Internal displacement in Africa

Internal displacement in Africa is a problem of epic proportions yet it is largely unseen. By the end of 2018 41.3 million people were living in internal displacement because of conflict and violence.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are “Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border” (Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 1998).

Internally displaced persons are not refugees. According to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, a “refugee” is a person who, “owing to 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, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” Refugees are people who fled their homes, but unlike internally displaced persons, have crossed international borders.

Here are 10 key facts on internal displacement in Africa:

  • Conflict was the main cause of internal displacement in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa suffered not only new and ongoing violence but also drought and floods during 2018.
  • Africa also hosts some of the world’s largest protracted displacement caseloads.
  • Around 41.3 million people were estimated to be living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence in 55 countries as of the end of the year, the highest figure ever recorded. Three-quarters, or 30.9 million people, were living in only ten countries.
  • People become internally displaced due to political instability, environmental and climate change, severe poverty and inequality.
  • Countries in sub-Saharan Africa with most new displacements associated with conflict and violence in 2018 were Ethiopia (2.9 million); Democratic Republic of Congo (1.8 million); Somalia (578,000); Nigeria (541,000) and Cameroon (437,000).
  • Floods affected 80 percent of people in Nigeria, leading to 600,000 displacements in the country. The figure is further compounded by new waves of violence in the Middle Belt region and the ongoing crisis in the north-eastern Nigeria.
  • In Ethiopia, the high record is attributed to floods, inter-communal fighting over resources and ethnic tensions.
  • Internal displacement in Cameroon is fuelled by tension between anglophone and francophone regions. The numbers were also driven up by activities of Boko Harem in the region.
  • Conflict and insecurity primarily in North and South Kivu, Tanganyika and Kasai Central provinces in DRC caused millions to flee their homes.
  • Evictions from urban centres driven by a lack of adequate housing and informal tenure agreements in increasingly crowded areas caused many to be displaced in Somalia. Other causes of internal displacement were tensions between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed regions of Sool and Sanaag, and Al Shabaab fighters clashed with government and African Union troops, particularly in the southern regions of Middle and Lower Shabelle.

“Internal displacement is the great tragedy of our time. The internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable of the human family”

-Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General

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