Commissioned by the Internal Displacement Unit of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the United Nations
Written by Kathleen Newland, Principal Author and Co-Director of the Migration Policy Institute, Erin Patrick and Monette Zard, Contributing Authors
The UN’s first book on internal displacement, entitled No Refuge:
the Challenge of
The following is a summary of both events and is organized by topic.
What we tried to accomplish in No Refuge was in part a stock-taking of how the international community – and the UN system in particular – is responding to internal displacement and in part an articulation of the challenges that remain. The subject of internal displacement is a difficult one for the UN. MPI is responsible for the content of the book, but the fact that the UN has for the first time issued a publication on internal displacement signals the importance that the organization does accord to this phenomenon. We benefited greatly from the input and experience of our many UN and NGO colleagues and particularly from that of the Internal Displacement Unit.
There are many other, and more important, signals of the UN’s increasing involvement with IDPs: the very creation of OCHA (or its predecessor, the DHA) in 1991 in the wake of the IDP crisis in Northern Iraq, the appointment of Francis Deng as the Representative of the Secretary-General in 1992, at the request of the Commission on Human Rights, and the creation of the Internal Displacement Unit within OCHA in 2002.
This book traces the emergence of the issue of internal displacement as a subject of active multilateral concern and discusses the major themes that continue to frame the challenge of responding adequately to the needs of people who are displaced within their own countries and therefore are not covered by the international refugee protection regime.
We examine the continuing evolution of the concept of national sovereignty, which is a bedrock of the international system but no longer functions very effectively as a shield for states who fail to protect their own citizens. Increasingly, sovereignty is evoked not only as a protection for states against interference by other states, but also as a means of locating responsibility for the protection of people, the exercise of governance, and cooperation in bringing assistance to people in need – especially civilians affected by armed conflict or campaigns of persecution. As a result of long-term diplomatic efforts, more and more states are beginning to regard international involvement with IDPs as a support rather than as a threat to their sovereignty.
We looked at the very real problems of access to internally displaced people, who are often so difficult to reach with material assistance or physical and legal protection. This is painfully apparent in Liberia today. The refugees from the conflict who fled to neighboring countries have encountered incredible hardship – UNHCR and other agencies have been struggling to help them – but the plight of the people in the interior of the country is even more extreme, and more urgent because the dimensions of it remain largely unknown except from the harrowing tales of people who have managed to escape over a border or to the capital, where a degree of calm has been restored. The invisibility of the displaced in remote and dangerous locations like the interior of Liberia is itself a barrier to access. Invisible emergencies like that in Eastern Congo (until very recently) draw little attention and few resources to protect forcibly displaced civilians. Lack of security for humanitarian organizations and lack of funding are today as – and probably more – important than sovereignty in constraining access to IDPs.
One of the most difficult and complex themes that we dealt with in this book is the theme of protection for internally displaced people. They routinely suffer from physical danger and material deprivation as well as specific forms of legal jeopardy – such as loss of identity documents and subsequent denial of their rights to public assistance, property ownership, or political participation. Women and children typically make up 70-80% of internally displaced populations, and they are at particular risk of violence – including sexual violence – exploitation, forced recruitment (in the case of children) and other forms of abuse. The primary task of protecting IDPs from thee hazards lies with their own governments, but they are often unable – or, in some cases, unwilling – to protect. The work of the Secretary-General’s Representative, Dr. Deng, has done a great deal to clarify the legal and binding nature of the rights of IDPs. They are just as much protected by basic human rights law and international humanitarian law as any other human beings. Analogy with refugee law is compelling, as often the only thing that distinguishes IDPs from refugees is geographical accident. The challenge lies in implementing these rights at a practical level. The conflicts of the last fifteen years or so have taught many lessons – that international presence is important but not sufficient for protection – that assistance and protection are not the same thing, and can sometimes be manipulated to work at cross-purposes – that safe havens are hardly ever safe. But there have also been positive lessons in implementing protection, sometimes from unexpected directions, such as the involvement of civil society organizations working on practical problems such as housing and health, and building protection into their daily activities.
The resolution of internal displacement is sometimes hard to detect. Just as IDPs cross no recognizable line when they flee, they cross no line to return. If they settle in another region of their country, are they still displaced? Solutions for IDPs are not primarily about geography. They may return home and still remain dispossessed and vulnerable, or they may re-establish themselves elsewhere with great success. We concluded, in this book, that resolution for an internally displaced person is more a question of resolving the special concerns that arise from displacement: re-establishing livelihood, living in safety, access to education and health care, restoration of or compensation for lost property. It is critically important that displaced people are incorporated into development planning, nationally, regionally, and internationally, and in deciding the political futures of their countries.
No Refuge concludes that great progress has been made in putting internal displacement on the international agenda – but that the needs on a practical level have hardly diminished at all. What makes more difference for the displaced than any level of international assistance is the restoration of peace and security and progress toward reconstruction. The United Nations is of course deeply engaged in these processes – although responsibility for the specific problems of IDPs remains fragmented and dependent on voluntary collaboration among different agencies, each of which has its own mandate and priorities. Where responsibility is dispersed, problems of accountability are almost inevitable. UN structures for IDPs are small, understaffed, under-funded and often lack political support. While it is amazing what has been accomplished under such constraints, it is very much a glass that is at least half-empty, and maybe more.
The idea for the book came with the very creation of the Internal Displacement Unit in January 2002, given its mandate to “support advocacy” of the issue of internal displacement. The goal of the book was to encapsulate the main challenges and constraints in dealing with the issue.
Also within the Unit’s purview is to improve collaborative among UN agencies, especially in terms of predictability and accountability. Too often, significant bureaucratic struggles occur with each new IDP crisis before an interagency response can even be fashioned. It is therefore a challenge to ensure that all actors begin and continue working within the framework that was agreed upon. The Unit has two projects underway, each aimed and improving predictability and accountability. The first is a protection survey, which, in cooperation with the Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement, is assessing how protection is actually delivered on the ground. The second is known as the matrix, which is a mapping exercise aimed a determining which organizations are doing what in terms of internal displacement. Both projects aim to provide field support and recommendations on how to improve systemic response.
The Unit’s work also includes systematic training and capacity-building. It is important that the Unit has been able to link training to access – in other words, to gain access to countries or regions that were otherwise “off limits” through the provision of capacity-building. This approach has proven successful in Indonesia, Sudan, and several other countries.
The ICRC has a different approach to dealing with internal displacement than that of the Internal Displacement Unit or the UN in general. Internal displacement is a very large problem; too often the international community deals only with the consequences and not the root problems that cause displacement.
The ICRC’s mandate dictates that the organization must always take international humanitarian law into account when undertaking its activities. Rather than focus on IDPs as a separate group, the ICRC seeks to identify the most vulnerable people in a conflict regardless of whether or not they are displaced – a tactic the ICRC calls the “all victims” approach. IDPs are part of this broader category, as is a resident population of an area receiving IDPs.
There is a diversity of conditions in which IDPs live depending on such factors as the phase of displacement and their proximity to the field of conflict. ICRC therefore takes a “global view” of their needs and the responses to those needs, rather than favoring a specific group regardless of relative need.
One often hears that IDPs have no legal framework or guardian. It is true that no organization similar to UNHCR exists for IDPs – nor could it – but ICRC objects to the claim that there is a complete lack of legal framework providing protection to IDPs or aimed at prevention of displacement. International humanitarian law (IHL) addresses the major issues both before and during displacement and is further buttressed by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and by international refugee law. The focus of IHL is protection of the civilian population, of which IDPs are part, from the effects of armed conflict. It goes beyond protection to include prevention and is binding on both state and non-state actors. There are three basic principles:
· A distinction must be made between military and civilians as
well as between military and civilian objects, property, etc.
ICRC has a twofold mandate: 1). the provision of protection and assistance; and 2). monitoring the respect of IHL by all parties to a conflict. ICRC establishes dialogue with the parties with the aim of changing behavior. When parties to a conflict are unable or unwilling to do so themselves, ICRC (and others) will substitute with traditional tasks such as providing health care, water/sanitation, family reunion and prison visits. ICRC will also pressure authorities to avoid or at a minimum diminish displacement. In situations where displacement is unavoidable, priority must be given to creating demilitarized camps far from the field of conflict.
One of ICRC’s major challenges is access, both in terms of geography and administrative or political constraints. Contact with all parties to a conflict is often difficult, and the safety of humanitarian workers must be ensured. Coordination among different humanitarian agencies is also a challenge for the ICRC.
The book is a timely, substantive and valuable contribution to the field of internal displacement. It is surprising that the UN had not published a book on the subject of internal displacement earlier.
IDPs have been around forever, as has the debate about what to do about them – the UN itself has a “checkered past” in terms of its involvement with IDPs, either enthusiastically looking for a home agency or enthusiastically not looking for a home agency. Historically, institutional responsibility for IDPs has been a gray zone, save for a small increase in attention with the creation of OCHA.
As Emergency Relief Coordinator, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello gave first priority to IDPs, noting that, as it stood, independently mandated and independently funded agencies were extremely hard to coordinate around the issue of internal displacement. The gap was primarily on the operational side; the work of the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Francis Deng, was extremely helpful from a normative perspective but did not address operational issues in as much detail. De Mello’s work greatly influenced the Secretary-General and led first to the appointment of a UN Special Coordinator on Internal Displacement and eventually to the creation of the Internal Displacement Unit within OCHA. The then-US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke’s trip to Southern Africa in 1999 also served to draw attention to the particular concerns of IDPs, and the Secretary-General soon tasked the Special Coordinator with reviewing and making recommendations on how the UN could address the IDP issue more effectively. The Special Coordinator, along with interagency and NGO/ICRC teams, visited several countries with IDP situations in the field. The March 2001 report that followed from these visits recommended that the Secretary-General establish an Internal Displacement Unit within OCHA.
The report recognized that internal displacement needed to be addressed more systematically and that there needed to be a structure within which to do so. It noted several problems in the institutional response to IDPs: visible gaps remained in assistance and protection despite the Guiding Principles; there was no chance that a new agency could be established nor that an existing agency would be designated as the lead agency for IDPs. By definition IDP needs are multidimensional and a more operational mechanism was needed within the IASC. All of these observations pointed to the logic of the creation of the Internal Displacement Unit.
Where do we go from here?
Currently, IDPs are high on the humanitarian agenda but less important on the UN-New York agenda, though this may change with the appointment of the new ERC Jan Egeland. It would be useful to have a “new look” at institutional response to IDPs or even just more clarity of responsibility; a framework for understanding responsibilities. The ERC can push for strengthened support for the interagency setup, but there must be SG backing for it to be successful. The UN must also be sure to liaise with the ICRC and NGOs.
It is important to maintain advocacy – not just through Dr. Deng’s office but with donors and “host” governments, as they are ultimately the only bodies able to prevent displacement and provide the ultimate solution – peace.
The Unit has outlined three main questions through its work:
· Where is the leadership? The Humanitarian Coordinators and Resident
Coordinators (HC/RCs) are supposed to be the first line of response in
an unfolding IDP situation. The Unit’s protection survey, however,
shows that this is not always the case. HC/RCs are often timid vis à
vis governments, leading to an important gap in response.
At this most recent UNHCR ExCom (October 2003), NGOs stated that the collaborative approach is “more whimsical that predictable.” Too often the HC/RC is a UNDP staff member with close relations to the government. When that same government is responsible for displacement this is a strong conflict of interest. The collaborative approach leaves gaps: NGOs would like to see more accountability for the HC/RCs in ensuring effective coordination.
For their part, NGOs must point out situations where IDPs are falling through the cracks. and/or where the HC/RC can do better. NGOs themselves must also do better, especially in terms of accountability.
Chargé d’affaires Dušanka Divjak-Tomic of Serbia and Montenegro and Ambassador Clemencia Forero of Colombia each discussed the real problems faced by governments and IDPs themselves, particularly in finding solutions to the problem.
Internal displacement is a very complex and long-running problem in Serbia. Serbia suffers from most of the problems addressed in the book, including and especially problems with resolution and durable solutions. We congratulate the UN for publishing this book and, in doing so, increasing international awareness of the complexity of the problem.
There are currently approximately 234,000 IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro – 205,000 in Serbia and the rest in Montenegro (the country still hosts nearly 350,000 refugees as well, from the Balkan wars of the early 1990s). Internally displaced people in Serbia and Montenegro have the right to food, health care, education and the right to live in collective shelters. The country receives significant help in dealing with its internally displaced population from the international community, particularly the ICRC.
Serbia and Montenegro supports the UNHCR approach to dealing with internal displacement (the three durable solutions of voluntary return, third-country resettlement and local integration), including incorporating it into the government’s strategy for managing and resolving the problem. There are many obstacles to this work, however. Return has been very slow: despite the international presence in Kosovo, the security situation there remains bad. There are only a small number of states willing to accept resettlement of Serbia’s displaced. And lastly, it is impossible to realize local integration without substantial international financial assistance. In theory, the majority of IDPs have opted to return, though less than 2000 actually have, mostly due to security and economic concerns.
The government adopted a strategy for the resolution of internal displacement, fully in line with UNHCR’s approach, in June 2002. Many challenges remain in implementation, however, including how to fill in the gaps of the strategy and how to ensure that both protection and assistance are delivered in the meantime.
Most of the government’s focus is still on the refugee population, except in terms of issues associated with poverty, in which case significant attention is given to IDPs. Most of the IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro fall below the poverty line, which increases the responsibility of the government to find solutions.
The government’s main goals for resolution are assistance and “concrete solutions,” as well as creating a strategy for the reduction of poverty, which includes regulating the legal status of IDPs since legal status is the basis for many other rights such as settlement, health care, education and others. Further, there must be a mechanism for monitoring the implementation of these measures.
Many concerns and challenges remain, however. The environment is not safe for return. The lack of financial means has meant a slow reconstruction of infrastructure and poor economic conditions with high unemployment and other problems. There must also be more dialogue between the national and local governments, a process which is set to start formally in mid-October 2003. The hope is that the dialogue will hasten the process of solving the “everyday life problems” of IDPs. The international community will both take part in and monitor the dialogue process. The Serbian government will also encourage the international community to continue to provide the necessary “interactive” support and financial assistance.
The Ambassador’s experience with internal displacement dates back to her time as Colombia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. No Refuge, the UN’s first book on internal displacement, will be a useful tool for analysis of the problems in Colombia as elsewhere.
Colombia has been able to carry out discussions with neighboring countries to create agreements on displacement, allow for information-sharing, and to create an early warning system. These dialogues and information-sharing help to maintain family unity and allow pre-positioning of relief assistance and faster return.
Colombia has traditionally had high “internal migration,” due to the large differences in development of various areas of the country. Internal migration for political reasons, however, began around the 1950s and has become a strategy for gaining military and economic control over certain sectors, most often rural areas.
There have been many government initiatives for dealing with the problem of internal displacement, including the Red de Solidaridad Social (Social Solidarity Network) for facilitating participation of IDPs in government planning, for humanitarian assistance and for the strengthening of social fabric and infrastructure, etc.. The Red has recently completed the largest registration of IDPs since 2000. Fifty percent of Colombia’s IDPs are women and 42 percent are minors.
Some 123 – 92 percent – of Colombia’s municipalities are affected by internal displacement. Most these municipalities are also receivers of IDPs. Roughly half of Colombia’s estimated two million IDPs flee from rural areas to cities, bringing even more misery to the already poor cities.
It is often difficult for families to return to their homes of origin. In these cases, the government provides subsidies and other assistance to help those who cannot or do not wish to return to their homes of origin. So far, 9,000 families have benefited from this assistance.
There is political willingness on the part of the Colombian state to put an end to internal displacement; a fact noted by the Colombian President during his recent address to the UN General Assembly. This calls for both increased help to victims of internal displacement as well as efforts at prevention. More international help is needed for, among other things, training local governments and providing development assistance.
The main challenges that remain are better prevention, including strengthening the early warning system; better inter-agency cooperation within the government; strengthening the policies of “democratic security;” and increasing the presence of government agencies throughout the country, especially in regions such as border areas that have traditionally been neglected by the national government. Colombia continues to need help from the international community, particularly for prevention, voluntary return, and capacity-building.
As the book notes, peace is the most enduring solution to displacement. The Colombian government has announced its intention to enter into “serious dialogue” with some of the irregular groups active in the country. These dialogues will have some preconditions, including and end to hostilities, liberation of abductees, and an end to terrorist acts.
No Refuge provides an honest appraisal of the many challenges associated with internal displacement, discusses the causes of displacement and raises good questions. One of the chapter subheads is “Reality Check,” a particularly apt phrase for looking at the emergence and the current state of the many issues associated with internal displacement.
What is the reality that we’re checking? It is true that internal displacement is now more visible than in even the recent past – this book would not have been written 20 years ago. But has this increased recognition really made a difference? It is sometimes self-serving for states to draw attention to internal displacement, particularly in terms of containment of refugee flows. Why has there been such an increase in the numbers of internally displaced in recent years? In some cases it is due to the policies of many would-be host states’ to prevent refugee flows; to keep the chaos at bay. These policies too often mean the IDP issue remains invisible. As the book notes, the historical turning point of international attention to internal displacement was Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq in 1991. What then happened during the course of the 1990s? What were the motivations to shift the focus to countries of origin?
During this period the international community was not addressing root causes, but rather was preventing refugee flows themselves, through such policies as “preventive protection,” the so-called “right to stay,” etc. Luckily these terms are no longer part of the UNHCR lexicon. An example of this phenomenon – Afghanistan – is discussed in the book: millions of refugees fled during the 1980s, yet international support of Pakistan and Iran’s closing of borders during the 2001 military campaign led to few refugees and a large increase in the number of IDPs.
An issue which is not given as much attention in the book is the use of the so-called “internal flight alternative” (IFA). IFA allows receiving countries to acknowledge that the individual is a refugee and has a well-founded fear of persecution, but then faults that individual for failing to find protection in his or her own state. That is then used as a basis for returning the person to the country – but not the home or even necessarily the region – from which he or she fled, a practice which in fact creates internal displacement as a matter of both law and practice. This is particularly true today in Bosnia.
Other main challenges raised by the book include the issue of legal definition, problems of coordination, including both UN and inter-agency coordination, and the international community’s response.
In terms of definition, then US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke threw down the gauntlet in 1999, saying that there should be no distinction between refugees and IDPs. The fascinating part of Holbrooke’s challenge, however, is that it is a paradox: there is a distinction. Refugees have the 1951 Convention, a precise definition and place in international law and an organization mandated to protect and assist them and to maintain the Convention. IDPs have a framework in the Guiding Principles, but these are not legally binding. The term “internally displaced person” is in itself problematic as there is no generally accepted agreement on its limits.
The lack of a legal definition of an internally displaced person makes it difficult to build institutions mandated to protect and assist IDPs, thereby ensuring an ad hoc approach to their care. The fact that the Internal Displacement Unit is non-operational is also problematic, not allowing it to pull enough weight within the UN system. The collaborative approach may be, as the book notes, the “only realistic option,” but it is imperfect. It is a significant problem that a large amount of responsibility within this approach rests with the Humanitarian and/or Resident Coordinators (HC/RCs). The HC/RC system may be useful in post-conflict situations, but is inadequate for working in the midst of conflict. HC/RCs are almost always from UNDP, an organization that was created to have good relations with government. It is therefore the least likely of all UN organizations to raise real questions with governments, a fact that is especially problematic in conflict situations when there may be a real need to challenge sovereignty.
Sovereignty, security and funding are three critical issues highlighted by the book. These issues are constantly being played out on the ground. What is one to do, for example, when a major party to a conflict is also a permanent member of the Security Council, as is the case with Chechnya? We are now seeing a similar problem playing itself out in Iraq, especially in terms of secondary migration of returning Kurds, etc.
A question often asked vis à vis IDPs is “is the distinction between IDPs and refugees becoming less important?” My response would be no. There are still major differences between the two in terms of vulnerability, ease of access, ability to provide and receive protection, and relations with the UN system.
NGOs are often the first organizations to get information about and work with IDPs, and are often allowed better access than government or UN organizations. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in particular is known for its IDP program. It is somewhat unique in listing IDPs as a target group; many other organizations work with IDPs but may not list them as a distinct target group.
Vulnerability is the key factor in determining IDPs as a group in need of protection. They may be similar to the local population in some situations but often displacement makes them more vulnerable. Their ethnic origin, political or religious affiliation, etc., may also make them more vulnerable, as can a lack of international attention.
Lack of access to internally displaced persons is a significant problem, as we are currently seeing with regard to Aceh, Burma, Turkey, and many other situations of internal displacement. One of the chapter subheads of the book is “Sovereignty as a Barrier to Access,” something that is often very true. NGOs have noticed that UN agencies devote much more concern to IDP populations that are easy to access, which leaves NGOs to bear the brunt of gaining access to the more difficult situations.
IDP protection is essentially about using the instruments and machinery of human rights and international humanitarian law to hold actors responsible for their conduct towards IDPs. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are an important monitoring mechanism, though holding government authorities responsible is often a difficult task because the UN or other international actors are often reluctant to do so. NGOs have been making progress in defining their protection responsibilities but this is still an imperfect area.
Representative of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid:
Also, in terms of protection it is important that humanitarian agencies are careful not to “pretend too much” when it comes to protection. The margins for effective protection are often very small. The humanitarian community must not give other actors an excuse not to get engaged, politically or otherwise.
There is room for more actors, including NGOs, to become more active in protection. At the same time, however, expertise in protection matters is quite specific – there are often difficult, delicate issues involved. Protection cannot be done by committee – too many meetings can undermine what we are trying to achieve.
We also agree that protection cannot be done by committee, but it can be done by working group. In these arrangements, each agency can play to its strengths (advocacy, legal protection, physical/material protection, etc.). Maybe it would be more accurate to call it protection by “community.”
Also important is political leadership. The ERC of course has a critical role to play, but can other existing tools be better used, for example for contingency planning?
In terms of “protection by committee:” clearly protection can be coordinated. Much time is spent helping NGOs to understand their role in protection. We can and should talk about who is doing what and what gaps remain, etc.. This would go a long way towards ensuring coordinated approaches of organizations to governments. If many people are saying many different things, what are governments supposed to do?
Relationships within the humanitarian community are also important. All
agencies struggle with witnessing and monitoring activities. Clearly we
must relate to and work with the human rights community – there
must be a clear link with OHCHR.
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