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UNHCR welcomes first ratification of AU Convention for internally displaced

Press Releases, 19 February 2010

UNHCR warmly welcomes the Republic of Uganda's ratification of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). This first ratification, coming within the first four month's of the Convention's adoption, is an important milestone.

UNHCR also notes with satisfaction that twenty-five nations or nearly half of the African Union Member States have now signed the Convention, which was adopted during the first African Union Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons convened in Kampala in October 2009.

UNHCR encourages other AU Member States to follow Uganda's example and ratify this historic Convention and as called for by African leaders during the Special Summit bring it in to force by the end of 2010. A total of fifteen ratifications are needed to achieve this.

The Convention is the first legally-binding international instrument on internal displacement having continental scope. Its adoption has come at a time when Africa is faced with complex and persistent internal displacement challenges affecting millions of people. When ratified and implemented, the Convention will provide a critically important legal framework for protecting, assisting and finding solutions for millions of IDPs in Africa, as well as for the prevention of future displacement by addressing the root causes.

At the beginning of last year, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa, nearly 45 % of the world's IDPs.

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South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where registered refugees and asylum-seekers can legally move about freely, access social services and compete with locals for jobs.

But while these right are enshrined in law, in practice they are sometimes ignored and refugees and asylum-seekers often find themselves turned away by employers or competing with the poorest locals for the worst jobs - especially in the last few years, as millions have fled political and economic woes in countries like Zimbabwe. The global economic downturn has not helped.

Over the last decade, when times turned tough, refugees in towns and cities sometimes became the target of the frustrations of locals. In May 2008, xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread to other parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.

In Atteridgeville, on the edge of the capital city of Pretoria - and site of some of the worst violence - South African and Somali traders, assisted by UNHCR, negotiated a detailed agreement to settle the original trade dispute that led to the torching of Somali-run shops. The UN refugee agency also supports work by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to counter xenophobia.

South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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