Africa is experiencing another record year of forced displacement. This continues a steady upward trend seen since 2011. More than 32 million Africans are either internally displaced, refugees, or asylum seekers—up from 29 million a year ago.
The sources of Africa’s population displacement are highly concentrated. Ten African countries account for 88 percent (28 million) of all forcibly displaced people on the continent. Each of these top 10 countries of origin are in conflict. These conflicts are driven by a combination of government repression against citizens, extremist group violence, and the militarization of politics. Seven of the ten have governments that are autocratically leaning.
Of these 32 million forcibly displaced, three-quarters are internally displaced (24 million IDPs). This means that most displaced Africans have fled to the first safe refuge. Sometimes this involves crossing a border. Most of the time it does not. This detail matters because additional international laws of protection are activated once a forcibly displaced person is outside their country of origin (such as the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol or the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention). While they are within their own country, their rights to protection are ultimately decided by their government, which may or may not adhere to its international vows of protection (such as the Kampala Declaration).
- With over 6 million forcibly displaced people, the DRC has at least a third more displacement than any other country in Africa.
- South Sudan has nearly 4 million people forcibly displaced out of a total population of 11 million, making it the African country with the highest proportion of its population displaced. South Sudan is also distinctive in that the majority of its forcibly displaced are refugees and asylum seekers, living mostly in Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
- Ethiopia saw the largest jump in size of its forcibly displaced population in the past year with an estimated 1.8 million people dislocated due to the conflict in Tigray. Ethiopia simultaneously hosts over 800,000 refugees from surrounding countries.
- Nigeria faces a range of destabilizing security threats. In the North East region, violent attacks by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa have resulted in the displacement of 2.5 million Nigerians. Kidnappings, extortion, and organized criminal attacks in the North West have displaced an additional 800,000 people.
- Sudan, with 2.5 million of its own internally displaced, is also hosting 1.1 million refugees, mostly from South Sudan and Eritrea.
- Burkina Faso has experienced an explosion in its forced displacement crisis as a result of militant Islamist group violence originating in Mali. Its 1.2 million displaced population represents a nine-fold increase from 2019.
- Mozambique, the only southern African country facing a major displacement crisis, saw a tripling in its displaced population. A violent insurgency in the north by Ahlu Sunnah wa Jama’a (ASWJ) has resulted in the number of displaced increasing from 211,00 to 668,000 people in the past year.
- Mark Duerksen, “Nigeria’s Diverse Security Threats,” Spotlight, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, March 30, 2021.
- “Food Insecurity Crisis Mounting in Africa,” Infographic, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, February 16, 2021.
- Olajumoke (Jumo) Ayandele, “Confronting Nigeria’s Kaduna Crisis,” Spotlight, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, February 2, 2021.
- “Spike in Militant Islamist Violence in Africa Underscores Shifting Security Landscape,” Spotlight, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, January 29, 2021.
- Daniel Eizenga and Wendy Williams, “The Puzzle of JNIM and Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel,” Africa Security Brief No. 38, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, December 2020.
- Wendy Williams, “Shifting Borders: Africa’s Displacement Crisis and Its Security Implications,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies Research Paper No. 8, October 2019.
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