Migration & Refugees

UN panel debate: Response to migrant and refugee crisis must recognise the adverse impact of forced displacement of IDPs

GENEVA, Mar 21 2018 - The forced displacement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Middle East cannot be left unaddressed by decision-makers in the context of the refugee and migrant crisis, highlighted a group of human rights experts during a panel debate at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The debate entitled “Protecting people on the move: Internally displaced persons in the context of the refugee and migrant crisis” was held at Palais des Nations in Geneva on 21 March 2018 on the margins of the 37th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council. The debate was arranged by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to UN Geneva.

The aim of the panel debate was to discuss the issue of internal displacement from a global perspective, offering insights into how it fits within broader policy debates on refugees and migration. It addressed the challenges in protecting and ensuring the safe return and reintegration of IDPs through several case studies, including Iraq and Syria. Azerbaijan offered practical insights on the lessons that could be learned from assisting and supporting IDPs in protracted conflict situations.

Situation of IDPs in the Middle East remains a major concern

The unprecedented rise of armed conflict and violence in the Middle East has further exacerbated the human rights situation of IDPs. It is estimated that more than 40 million people are considered as IDPs which exceeds the number of refugees. In 2016, IDMC reported that there were 31.1 million new internal displacements worldwide. 1/3 of conflict-related IDPs worldwide are located in the Middle East illustrating that forced displacement of IDPs has become an issue of growing concern to the region.

In light of these observations, the Chair of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim stated in his inaugural address that the discourse regarding the migrant and refugee crisis cannot afford to ignore the human rights situation of IDPs. He stated that neglecting the human rights and humanitarian situation of IDPs in countries with large-scale internal displacement could give rise to a new wave of people on the move. Isolating the situation of IDPs in the context of the lasting migrant and refugee crisis would be “counterproductive as internal displacement share the same causes as cross-border movement.” “Today’s IDPs could become tomorrow’s refugees,” Dr. Al Qassim commented.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Cecilia-Jimenez Damary, observed that the interplay between the migration and refugee crisis and IDPs are interwoven and related to one another. The protection of IDPs is an essential matter of implementing international obligations to protect the human rights of people on the move. In her recent country visit to Libya, it was concluded that IDPs “were considering crossing the Mediterranean Sea”, indeed recent arrivals to Italy were increasingly composed of inter alia IDPs from Libya.

In Iraq, the military defeat of ISIS has resulted in the forced displacement of nearly 1 million people. Although some returns of IDPs are possible, “many other IDPs from the conflict are facing protracted displacement conditions in remaining camps and host societies, sometimes since after their very initial displacement,” stated Jimenez Damary in her video statement.

In neighbouring Syria, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Policy and Advocacy Advisor at its Syria office Rachel Sider remarked that an estimated 2.9 million new displacements were reported in 2017 only. 600,000 Syrians had already returned to their home societies in an attempt to rebuild their lives and their country. However, for every Syrian refugee or IDP who returned home in 2017, “a further three were newly displaced.” Protracted internal displacement was therefore a direct cause of the precarious and volatile security situation in Syria. “Those areas most likely to receive returns are the same areas where IDPs in protracted displacement are most likely to congregate. The global experience is that the longer refugees and IDPs remain outside their home country or home areas, the lower the chances of them returning,” stated Sider .

The moderator of the panel debate, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre stated that greater solidarity is expressed to sufferings of IDPs that are decibel related than those that are silent. IDPs dying from a “silent death”, as witnessed in Syria, are no less cruel than those deaths associated “with high levels of decibels.” It is thus key to steer clear from the politicization of issues related to the human sufferings of IDPs, Ambassador Jazairy stated.

Achievements of Azerbaijan to address plight of IDPs are applicable to countries in the Middle East

The panel debate resorted to the endeavours of Azerbaijan to identify durable solutions to enhance the integration of IDPs within the Azeri society. Owing to the Nagorno-Karabakh military conflict, more than 600,000 Azeris have been forcibly displaced.

The Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to UN Geneva Ambassador Vaqif Sadiqov said that his country hosts one of the largest proportion of IDP population per capita in the world numbering 1 million people which is equivalent approximately to the number of forcibly displaced people located in Europe. Despite this, Ambassador Sadiqov remarked that “in the last 20 years, Baku has invested USD 6 billion to alleviate the plight of IDPs” which demonstrates the commitment of the government of Azerbaijan to address the human rights situation of forcibly displaced people.

The results of the efforts of Azerbaijan to reintegrate forcibly displaced IDPs were brought to the attention of the panellists and the audience by the Vice Rector of ADA University Fariz Ismayilzada. He highlighted that the government of Azerbaijan has made it a key priority to enhance access to “accessible housing, employment, livelihood options and education for IDPs” in the country. In this regard, “free education at universities and secondary school level” are provided to IDPs in Azerbaijan so as to enhance their social status within the Azeri society. “Close to 400 decrees and 35 laws have been adopted by the government to Azerbaijan to enhance the rights and social status of IDPs,” Ismayilzada said.

The oil revenues of Azerbaijan have been directed towards housing projects aiming to offer affordable housing to IDPs in line with President Ilham Aliyev’s vision to alleviate and address the plight of IDPs. The latter are exempted “from gas, water and electricity payments” as utility costs are borne by the government of Azerbaijan. Baku has also supported the peaceful return and reintegration of IDPs to communities that were once under foreign occupation. Ismayilzada concluded his statement recalling that the achievements of Azerbaijan to address the human rights situation of IDPs are applicable to countries facing large-scale internal displacement such as Iraq and Syria.

Government leadership required to address the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs

Although responding to protection needs of IDPs is of vital importance, identifying solutions to address the root-causes of such forced displacement must receive increased attention. Involved actors must resort to concerted and comprehensive efforts in their implementation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement to address the triggering factors. In this regard, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, Jimenez Damary, noted that she had sent an open letter to stakeholders – participating in the UN Global Compact for Migration and on Refugees in which she recommended that a solution to the migrant and refugee crisis address the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs.

The Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Alexandra Bilak stated that forced displacement of IDPs must receive increased political attention. “There is a solid recognition that the issue of internal displacement” – she remarked – “is not just a humanitarian challenge, but needs to be treated as a fundamentally political and developmental one as well.” However, protecting and assisting IDPs lie on the shoulders of national sovereign governments which makes forced displacement of IDPs an internal matter.

In this regard, Bilak averred that neglecting internal displacement and letting it linger for a long-time “is going to take its toll on individuals, societies and national economies.” The adverse impacts of IDPs must therefore be addressed through the lenses of poverty reduction, development, climate change and disaster risk reduction. Recognizing these elements could make governments more inclined to address causes of internal displacement and taking action to avoid that politics prevail over human solidarity and justice, according to Bilak.

Ambassador Jazairy added his voice to this discourse suggesting that decision-makers identify a common framework to address the plight of IDPs. “A constructive and open dialogue about the solutions required to enhance the protection of IDPs in the context of the migrant and refugee crisis” is of central importance he stated.

Norwegian Refugee Council’s Sider also called for a strengthened role of governments in addressing the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs. She said: ”Without government leadership to ensure respect for and protection of the displaced, it will be a much longer road towards distant durable solutions.”

The moderator of the panel debate concluded the debate reiterating the importance of facilitating the exchange of views between decision-makers of the Global North and the Global South to address issues of mutual concern. “Building bridges, finding common language and join forces” is key to identify mutual win-win solutions on issues of broader interest.

The panel debate on IDPs was attended by Ambassadors and other representatives from the Permanent Missions of Egypt, Norway, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, the Maldives, Sweden, Ukraine, UAE, US, Iraq, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Armenia, Oman, Malta, Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria. Representatives from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Sovereign Order of Malta were present.

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