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Unit plan for ages 15-18 in Geography: Internally Displaced People

Teaching Tools, 24 October 2006

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Thousands of people fled attacks on their villages and gathered under trees on the outskirts of Goz Beida, the main town in south eastern Chad.



  • To understand clearly the legal difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person
  • To understand that not all people who flee violent conflict are able to cross international borders and claim international protection as refugees
  • To understand that individual governments and the international community must ensure that internally displaced people are protected and their human rights respected


  • To encourage in the students empathy for internally displaced people who have lost their homes and belongings and whose government will not or cannot provide them protection from conflict
  • To articulate the rights of internally displaced people and the corresponding responsibilities of governments and the international community to support those rights


  • To be able to identify the similarities and differences between refugees and internally displaced people
  • To practise sensitive enquiry and reasoning skills.
  • To think critically.

LESSON 1 and 2: Who are internally displaced persons? Where are they concentrated?

Who are internally displaced people?

Where are the major concentrations of internally displaced people around the world?

Why do they become displaced?
Reinforcement of students' understanding of refugees.

Students are asked for their impressions of why, when persecuted or in danger, hundreds of thousands of people sometimes do not flee across borders, i.e. to think of reasons why these people do not become refugees.

Map work
Students examine the annotated map to see that regions afflicted with violent conflict produce internally displaced people.

Discussion of the root causes of internal displacement, starting from descriptions from the maps.
© UNHCR/P.Smith
During the 'Day of Documentation' in Ciudad Bolivar, UNHCR's Mobile Registration Unit helped the local internally displaced people apply for identification cards. Identity documents are key to gaining access to state humanitarian aid, such as health care, education and credit and bank loans.
Background reading for teachers

UNHCR, The State of the World's Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium, (Oxford, OUP, 2006), Chapter 7: Internally displaced persons, pp. 153-175

The whole of Refugees magazine issue no. 141 [PDF, 1,1Mb] is devoted to the topic of internally displaced people.

Students' resources

The whole of "The World's Internally Displaced People" [PDF, 170Kb] Refugees, no. 141, 2005, pp. 16-17

LESSONS 3-4: Internal conflict and displacement around the world

Internal conflict and displacement around the world.

The great variety of circumstances under which internal displacement occurs.

Differences between refugees and IDPs.

Implications of the status of IDPs.
Teacher lecture

based on "The biggest failure of the international community" [PDF, 952Kb], Refugees, no. 141, 2005, pp. 2-19.

Review and application
Questioning and discussion to encourage students to think deeply about the status of IDPs.
© UNHCR/R.Chalasani
A UNHCR-organized group encourages internally displaced people and returnees to discuss gender-based violence in Aruni.
Ray Wilkinson, "The biggest failure of the international community" [PDF, 952Kb], Refugees, no. 141, 2005, pp. 2-19.

Violent conflict on both sides of the Chad/Sudan border has displaced tens of thousands of people. The Chad home page provides links to information about this particular humanitarian crisis where refugees and IDPs are found on both sides of an international border.

"Darfur: the challenge of protecting the internally displaced", UNHCR, The State of the World's Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium, (Oxford, OUP, 2006), pp. 162-163




Forgotten No Longer?

Refugees Magazine Issue 141: Forgotten No Longer? (complete magazine, lo-res, 1.1 Mb, pdf)

FAQs on Internally Displaced People

Frequently asked questions about IDPs. [pdf, 1.3Mb]

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

After more than forty years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Well over two million people have been forced to flee their homes; many of them have left remote rural areas to take refuge in the relative safety of the cities.

Displaced families often end up living in slum areas on the outskirts of the big cities, where they lack even the most basic services. Just outside Bogota, tens of thousands of displaced people live in the shantytowns of Altos de Cazuca and Altos de Florida, with little access to health, education or decent housing. Security is a problem too, with irregular armed groups and gangs controlling the shantytowns, often targeting young people.

UNHCR is working with the authorities in ten locations across Colombia to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are fully respected – including the rights to basic services, health and education, as well as security.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

Internally Displaced in Chad

In scenes of devastation similar to the carnage across the border in Darfur, some 20 villages in eastern Chad have been attacked, looted, burned and emptied by roving armed groups since 4 November. Hundreds of people have been killed, many more wounded and at least 15,000 displaced from their homes.

Some 7,000 people have gathered near Goz Beida town, seeking shelter under trees or wherever they can find it. As soon as security permits, UNHCR will distribute relief items. The UN refugee agency has already provided newly arrived IDPs at Habila camp with plastic sheeting, mats, blankets and medicine. The agency is scouting for a temporary site for the new arrivals and in the meantime will increase the number of water points in Habila camp.

The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

Posted on 30 November 2006

Internally Displaced in Chad

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees