. Forced Migration.org. “Causes and Consequences.”
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  10. Human Rights Watch, ‘The Iraqi government assault on the Marsh Arabs’, 2003.
  11. Lang, Anthony. “Global Governance and Genocide in Rwanda.” Ethics and International Affairs. 2002.
  12. Melvern, Linda. A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide. Zed
  13. Schweizer, Beat. “Moral Dilemmas for Humanitarianism in the era of “Humanitarian”
  14. Military Intervention.” IRRC 86(855), 2004: 547-563
  15. Stone & Stone. “Afghanistan During World War Two.” Second World War books. Web.
  16. Vogelsang, Willem. The Afghans, pp. 245–334. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002
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