The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today appealed for greater global support to assist the almost 30 million people around the world who are forcibly displaced in their own countries.
Opening an annual discussion on protection challenges, António Guterres warned that internal displacement was on the rise, with a 50 per cent increase in numbers over the past 15 years and amid indications that 2013 could break new records with millions more people having becoming internally displaced in Syria and elsewhere.
“I am concerned that the magnitude and the complexity of internal displacement have not galvanized the international attention the issue deserves,” he told the gathering in Geneva.
Mr. Guterres noted that at the beginning of 2013, there were nearly 29 million people displaced internally as a result of conflict and violence, and that figure has risen further in 2013 – most notably in Syria, the Central African Republic, and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
This also mirrors a sharp increase in refugee outflows, with some 2 million new refugees fleeing across the world in 2013, the highest number of new arrivals in nearly 20 years, he added.
“Like refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) often find refuge in the poorest and most marginalized regions of the country, which frequently lack proper infrastructure to deal with the population influx. But they are often even harder to reach, as many remain in conflict areas.”
He also noted that, in part owing to the nature of internal displacement, the international legal framework to protect them is far less developed than is the case with refugees.
“We are often asked what protection means for internally displaced persons, who are, after all, citizens in their country with the same rights as other nationals,” said Mr. Guterres. “Forced to flee their homes, many are without documentation, have no access to basic services and are at increased risk of discrimination, exploitation and sexual and gender-based violence.”
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in December 1950, originally to help the millions of people displaced by the Second World War. In addition to assisting refugees and asylum-seekers – people who have fled across an international border – the agency also works to protect internally displaced people – an involvement that typically happens in situations where a State lacks capacity to assist its own displaced nationals.
As of the end of 2012, some 17.7 million IDPs were under the agency’s care. UNHCR, often working with national authorities, assists with registration and profiling, community advocacy, peaceful coexistence projects, preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, strengthening child protection, and ensuring quality and inclusive education.
The High Commissioner urged those attending the discussion – among them representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), observers, academics, and inter-governmental organizations – to help elevate the plight of the internally displaced on the international agenda.
“Finding solutions for them [IDPs] requires political will to address the root causes. Stronger advocacy is therefore needed from the international community to ensure that peace processes take account of the concerns and needs of the internally displaced as well as their host communities,” he said.
“Resolving displacement also requires humanitarian agencies to incorporate a solutions orientation into their programmes from the very onset of the emergency,” he added.