The African Union (AU) has set 2019 as the year to address the root causes of forced displacements and has committed to finding lasting solutions to growing numbers of Africans on the move and refugees.
The AU and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) co-chaired a roundtable held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Saturday whose themes included drivers of forced displacement, preventive diplomacy and mediation, social inclusion of youth, women and children, climate change and natural disasters and responsibility sharing and partnerships.
In his keynote address at the opening of the roundtable discussion, a professor at London School of Economics, Chaloka Beyani, said the purpose of focusing on refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs) was not to reinvent the wheel.
He said for the AU and its partners to find lasting solutions to the problem of refugees and IDPs, there was need to establish conditions of normality for attaining the goals.
“To achieve durable solutions, structural root causes must be tackled by means of structural prevention. The triggers and drivers of refugees and IDPs have become multi-causal in effect,” said Beyani.
AU Department of Political Affairs director Khabele Matlosa said if the guns are to be silenced in Africa, lasting solutions to humanitarian crises and forced displacements must be found because the majority cause is protracted violent conflicts.
She said: “Developing norms to address forced displacement is one thing and the implementation of these is quite another. There is need for strong political commitment for all 55 AU States to implement both the AU conventions on refugees and internally displaced persons.”
At the roundtable discussion, structural factors identified included poverty, inequality, underdevelopment, civil strife and violent conflict, natural disasters and calamities.
Participants to the roundtable also noted that climate change and environmental disasters had the potential to threaten stability and cause displacement.
While the major cause of displacement in many parts of Africa is violent conflict, Malawi does not register any IDPs based on conflict but natural disasters such as flooding or economic reasons.
On the state of refugees, Ministry of Homeland Security deputy commissioner for refugees Hudson Mankhwala said Malawi receives about 500 refugees a month and there is congestion in the camps to the extent that it is identifying more sites.
In the 1980s, Malawi hosted about 1.2 million refugees from Mozambique who were repatriated in 1995. Recently, Malawi also repatriated a further 3 000 refugees from Mozambique, but still hosts 39 000 refugees with the majority being those from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.
Lasting solutions to the influx of refugees have included voluntary return and government recently signed an agreement on voluntary repatriation of Rwandans, but 5 000 still remain because they do not feel safe enough to return home.
Intergration of refugees into the local community is another solution that AU member States, including Malawi, have identified while re-integration has been done of displaced Malawians in the districts of Mzimba, Nkhotakota and Mangochi.
The AU’s theme is The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacements in Africa. n