IDPs the humanitarian crisis you don’t hear about

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that one person is forcibly displaced from their home every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. Worldwide, refugees—citizens who flee their own country for another—number more than 20 million. But that number is dwarfed by a more silent and devastating crisis: the over 40 million who are internally displaced.

People who have been forced from their homes but have not crossed an international border are called internally displaced persons, or IDPs. Unlike refugees, they have no protections or formally agreed-upon rules and no international resources or funding. The care for IDPs falls to the local and national government, where more pressing matters take precedence.

Over 85 percent of the world’s displaced people, both refugees and displaced persons, are in emerging nations, mostly in Africa. And there is often a cultural clash between IDPs and the people in the locales where the IDPs temporarily—or permanently—settle. Different populations are suspicious of one another and of their loyalties, especially when IDPs come from areas under terrorist siege. Other pressures hurt integration as well. Sudden population growth from an influx of IDPs strains access to food and water.

“Too often, IDPs are marginalized because of the mistrust,” says Kristen Wright, the director of advocacy at Open Doors USA, a charity focused on promoting religious freedom.

So why doesn’t the UN or any supranational agency coordinate assistance for IDPs? Part of the problem stems from how the structure of refugee law evolved after World War II when European nations constructed laws. These laws deferred to a state’s sovereignty over the welfare of its people, so long as those people did not cross international borders.

[Excerpts from CFR post by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School]

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