BY SARAH SILVERMAN
As a result of ongoing and deep-seated conflicts – particularly those in the Middle East and Africa — internal displacement is at the highest level the world has ever seen. With over 11 million newly internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2014, there were a reported 38 million IDPs globally by the end of the year, compared to less than 20 million refugees who have fled beyond their borders. Of the world’s IDPs, 77% are to be found in just ten countries, all but one of which are located in the Middle East and Africa. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, of those ten countries, eight of them are to be found among the 15 most fragile countries in The Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index. In many of these cases, such as Nigeria and Kenya, displacement – both of refugees and IDPs – can be linked to the heightened security threats by insurgency groups, particularly Boko Haram and al Shabaab in these cases.
A 1992 United Nations report defined IDPs as “persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers, as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights or natural or man-made disasters, and who are within the territory of their own country.” While refugees have crossed international borders, IDPs are displaced within their home countries. Despite the fact that governments are at times the cause of displacement due to violence, under International Humanitarian Law IDPs remain under the legal protection of these administrations.
The governments of Nigeria and Kenya, as well as international organizations protecting IDPs, are faced with the challenge of balancing the short-term basic needs of the IDPs while also combatting the underlying structural issues that have created the situation. Another limitation is that in conflict-ridden areas, collecting data is difficult in the first place. Additionally, because there are few consistent methods of data collection of IDPs, data can easily vary from source to source.
In Nigeria, particularly in the Northeast region, Boko Haram has carried out consistent attacks on civilians, as well as abductions, abuses, and other terrors. Kenya faces the threat of al Shabaab, and in addition to direct terror threats within their borders, the influx of refugees from neighboring countries affected by the violence perpetrated by the militant group. Both countries have seen heightened insecurity resulting in migration and displacement at internal and external levels.
Africa in particular faces challenges when dealing with IDPs. The Kampala Convention, which came into effect in 2012, is a continent-wide agreement which legally binds governments to take responsibility for IDPs within their own countries, to protect them from human rights abuses, and to provide them with basic necessities. Additionally, its legal definition of an IDP allows for clearer guidelines for governments to act upon. In recent years, Nigeria and Kenya have faced particularly complex and worsening situations regarding IDPs as a result of spikes in communal violence, natural disasters, and consistent terrorist violence within their borders and in neighboring countries.
Currently, Nigeria has the third largest population of IDPs in the world, after Syria and Iraq. The majority of these displacements are a result of significant conflict within the country. It has been reported that up to three quarters of the displacements stem from Boko Haram insurgency violence, while the last quarter is due to increases in communal conflicts. In 2013, as the insurgency worsened and the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency, thousands were displaced within the country’s three northern-most states, Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa – the epicenter of Boko Haram’s violence. This trend continued into 2015, with a surge in numbers of IDPs in the first half of the year. The majority of displacements in Nigeria are caused by violence, but between October 2012 and October 2015, an estimated 66,000 Nigerians were displaced due to flooding, as the country is particularly prone to such natural disasters. Thousands more have been displaced due to desertification.
According to a 2015 report by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Nigeria currently has over 1.5 million IDPs within its borders, while over 90,000 Nigerian refugees have fled the country. While Nigeria is currently struggling to support all of these people, it is important to recognize that in 2006, it hosted one of the first conferences focusing on IDP rights and national responsibilities in Abuja, a conference that played a crucial role in subsequently fostering the Kampala Convention in 2009.
Nigeria’s National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons has recently announced a new policy which will focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of IDPs into society. Additionally, the country’s National Policy on Internal Displacement discusses the rights of IDPs as well as the responsibility of the host country, international humanitarian agencies, and communities. These steps will create a framework for the nation to support its IDPs as the violence in Nigeria continues to escalate.
In contrast to the vast number if IDPs in Nigeria, Kenya faces a very different problem: a constant flow of refugees across its borders, particularly from Somalia, with an estimated half-a-million refugees currently living in Kenya.
Following the April 2015 attacks carried out by al Shabaab at a university in Garissa, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta threatened to close down the Dadaab refugee camp, which is one of the oldest and largest refugee complexes in the world. Currently, the camp holds over 350,000 Somalis, despite its intended capacity of just 90,000. Some have claimed that Al Shabab members are often recruited in the Dadaab camp. UNHCR representatives have urged President Kenyatta to keep the camp open, as forcibly repatriating refugees may create larger international humanitarian crises. Because of this massive number of refugees, the IDPs within Kenya are often overlooked, and there is a lack of applicable and accurate data surrounding their situation.
As much of the focus in Kenya has been on displacement of neighboring countries’ populations into Kenya, there has been much less attention paid to the displacement of Kenyans themselves within the country. In 2008 and 2009, pre-existing tensions were severely aggravated by violence surrounding elections. The displacement of a significant number of Kenyans was a result of the post-election violence during this period. As this particular grievance has subsided, people nevertheless continue to be displaced by violence between communal groups, stemming from deep-seated tensions often involving competition over land. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, the spike in the northeastern region of Kenya has a three primary causes: the large quantity of pastoralists have been negatively affected by recent droughts, floods, and increased exploitation of natural resources. These causes have resulted in an array of tensions and conflicts. There has been a surge in violent competition over scare resources and land. Increases in small-arms proliferation as well as external terrorist threats have heightened a sense of insecurity in the region. Additionally, ancient and deep-seated communal grievances have become increasingly tense – particularly local peoples’ grievances towards the Kenyan authority due to a perceived lack of accountability, a poor infrastructure, and a lack of basic services.
Due to the fact that refugees pose an assumedly more imminent international threat, IDPs are often looked over by both domestic administrations and the international community. Kenya, for example, has not maintained any information on their IDPs, and has no centralized data collection system to monitor their needs and ever-changing populations. In Nigeria, the fixation on combatting Boko Haram and other communal violence has overshadowed the challenges that IDPs continue to face. In both countries, as is the case with IDPs around the world, displacement and its causes result in a breeding ground for greater international humanitarian crises. In many cases, the “cycle of violence” is perpetuated as IDPs are denied basic necessities, marginalized, and made increasingly vulnerable to violence and recruitment by insurgent groups. Because many people are displaced due to shortage of resources – whether that be from conflict or natural disasters – their migration may create resource strain in their adopted place of residence, thus exacerbating any existing conflicts. While all the existing tensions and problems are ongoing, Kenya and Nigeria must find durable solutions that will address the heightening challenge of IDPs.
Both Nigeria and Kenya have large security threats to address, and the administrations have dealt with this resulting migration in different ways. As Nigeria forms commissions and policies, newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari must put these ideas into action. Land competition is rampant throughout the country, and migration will only heighten these tensions. While the Kenyan administration battles internal displacement, it must also balance its international responsibility as it aids incoming refugees. Taking definitive action and maintaining the strength of refugee and IDP camps throughout the country will have long-term positive effects, specifically preventing an even larger humanitarian crisis.