"Africa's internally displaced people belong to the most vulnerable in the world", said Raymond Johansen, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "The G8 countries must use their influence to put an end to the international community's glaring failure to adequately respond to the massive internal displacement crisis on the continent."
Unlike refugees who have crossed a border to seek safety, internally displaced people, or IDPs, do not benefit from a well-established international protection and assistance system. Their governments are obliged to look after them, but this rarely happens. It is hoped that as part of the debt relief plan to be agreed at the G8 summit, pressure will be increased on governments to meet their obligations with regard to preventing displacement and protecting those already displaced. Six of the 23 African countries most advanced in the debt relief process - Uganda, Ethiopia, Guinea, Congo, Rwanda and Senegal - are affected by internal displacement.
Major donor countries and the United Nations have committed themselves to fill the gaps left by national authorities. But the system that has been set up to assist and protect the displaced, known as the Collaborative Response, is not working properly. This in effect leaves millions of displaced people without the most basic humanitarian assistance and protection against abuses.
UN agencies are among those to blame for the failure to tackle the internal displacement crisis. Although they strengthened their commitment in a revised IDP policy adopted last year, most of them have done little to implement it. Efforts to make the system work regularly get stuck in inter-agency rivalries, mandate questions and funding concerns.
But the failure of major donor countries, including G8 members, to lend full support to the existing response system, both financially and politically, is part of the problem. The chronic underfunding of joint humanitarian appeals weakens coordination mechanisms and the ability of agencies to comply with their responsibilities under the IDP policy. The split in the donor community on the key question of UNHCR's role in addressing internal displacement also undermines the implementation of the IDP policy, which is supported - at least officially - by all main donors.
"We now have a framework in place that enjoys general support by all key players and has the potential to make a real difference for the lives of millions of displaced people", said Mr. Johansen. "But to make the system work, the G8 and other donor governments have to speak with one voice and put their full political and financial weight behind it."
The Geneva-based Global IDP Project, established by the Norwegian Refugee Council, is the leading international body monitoring internal displacement worldwide.