Internally displaced persons are "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border." (Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Introduction, para. 2)
Components of the IDP definition
The definition provided by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement highlights two elements:
1) The coercive or otherwise involuntary character of movement
The definition mentions some of the most common causes of involuntary movements, such as armed conflict, violence, human rights violations and disasters. These causes have in common that they give no choice to people but to leave their homes and deprive them of the most essential protection mechanisms, such as community networks, access to services, livelihoods. Displacement severely affects the physical, socio-economic and legal safety of people and should be systematically regarded as an indicator of potential vulnerability.
2) The fact that such movement takes place within national borders.
Unlike refugees, who have been deprived of the protection of their state of origin, IDPs remain legally under the protection of national authorities of their country of habitual residence. IDPs should therefore enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement remind national authorities and other relevant actors of their responsibility to ensure that IDPs’ rights are respected and fulfilled, despite the vulnerability generated by their displacement.
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Why are IDPs particularly vulnerable?
Although all persons affected by conflict and/or human rights violations suffer, displacement from one's place of residence may make the internally displaced particularly vulnerable. Following are some of the factors that are likely to increase the need for protection:
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- Internally displaced persons may be in transit from one place to another, may be in hiding, may be forced toward unhealthy or inhospitable environments, or face other circumstances that make them especially vulnerable.
- The social organisation of displaced communities may have been destroyed or damaged by the act of physical displacement; family groups may be separated or disrupted; women may be forced to assume non-traditional roles or face particular vulnerabilities.
- Internally displaced populations, and especially groups like children, the elderly, or pregnant women, may experience profound psychosocial distress related to displacement.
- Removal from sources of income and livelihood may add to physical and psychosocial vulnerability for displaced people.
- Schooling for children and adolescents may be disrupted.
- Internal displacement to areas where local inhabitants are of different groups or inhospitable may increase risk to internally displaced communities; internally displaced persons may face language barriers during displacement.
- The condition of internal displacement may raise the suspicions of or lead to abuse by armed combatants, or other parties to conflict.
- Internally displaced persons may lack identity documents essential to receiving benefits or legal recognition; in some cases, fearing persecution, displaced persons have sometimes got rid of such documents.
National IDP status
Several countries have adopted legislation providing for the creation of a national status for IDPs or selected groups of IDPs (those displaced by a particular conflict, for instance). Such statuses have, for example, been created by law in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, Georgia and the Russian Federation. Though not required under international law, such a status usually provides for the registration of those entitled to the status and provides beneficiaries with social, economic and legal assistance to safeguard rights endangered by displacement and support the implementation of durable solutions. These statuses should not deprive IDPs of their rights under human rights and humanitarian law.
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How to use the IDP definition in the Guiding Principles
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- Assess the scope of internal displacement in your country, based on the IDP definition, to ensure that no IDP group is overlooked, ignored or marginalised, whatever the patterns, causes and background of their displacement are.
- Ensure that humanitarian assessments include displacement as a potential factor of vulnerability.
- Check whether criteria and definitions used in legislation, policies and programmes benefiting IDPs exclude certain groups of IDPs arbitrarily.
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – Annotations
, by Walter Kälin, Studies in Transnational Legal Policy, No. 32, published by The American Society of International Law and The Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement, 2000 – See in particular the annotations to the Introduction, paragraph 2.
"The Concept of Internal Displacement and the Case for Internally Displaced Persons as a Category of Concern
", by Erin Mooney, in: Refugee Survey Quarterly, Volume 24, Issue 3, 2005.