Thematic Areas: Internal Displacement

Displaced people from Kafia site (near Baga-Sola, Chad). Credit: OCHA/Mayanne Munan

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who are forced to flee their homes due to armed conflict, generalized violence, violations of human rights, natural or human-made disasters, but who remain within their own country.

A record number of people – 40.8 million at the end of 2015 – were internally displaced worldwide as a result of conflict and violence, of which 8.6 million were newly displaced in 2015. In addition, natural disasters displaced an average of 25.4 million people per year over the past 8 years.

Five countries have featured in the list of the top ten countries with the largest displaced populations every year since 2003: Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Sudan and South Sudan.  

Complexities of Internal Displacement

Internal displacement is a complex issue to address, due in part to the following factors:

  • IDPs often find refuge in areas where it is difficult to receive humanitarian assistance, since the vast majority lives outside of camps, among local communities; it is often difficult to identify them and their needs, particularly in urban areas, due to a range of factors (multiple displacements, fear of being identified, etc.)
  • Displacement has a particularly destabilizing and traumatic impact for children, as it exposes them to risks and upheaval at a time when they are most in need of protection and stability. The majority loses access to education and many are at risk of sexual violence and forced recruitment.
  • Context-specific factors can affect the success of interventions for IDPs, such as the legal and protective environment, access to markets, the resources and social capital of the displaced, pre-existing vulnerabilities and the capacity and willingness of host institutions to absorb aid.  

Many people remain in limbo for years in IDP camps, urban slums or other areas of refuge, a situation defined as protracted displacement. Lacking a permanent home or sustainable livelihoods, they often have little prospect of reaching a durable solution.

Durable solutions for IDPs include: (i) settling elsewhere in the country; (ii) integrating into the community where they are currently based; or, (iii) returning home. These solutions are detailed in the IASC Framework on Durable Solutions.

Most protracted displacement is due to prolonged or frozen conflicts which have not yet reached a political solution. It is also due to the lack of alignment between durable solutions for IDPs and broader development programmes. 

Addressing Internal Displacement

National Governments bear the primary responsibility for IDP protection and welfare. If national Governments are unable or unwilling to meet their responsibilities, the international community has a role to play in promoting and reinforcing efforts to ensure protection, assistance and solutions for IDPs.

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are an essential framework to address the needs of IDPs. They restate in explicit terms the rights of IDPs that are implicit in the more general guarantees of existing international human rights and humanitarian law relevant to IDPs. In September 2005, the Heads of State and Governments assembled at the World Summit in New York have recognized the Guiding Principles as "an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons." (G.A. Res. 60/L.1, 132, U.N. Doc. A/60/L.1).

Current approaches to address the needs of internally displaced people, focusing on short-term humanitarian assistance, have proven inadequate and unsustainable, as people remain displaced for longer periods of time in the absence of solutions. As such, a fundamental shift is needed to go from an aid-centric view of livelihoods in displacement – that the livelihoods of IDPs are dependent on external interventions – to focus and support the steps that IDPs are taking themselves to find solutions for internal displacement. To go from simply meeting humanitarian needs, to focus on an approach that preserves IDPs’ dignity, improves their lives and self-reliance, as well as contributing to the development of their host communities.

It is also recognised that the international community cannot address internal displacement with humanitarian aid alone; structural changes facilitated by development actors plays an essential role to boost the capacity of countries to provide solutions for IDPs. There must be better humanitarian-development cooperation for sustainable results on the ground.

UN’s Role in Addressing Internal Displacement

In 1997, the Secretary-General presented the agenda for the UN reform, including the consolidation of the ERC’s role. The SG specifically mentioned the ERC’s coordination with regards to IDPs. The GA expressed overall support for the SG’s reform agenda, without delving into IDPs issues. Since then though, the Third Committee has regularly highlighted the “central role of the ERC for the coordination of, protection of and assistance to” IDPs (A/RES/70/165). This aspect of the ERC’s mandate is particularly important as no single agency is formally in charge of IDPs.

Operationally, UNHCR, as the Global Protection Cluster lead, has been entrusted to lead protection efforts of conflict-affected IDPs within the cluster system. The RC/HC plays an important role to ensure a comprehensive humanitarian response, including to IDPs. UNHCR, UNDP, IOM, as well as NGOs play an essential role to provide assistance and protection to IDPs in a variety of contexts. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) both bring crucial expertise and information on the situation of IDPs. The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs also plays an important role to mainstream the human rights of IDPs within the UN system and advocacy with Governments and key stakeholders.

OCHA’s Role in Addressing Internal Displacement

OCHA works in close partnership with Security Council bodies, UNHCR, UNDP, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, protection-related IASC agencies and UN Secretariat organizations to promote the protection and assistance of IDPs.

IDPs and the 2030 Agenda

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to “leave no one behind”, and it frames forced displacement as a development issue. It recognizes that internally displaced populations are part of an especially vulnerable group requiring special attention, and presents an important opportunity to move towards durable solutions for internal displacement. Similarly, the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on the Protection of Civilians explicitly identifies the need to address protracted displacement.

IDPs and the World Humanitarian Summit

The World Humanitarian Summit, which took place on 23 – 24 May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey, was the first step in implementing the agenda for humanity, as outlined by the Secretary General’s Report to the WHS, “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility”.

The WHS High Level Round Table on Forced Displacement brought together affected Governments, donors, international organizations, civil society organizations, the private sector and affected communities, to make commitments to address forced displacement, including internal displacement. At the WHS, there was a general agreement that a new way of working is needed on internal displacement, in order to meet the humanitarian needs of IDPs while at the same time responding to longer-term needs, reducing their vulnerabilities and support the development of local communities. While there were many positive commitments made at the WHS to support IDPs and durable solutions, it will be important to create mechanisms to carry these forward and create change on the ground.


OCHA Products
Open letter to Member States: "The Invisible Majority: Helping Internally Displaced People"
High Level Panel on Forced Displacement – Commitments, 2016 – OCHA 
Joint UNHCR – OCHA Note on Mixed Situations: Coordination in Practice, April 2014 – UNHCR and OCHA 
Summary Conclusions from Discussions between UNHCR and OCHA on Protection and IDPs, April 2014 – UNHCR and OCHA 

Global Report on Internal Displacement, 2016 – Norwegian Refugee Council's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) 
Addressing Protracted Displacement: A Framework for Development-Humanitarian Cooperation, December 2015 – Humanitarian and Development Actors Group (HDAG) 
Briefing Paper: Understanding the Root Causes of Forced Displacement: Towards a Comprehensive Approach to Prevention and Solutions, December 2015 – IDMC 
A Response to Global Forced Displacement, November 2015 – World Bank
The Forced Displacement Crisis, 2015 – Joint Paper by Multilateral Development Banks 
Protracted Displacement: Uncertain Paths to Self-Reliance in Exile, 2015 – IDMC
10 years after the Humanitarian Reform, December 2014 – Brookings Institution
Under the radar: Internally Displaced Persons in Non-Camp Settings, October 2013 – Brookings Institution
Secretary-General Policy Committee Decision No. 2011/20 – Durable Solutions: Ending Displacement in the Aftermath of Conflict, October 2011 – UNSG 

Normative Frameworks, GA and UNSC documents
Latest General Assembly Resolution on IDPs, Third Committee, A/RES/70/165, December 2015 – UNGA 
Security Council Arria Formula meeting on Internally Displaced Persons, May 2014 – UNSC 
IASC Framework for Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons, April 2010 – Brookings Institution, University of Bern
Kampala Convention, 2009 – African Union
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,  1998

Guidance for Profiling Urban Displacement Situations, Challenges and Solutions,  June 2014 – Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS)
Camp Closure Guidelines, March 2014 – Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster 
National Instruments on Internal Displacement, a Guide to their Development, August 2013 – IDMC 
Handbook for Parliamentarians, Internal Displacement: Responsibility and Action, 2013 – UNHCR and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
Protection Checklist, Addressing Displacement and Protection a Collaborative Approach, 2012 – OSCE and UNHCR 
The Rights and Guarantees of Internally Displaced Children in Armed Conflict, 2010 – Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC)
Security Council, Internal Displacement and Protection: Recommendations for Strengthening Action through Resolutions, Oct 2011 – OCHA and the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement
Working with Persons with Disabilities in Forced Displacement, 2011 – UNHCR 
Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons, 2010 – Global Protection Cluster
IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters, January 2010 – The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement
Integrating Internal Displacement in Peace Processes and Agreements, 2010 – The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement
Annotations to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 2nd edition, 2008 
Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Implementing the Pinheiro Principles, March 2007