“We need the full picture of global displacement to be acknowledged. To limit access to assistance and protection according to lines on a map would be a failure of humanity,” urges Egeland. “Internal displacement must be brought back on to the global agenda.”
Internally displaced people off the agenda
In 2016 global policy commitments to internally displaced people lost momentum. That happened in stark disconnection from the reality and scale of internal displacement.
40.3 million people were displaced within their own country at the end of 2016 as a result of conflict, according to NRC's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This is not a new development: since 1990, the number of people internally displaced by conflict measured at the end of each year has been nearly twice the number of refugees.
Today, Syria and Colombia are the countries with the highest number of people living in displacement, both seeing more than six million people displaced within their own borders. Iraq and Sudan follow with over three million internally displaced people. The figures are also high in Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan.
Lack of funding
NRC’s Jan Egeland calls for enhanced international support to the internal displacement crisis.
“For example, the support to each Syrian refugee and member of the host communities in the region, amounts to more than twice as much as the support to each person displaced or in need inside Syria,” he says.
“It is not any cheaper to provide assistance inside Syria, than in the region, rather the other way around. Also, the needs are more pressing for those fleeing inside Syria, than for the refugees who have been able to escape the war,” says Egeland.
We must ensure that focus on the refugee and migration challenges does not divert attention and funding away from the needs of the millions of people living in internally displacement.
- Unlike a refugee, who has crossed an international border to seek safety, protection and assistance, internally displaced people (“IDPs”) have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge within the boundaries of their own country.
- Internal displacement occurs typically as a result of armed conflict, widespread violence, sudden and slow onset disasters development projects and other human rights violations.
- IDPs remain under the jurisdiction of their government, even when that government is responsible for having caused the displacement in the first place. This makes IDPs a particularly vulnerable group, who often falls through the cracks of protection and assistance. In many places, particularly those characterized by high levels of conflict and violence, national as well as local authorities are not able or willing to provide assistance and protection to the internally displaced.
- The destruction brought about by conflict or disaster can prevent humanitarian actors from reaching the internally displaced. Accessing and protecting IDPs in these contexts can be very challenging.
- Unlike for refugees, who are protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention and have a dedicated UN agency working for them, there is no international humanitarian institution with the primary mandate for protecting and assisting people who are internally displaced.
- The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide a normative framework for assisting and protecting IDPs. In line with international human rights and humanitarian law, and with refugee law by analogy, these 30 principles set out the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of internally displaced people in all phases of displacement.
- Disasters triggered by rapid-onset natural hazard events cause an average of 25.3 million new displacements each year.
- In addition, an unknown number of people are displaced by slow-onset disasters such as drought, desertification and sea level rise.
- An estimated 15 million people are also displaced every year by development projects.
Overall stronger humanitarian, development and political efforts are crucial to meet the UN secretary general’s target to reduce internal displacement by at least 50 per cent by 2030 and to ensure that internally displaced people are not left behind.
Still, at the September 2016 Summit on Refugees and Migrants, the situation of internally displaced people was largely excluded from the debate and subsequent outcomes and commitments.
The single reference to internal displacement in the summit’s outcome document, the New York Declaration, points to possible links between internal displacement and large movements of migrants and refugees.
“We know there is a correlation between internal displacement and cross-border movements. To date, however, the nexus between the two phenomena is poorly understood. There is not enough data to determine how many of the refugees and migrants that we are seeing today were internally displaced before crossing a border,” says Alexandra Bilak, Director of NRC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva.
“A better understanding of the push and pull factors that leave IDPs with no other choice but to cross borders is necessary for national planning and international support” .
What we must learn from South Sudan
Today the United Nations shelters 200,000 people inside its bases across South Sudan. Never before in history have tens of thousands of people sought refuge for such a long period in UN compounds. Never before have aid workers been forced to work in close proximity with armed peacekeepers under such conditions. South Sudan has reset the rules of aid operations forever.
Humanity has no borders
Two-thirds of all people who are forced to flee due to conflict and disaster are displaced within their own country. Despite soaring numbers, internally displaced people receive little global attention. “Humanity has no borders, and no group should be neglected,” says NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland.
Strengthening legal structures
To ensure protection of internally displaced people, legal and institutional support for their rights must be strengthened.
“The protection of internally displaced people is shamefully weak. Also, there is not a single agency mandated with protection of internally displaced,” states Jan Egeland.
“Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Renewed concrete commitments and action are required by governments and the humanitarian sector alike to ensure that the specific needs of internally displaced people are better addressed,” says Egeland.
- The African Union has set an example with its Kampala Convention, the world's first continental instrument that legally binds governments to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee from conflict, violence, disasters and human rights abuses.
- Adopted in Kampala, Uganda, on 23 October 2009, the convention entered into force on 6 December 2012.
- The convention is a shared framework, but individual countries have taken different approaches to it.
- As of today, the convention has been signed by 40 and ratified by 25 of the 54 member states of the African Union.
Strengthening political will
Another big challenge is the need to strengthen the political will to address internal displacement.
“The primary responsibility to protect and assist internally displaced people lies with the respective national governments,” Egeland points out.
“No matter the cause, internal displacement requires political solutions. Political will is required to find peaceful settlements to conflicts, to reduce disaster risks and the adverse effects of climate change and to ensure people displaced by development projects are not treated as collateral damage,” says Egeland, stressing that concrete steps must also be taken by national governments to integrate the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into relevant national and regional law and practice.
Improvement of humanitarian response
The role and responsibility of the humanitarian community will also be addressed at the conference.
“We must all commit to boost national capacities in responding to internal displacement and address gaps,” says Jan Egeland.
Egeland is clear that closing borders and providing support merely to frontline, refugee-hosting countries will not solve the problem:
“Policies to stem refugee and migration flows only serves to shift and hide the challenges of internal displacement,” he says.
NRC’s secretary general sees responding to the needs for protection and assistance of the internally displaced as one of the key challenges of the humanitarian community today.
“We hope the conference will provide a platform to engage in discussions to further operational approach and to contribute to policy change aimed to improve the lives of people living in internal displacement,” he says.
- NRC and internal displacement:
- IDMC’s 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement: