By Christina Daszkiewicz

In 2020, more than 4 million people were newly displaced in the context of disasters in sub-Saharan Africa. The year was marked by intense rainy seasons, and these moves were mainly a consequence of floods. At the end of 2020, 2.3 million people were still living in a state of internal displacement in the region. 

This tragic situation highlights once more the need to support communities affected by disasters and climate to stay safely at home where possible, to move safely and with dignity where necessary, and to access sustainable livelihoods and other longer-term solutions.

Between April and June 2021, more than 170 researchers, policymakers, and other experts have been discussing law and policy responses to displacement and migration in the context of disasters and climate change in Africa, as well as the research needed to advance such responses. 

Participants in the Virtual Workshop Series on ‘Developing a Research and Policy Agenda for Addressing Displacement and Migration in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change in Africa’ have come from different regions within Africa and beyond, from different backgrounds and professions, including researchers and practitioners but also government representatives, journalists and students. 

This broad participation has been key to the workshops’ success. As Antoinette Sagbo, a West African journalist specialising in disaster risk management, put it: ‘The objectives of this workshop are of a fundamental importance, and researchers and financial and technical partners should not be the only ones discussing it. As a journalist specialised in disaster risk management, it is also my duty to do a citizen’s watch – to search for credible information to fully play my triple role: inform, raise awareness and educate.’

Across more than 34 hours of workshop discussions, and many more informal exchanges and conversations, participants in the workshop series have been united in the same goal: to advance responses and solutions to displacement and migration in the context of disasters and climate change in Africa. 

For Siaka Koné, a representative from Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of African Integration and Ivoirians Abroad, the workshops were a chance to build on regional efforts to help disaster- and climate change-affected communities to access regional free movement agreements. ‘Knowing the challenges in the implementation of regional policies on migration… and trying to integrate this new dimension linked to disasters is an enormous challenge,’ Koné said. 

Discussions have focused on two main objectives: first, identifying opportunities within African regional and sub-regional laws and policies to both prevent and respond to people displaced as a consequence of disaster and climate change; and second, identifying knowledge gaps and future research that could advance these opportunities. 

Across several working groups, participants generated more than 20 research proposals spanning a range of legal and policy fields, including climate change, disaster risk reduction, migration, free movement, human rights, refugee law, internal displacement, and planned relocation. 

In addition to specific recommendations in each field, cross-cutting themes also emerged from these discussions. Aimée-Noël Mbiyozo, Senior Migration Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Africa, noted, for example, that ‘the proposal to examine immobility and barriers to movement in Africa is very important and aligns with what we see in my work. We most often hear that climate-linked migration will force millions or billions even to move, but in Africa the most vulnerable people face far more immobility, and this is very concerning too.’

The workshop will conclude on July 1 with a Closing Plenary session, now open for registrations from those who are interested to learn more. 

The two-hour closing session will feature summaries of discussions across all workshops within the series, as well as keynote presentations by Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and Professor Chaloka Beyani, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics and a member of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Union that led the formation of an African Union Government.

Later this year, the outcomes of the workshop series will be published in a ‘Research Agenda for Advancing Law and Policy Responses to Displacement and Migration in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change in Africa’. This Research Agenda will help shape and inform future collaboration in this field. 

A new Research Network is also emerging from the series. ‘The network of researchers and policy experts across Africa, to be established, will provide a great opportunity to continue discussions. IGAD will lean on this network for future collaboration,’ said Fathia Alwan, Director of Health and Social Development for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), during the Opening Plenary of the workshop series. 

Mbiyozo agrees: ‘I am glad to see a network emerging from this workshop. A place to share work, potentially collaborate on projects and ensure our respective projects and research are relevant and forward-thinking. Given the urgency of the topic, building on one another's work and avoiding redundancy is important.’

To find out more, visit the Virtual Workshop Series website and register for the Closing Plenary session.


This Virtual Workshop Series is enabled by the generous support of: International Organization for Migration (IOM); UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD); and Africa-Australia Universities Network (AAUN).