The number of people forcibly displaced by violence, instability and the adverse impact of climate change and natural hazards has surged to levels not seen since World War II. Internal displacement affects over 40 million people today and exceeds the number of refugees. Unlike refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain displaced in their own countries and are not entitled to protection under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. There is likewise no UN agency to deal with, and address forced displacement of IDPs. Although governments bear the primary responsibility for providing refuge and protection to IDPs, they often fail to carry out their obligations owing to armed conflict, instability or for instance weak governance. As witnessed in numerous instances, governments can also be the cause of displacement themselves. The alarming situation of IDPs therefore require renewed attention and rethinking of approaches on how to address the root-causes of internal displacement.
In the aftermath of the Cold War, the protection of human rights evolved to become a moral barometer and a global ideal for many states. However, striking a balance between the protection of human rights and the need to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of concerned states continue to divide governments and decision-makers. In the context of internal displacement, the human rights protection of IDPs remains the internal and domestic matter of sovereign states. The non-binding nature of the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement reflect many of the conflicting matters that must be weighed up against one another such as matters related to sovereignty, domestic jurisdiction and non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states against the protection of human rights and basic fundamental freedoms.
Although it is unlikely that the issue of internal displacement will be depoliticised, efforts to reduce and prevent the root-causes of forcible displacement of IDPs should be given political and institutional priority.
One solution to initiate a long-term process to enhance the protection of IDPs is for decision-makers to recognize the long-term adverse impact of internal displacement. The majority of displaced people in the world are IDPs and many of them do not have the option to cross an international border. The inability to address the adverse impact of the socio-economic situation of IDPs in the country have left the social fabric and economic pillars of the country in ruins. The imposition of sanctions has exacerbated the socio-economic situation of the countries concerned and have adversely affected IDPs in particular. Therefore, there must be stronger political mobilization and more substantial investment, from a financial, development and peace-building perspective to address the long-term needs of IDPs in protracted conflict-situations.
Although internal displacement remains a domestic issue per se, it must become embedded as an integral part of development, disaster, climate change and poverty reduction strategies as stipulated in the 31 October 2017 General Assembly resolution on IDPs. It must likewise be treated as an economic, developmental and economic issue with broad societal repercussions affecting the long-term stability of affected societies. In other words, internal displacement must be recognised as an issue in its own rights.
The question of forceful displacement of IDPs must likewise be given additional political importance in the future. The migrant and refugee crisis has demonstrated that there is a direct linkage between internal displacement and migrant and refugee flows. The discourse regarding the migrant and refugee crisis cannot afford to ignore the human rights situation of IDPs as they can potentially become refugees, migrants or asylum-seekers if internal displacement is unduly prolonged. As experience shows, internal displacement is often the precursor to extensive migratory and refugee flows. Internal displacement should not merely be considered as a political issue. Governments must cooperate with humanitarian actors and other relevant parties with a presence on the ground to ensure they can access those in need at grassroots level and provide the services that are most critical to those affected by conflict and armed violence.
In addition, the successful protection, reintegration and resettlement of IDPs must be revised so as to better adapt to the provisions set forth in the SDGs as well as “to leave no one behind”, as reflected in its motto. A successful return and reintegration strategy of IDPs relies on an ability to enhance livelihood options, implement people-centered development policies as well as to advance transitional justice and to promote peace. These elements must be addressed more concretely so as to guide decision-makers in their endeavours to enhance the relevance of the 1998 Guiding Principles in addressing the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs. No country, whether rich or poor, can claim to remain immune to internal and forced displacement.