By PAUL LIKOUDIS
Throughout the nine months of his pontificate, Pope Francis has repeatedly drawn attention to the plight of the growing global refugee crisis — a crisis which shows no signs of abating.
According to the latest report by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNs’ refugee agency, released December 20, there are more than 45 million refugees worldwide, a jump of five million over the past year, and nearly three times the number in 1981 when the Pontifical Council Cor Unum addressed the growing problem in a message titled, Refugees: A Challenge To Solidarity.
The UNs’ High Commission for Refugees warned that 2013 was set to be a banner year for refugees, with the “highest levels of forced displacement ever seen by the agency,” due mostly to the continuing violence in Syria, where there are four million “internally displaced” refugees and another 1.5 million who have fled to neighboring Lebanon and Jordan.
“It is hard to see such numbers and not ask why so many people are today becoming refugees or internally displaced,” said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving assistance, but we can’t prevent or stop wars — that requires political effort and political will and this is where much more concerted international focus needs to be placed.”
According to the UNHCR, the five leading countries producing refugees are Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Sudan, countries that have been the “beneficiaries” of U.S. attempts to spread “freedom and democracy.”
Worldwide, there is a new refugee every 4.5 seconds, with 23,000 people forced to flee their homes every day.
Statistically, 48 percent of refugees are female and 46 percent of refugees are under the age of 18.
Of special concern is Africa, where growing political instability amidst a fight for mineral resources, especially gold and other precious and strategic metals, is fueling a massive refugee problem. Notable numbers: Chad: 500,602 refugees; Ivory Coast, 918,687 refugees; Democratic Republic of the Congo, 3,184,338 refugees; Ethiopia, 378,759 refugees; Kenya, 1,038,877 refugees; Mali; 242,126 refugees; Somalia, 1.1 million refugees; South Sudan, 550,524 refugees.
The growing number of conflicts in Africa, naturally, pose a special threat to the Catholic Church, and over the past year, bishops’ conferences in nearly every African country have appealed for an end to the escalating violence that threatens the amazing progress the Church has made in Africa in the past half-century, a continent that was a pastoral priority of Popes John Paul II and Benedict, who each presided over special synods of the African bishops.
But the progress the Church has made in Africa is endangered by the growing presence of the U.S. military, which, as an arm of U.S. foreign policy, seems to foment crises that lead to war and refugees.
As U.S. reporter and military historian Nick Turse, whose special area of concern is the proliferation of U.S. military bases around the world, wrote this past June for TomDispatch.com, U.S. policy in Africa is leading to a “terror diaspora.”
As the U.S. pours hundreds of millions of dollars into “stability” projects in Africa, in countries most Americans have never heard of, Turse noted, the number of terror attacks is increasing exponentially.
“A careful examination of the security situation in Africa,” wrote Turse, “suggests that it is in the process of becoming Ground Zero for a veritable terror diaspora set in motion in the wake of 9/11 that has only accelerated in the Barack Obama years.
“Recent history indicates that as U.S. ‘stability’ operations in Africa have increased, militancy has spread, insurgent groups have proliferated, allies have faltered or committed abuses, terrorism has increased, the number of failed states has risen and the continent has become more unsettled. The signal event in this tsunami of blowback . . . was the U.S. participation in a war to fell Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi that helped to send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, prompting the intervention of the French military with U.S. backing.
“The situation could still worsen. . . .
“In 2000, a report prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute examined the ‘African security environment.’ Although it touched on ‘internal separatist or rebel movements’ in ‘weak states,’ as well as non-state actors such as militias and ‘warlord armies,’ it made no mention of Islamic extremism or major transnational terrorist threats.
“In fact,” continued Turse, “prior to 2001, the U.S. did not recognize any terror organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. . . .
“In 2001, according to the global terrorism database of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, there were 119 terror incidents in sub-Saharan Africa.
“By 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, there were close to 500. A recent report from the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies counted 21 terrorist attacks in the Maghreb and Sahel regions of northern Africa in 2001. During the Obama years, the figures have fluctuated between 144 and 204 annually. . . .
“As the war in Afghanistan, a conflict born of blowback, winds down,” concluded Turse, “there will be greater incentive and opportunity to project U.S. military power in Africa. However, even a cursory reading of recent history suggests that this impulse is unlikely to achieve U.S. goals. Although correlation doesn’t equal causation, there is ample evidence to suggest the U.S. has facilitated a terror diaspora, imperiling nations and endangering peoples across Africa.
“In the wake of 9/11, Pentagon officials were hard-pressed to show evidence of a major African terror threat. Today, the continent is thick with militant groups that are increasingly crossing borders, sowing insecurity and throwing the limits of U.S. power into broad relief. After 10 years of U.S. operations to promote stability by military means, the results have been the opposite. Africa has become blowback central.”
Former U.S. State Department employee Peter Van Buren, who was fired for publishing an inside account of the fraud and corruption he witnessed in U.S. reconstruction projects in Iraq, We Meant Well, recently wrote for the news web site Firedoglake an essay, “Any More U.S. ‘Stabilization’ and Africa Will Collapse.”
Reflecting on the turmoil and chaos in the new oil-rich nation of South Sudan — which is predominantly Catholic — Van Buren observed: “[L]ike in Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other places that fell apart while being democratized and stabilized by the U.S….South Sudan is at the brink of civil war and societal collapse, the U.S. is evacuating another embassy and indeed one variety or another of ‘rebels’ are shooting at U.S. military aircraft arriving in their country in violation of their national sovereignty. Those who believe that the U.S. efforts in South Sudan do not involve special forces on the ground and drones overhead no doubt will have a nice Christmas waiting up to catch a glimpse of Santa. . . .”
U.S. military policy in Africa is a disaster, Van Buren continued, as he recited the list of failures:
“Libya is in flames, Benghazi the only point of attention for Americans while chaos consumes a once-stable country. Egypt, again on the continent though perhaps not of it, saw its brief bit of democracy stamped out by a military coup. The governments of Mauritania and Niger fell to their militaries. Chad experienced a coup, albeit unsuccessful. Fighting continues in Mali and the Central African Republic. In October 2011 the U.S. invaded, albeit in a small way, the Central African Republic In December 2012, the U.S. evacuated its diplomats and civilians. 2011 also saw a U.S.-backed Kenyan invasion of Somalia. U.S. troops are hunting humans in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like ghosts from the 18th century, pirates haunt the waters off East Africa. The U.S. admits to having 5,000 troops in ten African countries when once there were none.
And So, Why?
“The basic rule for any investment is what do you gain in return for risk? It applies to buying stocks as well as investing a nation’s blood, resources and prestige.
In the case of Africa, the U.S. investment has been a disaster. Chaos has replaced stability in many places, and terrorists have found homes in countries they may have once never imagined. The U.S., in sad echo of 19th century colonialism, has militarized another region of the world. Every rebel and terrorist the U.S. kills creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lead. The more we kill, the more there seem to be to kill. America needs fewer people saying they are victims of America. The Chinese are building cultural ties and signing deals all over Africa, and we’re just throwing up barbed wire. Why?”
“Why?” is a question U.S. Catholics, especially, should be asking, in solidarity with their African brothers and sisters, especially in light of the unfortunate fates of the Catholics and other Christians of the Middle East, who were sacrificed on the altar of America’s messianic vision to spread “freedom and democracy” in the cradle of civilization.