Internally displaced persons

Internally displaced person

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are people forced to flee their homes but who, unlike refugees, remain within their country's borders. At the end of 2006 estimates of the world IDP population rose to 24.5 million in some 52 countries. The region with the largest IDP population is Africa with some 11.8 million in 21 countries.

Definition

There is no legal definition as there is for a refugee. However, a United Nations report, Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement uses the definition:
internally displaced persons are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.

While the above stresses two important elements of internal displacement (coercion and the domestic/internal movement) it is important to note that rather than a strict definition, the Guiding Principles offer “a descriptive identification of the category of persons whose needs are the concern of the Guiding Principles”. In this way, the document “intentionally steers toward flexibility rather than legal precision” as the words “in particular” indicate that the list of reasons for displacement is not exhaustive. However, as Erin Mooney has pointed out, “global statistics on internal displacement generally count only IDPs uprooted by conflict and human rights violations. Moreover, a recent study has recommended that the IDP concept should be defined even more narrowly, to be limited to persons displaced by violence.” Thus, despite the non-exhaustive reasons of internal displacement, many consider IDPs as those who would be defined as refugees if they were to cross an international border hence the term refugees in all but name is often applied to IDPs.

IDP populations

It is very difficult to get accurate figures for IDPs because populations are constantly fluctuating: some IDPs may be returning home while others are fleeing, others may periodically return to IDP camps to take advantage of humanitarian aid. While the case of IDPs in large camps such as those in Darfur, western Sudan, are relatively well-reported, it is very difficult to assess those IDPs who flee to larger towns and cities. It is necessary in many instances to supplement official figures with additional information obtained from operational humanitarian organizations on the ground. Thus, the 24.5 million figure must be treated as an estimate. Additionally, most official figures only include those displaced by conflict or natural disasters. Development-induced IDPs often are not included in assessments.

IDP Statistics

The largest IDP populations can be found in Colombia, the DRC, Iraq, Sudan, Turkey, and Uganda, each with IDP populations of over one million. An updated country by country breakdown can be found at: IDMC Global Statistics It has been estimated that between 70 and 80% of all IDPs are women and children.

Countries with significant IDP populations

Protection and Assistance

The problem of protecting and assisting IDPs is not a new issue. In international law it is the responsibility of the government concerned to provide assistance and protection for the IDPs in their country. However, as many of the displaced are a result of civil conflict and violence or where the authority of the central state is in doubt, there is no local authority willing to provide assistance and protection. It has been estimated that some 5 million IDPs in 11 countries are "without any significant humanitarian assistance from their governments.

Unlike the case of refugees, there is no international humanitarian institution which has the overall responsibility of protecting and assisting the refugees as well as the internally displaced.. A number of organizations have stepped into the breach in specific circumstances.

UNHCR

The UNHCR was mandated by General Assembly Resolution 428 (V) of 14 December 1950 to "lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems....guided by the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol." The UNHCR has traditionally argued that it does not have a "general competence for IDPs" even though at least since 1972 it had relief and rehabillatation programs for those displaced within a country. However, in cases where there is a specific request by the UN Secretary General and with the consent of the State concerned it has been willing to respond by assisting IDPs in a given instance. In 2005 it was helping some 5.6 million IDPs (out of over 25 million), but only about 1.1 million in Africa. In 2005, the UNHCR signed an agreement with other humanitarian agencies. "Under this agreement, UNHCR will assume the lead responsibility for protection, emergency shelter and camp management for internally displaced people."

ICRC

The ICRC has a mandate of ensuring the application of International Humanitarian Law as it affects civilians in the midst of armed conflict. They have traditionally not distinguished between civilians who are internally displaced and those who remain in their homes. In a 2006 policy statement, the ICRC stated:
The ICRC's overall objective is to alleviate the suffering of people who are caught up in armed conflict and other situations of violence. To that end, the organization strives to provide effective and efficient assistance and protection for such persons, be they displaced or not, while taking into consideration the action of other humanitarian organizations. On the basis of its long experience in different parts of the world, the ICRC has defined an operational approach towards the civilian population as a whole that is designed to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of both displaced persons and local and host communities.
However, its Director of Operations has earlier recognized that IDPs "deprived of shelter and their habitual sources of food, water, medicine and money, they have different, and often more urgent, material needs.

Collaborative Approach

The current system which is often referred to as the collaborative approach, shares the responsibility for protecting and assisting IDPs among the UN agencies, i.e. UNHCR, Unicef, WFP, UNDP, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the inter-governmental organization IOM, the ICRC and International NGOs. Coordination is the responsibility of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Humanitarian Coordinator in the country concerned. They are assisted by the Inter-Agency Displacement Division which was created in 2004 and is housed in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA).

The original collaborative approach has come under increasing criticism. Roberta Cohen reports:

Nearly every UN and independent evaluation has found the collaborative approach deficient when it comes to IDPs. To begin with, there is no real locus of responsibility in the field for assisting and protecting...There is also no predictability of action, as the different agencies are free to pick and choose the situations in which they wish to become involved on the basis of their respective mandates, resources, and interests. In every new emergency, no one knows for sure which agency or combination thereof will become involved.
In 2005 an attempt to fix the problem by giving sectoral responsibilities to different humanitarian agencies, most notably with the UNHCR taking on the responsibility for protection and the management of camps and emergency shelters.

The Cluster Approach

As some have pointed out, one of the most flagrant problems of the collaborative response was that “abnegation of responsibility is possible because there is no formal responsibility apportioned to agencies under the Collaborative Response, and thus no accountability when agencies renege on their promises.” The cluster approach – the successor to the collaborative approach - tried to do away with this problem by designating individual agencies as ‘sector leaders’ to coordinate operations in specific areas to try to plug those newly identified gaps. The cluster approach was conceived amid concerns about coordination and capacity that arose from the weak operational response to the crisis in Darfur in 2004 and 2005, and the critical findings of the Humanitarian Response Review (HRR) commissioned by the then ERC, Jan Egeland. Egeland called for strengthening leadership of the sectors, and introduced the concept of "clusters” at different levels (headquarters, regional, country and operational)’.

The cluster approach operates on two levels: the global and local. At the global level, the approach is meant to build up capacity in eleven key ‘gap’ areas by developing better surge capacity, ensuring consistent access to appropriately trained technical expertise and enhanced material stockpiles, and securing the increased engagement of all relevant humanitarian partners. At the field level, the cluster approach strengthens the coordination and response capacity by mobilizing clusters of humanitarian agencies (UN/Red Cross-Red Crescent/IOs/NGOs) to respond in particular sectors or areas of activity, each cluster having a clearly designated and accountable lead, as agreed by the HC and the Country Team. Designated lead agencies at the global level both participate directly in operations, but also coordinate with and oversee other organizations within their specific spheres, reporting the results up through a designated chain of command to the ERC at the summit. However, lead agencies are responsible as ‘providers of last resort’, which represents the commitment of cluster leads to do their utmost to ensure an adequate and appropriate response in their respective areas of responsibility. The cluster approach was part of a package of reforms accepted by the IASC in December 2005 and subsequently applied in eight chronic humanitarian crises and six sudden-onset emergencies. However, the reform was originally rolled out and evaluated in four countries: DRC, Liberia, Somalia and Uganda.

The clusters were originally concentrated on nine areas: 1) Logistics (WFP) 2)emergency telecommunications (OCHA-Process owner, UNICEF Common Data Services, WFP – Common Security Telecommunications Services) 3)camp coordination and management (UNHCR for conflict-generated IDPs and IOM for natural disaster-generated IDPs) 4) emergency shelter (IFRC) 5)health (WHO) 6) nutrition (UNICEF) 7) water, sanitation, and hygiene (UNICEF) 8) early recovery (UNDP); and 9) protection (UNHCR for conflict-generated IDPs, UNHCR, UNICEF, and OHCHR for natural disaster generated IDPs.

IASC Principles deemed it unnecessary to apply the cluster approach to four sectors where no significant gaps were detected: a) food, led by WFP; b) refugees, led by UNHCR; c) education, led by UNICEF; and d) agriculture, led by FAO.

The original nine clusters were later expanded to include agriculture and education.

International Law

Unlike the case of refugees, there is no international treaty which applies specfically to IDPs. Recognizing the gap, the UN Secretary-General, Boutros-Ghali appointed Francis Deng in 1992 as his representative for internally displaced persons. Besides acting as an advocate for IDPs, Deng set out in 1994, at the request of the UN General Assembly to examine and bring together existing international laws which relating to the protection of IDPs. The result of this work was the document, Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

The Guiding Principles lay out the responsibilities of states before displacement – that is, to prevent displacement – during and after displacement. They have been endorsed by the UN General Assembly, the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) and by the signatories to the 2006 Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region, which include Sudan, DRC and Uganda.

The Guiding Principles, however, are non-binding. As Bahame Tom Nyanduga, Special Rapporteur on Refugees, IDPs and Asylum Seekers in Africa for the ACHPR has stated, “the absence of a binding international legal regime on internal displacement is a grave lacuna in international law."

In September 2004 the Secretary-General of the UN showed the continuing concern of his office by appointing Walter Kälin as his Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. Part of his mandate includes the promoting of the Guiding Principles.

Notes

References

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