Internally Displaced People
On the Run in Their Own Land
Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are among the world’s most vulnerable people. Unlike refugees, IDPs have not crossed an international border to find sanctuary but have remained inside their home countries. Even if they have fled for similar reasons as refugees (armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations), IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government – even though that government might be the cause of their flight. As citizens, they retain all of their rights and protection under both human rights and international humanitarian law.
UNHCR´s original mandate does not specifically cover IDPs, but because of the agency´s expertise on displacement, it has for many years been protecting and assisting millions of them, more recently through the "cluster approach." Under this, UNHCR has the lead role in overseeing the protection and shelter needs of IDPs as well as coordination and management of camps.
At the end of 2011, there were an estimated 26.4 million internally displaced people around the world, down slightly on the year before. UNHCR was helping about 15.5 million of the IDPs in 26 countries. These included the three countries with the largest IDP populations – Colombia, Iraq and South Sudan.
Millions of other civilians who have been made homeless by natural disasters are also considered as IDPs. In 2011, some 14.9 million people became internally displaced due to natural disasters, the great majority of them across Asia. UNHCR shares responsibility to protect this group with other humanitarian agencies and has been involved in recent crises such as 2008’s Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the Pakistan floods in 2010 and the Haiti earthquake the same year.
- IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters, 2011
- Integrating internal displacement in peace processes and agreements, Brookings Institution, 2010
- Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons, Global Protection Cluster, June 2010
- IASC Framework for Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons, April 2010
- Protection of Conflict-Induced IDPs: Assessment for Action, Global Protection Cluster and Early Recovery Cluster Working Group, February 2008
- UNHCR's Role in Support of an Enhanced Humanitarian Response to Situations of Internal Displacement: Update on UNHCR's Leadership Role Within the Cluster Approach and IDP Operational Workplans, EXCOM Informal Consultative Meeting, 25 May 2007
- The Protection of Internally Displaced Persons and the Role of UNHCR, EXCOM Informal Consultative Meeting, 27 February 2007