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The African Displacement Dispute Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Tiffany Ellis, Jan 22, 2007
Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions


The African Displacement Dispute
"Internally displaced persons" was identified by the United Nations in 1992 as “persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers, as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systemic violations of human rights or natural or man-made disasters, and who are within the territory of their own country” (Refugee Study Center, 2006). There is no specifically-mandated body to provide assistance to IDPs, as there is with refugees. Internally displaced persons receive external humanitarian relief only when their governments recognize that the crisis exceeded local capabilities to provide protection and assistance. Except for certain disasters such as those caused by drought and flood, African governments seem to be reluctant to acknowledge and make public the problems of IDPs (Ohta and Gebre, 2005).

While African states have formally committed to the issue of human rights, the extent to which African nations fully comply with this requirement is limited. States have adopted the African Charter; however it allows them a considerable degree of autonomy in respect to human rights by the extensive use of clauses (D'Sa, 1985). As a consequence of its flexibility, involuntarily displaced persons are left in precarious positions. Asylum seekers are those seeking refugee recognition, thus legal status. These are people who have crossed an international border in search of protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined (Refugee Study Center, 2006). Additionally affected are development displacees; these people are forced to move as a consequence of policies and projects that are implemented under the pretense that they will induce development.

What is more, there are groups of environmental and disaster displacees, smuggled people who are moved illegally for profit, and trafficked people, who are moved by deception or coercion for the purposes of exploitation (Refugee Study Center, 2006). As a result of dislocation, involuntarily displaced people are left with an uncertain future, for most African countries do not seem to have any clear national regulations concerning the involuntary relocation of people.

Involuntary displacements are generally caused by the interaction of political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental problems. In the African state of Eritrea, the root cause of displacement was the refutation of the people's right to self-determination and the accompanying persecution and violence, a refugee situation caused by conflict. Although these problems came to an end with the country's independence in 1993, the Eritrean economy and physical infrastructures were left devastated by the 30 year war, and between a third and a quarter of the country's population was displaced (Ohta & Gebre, 2005). The consequential task of repatriating and reintegrating the large numbers of refugees was beyond the economic and human resources of the newly established Eritrean state, and necessitated collaborative international action. Unfortunately, the relationship between the provisional government of Eritrea and the UNHCR was, from the beginning, stained by misinterpretations, misperceptions, and lack of co-operation, representing one of the major primary obstructions to organize return operations (Ohta and Gebre, 2005).

Despite their unfavorable relations the UNHCR, the provisional government procured an ambitious repatriation plan known as the Program for Refugee Reintegration and the Rehabilitation of Resettlement Areas, or PROFERI. It is important to note, that in spite of the relationship between a lasting solution and the elimination of “root causes” of the refugee problems, repatriation continues to be considered to be the most durable solution by the international community; however, it is merely a band-aid to the problem (Bulcha, 1988).

The presence of so many protracted refugee situations in Africa can be linked to the fact that countries of asylum, donor states, UNHCR, and other players have given so much more attention to repatriation than to integration. PROFERI, like most relief approaches of refugee assistance, entailed highly visible international funding, rather than responding in innovative ways. PROFERI consisted of three successive phases aimed at repatriating and reintegrating the returnees as well as assisting the large number of self-repatriates, IDPs, and local residents in the areas of return.

The international response, however, was quite slow and unfavorable, and thus a smaller-scale project called PROFERI Pilot Project, or PPP, was undertaken. This project was administrated by the Government of Eritrea and UNHCR, and the Government of Sudan and UNHCR (Ohta & Gebre, 2005). Even though Article V(2) of the African Charter stipulates that “the country of asylum, in collaboration with the country of origin, shall make adequate arrangements for the safe return of refugees who request repatriation” (Awuku, 1995), relations between the two countries soon deteriorated and were eventually severed, leaving the PPP only partially completed.


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Great Panorama
Eugenia Bivines | Feb 20th, 2007
Theoretically, development projects, such as infrastructure, public utilities, and highways, are undertaken by private sector corporations and are not supposed to displace people coercively by invoking the eminent domain principle. Very Powerful Statement. Keejp up the good work!

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