Africa, refugees and internally displaced persons

Authored by: Kwesi Sansculotte-Greenidge

Handbook of Africa’s International Relations

Print publication date:  August  2013
Online publication date:  September  2013

Print ISBN: 9781857436334
eBook ISBN: 9780203803929
Adobe ISBN:


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In the vast majority of cases, the movement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is a complex and often chaotic affair. The events prior, during and after their flight leave them scarred both emotionally and physically. In addition to mental trauma, they suffer from the very real loss of country, community, family, prestige, dignity and property. Social bonds and familial relations are often torn asunder; as a result, displacement can become the focus for far-reaching social and cultural change and upheaval. The issue of refugees and IDPs in Africa, collectively known as forced migrants, is a controversial one for the continent. Distinct from economic migrants, forced migrants represent the bulk of population movements on the continent. While the former pertains to migrants who leave their respective country of residence and settle elsewhere in search of economic opportunities or employment, the latter refers to population movements caused by social and political upheavals including, but not limited to, armed con-flicts, human rights violations, natural disasters, etc. 1 The key feature of refugees and IDPs is the involuntary nature with which they leave their communities and home states. Forced migrants differ from voluntary migrants since they leave their homes because of changes that make it impossible for them to reside there without fear of death or persecution. As Kunz contextualizes it, while immigrants are pulled or attracted to the new lands by opportunities, forced migrants on the other hand are pushed out of their homelands. 2

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