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Breaking the Impasse: Reducing Protracted Internal Displacement as a Collective Outcome [EN/RU/UK]

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OpEd by the Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien


The global number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has reached an all-time high, as an increasing number of IDPs remain displaced for years or even decades. In 2014, more than 50 countries were reported to have people living in internal displacement for more than 10 years. As illustrated in the five country case studies informing this report (Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Philippines, Somalia and Ukraine)i , a rapidly resolved internal displacement crisis where IDPs find durable solutions—sustainable return, local integration or relocation—has become a rare exception.

Tens of millions of IDPs are dependent on humanitarian assistance or live far below the poverty line in substandard housing without security of tenure, and with no or only limited access to basic services, education and health care. They face security concerns, discrimination and financial insecurity, and they often struggle to maintain social cohesion among themselves and with host communities. Women, older people and people with disabilities are particularly affected, while young people are left with little chance for a better future. For example, the 1.1 million IDPs in Somalia account for 58 per cent of the total food insecure population, and they are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence, forced evictions and marginalization. In the Philippines, people can be displaced numerous times in a single year to avoid military operations, violence or disasters, destroying their livelihoods and eroding their resilience.

The term “protracted displacement” refers to IDPs who are prevented from taking or are unable to take steps for significant periods of time to progressively reduce their vulnerability, impoverishment and marginalization and find a durable solution. With durable solutions out of reach and facing barriers to leading self-sufficient lives, they are “left behind” despite the promises of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The major causes of protracted internal displacement, while highly contextual, include prolonged conflict; lack of political will and inadequate frameworks at the country level to address such displacement; limited engagement by international actors to move beyond the provision of humanitarian assistance; and lack of dedicated financial resources aimed at addressing protracted displacement or preventing new displacement from becoming protracted. Somalia, where the number of IDPs approaches some 1.5 million people or 9 per cent of the country’s population, causes of protracted displacement include decades of conflict, the weakened role of state and local governments in providing infrastructure and delivering basic services, constant threats of eviction from areas of settlement and insufficient land for permanent relocation.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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