Expert Opinion

IDPs don’t disappear, but the attention paid to them does

A mother’s lament

When I was in the North Caucasus last year, I met an internally displaced woman, Zainap. When her husband died in the violence in Chechnya in 2000, she was forced to flee her home with her children. She fled to the neighbouring province of Ingushetia, which also borders Georgia. She was living in a former car factory with her children for 10 years.

 Some of Zainap’s neighbours received compensation for their destroyed homes and went back to Chechnya. Her house was only partially destroyed, so she did not qualify for compensation. She wants to return, but cannot afford to rebuild her home and fears landmines. She is unable to move out of the car factory, relying on government benefits and odd jobs to survive.

The government of Ingushetia adopted a housing programme for IDPs several years ago, but it remains underfunded. Zainap is skeptical. “No one is paying attention to IDPs anymore, but we’re still here,” she told me.

15 years later, major obstacles to peace remain as attention to IDPs dwindles

IDPs in Russia have been all but forgotten in recent years. IDPs never had the full attention of the government, and those who were registered were deregistered en masse as early as 2002, depriving them of assistance. After all major IDP camps closed in Ingushetia, the authorities significantly decreased attention and funding to address the needs of displaced people, though federal budget transfers to the region have increased.

As the Russian economy has grown and reconstruction progresses in the North Caucasus, Russia has become increasingly eager to be regarded as a donor rather than a recipient of aid. One of the most significant donors, the European Commission, had included the North Caucasus on its strategic list of ‘Forgotten Crises,’ but by 2011 it phased out assistance to the region due to what it deemed to be socio-economic improvements and successful reconstruction. UN agencies, too, left the North Caucasus at the end of 2011 and will not be initiating any new projects for IDPs there.

The exit of the UN and others signals the loss of key support for civil society. As funding decreases, fewer surveys and assessments on IDPs are done; there is no authoritative figure on the total number, which makes it difficult to identify and meet their needs and help them progress towards durable solutions. Together with a series of laws adopted in 2012 imposing restrictions on civil society, NGOs may become less vocal on human rights issues, including internal displacement. The government should step up its efforts for IDPs following the departure of international organisations to build on positive results already achieved, and allow civil society to do the same.

Today, there are at least 29,000 IDPs in the North Caucasus, although the total number of IDPs in Russia alone is likely to be far higher (learn more here). This is because this figure excludes IDPs outside of the North Caucasus, many of those displaced within Chechnya or North Ossetia, and those who have lost or never had ‘forced migrant’ status issued by the government. IDPs in Russia have become more vulnerable over time after years of dealing with inadequate housing, limited income, and obstacles accessing basic services.

People living in protracted displacement suffer as much as IDPs in emergency situations

I was struck by this reality when I visited one temporary settlement in Ingushetia, where IDPs who were evicted from tent camps were living in makeshift homes built with scrap material for more than a decade. Residents showed me the remnants of a neighbour’s shelter that had recently burned down after a gas canister used for heating burst, one of many such fires. Many residents were visibly upset, but two in particular were enraged, yelling about the recent fire as well as other past injustices they had suffered. Many were still struggling to cope with abuses they suffered during displacement; for some the psychological trauma was never addressed and has worsened over time. They need specific help to regain their self-reliance.

This is not an isolated situation. The situation of IDPs and Zainap is similar to that of many people living in protracted displacement around the world. Attention to their plight wanes as post-conflict recovery starts to take hold and humanitarian situations emerge elsewhere.

Where governments and development organisations do not fill the gap of departing donors and international organisations, data on IDPs quickly becomes outdated and scarce. Without essential data on IDPs and their situation it is impossible to adequately address any displacement related vulnerabilities they may still have. Unable to fully rebuild their lives they are trapped in a cycle of vulnerability and poverty.

Given these constraints, how do we ensure the displacement-related needs of IDPs in protracted displacement are met?

Learn more about displacement in the North Caucasus