20th Anniversary

2018: Time to reframe policy and practice on internal displacement

IDMC Director, Alexandra Bilak

On 4 April, the United Nations declared the end of the level-three emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The decision to downgrade the crisis from the highest state of humanitarian alert was made amid tense political positioning ahead of presidential elections due at the end of the year, ongoing conflict and violence, spiralling humanitarian needs and one of the world’s most acute internal displacement situations.

Beyond the immediate political questions that it raised, this move highlights a more persistent structural issue – our collective short-term approach to crises. Recently published figures show that humanitarian assistance is at an all-time high, partly to the detriment of long-term development investments. This has implications for the ability of governments and the humanitarian and development sectors to address barriers to stability, security and economic growth.

Internal displacement is one such barrier, but despite the ever-growing number of people affected worldwide, the phenomenon has been neglected. The collective political will required at the national, regional and global level to resolve displacement and reduce the risk of it occurring in the future has been notable by its absence.

On May 16, we will publish our annual flagship report, the Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID). Our data shows that internal displacement associated with conflict rose sharply in 2017. The persistently high number of internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide tells us that the provision of humanitarian assistance and protection is not, and never will be, enough to significantly reduce the phenomenon in the long-term.

This year’s GRID takes stock of efforts to do so in the 20 years since the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were adopted, and concludes that they have been only partially successful for three main reasons.

First, the adoption of laws and policies has not always led to successful implementation, much less positive outcomes for IDPs on the ground.

Second, the pace of implementation has in many cases been outstripped by the rate at which displacement occurs, particularly in areas with high disaster displacement risk or protracted conflicts.

Third, and arguably most importantly, policy frameworks and negotiations have been developed without sufficient buy-in from the countries most affected by internal displacement. Just a handful of countries, UN agencies and NGOs have engaged in sustained dialogue on the issue over the past two decades, often treating the perspectives of countries with large numbers of IDPs – and of displaced people themselves – as an afterthought.

This is an omission which must be addressed. To truly address internal displacement, the countries most affected must be in the driving seat. The rhetoric on displacement has to shift to acknowledge the full spectrum of issues it creates for individuals and for states. IDPs’ rights must continue to be at the centre of our thinking, but we should also recognise that displacement is more than a humanitarian issue, and that incorporating it into national budget, poverty reduction and disaster risk planning has significant benefits.

The stronger evidence base on the long-term impacts of internal displacement that I called for in my first letter of 2018 will be vital in explaining the incentives to reduce the phenomenon. This will require research to assess its true burden to local and national economies, the circumstances in which it leads to cross-border flight and the ways in which it plays into states’ security and political dynamics. Doing so will make the trade-offs inherent in the setting of national priorities and development and humanitarian budgeting clearer.

Demonstrating this will require better cooperation between organisations such IDMC and UN agencies that monitor and analyse data on the one hand, and governments that collect and provide information on displacement in their countries on the other.

Making a stronger case for the long-term benefits of reducing displacement and better data, however, will only go so far. We must also use the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles to reaffirm the central role of states with internal displacement issues in leading discussions and negotiations on reducing it.

While the two global compacts on migration and refugees are being finalised, we must keep internal displacement high on the international agenda, recognising its position at the heart of the displacement continuum. We also need to ask what steps states and the international community can take in 2018 and beyond to achieve concrete, measurable outcomes in reducing internal displacement and future risk. This could include establishing new forums, beyond formal negotiations where positions tend to be fixed, for states and other stakeholders to share their lessons learned and generate new ideas for “breaking the impasse”.

This anniversary presents us with a unique opportunity to reflect on what has and has not worked in the past, and what we – states, international organisations, civil society, the private sector and academia – can do together to improve on these outcomes in the future.

IDMC and Unite Ideas team up to launch a digital arts challenge to illustrate internal displacement

Today the UN innovation platform, Unite Ideas, is launching a new challenge for IDMC.

The challenge is to develop a form of digital art to illustrate/depict the phenomenon of internal displacement – to mark the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement & IDMC. Those taking the challenge could take one of two tracks. Either illustrating the nature of internal displacement and the challenges facing IDPs, or the second track would be to illustrate the processes we use to capture the information.

Appropriate digital art could be;

• an online experience
• an animation
• a digital story telling platform
• A virtual or augmented reality project

Full details of the challenge can be found on the Unite Ideas homepage - https://ideas.unite.un.org

Short listed solutions will be recognized at IDMC events in May 2018 and the leading solution will be recognized during the Science Technology & Innovation Forum for the SDGs at the United Nations, New York, USA, June 5-6.

The winning solution will be invited to undertake a paid one month residency with IDMC – the prize will be 5,000 CHF for the residency plus flights.

See more details about the features and characteristics of the required platform at the project repository:


Letter from the IDMC director Alexandra Bilak

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and of IDMC itself. At IDMC we start the new year with renewed energy and determination. We commit to elevating the issue of internal displacement within the debates on displacement and migration that have dominated the post-2015 global policy agenda and that have, to date, excluded the tens of millions of people who live in displacement within the borders of their own countries and receive little political attention or support.

Dear partners, colleagues and friends,

I would like to wish you all a very happy New Year 2018, and much personal and professional success, happiness and good health.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and of IDMC itself. Twenty years ago, states committed to preventing armed conflict, violence, disasters and human rights violations from displacing people inside their own country, and to providing protection and assistance to them when they did. Since then, internal displacement has been recognised as an issue of global concern, and the plight, needs and vulnerabilities of internally displaced people (IDPs) have been systematically documented and reported on.

In 2017, the world experienced some of the highest rates of violence and internal displacement. These were driven by political instability, complex humanitarian emergencies, failed peace agreements, unsustainable refugee returns, urban warfare dynamics, extreme weather and disasters. Well over one million people were displaced across the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the year, fleeing armed attacks and seeking shelter wherever they could, often with no assistance. Armed violence continued to force unacceptably large numbers of people to flee across the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yemen’s catastrophic humanitarian situation left the country’s two million IDPs with no access to basic services, severely malnourished and at high risk of famine. The world’s attention was also drawn in 2017 to the Caribbean and South Asia, where violent storms, floods and hurricanes swept across entire communities and left critical infrastructure destroyed and millions of people homeless.

These human tragedies give us few reasons to celebrate.

Nevertheless, at IDMC we start the new year with renewed energy and determination. We commit to elevating the issue of internal displacement within the debates on displacement and migration that have dominated the post-2015 global policy agenda and that have, to date, excluded the tens of millions of people who live in displacement within the borders of their own countries and receive little political attention or support. We argue that the exclusion of internal displacement from these conversations will come at great cost to future peace, development and security, and that it is time to refocus the world’s attention to the most vulnerable and neglected.

If 2018 is to be the year in which we see real change for IDPs, we need to think and talk about internal displacement differently. We must consider it a human rights issue, but also focus on the critical and often neglected political and development dimensions of the phenomenon. Ignoring its longer-term causes and its future impact on individuals, communities and national economies will lead to short-sighted policies and slow progress towards the achievement of national and global development goals. Beyond a moral or legal obligation, it is in the interest of national governments to invest more in preventing and finding lasting solutions to displacement.

Monitoring internal displacement in the future will need to be about more than just numbers. Building on the research we have done in the past, we will have to systematically assess which investments truly address the drivers of displacement, what can be done to mitigate its impacts and how to solve practical problems faced by the displaced and by local and national authorities. For this, solid research into the political, social, economic and environmental dimensions of displacement, and a good understanding of how these factors inter-connect and determine different levels of vulnerability, will be needed. This research will have to be comparative across contexts, draw from lessons about what works and what does not, and showcase effective and innovative solutions.

For this research to be translated into effective policy, we will need to actively involve governments and local actors from countries affected by internal displacement. Sustainable solutions to displacement need to be inclusive, locally driven, anchored in countries’ realities, and owned by governments. We will need to work hand-in-hand with these governments to ensure internal displacement becomes an integral part of their planning, and that collective outcomes are achieved by multiple stakeholders reaching across different political and institutional mandates, timeframes and budgets.

IDMC commits to working towards all these objectives in the coming years. We will prioritise building partnerships with governments, NGOs, UN agencies and academic bodies to monitor, analyse and report on internal displacement. We will offer our services and expertise to inform policy-making, and provide thought leadership in framing the issue and creating a global dialogue around it. We will build the case, finally, for mobilising more political will and financial investment, in order to definitively end the displacement of millions worldwide. This will require challenging ourselves, our mandates and our ways of working. This will mean stepping out of our comfort zone, trying out new approaches and daring to embark on a new path altogether.

This process will have to be a multi-stakeholder, multi-year one.

The process starts today.

We invite you, our partners, collaborators and supporters, to join forces with us and push the boundaries of our understanding and commitment. Our calendar of events presents some of our key activities in the coming months, and our website will feature regular updates, analysis and opinion pieces.

We look forward to working with you, and wish you again all the best for 2018.


Alexandra Bilak

Director, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

Alexandra Bilak