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Internally displaced persons (IDPs)
Basic rights for the most vulnerable

In recent years, the number of IDPs increased significantly, reaching an estimated total of more than 26 million worldwide in 2011. JRS works with IDPs in Southern Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Chad, Central African Republic, Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste, providing education, psychosocial support, peace building, pastoral accompaniment, training in modern agricultural techniques, and mediation in land disputes and other areas of conflict.

Through its presence in IDP camps, JRS aims to guarantee access to food, shelter, medical aid and education, with special attention paid to the basic needs of the most vulnerable. We also train community leaders to advocate for IDP needs in order to ensure their safety in places of return.

Internationally, JRS advocates have been active in promoting a more vigorous global response to emergencies that result in internal displacement, through monitoring the 'cluster approach' to assistance for IDPs, and by supporting UNHCR engagement in this crucial area.

  • In practice
  • JRS position
In practice – JRS responses

JRS Zimbabwe focuses on keeping internally displaced children in school by offering assistance with the costs and supplies associated with education, such as uniforms and books. A 13-year-old beneficiary, Peter Sibekwazi (pseudonym), says: "Without you I would have dropped out of school."

In North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), JRS is present in IDP settlements, accompanying and providing services to the most vulnerable. Through adult literacy and non-formal education programmes, we aim to develop the skills, such as tailoring and basket-making, of the most marginalised people. JRS also provides education support to local schools near the camps.

Based on direct testimonies, JRS USA published a document that raised the profile of the needs of Colombian IDPs, illustrating the need for placing more emphasis on humanitarian funding in Colombia and taking money out of the military budget support.

As a result of coalition advocacy in which JRS USA engaged, the US decreased the amount of funding it gave to the Colombian military by nearly 30%, increasing the funding to humanitarian efforts by 25 percent.
JRS Working Paper on Internally Displaced Persons

In the last 10 years, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide has increased significantly and now stands at approximately 27 million, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). The IDMC Global Statistics shows that 44% of those who are internally displaced – about 12 million – are spread across more than 20 African countries. Furthermore, approximately 75% of all IDPs are women and children.Countries with high IDP populations in 2010 include Chad, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Colombia and Pakistan. Although IDPs now outnumber refugees by two to one, their condition receives far less worldwide attention.

Under international law, the primary responsibility for protecting their rights and well-being and providing assistance to the IDPs rests with the state government where the IDPs are located.  Since they have not crossed an internationally recognised border, they are within the jurisdiction of their own countries. In spite of this primary responsibility, many of these governments are unable, or unwilling to carry out their duties in this regard, and the international humanitarian community must work to respond to the needs of internally displaced persons.

IDPs have long been excluded from the system of international legal protection, even though they are often displaced in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, as refugees.  The presumption that a state is capable of protecting all its citizens in all circumstances and the respect for state sovereignty by the international community has resulted in the absence of an internationally legally-binding regime on internal displacement.

Numerous IDPs remain exposed to violence and other human rights infringements during their displacement, without proper assistance from their governments. Often they have limited or no access to essential material assistance. Large numbers of IDPs are caught in desperate situations amidst fighting or in remote and inaccessible areas cut-off from relief or emergency assistance. In protracted displacement situations, many others have been forced to live away from their homes for many years, or even decades, often lacking access to developmental needs such as education, access to property, employment, sustainable livelihoods and hope for their future.

Moreover, the legal framework for assistance to IDPs is less clear than that for refugees, a set of 'guiding principles' versus an international treaty. Again, unlike the situation for refugees, while there is recognition that primary responsibility to provide protection resides with the state, there is no mandated UN agency for IDPs. The implementation of the 'cluster approach' by UN and other agencies is a partial response to this lacuna.

The change required
International law protecting IDPs needs to be strengthened. The African Union Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced person in Africa (Kampala Convention) is a good example for the Global Community. IDPs should enjoy in equal measure, the same rights and freedoms under international and domestic law as do their fellow citizens. They must not be discriminated against or prevented from gaining access to basic human rights and freedoms on the grounds that they are internally displaced.

Notable attention should be given to protect IDPs against murder, genocide, summary or arbitrary executions and forced disappearances. Provisions must be made to meet the needs of members of vulnerable groups as well as protecting them against various forms of exploitation. Access to populations by humanitarian workers must be facilitated.

The involvement of JRS
Bearing in mind the three pillars of the JRS mission, to accompany, to serve and to defend, the implementation of education services, psychosocial support, peace-building, pastoral activities, training in modern agricultural techniques, or mediation to settle land disputes and other conflicts, form part of the JRS interventions with IDPs. This is witnessed specifically in Africa – in South Sudan, Uganda, Eastern RDC, Chad, Central African Republic (CAR) – and Asia, concretely in Timor-Leste. 

The presence of JRS in IDP camps, tries to guarantee the rights, and transform camps as a shelter where people can find accompaniment, service and defence of their human dignity, and essentially point towards personal growth and spiritual health.

Recommendations / talking points
To governments and authorities of the hosting communities
  • Reinforce the principal that national government authorities have a primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to IDPs within their jurisdiction. IDPs have the right to request and to receive protection and humanitarian assistance from their governments. In this regard, they shall not be persecuted or punished for making such a request.
  • Governments have to guarantee IDPs the right to seek safety in another part of the country, the right to leave their country, the right to seek asylum in another country, the right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty or health would be at risk. Governments should establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow IDPs to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country.  They must facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled IDPs, ensuring their full participation in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration.
  • Governments should also embrace multiple approaches at promoting the rights and providing humanitarian assistance for IDPs, help in recovery, rehabilitation and development efforts, as well as peace-building.
  • All authorities shall grant and facilitate the free and safe passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the IDPs. Last but not least, authorities must ensure security in IDP camps, particularly in regard to the prevention of sexual violence. Sufficient food and potable water, basic shelter and housing, essential medical services and sanitation, appropriate clothing, and education that respects their cultural identity and religion, are absolutely vital to preserve the dignity of IDPs.
  • Governments of member states with IDP populations continue to shirk their inter-national obligations to protect their own citizens. JRS calls on them to put in place laws and other normative frameworks that aim to protect IDPs.
To donors and other actors in the area of international peace work
  • Humanitarian assistance to IDPs shall not be diverted, in particular for political or military reasons. Actors in the area of international peace work should collaborate in holding states accountable for protecting and assisting IDPs. They should also improve the Cluster Leadership Approach, which is a joint effort by humanitarian agencies to reach more IDPs in need of assistance and protection in a reliable and timely way; and should work towards strengthening inter-agency coordination when protecting and assisting IDPs. Moreover they should work to strengthen links among the clusters.
We encourage UNHCR to monitor closely the development of, and compliance with, such laws in states.

We also urge UNHCR to continue to develop its mandate relating to IDP issues and to strengthen its expertise and staffing levels at headquarters and at the country level.

In the African context, we encourage Member States to ratify the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa and to develop measures in support of its implementation.

The current Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs has played a crucial role in highlighting IDP issues with countries and with humanitarian agencies in the context of their operational response to IDPs. We encourage the continued close cooperation of UNHCR with the incoming Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs.

With regard to legal instruments, a bigger effort to set up initiatives that states ratify is highly to be recommended.