Forced Displacement in Africa: “Anchors not Walls” Contents

3Nowhere to go: the UK’s response to internal displacement in Africa

93.The vast majority of people forcibly displaced by conflict, violence or other factors, such as environmental degradation and disasters, remain within their own country. Today, around 40 million people are internally displaced; 13 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.138 Numbers of new displacements in this category are rising fast: in 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) recorded 8.1 million new displacements in Africa; 5.5 million from conflict and 2.6 million from disasters.139 In 2017, almost half of all new conflict displacement took place in the region.140 The following countries had particularly high levels of internal displacement due to conflict:

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have very similar vulnerabilities to refugees, but do not have the same protections under international law.

94.Providing support to IDPs, whose care remains the responsibility of their own governments, is complex. Essentially, such issues are internal matters for sovereign states. Christian Aid highlighted the difficulties of IDPs relying on their own governments for protection, particularly where, “the state may also bear responsibility for their displacement and sometimes for their lack of security once displaced”.142 Professor Laura Hammond also stressed that, “There is also often a lack of political will on the part of governments when it comes to IDPs, as many are seen as having little or no political significance, or even of potentially being political liabilities.”143

95.A number of organisations, such as UNHCR, provide support to IDPs as well as refugees, although this remains a small element of their work. The infrastructure is not set up to protect them in the same way. IDPs were not included in the Refugee Compact. They do not have their own ‘day’, akin to ‘World Refugee Day’. They do not have a UN agency, like UNHCR, mandated specifically to focus on their protection. Despite being among the most vulnerable people in the world today, IDPs remain largely forgotten, slipping between the cracks of humanitarian assistance and development programmes.

Numbers of IDPs in Sub-Saharan Africa 2017

Source: IDMC

Meeting needs

96.Although those displaced within their own country do not receive the same level of attention, protection or support as refugees, they often have similar vulnerabilities: to hunger, poor health, violence, sexual abuse and lack of education. Meeting the needs of IDPs is challenging, as it can be difficult to locate them. The majority of IDPs live outside of camps, sometimes supported by others, but often alone, struggling to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families and falling further into economic destitution. Their plight is often less visible than refugees’, as Sanj Srikanthan from IRC told us: “they look to cope among themselves or within other parts of the country where they speak the language and have a cultural affinity.”144 Professor Laura Hammond emphasised that IDPs are, “often not registered and exist below the radar, not only of international and bilateral actors, but even sometimes out of the gaze of local and national governments.”145

97.Funding for IDP support is insufficient and often misdirected. As Christian Aid point out: “75% of IDPs do not live in camps, yet camps receive the majority of funding for IDPs.”146 Oxfam emphasised the need for a more consistent approach to assistance, and to fund the “whole cycle of displacement”. It highlighted the case of DRC, where IDPs find themselves losing humanitarian support as it is diverted to new crises:

In DRC, although there is prioritization of internal displacement, insufficient and inadequate funding leads to poor coverage, gaps in humanitarian assistance across different crises, and disengagement of humanitarian actors in some areas as they respond to new crises in other areas–all of which increases people’s vulnerability. For example, with the explosion of new conflicts in DRC in the last two years there has been a withdrawal of many humanitarian actors from North Kivu. The IDPs in sites that are currently being targeted by closure have not received any aid for over one, in some instances two, years.147

98.DFID was unable to tell us how much it currently spends on IDPs. This money is tied up in humanitarian budgets and DFID states that it targets spending based on vulnerability rather than status, so does not categorise it in this way. Although we understand this perspective, in reality this means we are unable to assess how the amount of money DFID is currently spending on IDPs compared to refugees, and whether it is sufficient. This has been a major hindrance to scrutiny of DFID’s work in this area.

99.It has been impossible to critically assess the support DFID is providing to IDPs in Sub-Saharan Africa without knowing how much funding it is providing, although we know that work to support them is ongoing through its humanitarian and development programming.148

100.What is clear is that 13 million vulnerable IDPs in Africa are being failed, by their governments and by the international community. DFID must place greater emphasis on targeting and supporting IDPs through its humanitarian and development programmes, working, where appropriate, in partnership with governments to do so.

101.DFID must also make greater efforts to define this stream of work and to establish exactly who they are providing support to and where. This is essential if DFID wishes to ensure IDPs are not “left behind” as the world strives to achieve the SDGs.

Urban Displacement: Ali’s Story

Taken from written evidence from the International Committee of the Red Cross, UK and Ireland Delegation

Ali fled his village located over a hundred kilometers north of Baidoa [Somalia] with his large family in early 2017 because of the insecurity, as well as its impact on the economy and his business. He chose to move to Baidoa, a city he already knew, to seek safety, but also hoping for livelihood opportunities and humanitarian assistance. Ali’s family did find relative safety in Baidoa, but struggles to find a stable accommodation and food, receives no support and economic opportunities are limited. Ali now shares a rented room in a shack built out of iron sheets with his two wives and 18 children and worries about their wellbeing. He worries for his new born baby–money is so tight that they can only eat once a day, which affects his wife’s milk production. He also worries that he will soon have to find another roof for his family–they already moved five times since they arrived eight months ago, having been repeatedly evicted for failing to pay their rent. And finding a new place for a large family is difficult: people are afraid that they will monopolize the toilet and that children will make noise.

Ali hoped to find assistance in Baidoa, but has received none, neither from humanitarian organizations, the community nor the authorities. He believes that, in a place where clan and family ties are key, his lack of relatives explains the absence of community support. Knowing that, as in many other countries, the humanitarian response has focused on the hundreds of informal camps that have mushroomed in and around the town, he tried moving his family to a camp. He was asked for money by the camp leader. He paid, but still, he was not allowed in.

Ali’s family has had to find ways to manage. His wives fetch water to sell. He goes out every day to look for construction work, but there are days where he earns nothing. Ali did not have such concerns back home: until the armed conflict started upsetting the security and the economy, he had a gainful business and a proper home. If only he had some capital, he would restart selling donkey carts. But he has none left: he exhausted his resources to flee and support his family since arriving in Baidoa, and he has no access to formal or informal credit.


102.IDPs in Africa should, technically, be protected better than those in other parts of the world. The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention), adopted in 2009, was the world’s first legally binding regional instrument on the protection and assistance of internally displaced people. It provides guidance on how African States should deal with internal displacement. This year marks its ten-year anniversary. However, as Christian Aid points out:

Although the convention is a success, the fact that internal displacement persists in signatory countries, as well as those key countries who have not made it legally binding, demonstrates the difficulties that states in Africa face in responding to internal displacement.149

Professor Laura Hammond told us even where laws exist, there are “significant obstacles to implementation”, giving Uganda as a key example.150 The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, Cecilia Jiminez-Damary, highlighted that, “support for national and sub-national laws and policies is essential to encourage developmental approaches to the prevention of arbitrary displacement, the protection of IDPs and solutions to their displacement.”151

103.IDPs lack the international legal protections afforded to refugees. However, the Kampala Convention means that—at least in signatory countries in Africa—IDPs’ rights should be better protected. However, there are challenges with implementation, and political will, which must be overcome.

104.DFID should support partner governments in Africa to fully implement the word and spirit of the Kampala Convention, and encourage those countries that have not yet signed up to do so.


105.It is essential that the UK Government’s approach to IDPs, whether in a country-specific context or at a policy level, is linked to its approach to refugees. People are internally displaced before they cross a border. Returned refugees are often at risk of become internally displaced. These situations are not distinct from one another, but instead very much connected. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (IDMC) evidence calls on DFID to “support integrated and coordinated responses to protracted displacement crises, which address their humanitarian, development and peace-building dimensions” and “ensure its partners, particularly the large UN agencies and the World Bank… do the same.”152

106.DFID’s approach to forced displacement must look at the whole cycle of displacement, from tackling root causes to providing long-term, durable solutions for refugees and IDPs.

Making IDPs a priority

107.The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs told us that internal displacement is “one of the most pressing political, developmental and humanitarian challenges of our time”.153 Despite this, IDPs have not been sufficiently prioritised by donors and aid agencies. As Markus Geisser of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told us,

Being self-critical, in our organisation it took a lot of time for us to have an IDP adviser. We all have to learn how to better assist and protect IDPs. If you look at some key UK humanitarian policy documents, the UK aid strategy does not mention internally displaced people.154

Christian Aid highlighted that: “while the UNHCR report the numbers of IDPs due to conflict and violence as at least 40 million, double the number of refugees worldwide, the funding for IDPs is only 14% of their budget.”155 Professor Laura Hammond reflected on how IDPs have also been neglected by Governments:

There is also often a lack of political will on the part of governments when it comes to IDPs, as many are seen as having little or no political significance, or even of potentially being political liabilities.156

A High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement

108.With IDPs consistently low down the international agenda, we have received several submissions to the inquiry which have advocated strongly for the UK to support a High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement.157 Markus Geisser from the ICRC told us,

[ … ] we have learned through DFID about the potential for a high-level meeting on internal displacement, probably at the next UNGA [UN General Assembly]. That would be an important contribution to raising attention. It would be an excellent way to do that. We really need to find ways to raise attention.158

109.Christian Aid have recommended that a report is commissioned by the UN Secretary-General in advance of such a panel to “garner learning and good practice in managing internal displacement and [ … ] achieve the buy-in of states with IDP populations.”159 This could recommend the establishment of a High-Level Panel to “oversee implementation of the report’s recommendations and track progress” with the aim of creating “a more sustained focus on IDPs and processes for seeking solutions to the issues.”160 The NRC and IDMC recommended that the UK, “support the substantive involvement of States [in a High-Level Panel] most affected by internal displacement and which have experience in addressing it, while also drawing on the operational perspectives of partners like NRC and the unique expertise of IDMC in monitoring internal displacement and analysing its trends and impacts.”161 Other witnesses have supported this initiative and it is our understanding that it commands considerable support amongst UN Member States, amongst which the UK is one of the leading voices.162

110.We welcome the call for high-level international action to: address the plight of IDPs, raise awareness; galvanise funding, and encourage global action by states, aid agencies, civil society and citizens. We believe the call is both timely and necessary.

111.We therefore add our voice to the call for global action on internal displacement, including the establishment of a UN High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement, to encourage attention at the highest levels of Government. We recommend that DFID continue to support—and push for—the panel to be launched this year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Kampala Convention.

138 UNHCR, Global Appeal 2018–2019 - Africa, November 2017

142 Christian Aid (FDA0007) para 2.1

143 Professor Laura Hammond (FDA0015) para 11

145 Professor Laura Hammond (FDA0015) para 11

146 Christian Aid (FDA0007)

147 Oxfam GB (FDA0009) para 7

148 Department for International Development (FDA0004) para 3.1-3.3

149 Christian Aid (FDA0007) para 1.4

150 Professor Laura Hammond (FDA0015) para 11

151 UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (FDA0021)

152 Norwegian Refugee Council / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (FDA0013) para 2.2

153 UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (FDA0021)

155 Christian Aid (FDA0007) para 2.4

156 Professor Laura Hammond (FDA0015) para 11

157 Norwegian Refugee Council / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (FDA0013); International Committee of the Red Cross, UK & Ireland Delegation (FDA0016); Christian Aid (FDA0007)

159 Christian Aid (FDA0007) para 2.7

160 Christian Aid (FDA0007) para 2.7

161 Norwegian Refugee Council / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (FDA0013) para 2.1

162 Department for International Development (FDA0004) para 3.3

Published: 5 March 2019