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27 and 28 November 2019 saw policymakers and experts from three major sub-regions of Africa come together in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for a workshop on the role of free movement of persons agreements in addressing disaster displacement in the continent. Setting the stage for deliberations and discussions at the workshop, the Envoy of the Chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, Professor Walter Kaelin, highlighted that, “Disaster displacement is a reality in Africa, with regional variations in the scale and form of movement, but free movement agreements could help disaster affected communities to move out of harm‘s way and access protection when displaced.”
Following the 2019 study on the topic undertaken by Tamara Wood for the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD), the workshop aimed to take this forward by exploring opportunities and limitations that free movement agreements (FMAs) provide for preventing and responding to disaster displacement in Africa, identifying steps to enhance this role, and identifying areas for further research. Participants from the Secretariats and Member States of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) spent the two days discussing their experiences and the practical considerations in the use of FMAs in addressing displacement in the context of disasters and the adverse effects of climate change. Through plenary sessions and group work, the participants engaged in discussions about and beyond their sub-regions to identify effective practices based on bilateral and regional mechanisms and policy frameworks.
The major themes that came up in the discussion included sub-regional variations in experiences, the need to work across silos, the need for action at regional, bilateral and national levels, and the need for coordination between different levels of the government. The workshop brought to light avenues for further engagement, both in policy and in research, such as supporting the implementation of the draft IGAD Free Movement Protocol, subject to its adoption, and enhancing the understanding of how free movement arrangements are implemented at the bilateral level in disaster displacement situations.
The workshop was organized by the PDD in partnership with the Development of the Rule of Law Programme (DROP), Stellenbosch University and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), with the generous support of Switzerland and the German Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The Government of France, as current Chair of the PDD, also participated in and supported the implementation of the workshop.