6 December 2018

Africa: Niger Adopts Law to Protect Displaced People in First for Africa

Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN
Refugees and returnees who have fled Boko Haram violence shelter in Niger's Guesseré village on the border.

Dakar — Niger has adopted Africa's first national law for the protection and assistance of people fleeing violence, floods and droughts, the government and United Nations said on Thursday.

The government says there are about 174,000 displaced people in the West African country, mostly in regions where Islamist violence has spilled over from Mali and Nigeria.

That figure excludes others who were forced to leave their homes to search for grazing land or water, said Lawan Magagi, Niger's minister of humanitarian action and disaster management.

"The question of sustainable solutions has really guided us ... because internal displacement in Niger is becoming more and more recurrent," Magagi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This is due to both climate change and conflicts in neighbouring countries that affect border communities, he said.

The new law was approved unanimously by the national assembly on Monday, Magagi said.

It is based on the Kampala Convention, a 2009 African Union treaty that establishes guiding principles for protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Other African countries have ratified the Kampala Convention, but not incorporated it into national law, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

"Niger continues to inspire and show its solidarity and generosity towards those forced to flee," said Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR representative in Niger.

Magagi said the law would allow for a national fund to help IDPs and increase penalties for assaults on them.

The state will also play a bigger role in preventing land disputes when people are forced to move, and will help them return home if the situation has improved, he said.

"In general, it's refugees who are supported most by partners. But the population of a country that flees within the country doesn't have access to as much assistance," he said.

Niger hosts about 176,000 refugees, mostly from the part of Nigeria battling Boko Haram, according to UNHCR.

The country has also opened its doors to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers imprisoned in Libya while trying to reach Europe.

The United Nations has evacuated more than 2,000 of them to Niger so far, where they are being processed for resettlement in other countries.

(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Claire Cozens. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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