Internal Displacement: a Global Humanitarian Crisis

UN Photo/Sophia Paris

Disaster hits, like the earthquakes in Haiti or Chile, and people are suddenly forced to flee their homes in order to be safe and secure.
Armed conflict rages through a country and entire communities find themselves on the move to escape the violence.

These are but two classic examples of what causes people to become forcibly uprooted, cut off from their livelihoods and communities, making them utterly vulnerable without access to the most basic necessities of life such as food, water, shelter, education, etc.

If those running for their lives remain in their own country and do not cross an international frontier they are called IDPs, internally displaced persons. Hence, most Haitians and Chileans who fled their homes following the earthquakes are victims of internal displacement. They do not become refugees, unless they flee to another country.

It is estimated that there are currently more than 27 million IDPs in the world, with the largest numbers in Sudan, Colombia, Iraq, DRC, Somalia and Pakistan. Considered one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our times, internal displacement is not a new phenomenon; in fact, the number of IDPs tends to increase as more and more armed conflicts are fought within countries.

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement is a legal document that was written to safeguard the protection of IDPs worldwide. The Guiding Principles have been translated in more than 40 languages, so they can be more easily used in different contexts. In 2009, the African Union adopted the first legally binding treaty on internal displacement, the so called Kampala Convention.

Following are several suggestions of where to go to learn more about internal displacement:

  1. the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has an elaborate website on internal displacement which includes a compelling photo gallery and two informative videos (about displacement in the DRC and the Philippines) called Forced to Flee.
  2. the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has a very comprehensive website on IDPs, with links to country specific situations and an interactive IDP world map.
  3. reports of country-specific visits by the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Mr. Walter Kälin.


Cecile Meijer, rscj
June 2010