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African Union and ICRC work to break cycle of conflict and displacement

27-05-2008 News Release 08/84

Addis Ababa (ICRC) - Millions of people throughout Africa are displaced within their own countries owing to armed conflict or other violence.

In many areas, the absence of State structures and pervasive lawlessness expose displaced people to extreme abuse, attacks and hunger – and to disease, which can be exacerbated by the lack of appropriate shelter. Thousands of families are torn apart, deprived of their breadwinners, and filled with concern for sick, injured or detained relatives.

It is against this backdrop that the African Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) jointly organized a seminar on " Displacement of Populations in Armed Conflicts, " which is being held today at the African Union Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The seminar is an important milestone in preparations for the African Union’s special summit on refugees, returnees and the displaced, which is set to take place at the end of 2008. Seminar participants will discuss the existing legal framework protecting displaced persons as well as the future AU Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. Aid for the displaced and other humanitarian activities on the ground will also be at the heart of the discussions.

" What the displaced need most is for States and armed groups to demonstrate the necessary political will to apply and enforce the rules and principles of international humanitarian law, " says Ms Christine Beerli, vice-president of the ICRC, who will attend the event, in Addis Ababa. " If this does not happen, the cycle of conflict and displacement risks continuing unabated, with innocent civilians paying the price. "

International law distinguishes between displaced people who cross an international border ( " refugees " ) and those who remain within their own countries ( " internally displaced persons " ). In 2007, close to half of the world's internally displaced were to be found in Africa. They included nearly two million people displaced from and within Sudan's Darfur and hundreds of thousands within Somalia. In places such as northern Uganda, displacement has been a protracted experience for many people, lasting for years and even decades on end. The ICRC assisted more than four million internally displaced people all over the world in 2007.

Because people displaced within their own countries represent a large proportion of the victims of armed conflict, they lie at the heart of the ICRC's humanitarian mandate. The ICRC endeavours to prevent population displacement and to ensure that families that do become displaced – and their host communities – have the resources they require. In addition, the ICRC helps displaced people who return to their homes to rebuild their livelihoods.

  For further information, please contact:
  Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Nairobi, tel: +254 20 2723 963 or +254 722 51 27 28
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2271 or +41 79 217 3217
  African Union website