27 June 2014 | Nadine Walicki , Sophie Crozet

Q&A: If born in displacement, are you automatically an IDP?

There is no answer to the question on whether children born to internally displaced people (IDPs) are themselves IDPs, neither in international law nor in displacement-specific frameworks. In the first paper in a series entitled ‘born in displacement,’ IDMC attempts to unpack this issue a little further.


Over 33.3 million people have been forced to flee inside their own countries to escape conflict and violence, and children make up at least 50 per cent of IDPs worldwide. For those born into displacement, they face an uncertain future.

A human rights-based approach would suggest that children born in displacement have displacement-specific needs similar to their family members and should be considered IDPs themselves. Such an approach is in line with the long-recognised human rights principles which ultimately say that children born in displacement should be treated in the same way as children who physically fled, and they should be considered as an inseparable member of their family unit.

How are children born in displacement treated in different countries throughout the world?

Without a common international legal framework on IDPs, governments around the world consider children born to IDPs differently. Some register them as IDPs and even in some cases offer them de facto IDP status, while others do not acknowledge them at all. Some add them to assistance lists, while others do not for lack of resources.

For example, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, a baby born to parents living in an IDP camp is included on the parent’s ration card, counted as an IDP and included in government IDP figures. This also applies for second and third generation IDPs in camps. However, there apparently is no such provision for children in displaced families staying outside of camps, with host families for example, even though their parents are still registered and counted as IDPs. This potential differential treatment of those in camps and those staying with host families can put additional strain on community tensions – particularly in places where resources are scarce.

Similarly, generations of IDPs in Cyprus are entitled to ‘IDP status’ and this status can be passed down to successive generations without limit. This has led to a deeply entrenched labelling of ‘IDPs’ that is difficult to delink from whether or not genuine assistance is needed further down the line, and also potentially carries a heavy financial burden. In response, the Cypriot authorities decided that only children from displaced households headed by men, and not those headed by women, were entitled to a refugee identity card and the benefits that come with it, ironically only adding further to discrimination felt by IDPs.

In contrast, in Indonesia the Maluku province government considers children born to IDPs in displacement as IDPs, but not their descendants. New housing is provided only to the “core family” of IDPs, which is limited to those physically displaced and their children, including those born in displacement. The result of this is over-crowded homes as families grow over time; frequently the displacement has placed a family in poverty, and without government support subsequent generations cannot afford secure accommodation on their own.

And what about the impact on IDP data and figures?

There is a risk that IDP figures that include children born to IDPs may be used to support political goals. IDP registration and the transference of status over generations can serve to maintain and nurture claims to territory from which IDPs fled.

This is the case in Azerbaijan, for instance, where IDPs were displaced over 20 years ago and the areas they fled from have since  been occupied by Armenia . As generations of IDPs have been made eligible for the status, IDP figures have remained more or less constant over time and the government has pointed to these figures in efforts to show that significant numbers of people are waiting to go home and that these territories should therefore be returned to its control. 

The opposite may also be true as efforts to downplay IDP figures can also be politically motivated. For instance, countries may want to deregister or stop counting IDPs as well as their children and descendants as soon as possible to portray the situation as solved and limit the budgetary burden assigned to internal displacement.

In Pakistan, for example, only IDPs coming from selected regions can register upon presentation of personal identification and be entitled to assistance. Registration is done at the household, not the individual level, and IDPs originating from areas declared safe for return are deregistered and given strong incentives to return

Any approach on children born to IDPs in displacement should obey human rights principles. Only in this way can IDPs, and their children, make progress towards ending their displacement, for themselves, and the generations that follow them.

What do you think? Should children of IDPs be considered displaced? Join the conversation on Twitter here.

To learn more download 'Born in Displacement: Challenges in Assisting and Protecting the Descendants of Internally Displaced People,' the first in an upcoming series of discussion papers entitled 'Born in displacement'

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