The city is not home: internally displaced persons in Senegal

The city is not home: internally displaced persons in Senegal

The city is not home: internally displaced persons in Senegal

Relatively little is known about the people who have been displaced by the Casamance conflict of Senegal. The fact that many have moved to urban areas blurs the distinction between forced displacement and migration. Policymakers should realise that coping mechanisms are being overstretched, while official aid is too often lacking.

Internallydisplaced persons (IDPs) in Africa have longused pre-existing rural to urban migration chains and social networks tointegrate into their new homes. A paper from the University ofLeicester (UK) looks at the situation of IDPs from the conflict-affectedCasamance region of south-western Senegal, finding that they are increasinglyunder stress the longer displacement continues.

The Casamance separatist insurgency, which beganin the 1980s, is West Africa’s longest-running civil conflict. Mostdisplacement took place in the first half of the 1990s when people moved fromrural areas into towns and more secure villages within Casamance. Refugees alsoentered Guinea-Bissau andthe Gambia.Identifying and counting those displaced has been problematic. IDPs are usuallyself-settled, and are often difficult to find and interview because they aremixed into the wider urban population. It is estimated the Casamance conflicthas created 50,000 IDPs.

Casamance has a long history of migration to urban areas, including Ziguinchor(the regional capital) and Dakar, where migrants have typically been receivedand supported, at least initially, by family or hometown networks. Suchprocesses of social integration have also been used in other IDP populations inKhartoum, Monrovia and other African cities. But situations of long-term conflict and displacement, as in Casamance, raise thequestion of when the state of ‘displacement’ ends and whether self-settled IDPscan be considered fully integrated.

However, there are clearly importantdifferences between voluntary migrants and IDPs:

  • Whole populations have moved– children, elderly and sick people, and not just young people and those whoare economically active – creating enormous strain among IDPs and thecommunities receiving them.
  • The physical and socialspace of destitute IDPs, often hosted grudgingly by their relatives, is morerestricted than that of voluntary migrants.
  • Some IDPs manageintermittently to access productive land but landmines and armed men who havetaken over their land make it too dangerous for most to return and rebuild.
  • IDPs in Ziguinchor are stuck inpoorly-paid, insecure semi-skilled or unskilled work, with little chance todevelop new skills or open businesses: in contrast to many migrants, and evensome IDPs elsewhere in urban Africa.

The author recommends that policymakers:

  • understand thestresses caused by cramped conditions, disputes over money and housework andthe low social status position of uninvited long-term IDP houseguests
  • encourage IDPS to return homeby improving security and funding de-mining
  • support return, with programmes reconstructing rural homes and infrastructureand helping to re-establish rural livelihoods
  • provide more assistance topoor urban IDPs, who report that the little aid they get is arbitrary,politicised or only given to those with connections
  • understand the extent to which IDP work skills and expectations may have becomemore urbanised over the years
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