Internally displaced people must not be left behind

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by Stephen O'Brien | | United Nations

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

More than 40 out of the 65 million people forced to flee their homes because of violence and conflict are internally displaced

The world is at a critical juncture. A staggering 65 million people, more than the population of the United Kingdom, have been forced to flee their homes due to conflicts and a continued lack of respect for international humanitarian law.

This is the highest number since the Second World War. These people all face impossible choices and unimaginable hardship in search of security and a better life. We witness their perilous and often tragic journeys through news and social media. With people on the move, crises far away hit closer to home. Confronting this human suffering rightfully demands our attention and action.

People on the move were at the centre of attention this week during the United Nations General Assembly. There is a real impetus to alleviate their suffering, bring tangible improvements to their lives and offer them the prospect of hope. To that end, world leaders adopted the landmark New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, which points the way towards saving lives and protecting the rights of millions of refugees and migrants.

But the journey of every asylum seeker and refugee starts at home. Before crossing an international border, many are displaced within their country and are known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). More than 40 out of the 65 million people forced to flee their homes because of violence and conflict are internally displaced. Families displaced inside their own country flee the same conflicts, violence and disasters. But most of them will never cross international borders, meaning they are not entitled to the same type of international protection as refugees.

Instead, IDPs rely on their national Government to protect them. The same Governments that in many cases are the very reason people flee. In other instances, Governments lack the capacity or will to protect their own citizens. The humanitarian community continues to support States and help IDPs and the communities that host them by providing education, health care, food, water, shelter and protection.

However, humanitarian aid alone will not be enough to fulfil a pledge by world leaders: to halve the number of IDPs and prevent new displacements by 2030 through safe, voluntary, dignified and durable support for all IDPs. The international community must ensure a comprehensive response to the needs of people displaced within their own country. We must act on our determination to combine short-term, life-saving aid and longer-term development solutions that reduce vulnerability and improve the self-reliance and resilience of IDPs and their host communities. Ultimately, our goal is to help IDPs rebuild their lives, whether they return home, integrate in local communities or relocate elsewhere.

We cannot become complacent to the plight of women, men, girls and boys forced to flee their home within their own country just because they are the invisible majority of people on the move. They must not be left behind. We all must do our part to deliver for those who need us most. Investing in IDPs will ensure greater stability and allow them to strive and become a positive force in their country. This is in the interest of all of us. Let’s demand access to meet the needs of IDPs. Let’s raise the investment. Both of these together will help us save, support and protect IDPs, some of the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens. We can do something to help.

Stephen O'Brien is under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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