Internal Displacement - Being an IDP

What does it mean to be an IDP?

Being forced to flee your home doesn’t just mean losing the roof over your head. It’s about losing your connection to your family, to your source of income (your fields, your place of work, for example), it’s about losing access to the network of people around you who you would normally turn to in times of hardship. Once you have fled immediate danger, you may still experience discrimination and further abuse. These are some of the factors which make displaced populations particularly vulnerable.

Many IDPs don’t end up seeking shelter in camps but take refuge with host families and communities. Some may move to cities where they blend into impoverished urban zones. Having fled their homes and left all their support structures behind, they often have extensive needs but can be hard to trace – this can be a challenge for humanitarian communities.

Attempts to assist IDPs are often hampered by a lack of security and by physical and political obstructions. In conflict areas in particular (though not exclusively), access for IDP populations to humanitarian assistance is often difficult. Often, access to IDP concentrations or camps are controlled by state and non-state actors, unwilling to allow free access for humanitarian organisations.

Insecurity in conflict zones may present a major obstacle to access for humanitarian staff. And in large-scale natural disasters, access can be severely hampered by the physical obstructions presented by massive infrastructure damage, remote locations and lack of appropriate transport.

IDPs and their needs

National authorities bear the primary responsibility to prevent and respond to internal displacement. If the Government is unable or unwilling to fulfill its obligations, then it must allow humanitarian organizations access to communities in need.

IDPs need basic services – food, shelter, health services and clean water. They need support to find safety in order to be able to protect their families. Education, income-generating activities, documentation which will allow them to claim their rights are all crucial factors in helping IDPs to re-gain their dignity. The longer people are displaced, the longer it takes them to re-build their lives in peace and safety, the more vulnerable they will be.

When displacement ends

IDPs have the right to bring their period of displacement to a close in the three following ways: to settle elsewhere in the country; to integrate into the community where they are currently based; or to return home. These options are usually referred to in the humanitarian community as ‘durable solutions’.

IDPs have the right to make an informed decision about their own future and they may need assistance in order to see through their choice. The decisions on when, where and how to end their period of displacement must be voluntary and carried out in safety and dignity.

IDPs and their rights

IDPS have exactly the same rights as any other citizen of their country. The ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ set out the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of IDPs in all phases of displacement – prevention, protection during displacement as well as lasting solutions to displacement.

The principles underline the responsibility of national authorities to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction.

The Guiding Principles are not legally binding; however they are drawn from and reiterate human rights guarantees that already exist in international human rights and humanitarian law that is legally binding on states.