UN High Commissioner for Refugees hails “historic” breakthrough on the protection of internally displaced people in Africa

Press Releases, 5 December 2012

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres today welcomed the entry into force of an Africa-wide treaty on the protection of internally displaced people. Guterres described the coming into force of the African Union Convention on the Protection of and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention) as a breakthrough.

"This is historic, and not just for Africa," Guterres said. "Around the world, the number of people forced into displacement within their own countries is growing. The Kampala Convention puts Africa in a leading position when it comes to having a legal framework for protecting and helping the internally displaced."

The Kampala Convention covers displacement from causes that include conflict, natural disasters, climate change and projects. It affirms that States have primary responsibility for their own internally displaced citizens, but also calls for national and regional actions to prevent internal displacement and to ensure that such people are protected and helped.

The Kampala Convention was first adopted in October 2009 at a meeting of the African Union, and 37 of the AU's 54 member states have since signed it. To come into force the Convention has to be ratified by at least 15 of the 54 AU states. On 6th November, Swaziland became the 15th country to formally submit its ratification to the chairperson of the African Commission AU. The Convention is due to enter into force tomorrow (6th December 2012).

Countries that have ratified the Convention are required to implement it by turning its provisions into national laws. UNHCR, which played a role in the drafting of the Convention, supports governments in taking measures in domesticating the provisions of the Convention.

Worldwide, and as of end 2011, 26.4 million people were displaced inside their own countries. This compares to 15.2 million refugees (i.e., people displaced across an international border). Despite the high numbers of internally displaced people, development of an international legal framework to protect them has remained significantly less advanced than that for refugees.

Across Africa, there are 9.7 million internally displaced people of whom 6.97 million receive UNHCR assistance, more than on any other continent. The largest IDP populations are in Somalia (1.36 million), Sudan (2.4 million), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (estimated to be more than 2 million).

Press Contacts:

  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba +41 79 249 3483
  • Adrian Edwards +41 79 557 9120



Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th High Commissioner.

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Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

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