Global Overview 2015: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Central Africa

Figures and causes of displacement

Central Africa is home to some of the continent's most complex, protracted and dynamic displacement situations. As of the end of 2014, there were at least 7.9 million IDPs in the region, spread across Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Sudan and the disputed region of Abyei. The figure represents a 15 per cent increase on 2013, five per cent of the six countries' combined population (excluding Abyei) and 70 per cent of all displacement in Africa. In CAR and Sudan, IDPs make up as much as 10 per cent of the population and in South Sudan the figure is at least 13 per cent.

Displacement is ongoing in CAR, DRC, South Sudan and Sudan. At least 3,037,800 people were newly displaced across the four countries in 2014, representing 67 per cent of the year's new displacement in sub-Saharan Africa and an increase of nine per cent on 2013.

Much of the new displacement took place in South Sudan, where the security situation, heavy fighting and hunger displaced more than 1.3 million[67] people across all of the country's 10 states. The worst-affected were Unity, Jonglei, Lakes and Upper Nile. In Sudan, as many as 457,500 people[68] were forced to flee their homes in the Darfur region,[69] with North and South Darfur accounting for two-thirds of the new displacement.

In DRC,[70] events such as the Beni massacres in North Kivu displaced more than a million people in 2014,[71] a third of whom fled during the second quarter of the year. No new displacements were reported in Burundi or Chad.

The availability and reliability of data on IDPs varies across the region. Displacement is fluid and difficult to track in CAR, DRC, Sudan and South Sudan, and data gathering is also hampered by a lack of access to affected areas, limited resources and in some cases poor coordination among those carrying out the task. As such, figures provide only a piecemeal picture of the true situation. Much of the new displacement in CAR in 2014 was effectively invisible under the methodologies used to collect data, while responders in Burundi and Chad have gradually disengaged and stopped gathering information since the end of the countries' conflicts.

There is little or no data disaggregated by sex, gender and diversity or on vulnerable groups. The dispute between Sudan and South Sudan over Abyei means that the status of people displaced within and from the area is unclear, because it is impossible to establish whether or not they have crossed an international border.

CAR, DRC, South Sudan and Sudan not only have the largest displaced populations in the region, but the Fund for Peace also ranks them among the world's top five fragile states.[72] All six countries hosting IDPs are among the poorest in the world and rank last or near last on UNDP's human development index for 2014.[73] Displacement in the region has a number of causes, many of them interrelated. Civilians flee to avoid being caught up in fighting between armed groups and because they are deliberately targeted by one party to a conflict or another. In other cases, violence has been a deliberate tactic to force people off their land. Internal armed conflict and inter-communal violence often fuel one another and in some cases are interwoven to the point of being indistinguishable. Conflict in CAR and South Sudan was linked to and increasingly exploited ethnic and religious tensions in 2014.[74]

Disputes over the control of land and natural resources, and the pursuit of political and economic power drive much of the conflict and violence in the region. The overspill of conflicts from neighbouring countries has also fuelled displacement. Rwandan, Burundian and Ugandan armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the National Liberation Forces and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have displaced many thousands of people in DRC since the 1990s, and LRA was active in CAR in 2014, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes.[75]

To complicate matters further, some governments in the region have historically supported armed groups in neighbouring countries. Such accusations have been a regular source of tension between Sudan and South Sudan in recent years, and to a lesser extent between Chad and both CAR and Sudan.[76] Mercenaries from Chad and Sudan reportedly fought with the Séléka armed group that toppled the government in CAR in 2013.[77]

Patterns of displacement

With the exception of Chad and Burundi, huge numbers of people were newly displaced in 2014, joining even larger numbers already living in protracted displacement and putting further pressure on host communities and responders. Many IDPs and returnees have been forced to flee repeatedly as violence and insecurity catches up with them. The majority of the population in DRC's Kivu provinces have been displaced more than once.[78]

Despite a lack of detailed information, it is clear that new conflict dynamics prompted changes in displacement patterns in 2014. CAR has been experiencing its first large-scale urban displacement crisis since the end of 2013, with as many as 512,200 IDPs living in the capital Bangui as of January 2014. In South Sudan, displacement camps barely existed be- fore the current conflict, but have mushroomed since. Areas in and around UN military bases known as protection of civilian (PoC) sites harboured as many as 100,000 IDPs as of December 2014.[79]

Evidence suggests that many IDPs in CAR, DRC and Sudan have undertaken pendular movements, in which they commute between their places of refuge and origin. Their decision to do so tends to be driven by a combination of economic and security factors. They go home to cultivate their land and try to meet their food needs, but do not feel safe enough to stay for extended periods. Such movements may go on for years and in some cases may even represent a resolution of IDPs' plight in which displacement, paradoxically, is part of the solution.

The displacement of nomads such as Fulani herders in CAR was a growing issue in the region in 2014, but there is little or no information on the scope of the phenomenon or the situation and needs of those affected.[80]

Protection issues

In addition to longstanding protection issues such as gender-based violence, land disputes and lack of civil documents, which are often linked to or aggravated by displacement, three protection concerns that arose in the region in 2014 are worth highlighting.

IDPs' right to freedom of movement was widely violated, increasing their exposure to attacks and making them less able to access food and job markets. In CAR and South Sudan, parties to the countries' conflicts actively prevented IDPs from leaving their places of refuge, and in some cases from accessing much-needed humanitarian assistance.[81] Some IDPs in CAR, particularly Muslims and Fulani herders and including some in neighbourhoods of Bangui, found themselves stuck in enclaves surrounded by armed militias.[82]

In DRC's North Kivu province, the forced closure of displacement camps pushed some IDPs to return to their places or origin even though they did not feel safe doing so or had no home to go back to. In December 2014, as many as 2,300 IDPs in Kiwanja were given only 24 hours to vacate their camp, not even giving them time to harvest their crops.[83] Their makeshift shelters were burned down, leaving them no option but to return or move on elsewhere.

Camps and spontaneous sites at which IDPs took refuge did not always provide them with the safety and security they sought. In South Sudan, several displacement and PoC sites were attacked by mobs and armed groups.[84] Heavy rain and floods also made some sites in CAR and South Sudan uninhabitable, but IDPs stayed on because of their security concerns.

The challenges IDPs in central Africa face in their daily lives are shaped by their age and sex. Displaced children, and particularly those unaccompanied, are vulnerable to child labour and recruitment and are often unable to continue their education. Changing family dynamics mean women have to assume additional responsibilities formerly reserved to men, which in some cases has led to a rise in domestic violence. Elderly IDPs who have lost or become separated from their families have more difficulty in finding food or shelter.

Durable solutions

At least 909,600 IDPs returned to their homes in central Africa in 2014. Local integration and settlement elsewhere are not tracked in the region, so no figures are available for people who pursued those settlement options. The figure for returns includes those that took place amid continuing conflict, as in DRC, Sudan and South Sudan, and post-conflict as in Burundi.

The return of nearly a million people is clearly encouraging, but their doing so cannot necessarily be equated with the achievement of durable solutions, and the figure still only represents a relatively small proportion of the region's displaced population. Those trying to return or integrate locally have also faced many obstacles, including insecurity and limited access to land and livelihoods. Access to land for cultivation and grazing is a particularly important, given that many people's livelihoods are based on some form of farming.

Lack of access to basic services is also an issue. Humanitarians have addressed the problem to some extent by providing IDPs, and in some cases returnees, with water, food, healthcare, sanitation and shelter. Such assistance, however, is not sustainable and does not improve beneficiaries' self-reliance. In some cases it fosters aid dependency. As such, programmes are needed that develop IDPs' coping mechanisms and increase their resilience.

Some if not most governments in the region favour IDPs' return over their local integration or settlement elsewhere. The forced camp closure in North Kivu in 2014 was motivated by the provincial authorities' wish to see its inhabitants return to their places of origin.[85]

IDPs in Burundi have lived in protracted displacement since fleeing their homes during the 1993 to 2005 civil war. A pilot project on voluntary return led by the government and UNHCR and involving other local organisations led to at least 1,300 people being helped to go back to their places of origin. The process included the identification and registration of those who wished to do so, an assessment of their socioeconomic situation and the monitoring of places and conditions of return.[86] Emphasis was placed on community awareness to develop social cohesion and tackle land issues.

National and international response

Central African countries face many significant challenges beyond internal displacement, but most made efforts in 2014 to address the phenomenon, whether by providing assistance, coordinating its delivery or developing national legal frameworks. Despite such efforts, limited resources and capacity, and in some cases a lack of political will, meant they struggled to assist and protect IDPs effectively.

CAR, DRC and Sudan made progress in developing and revising national frameworks relevant to IDPs. The government of DRC continued to work towards ratifying the Kampala Convention, but was still to submit the necessary paperwork to the AU as of the end of 2014. In line with its obligations under the Great Lakes Pact and protocols, it has also drafted a law that covers IDPs' protection and assistance during all phases of displacement. Whether such frameworks will have any impact on IDPs' lives will depend on their successful implementation, but parliament is still to adopt the legislation.

The government of Chad, meantime, assumes that displacement in the country has come to an end. It has stopped recognising those who have not returned or integrated locally as IDPs and no longer provides them with direct assistance.[87]

The international response is in many cases a de facto substitute for governments' role in assisting and protecting IDPs, particularly when it comes to humanitarian aid. Countries such as Chad and Burundi, however, which no longer have active conflicts, have seen humanitarian engagement decline without the development sector becoming more involved in its place. Longer-term commitments, efforts and investment are needed, including in situations of continuing conflict, if the international community is to help prevent countries from relapsing into crisis as happened in South Sudan in 2014.

International aid workers face significant challenges to their work in central Africa, not least because local capacities tend to be poor and qualified international staff difficult to attract, compared with other regions. Insecurity and restrictions imposed by the government and NSAGs have also restricted access in countries such as South Sudan and Sudan, and elsewhere humanitarians have come under repeated attack and intimidation.[88] According to OCHA, 72 per cent of the 890 security incidents registered in CAR between January and July 2014 targeted humanitarian personnel and their assets.[89]

There are concerns that humanitarian space is at risk in CAR, DRC and South Sudan. Increasingly blurred lines between the activities of humanitarians and UN and AU peacekeepers make it more difficult to maintain the perception of neutrality in the eyes of both civilians and parties to the conflicts.[90] In DRC, Sudan and South Sudan, IDPs have sought refuge in or around UN bases, leading peacekeepers to focus on protecting civilians in their immediate vicinity rather than addressing the source of the protection threat.

Given the immense needs of both IDPs and their host communities, the international humanitarian and development responses have been chronically underfunded in all six countries. In DRC and Sudan donor fatigue may be a significant factor. By the end of 2014, organisations operating in DRC had received only 45.6 per cent of the funds requested under the humanitarian action plan for the country.[91]

2015 will be a year of change and hope in central Africa, with Burundi, CAR, Chad and Sudan all holding national elections. The polls could be an opportunity for governments to commit to helping their displaced populations and to increase their efforts to do so, but they also carry a risk of renewing old tensions and fuelling violence and new displacements.

67 OCHA, South Sudan Crisis – Situation Report No. 69, 8 January 2015, available at:

68 OCHA, Sudan: West Darfur – New Displacement in 2014, 31 December 2014, available at:; OCHA, Sudan: North Darfur – New Displacement in 2014, 31 December 2014, available at:; OCHA, Sudan: Central Darfur – New Displacement in 2014, 31 December 2014, available at:; OCHA, Sudan: South Darfur – New Displacement in 2014, 31 December 2014, available at:; OCHA, Sudan: East Darfur -New Displacement in 2014, 31 December 2014, available at:

69 Ibid

70 OCHA, RD Congo : 2014 en Revue, 23 January 2015, available at:

71 Ibid

72 The Fund for Peace, Fragile States Index 2014, 24 June 2014, available:

73 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2014, 24 July 2014, available at:

74 South Sudan Protection Cluster, Protection Trends Analysis, May 2014, available at:; UN Security Council, The International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic – Final Report, 22 December 2014, available at:

75 CAR Child Protection Sub-Cluster, Compte Rendu Réunion, 29 December 2014, available at:

76 International Crisis Group, Sudan and South Sudan's Merging Conflicts, 29 January 2015, available at:; Small Arms Survey, A widening war around Sudan, 5 January 2007, available at:

77 UN Security Council, 2014, op. cit.

78 IDMC, Increasing resilience of people affected by multiple displacement: innovation to inform new practice, 17 July 2014, available at:

79 UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS PoC Update No. 56, 2 January 2015, available at:

80 UNHCR, UNHCR seeking urgent relocation of besieged Peuhl minority in Yaloke, Central African Republic, 23 December 2014, available at:; South Sudan Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster, FSCL meeting, 17 December 2014, available at:

81 South Sudan Protection Cluster, Protection Trends Analysis, May 2014, available at:

82 Human Rights Watch, Central African Republic: Muslims Trapped in Enclaves, 22 December 2014, available at:

83 UN News Centre, DR Congo: UN refugee agency concerned at sudden closure of displaced persons camp, 5 December 2014, available at:

84 South Sudan Protection Cluster, op. cit.

85 UNHCR, December 2014, op. cit.

86 UNHCR and Government of Burundi, Enregistrement d'intention des PDIs, July 2014

87 UN Human Rights Council, Compilation prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21, 6 August 2013, available at:

88 OCHA, Darfur: Mass Displacement Continues in 2014, 18 March 2014, available at:; UN, South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan 2015, 1 December 2014, available at:; OCHA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Humanitarian Access Snapshot, 8 December 2014, available at:; UN, République Démocratique du Congo Plan de réponse humanitaire 2015, 12 December 2014, available at:

89 OCHA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Humanitarian access Snapshot, 4 August 2014, available at:

90 Emma Fanning, Safeguarding distinction in the Central African Republic, September 2014, available at:; Stacey White, Now What? The international response to internal displacement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 2014, available at:

91 Financial Tracking System OCHA, Strategic Response Plan(s): Democratic Republic of the Congo 2014 Table D: Requirements, funding and outstanding pledges per Cluster Report as of 27-February-2015 (Appeal launched on 16-December-2013), 27 February 2015, available at:


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