Twenty years since the launch of landmark UN principles on internally displaced people, designed to protect those forced from their homes yet remaining in their own country, Christian Aid is calling on governments to take action to ensure their rights are recognised.
This week (11th February) marked two decades since the UN formally agreed how to respond to ‘internally displaced people’. Yet in that time, the number of internally displaced people has nearly doubled, increasing by 10 million in the past four years to over 40 million worldwide. In 2016, this was the equivalent of one person every second. They are the largest group of people forced from home.
This week, the UN member states begin negotiations on two new agreements on refugees and migrants, yet the discussions have side-lined internally displaced people, Christian Aid has warned. Despite outnumbering refugees two to one, they receive far less attention or support.
Tom Viita, Christian Aid’s Political Advisor, said: “People are being forced from their homes on a scale greater than we’ve ever seen before, and the public and politicians are rightly concerned – but the true picture remains largely hidden. The vast majority of people uprooted from their homes and communities have not crossed international borders. They too have fled conflict, violence or disasters, but because they’ve sought refuge within their own countries, their stories have not been told.
“In 20 years since the UN created its landmark agreement on people forced from home, the number of internally displaced people has nearly doubled. A 20th anniversary should be a time to celebrate achievements, but today we are issuing a warning: progress has stalled, forced displacement is growing, and the international community cannot afford to ignore this any longer.
“The UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were one of the great success stories in human rights, recognising that the Refugee Convention was not enough to deal with the reality of people uprooted from home. States and UN agencies were meant to put these Principles into practice so that all displaced people had their rights and dignity respected. Yet political interest has waned, just as the problem has worsened. Instead governments have increasingly tried to return refugees to dangerous and war-torn countries, where they often add to the number of people internally displaced.
“As the UN starts negotiating two new Compacts on refugees and migrants, this anniversary must be a moment for states and UN agencies to commit to do better. To sign these compacts by the end of the year, and not have made any progress on internally displaced people – the largest group of displaced people in the world – would be a failure of huge proportions.”
Christian Aid has pointed to the conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, northeast Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo as the main drivers of internal displacement in the past year.
Mr Viita added: “Although the media and politicians pay great attention to the refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria to neighbouring countries and Europe, 6 million Syrians are trapped inside the borders, fleeing from one location to another as the frontlines shift. They are among the most vulnerable people in the world yet their stories are rarely heard.”
Christian Aid is working with local partner organisations on the ground to support internally displaced communities, in locations including northern Nigeria, where up to 1.7 million people have fled their homes as a result of conflict and violence. Essential humanitarian aid is being delivered to those who need it most, including food, clean water and sanitation facilities.