In 1998, internal displacement was recognised as one of the world’s greatest tragedies. Today, 20 years later, it still is.
More than 40 million people are displaced by conflict within the borders of their own country. Disaster displaces another 25 million people on average each year. Facing losses, hardship and deprivation, generations of internally displaced persons are often the most neglected in many of the world’s crises. Children make up more than half of these populations.
On 17 April 1998, the Commission for Human Rights took note of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, effectively launching them as the global standard for states and humanitarian actors. Today, on the 20th anniversary, their value is universally recognised. They are widely accepted as the standard for protecting and assisting internally displaced people. Many states have incorporated them into national legislation, they have inspired regional agreements and they are the mainstay for work in this area.
Nonetheless, 20 years on, the number of internally displaced people has nearly doubled, due to new displacements – some of which are ongoing – as well as a lack of solutions for those being left behind in protracted crises and a chronic shortfall of almost 50% of the funding needed to meet basic humanitarian needs. The daily tragedy of internal displacement continues or grows worse for millions.
As the international community embarks on a year of reflection and action to mark the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles, everyone can and must do more. Anyone can be vulnerable to disasters, violence and violations of human rights. More than a humanitarian imperative, it makes good economic sense and is socially advantageous to empower states and populations in their own preparedness, in strengthening their resilience and in helping to resolve internal displacement.
In the spirit of ‘leaving no one behind’ – the principle behind the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 – greater attention must be focused on addressing the root causes of displacement and reducing risk. When displacement is a life-saving necessity, concerted efforts must minimise its impact, address its drivers, create conditions for return in safety and dignity and prevent displacement from happening again.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, helps states and the public prevent and resolve internal displacement. Throughout this year, with partners, we are using the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles as an opportunity to do three vital things: raise awareness of its fundamental importance, call on governments to incorporate the principles into their national legislation, and strengthen partnerships that contribute to effective and accountable programming to meet their needs, empower them and give them a voice.
In 2016, IOM’s operations reached more than 19 million internally displaced persons and provided more than six million host community members with support across 31 countries. This makes IOM one of the largest actors on internal displacement issues globally.
Calling on G7 leaders to support, protect and empower displaced people
As the G7 leaders meet in Charlevoix, I hope they keep the plight of those who need their support around the world, including internally displaced persons, in the forefront of their minds. Although internal displacement by definition takes place within the borders of a country, it is a global issue that affects nearly every country in the world. In 2017 alone, there were 30.6 million new displacements associated with conflict and disasters across 142 countries and territories. Uprooted from their homes, separated from families and unable to meet basic needs, internally displaced people face many challenges. As an organisation working with internally displaced persons, we recognise the centrality of the Guiding Principles [on Internal Displacement] in their protection and assistance and commit to helping states prevent and resolve internal displacement.
I call on the G7 leaders meeting at Charlevoix to ensure that the Guiding Principles are incorporated into their national legislation. I call on them to become global advocates, supporting the protection and empowerment of internally displaced people across the globe.
Throughout 2018 and beyond, I will continue to call on the international community to do more to support and protect internally displaced persons the world over. I hope the world will join me.
Adapted from remarks delivered in Geneva on the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement