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Africa adopts ground-breaking convention for internally displaced people

There are more than 3.6 million refugees in Africa and two-fifths of all people displaced by conflict or violence within their own country also live on the continent.

Refugee numbers remain a huge problem globally and present a great challenge for humanitarian agencies, particularly since 46% of all refugees are children under the age of 18. Countries are also seeing a record number of asylum applications from children who are unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

By the end of 2012, Africa had more than 3.6 million refugees or people living in refugee-like situations, with the majority from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Mali, Somalia and Sudan. The world’s five largest refugee camps are based on the continent, four in Kenya (known collectively as Dadaab), home to around 500,000 refugees and the Nyaragusu camp in Tanzania, home to more than 68,000 refugees (mainly from the DR Congo). Increasing numbers of refugees across sub-Saharan Africa (along with a stark rise in refugees from Syria) are causing the world to face its most serious refugee crisis for almost two decades.

However, as a new report – ‘Displacement, The New 21st Century Challenge’ – by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) illustrates, internally displaced people (IDPs) remain an even greater problem. At around 8 million in Africa alone, there are many millions more IDPs than refugees. And unlike refugees, IDPs do not generally have a special status under the law.

African countries have therefore recently come together to address this situation. In December, 37 African nations demonstrated their commitment to the new Kampala convention, the world’s first legally binding instrument to outline the obligations on governments to protect and assist IDPs. The Convention came into force at the end of 2012 and provides legal protection for the rights and well-being of those forced to flee inside their home countries.

Under the convention, national authorities are obliged to provide assistance to IDPs and to address the different causes of displacement. As well as conflict and violence, these causes include natural disasters and development projects, such as the building of dams or the clearance of land for large-scale agriculture.

So far, the Kampala convention has been adopted by the African Union and currently legally binds 15 African countries to prevent displacement and assist those who have been forced to flee their homes, helping IDPs find safe and sustainable solutions to rebuild their lives.

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