The United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted the term Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) in 1998 to describe the situation of people who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, 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 international State border. At the end of 2011, more than 26 million people were internally displaced by conflict and violence across the world. More than a third of them were in Africa, the region with the highest number of IDPs. Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Somalia have the continent’s largest populations of internally displaced people. IDPs are often confused as “refugees”, despite the fact they remain in their national borders and have all the rights attached to nationality. Violent struggles between groups vying for access to natural resources, land and political representation and power are among the root causes of most of these displacements. But a narrow conception of IDPs being displaced by armed conflict is insufficient to describe and understand the motivations and needs of this diverse group. It must be recognized that the causes of internal displacement cannot be treated as independent variables. There are complex linkages between them. The causes for the displacement of the populations that become IDPs also vary across genders, ages and ethnic groups. IDPs housed in rural camps sometimes engage in secondary movements to urban areas to seek employment, which exemplifies the absence of a clear distinction between forced and voluntary economic migrants in urban IDP situations.
The environmentally displaced form a group that is in danger of being left without protection as their plight is tangled up with regular migration, voluntary environmental migration, and climate change migration. The distinctions that need to be drawn are the actual causal links between the environmental factors and migration and the extent to which the migration is forced. This is a particularly complex task because of the myriad factors that play a role in forced and indeed voluntary migration in the world today. The Internally Displaced Persons Monitoring Centre included, as causes of forced migration due to the environment, natural disasters, gradual environmental degradation, environmental conflicts, environmental destruction, environment conservation, development projects and industrial accidents.
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, 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.
Displacement impoverishes individuals, families and communities. IDPs often lose land, property, livelihoods and access to health services and education in the process, while hosts may exhaust their resources in coping with the new arrivals, especially in Africa where most IDPs stay with relatives or in host communities. Impoverishment can be understood as a loss of natural capital, human-made physical capital, human capital and social capital. There are nine risks or processes that cause the impoverishment of people affected by displacement: landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, food insecurity, increased morbidity and mortality, loss of access to common property and services, social disarticulation and the loss of education opportunities.
IDPs are often denied basic human rights; living in squalor and lacking physical security and freedom of movement. Without documentation IDPs are left unprotected by their national government and suffer as a result of insufficient food, water, healthcare and education. Women and children displaced are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. IDPs in Africa continued to face threats to their security and dignity. In Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and elsewhere, parties to the conflict attacked and killed civilians in addition to the other human rights violations and abuses which they committed. In Somalia, combatants reportedly attacked IDP settlements and recruited children from them into their ranks. In Darfur, fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and armed groups, inter-tribal violence and criminal activities led to the death of more than 600 civilians in 2011, including fleeing IDPs. Gender-based violence continued to threaten the physical security and integrity of IDPs both during and after their flight. All parties to the conflict in Somalia perpetrated sexual violence against internally displaced women in settlements. In Côte d’Ivoire, women and girls fleeing the violence were subjected to sexual violence perpetrated on the basis of their political or ethnic identity. Protracted conflict and displacement coupled with recurring droughts contributed to high levels of food insecurity, particularly in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel. This threatened the lives of many of Africa’s IDPs and others in displacement affected areas. By September 2011, the famine in Somalia was threatening the lives of many of the 1.5 million people displaced within the country by conflict. Malnutrition rates among internally displaced populations in Mogadishu and Afgooye were up to three times the critical emergency threshold.
National governments have the primary responsibility in the protection and assistance of its citizens and residents. When the state is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations, responsibility falls to the international community to protect those in need. Several developments have encouraged and enabled the international community to play a bigger role in protecting and assisting IDPs. International attention on urban IDPs remains limited, however. In conflict areas in particular (though not exclusively), access for IDP populations to humanitarian assistance is sometimes really difficult. Often, access to IDP concentrations or camps are controlled by state and non-state actors, unwilling to allow free access for humanitarian organizations. 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.
A mass influx of IDPs places a significant burden on both the national and international bodies responsible for providing protection and assistance to the internally displaced. The difficult task of fulfilling the needs of new influxes of IDPs is exacerbated by a lack of documentation and little or no accurate census data. IDPs usually rely upon existing services that may be insufficient even for the local population. Finding adequate accommodation is one of the most immediate needs. IDPs are sometimes able to find shelter with family or friends in urban areas, but many others are forced to live in dire conditions in abandoned buildings. The right to education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet in the case of many IDPs, the state bureaucracy has failed to provide adequate education to IDPs. In Khartoum, teachers are scarce because they are paid so little and many schools have been bulldozed by the government. IDP children are often kept out of schools because families cannot afford the fees, children’s labor is critical to family survival and the children are needed at home to guard the shelter. Similarly to refugees, the education available to IDPs should ideally be designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to facilitate a smooth reintegration process. Also, food security is often a problem amongst IDP populations housed in rural camps and assisted by the local government and international agencies.
African states and regional organizations have actively sought to improve and standardize their responses to internal displacement. In Burundi, developments in the year including a nationwide profiling exercise and a new code simplifying land acquisition gave IDPs a better prospect of achieving a durable solution. In Chad, where IDPs believed that it would not be safe to return, the government and international partners started to promote other settlement options, and considered converting remaining IDP camps into “locally integrated communities”.
By the end of 2011, Angola and Liberia, had developed laws on internal displacement based on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Incorporating the Guiding Principles into domestic legislation and policies was an obligation for the 11 member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) as parties to the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region and to its Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons.
According to UNHCR, the durable solutions available to IDPs are: voluntary return to the place of origin, local settlement in the areas to which they have been displaced, and voluntary relocation to another part of their own country.The preferred durable solution is when the original causes of the displacement are removed and IDPs can return safely to their original dwelling places, taking up their former livelihoods. This is becoming an increasingly rare resolution for urban IDPs, however. The intractable and protracted conflicts that pervade modern society today are not conducive to this solution. Even in cases where a protracted conflict is brought to a close, extended displacement weakens prospects for return and reintegration. Returning, IDPs may find their homes and communities destroyed or inhabited by other residents, may find livelihoods destroyed, and have little or no income-generating prospects without access to land.
Institutional and international responses to IDPs have indeed been strengthened over the past decade, with a collaborative approach allowing input from various UN agencies and NGOs working together and with governments. In 1997 the UN assigned overall responsibility to the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and soon afterwards IDPs were also being monitored by the UN’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). In January 2002 OCHA established an Internal Displacement Unit, recently renamed the Internal Displacement Division.
In Africa, governments have realized that recognizing IDPs’ human rights and accepting the primary responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill those rights are essential elements in addressing internal displacement and its devastating effects.Human rights provide key principles, complementing and supporting development aims such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and good governance. Without acknowledging that everyone has the rights to health and education, and the corollary obligations of the state, respective MDGs can hardly be reached. It is difficult to see how good governance can be achieved if people are unable to express their opinions on matters affecting their lives, or if corrupt authorities are not held accountable. In this sense, development actors increasingly recognize human rights principles and standards as a factor to be taken into account. Some have adopted human rights based approaches while others have integrated them into their activities implicitly.
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.