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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
In Africa, displacement is commonly caused by disasters. This category includes natural disasters, like floods, droughts, epidemics, famines, environmental change, such as deforestation, desertification, land degradation, and global warming, and human-made disasters, such as instance industrial accidents and radioactivity. These different types of disasters also tend to overlap (Refugee Study Center, 2006). Each year millions are affected and displaced.

In a continent that lacks the necessary resources to cope with such tragedies, the international community provides much of the needed assistance, like food supplies, medicine, or modes of transportation. Despite clear differences in the causal factors, the similarities across these processes, in terms of the consequences upon the affected people, can be recognized. Involuntary settlers, refugees, and displacees, alike, confront many prominently similar social and economic problems; displacement has the capacity to disprupt lives to a considerable extent, or make them prone to the risks of impoverishment (Ohta and Gebre, 2005).

Regardless of the causal factor of displacement, civil war, inter-state conflict, ethnic conflict, changes due to socio-economic or governmental reasons, human and individual abuse, natural disasters and development issues, all have resulted in forced mass-migration. In order to understand the impact of displacement on the affected people, both directly and indirectly, the affected people have been assembled into assorted groups (Auku, 1995). These categories of involuntary displacement are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, development displacees, environmental and disaster displacees, smuggled people, and trafficked people.

The question of forced displacement relates to the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian assistance for it represents, among other things, the denial of people's freedom of movement and choice of residence, which are recognized in Article 13(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12(1) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Ohta and Gebre, 2005).

The term refugee has been in use since it was first coined during World War II to describe a `person who has sought refuge' in general terms. A legal definition also exists, preserved in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This Convention was a reaction to the increasing problems which resulted from scores of Africans fleeing their countries to neighboring states; it came into being mainly in order to assist the return of millions of people to their countries that were forcibly displaced, deported, or resettled during the Second World War (Awuku, 1995). Article 1A(2) of the UN Convention defines a refugee, while the general provisions as a whole, set out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibility of nations that grant asylum. Subsequently, the 1967 Protocol to the Status of Refugees made amendments to allow all refugees the benefit of equal status; the date was excluded from the definition and refugee status was applied without geographical limitations.

This definition, however, is not wide enough to cope with all the refugee situations in Africa. Thus, in an effort to address refugee problems, the former Organization of African Unity called for a regional Convention, which would account for the specific refugee problems in Africa (Awuku, 1995). The final draft of the OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa was adopted in 1969 and came into force in 1974. The refugee definition in the OAU Convention, though it closely follows the clauses of the UN Convention, is broader than the UN Convention in order to include people fleeing their country because of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or events seriously disturbing public order; it also made important additions concerning asylum and voluntary repatriation (Awuku, 1995). Those acknowledged as refugees are much better off than other forced migrants in that they have a clear legal status and are warranted the protection of the UNHCR.

Although Africa is formally committed to protecting human rights, in practice the rights of displaced people are not respected as governments continue to impose unjustified restrictions. Even refugees who benefit from one of the world's most progressive protection regimes in reality face endless human rights hurdles (Ohta & Gebre, 2005). Hence, the situation for other involuntarily displaced persons who do not have this advantage is far worse. To begin with, the circumstances for internally displaced persons, or IDPs, can not be much better, as they are still without legal or institutional bases for receiving protection from the international community; nor do they receive the direct humanitarian assistance that is necessary to sustain a minimum standard of living, for this provision falls under the jurisdiction of individual governments (Ohta & Gebre, 2005).


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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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