United Nations OCHA - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

IDPs in Africa: IRIN Interview with Francis Deng

Since 1992, Francis Deng, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Displaced Persons has been given a mandate to review how existing international and legal norms can protect and assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) in conflict situations. During this period Guiding Principles for Internal Displacement were developed. He cited particular concern that governments are made more aware of their responsibilities to their citizens in times of conflict.

QUESTION: Your office estimates that there are 20-25 million displaced persons in the world today, at least half of whom are in Africa. What are you doing to help them?

ANSWER: The statistics are not at all reliable. The OAU estimates that there are 30 million internally displaced Africans. We believe that our numbers are more or less accurate but recognize that these can vary considerably depending on who is counting and the objectives and criteria they have in mind.

Q: What do the Guiding Principles say and are they actually adhered to in practice?

A: They provide guidance on how to prevent displacement, how to respond to it once it has taken place in terms of both protection and assistance and how to find durable solutions in terms of return, resettlement and reintegration with long-term objectives of development. The Guiding Principles are only the beginning because they do not necessarily guarantee that protection and assistance will be provided to IDPs. We also have to look into institutional mechanisms for translating these principals into practical protection.

Q: Should the international community change the way it deals with internal displacement?

A: We have made proposals to existing institutional arrangements. One was to create a new (UN) agency to deal with IDPs which we soon realized that nobody wanted to do. The other was to designate an existing agency such as UNHCR, which we thought was most qualified by virtue of its protection and assistance mandate, its capacity and experience, but it was concluded that this was too big a task for one agency. The collaborative approach is preferred by most UN agencies who have become active in the issue of IDPs. Our mandate is specific and lacks resources and operational capacity, therefore we can only count on building on the collaborative approach among relevant actors in the UN system.

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