31 December 2013 |

Internal Displacement in South and South-East Asia

Figures and causes

There were 3.2 million IDPs in Asia as of the end of 2013, down 21 per cent from 4.1 million a year earlier. They fled their homes as a result of armed conflict, violence and human rights violations, and around 80 per cent were in Afghanistan, India, Myanmar and Pakistan. While increased levels of fighting in Afghanistan, the Philippines and Myanmar led to a rise in IDP numbers in these countries, and in others such as Indonesia, a relative stability allowed for numbers to be reduced.

Accurate data on internal displacement is hard to come by, given the absence of effective registration and monitoring mechanisms, variation in definitions of what constitutes an IDP across the region and highly fluid population movements. In some countries, such as Pakistan and Thailand, displacement is not always officially acknowledged. No new information was available on Bangladesh, Nepal or Laos.

IDPs who seek refuge in official camps tend to be registered, and as such they are included in the numbers that are available. The same figures, however, tend to underestimate or fail to account for IDPs living with host families, in rented accommodation or in makeshift shelters. The closure of camps and the premature de-registration of IDPs also distort official statistics. Few efforts have been made to assess the extent to which IDPs have returned home or made progress towards achieving durable solutions.

The main cause of displacement was internal armed conflict between government forces and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) fighting for autonomy or regional control or resisting policies that result in political and economic marginalisation. Inter-communal violence was also a factor in India and Myanmar. The main agents of displacement were the various parties to region’s conflicts, which in some countries included militias and vigilantes mobilised along religious or ethnic lines.

Disasters brought on by rapid-onset natural hazards caused significant new displacement in south and south-east Asia in 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, the worst disaster to affect the region since the 2004 tsunami, hit the Philippines in November, killing at least 5,600 people and displacing over four million. Such disasters make the already precarious living conditions of people displaced by conflict worse and increase their vulnerability.

New displacements

Around 714,000 people were newly displaced by conflict across the region during the year, nearly half the figure for 2012. The number of new IDPs fell by two-thirds in Pakistan, and was significantly lower in India. That said, 140,000 people were still newly displaced in Pakistan, 327,000 in the Philippines and 124,000 in Afghanistan.

New displacement in the Philippines took place mainly on the southern island of Mindanao, where government forces are fighting a number of NSAGs. The largest single displacement was in September in Zamboanga city, where three weeks of clashes between the army and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) destroyed more than 10,000 homes and displaced more than 120,000 people. Half of those affected were still displaced as of the end of the year. The largest displacement in Pakistan was in Khyber agency in March, when clashes between NSAGs in Tirah valley forced at least 102,000 people to flee. Most took refuge inside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or in neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. In Afghanistan, the drawdown of international forces has not been accompanied by a transition to stability. Nearly half of those newly displaced fled military operations and insecurity in the southern province of Helmand.

In India, new displacement was mainly triggered by communal violence between Muslims and Hindus in Uttar Pradesh in September, which forced around 51,000 people to flee their homes. In Myanmar, armed conflict and inter-communal violence displaced as many as 54,000 people. Of the total, more than 21,000 fled fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in north-eastern Kachin and neighbouring Shan states.

Protection issues

Protection challenges tended to be more acute in the initial phase of displacement, but IDPs were also at risk of physical harm and having their rights infringed in their places of refuge, including in camps. In Myanmar, police reportedly shot dead three displaced Rohingya women in a camp in Rakhine state during protests against relocation in June. IDPs’ freedom of movement was also severely restricted. In Pakistan, 12 IDPs queuing for food rations were killed and 24 injured in March, when a car bomb exploded in Jalozai camp, KP province.

Food, shelter and basic facilities were generally available in official camps across the region, but conditions often fell short of international standards. In most countries, however, the majority of IDPs live with friends and family or in rented accommodation or informal shelters. Some have moved to the relative safety of urban areas, where they have better access to services and job opportunities.

IDPs outside camps often have similar needs to those in them, but tend to receive far less assistance, threatening their long-term recovery. With their assets depleted, most have no choice but to borrow money or buy essential items on credit, pushing their households further into debt. A 2013 assessment of Pakistani IDPs living outside camps in KP province showed that more than half had done so. Elsewhere, others chose to cope by eating less, increasing the risk of malnutrition.

Durable solutions

Progress towards durable solutions was limited for the majority of IDPs in the region, and protracted displacement was a concern in most countries, particularly Afghanistan, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Around 337,000 IDPs were reported to have returned home during the year, mainly in the Philippines and Pakistan. Most had been displaced for only a few days or weeks. A lack of effective monitoring across the region means returns tend to be under-reported and their sustainability not assessed.

Most returnees face significant recovery challenges, including the rebuilding of homes and livelihoods and regaining access to land and property. These were complicated by the loss of assets and the accumulation of significant debt during their displacement. In Sri Lanka, where the armed conflict ended in 2009, tens of thousands of returnees are still in need of housing, water, sanitation, livelihoods and food. The widespread presence of the military and ongoing surveillance also serve to undermine the return process.

Camps were sometimes closed before return was possible, leaving IDPs cut off from assistance with few other options but to fend for themselves. In India, the state government in Uttar Pradesh said that only 2,600 of the 51,000 people who fled inter-communal violence in September were still displaced at the end of the year. Local NGOs, however, put the figure ten times higher, with most IDPs living in informal settlements after their eviction from camps.

Relocation is usually intended to improve IDPs’ living conditions by providing them with better shelter, water and sanitation facilities. Given a lack of available land, however, relocation sites are often far from IDPs’ original homes and livelihoods or other sources of income. IDPs are rarely able to buy the land offered or to secure tenure in other ways. In Indonesia, an estimated 22,000 IDPs in West Timor still need livelihood and shelter assistance 14 years after fleeing from Timor Leste. Poor tenure security, a shortage of land and tensions between the IDPs and their host communities are all obstacles to their achieving durable solutions.

IDPs in urban areas struggle to find adequate housing, which is a major barrier to their local integration. They are also excluded from government assistance. As a result, IDPs in towns and cities throughout the region live in substandard conditions without access to basic services. In Afghanistan, urban IDPs and returned refugees have established informal settlements on public land without permission in cities such as Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad. Without tenure security, legal remedies, compensation or alternative housing options, many risk eviction, homelessness and increased vulnerability.

National and international response

National authorities’ responses to IDPs’ assistance and protection needs were insufficient across the region in 2013. Challenges include a lack of relevant policy or legal frameworks, failure to implement those that do exist, a shortage of data and limited access to those in need. Most governments pay minimal attention to IDP’s needs after their return or to the needs of those trying to integrate locally or settle elsewhere.

A small number of countries made progress in developing frameworks to protect IDPs. In the Philippines, congress adopted a comprehensive bill on internal displacement in February. The president, however, vetoed it three months later on the grounds that some of its provisions were unconstitutional. A new bill was under discussion in the lower house as of the end of the year, and was expected to make progress during 2014. Afghanistan adopted a landmark policy in November that clearly defines an IDP and recognises their right to all three durable solution options. Sri Lanka published a draft policy in 2013, but it fell short of international standards, in particular because it failed to cover all phases and causes of displacement.

Efforts to collect data on the number and needs of all IDPs, particularly those living in protracted displacement, were lacking. This in turn prevents governments from designing appropriate policies and programmes. In Sri Lanka, the government and its international partners are to conduct a joint needs assessment, but its scope is still to be determined.

In countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar and Pakistan insecurity continued to prevent humanitarian access to displaced populations. The Indonesian government placed access restrictions on some areas of Papua province, and the Sri Lankan authorities prevented some programmes from going ahead. In most countries, displacement tends to be viewed as a temporary problem and assistance focused on providing emergency relief in official camps.

Despite the international community’s growing recognition in recent years of the need to bridge relief and development initiatives to facilitate durable solutions, many obstacles remain. Longer-term humanitarian funding that allows for more sustained interventions and helps to ensure a more effective transition from relief to recovery is still the exception rather than the rule. Governments and development organisations such as UNDP, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank will also have to make greater efforts to assess the needs of IDPs in protracted situations and ensure they are addressed in national development strategies and plans if durable solutions are to be achieved