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Internal Displacement

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.

28 million new people became internally displaced by conflict and disasters worldwide in the course of 2018. 10.8 million of these were displaced by violence and conflict, and 17.2 million by natural disaster. In total, there are over 41.3 million IDPs worldwide, the highest number ever recorded.

The top three countries with the largest internally displaced populations due to conflict and violence in 2018 were Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Syria. The top three countries with the largest number of IDPs due to disasters in 2018 were Myanmar, Kenya and Afghanistan. An overlap of conflict and disasters repeatedly displaced people in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries.

20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles: #InvisibleCitizens

In its 2017 resolution on IDPs, the UN General Assembly called on States, UN entities, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), regional organizations, national human rights institutions, NGOs and other stakeholders to mark the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (henceforth the Guiding Principles) in 2018.

To commemorate this anniversary, and bring IDPs out of the shadows, OCHA is working with its partners to implement the three-year GP20 Plan of Action. It also launched a new campaign - #InvisibleCitizens – to humanize the issue and draw global attention to the struggle that IDPs face.

Complexities of internal displacement 

Armed conflict and insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have created one of the world’s most protracted and complex protection and displacement crises. Credit: N.Frerotte/OCHA

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

  • It is often logistically challenging to provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. A majority of them do not live in camps, but are dispersed among local communities, making it difficult to identify IDP populations and their needs. IDPs may also be inaccessible to humanitarian organisations due to factors such as their fear of being identified by authorities, or their continuous movement from place to place.
  • Displacement has a particularly traumatic impact on children, often placing them in high-risk circumstances that put them in need of specific protection measures. Many internally displaced children lose access to education, and many are also at risk of sexual violence or forced recruitment into armed groups.
  • Context-specific factors, which can significantly affect the success of interventions for IDPs. These include the capacity and willingness of national and local institutions to receive aid for IDPs or the accessibility of legal and protective institutions; and factors specific to the internally displaced population, such as the resources and social capital of the displaced, or the presence of pre-existing vulnerabilities.

Addressing internal displacement 

Internal displacement is often a protracted situation - many people remain in limbo for years in IDP camps, urban slums, or other areas of refuge. Most protracted displacement is due to prolonged or frozen conflicts which have not yet reached a political solution - this is also often accompanied by a lack of alignment between broader development frameworks and specific plans for internal displacement solutions. Lacking a permanent home or sustainable livelihoods, they often have little prospect of reaching a durable solution. Durable solutions for IDPs include:

  1. Settling elsewhere in the country;
  2. Integrating into the community where they are currently based;
  3. Returning home.

These solutions are detailed in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework on Durable Solutions.

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.

However, the international community cannot address internal displacement with humanitarian aid alone. Some current approaches, focusing only on short-term humanitarian assistance, have proven to be inadequate, unsustainable, and unsuited to the protracted nature of many IDP crises.

As such, a fundamental shift in focus is under way, to move away from solely humanitarian aid-centric approaches, which often foster dependence, and instead are working towards providing coordinated efforts to support IDPs themselves in finding long-term solutions for their displacement. This strategy aims to promote the preservation of dignity, encourage self-reliance, support livelihoods, and improve opportunities for those displaced.

Development actors also play an essential role in improving the capacity of countries to provide solutions for IDPs. By working together, humanitarian and development institutions will be able to meet immediate needs, while developing sustainable outcomes for both IDP and host communities. There must be better humanitarian-development cooperation for sustainable results on the ground.

The role of the United Nations in addressing internal displacement 

A family stands in front of their tent in an IDP settlement in Khamir, some 100 km north of the Yemeni capital Sana'a. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

In 1997, the Secretary-General presented an agenda for the UN reform, which included the consolidation of the role of the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) – including with regard to internal displacement. Since the introduction of this agenda, the UN’s 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 UN agency is formally responsible for IDPs.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as well as many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), have an essential role in providing assistance and protection to IDPs in a variety of contexts. Operationally, UNHCR - as the Global Protection Cluster lead - has spearheaded the protection of conflict-affected IDPs.

The Resident Coordinator for a country, who is generally designated as its Humanitarian Coordinator (RC/HC) during a humanitarian crisis, has an important role to play in ensuring a comprehensive humanitarian response to internal displacement. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) both provide crucial expertise and data on situations of internal displacement. The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs works to promote the human rights of IDPs within the UN system, and conducts advocacy with Governments and key stakeholders.

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.

A new approach to protracted internal displacement 

The UN Secretary-General's Agenda for Humanity, introduced in 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit, frames forced displacement as a development issue, setting the addressing of internal displacement as a long-term commitment.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also promises to “leave no one behind”. It incorporates internal displacement issues into its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically including IDPs as a vulnerable group that must not be left behind.

In 2017, OCHA published a study addressing the issue of protracted internal displacement. This study, ‘Breaking the Impasse: Reducing Protracted Internal Displacement as a Collective Outcome’, recommends early development of self-sufficiency in protracted situations and strengthening of cooperation across the humanitarian, development and political divides. The study proposes a methodology to achieve collective outcomes that address protracted internal displacement and prevent new displacement situations from becoming long-term crises. In 2019, OCHA published 'Reducing Protracted Internal Displacement: A Snapshot of Successful Humanitarian-Development Initiatives', a companion piece showcasing successful humanitarian-development projects which improved the lives of IDPs.

20th anniversary of the guiding principles on internal displacement 

In 1998, The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights, forming the foundation for a normative framework on addressing the needs of IDPs. They restate, in explicit terms, the rights of IDPs that are implicit in existing international human rights and humanitarian law. They address protection against displacement, as well as protection during displacement and return to places of origin, providing especially for humanitarian assistance and the resettlement and integration of IDPs into host communities.

Though not legally-binding, the Guiding Principles have attained significant authority since their inception. In September 2005, the Heads of State and Governments assembled at the World Summit in New York 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).
A Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection, and Solutions for Internally Displaced People was launched on the 17thof April, in commemoration of the 20thAnniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (GP20 Plan of Action). This plan was spearheaded by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, OCHA and UNHCR, and contributions and comments for the plan have been provided by UN agencies, NGOs, the World Bank, Member States, academic institutions and other experts.

This multi-stakeholder plan of action aims to support country-level initiatives on internal displacement around four priorities: increasing the participation of IDPs in the processes that affect them; supporting states to develop laws and policies on internal displacement; improving data and analysis on internal displacement; and the response to protracted situations of internal displacement, implementing durable solutions.