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The Role of Free Movement of Persons Agreements in Addressing Disaster Displacement – A Study of Africa


Cross-border disaster-displacement is a reality in Africa, where drought, flooding and other natural hazards combine with conflict, weak governance and underdevelopment to force people from their homes. Many disaster displaced persons remain within their own countries, but some are forced to flee to neighbouring countries, and even further afield. With climate change, disaster-related movement in Africa is only likely to increase. The recently adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration recognises the role that disasters play in human mobility and calls on states to address this issue. However, there remains no comprehensive legal framework for addressing the predicament or needs of those who cross borders in the context of a disaster.

In Africa, agreements for the free movement of persons between states could assist in addressing the protection gap for disaster displaced persons, by permitting entry and stay into host states, allowing access to territory, livelihood opportunities and assistance from international and non-government organisations. Free movement agreements have been adopted, or proposed, in most of Africa’s sub-regional economic communities and at the continental level. However, free movement agreements have not been developed with the protection needs of disaster displaced persons in mind. This report therefore considers the extent to which such agreements do, or could, address the needs of those displaced in the context of a disaster.

This report considers the potential for free movement agreements to address three core protection needs of cross-border disaster-displaced persons. These are:

1) access to territory,

2) status and rights during stay, and

3) opportunities for lasting solutions.


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