With record numbers of internally displaced people, UNHCR's Guterres appeals for greater efforts to help

News Stories, 11 December 2013

© UNHCR/B.Heger
Civil conflict in the Central African Republic has displaced more than half a million people within the country in the last year

GENEVA, December 11 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today opened an annual discussion on protection challenges with an appeal for strengthened international focus on the almost 30 million people around the world who are forcibly displaced in their own countries often referred to as Internally Displaced People or IDPs.

In a speech to the opening of the 2013 High Commissioner's Dialogue, Guterres warned that internal displacement was on the rise, with a 50 per cent increase in numbers over the past 15 years and amid indications that 2013 could break new records with millions more people having becoming internally displaced in Syria and elsewhere.

"I am concerned that the magnitude and the complexity of internal displacement have not galvanized the international attention the issue deserves," he said. "Like refugees, internally displaced persons often find refuge in the poorest and most marginalized regions of the country, which frequently lack proper infrastructure to deal with the population influx. But they are often even harder to reach, as many remain in conflict areas."

UNHCR was established in December 1950, originally to help the millions of people displaced by World War Two. Its work with refugees and asylum seekers people who have fled across an international border has contributed over more than 60 years to a growing body of international and national laws to protect refugees.

Less well known is UNHCR's work in helping internally displaced people an involvement that typically happens in situations where a State lacks capacity to assist its own displaced nationals. As of end 2012 some 17.7 million IDPs were under UNHCR's care. In part because of the nature of internal displacement, the international legal framework to protect them is far less developed than is the case with refugees.

"We are often asked what protection means for internally displaced persons, who are, after all, citizens in their country with the same rights as other nationals," Guterres said. "Forced to flee their homes, many are without documentation, have no access to basic services and are at increased risk of discrimination, exploitation and sexual and gender-based violence. Countless families are separated during the flight. Many traumatized child survivors need psychosocial support."

Guterres outlined the protection responses that UNHCR seeks to provide, often working with national authorities. These include registration and profiling, community advocacy, peaceful coexistence projects, preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, strengthening child protection, and ensuring quality and inclusive education. UNHCR works with governments to develop national laws on displacement, and in partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union has recently published a joint Handbook on Internal Displacement for legislators.

Guterres spoke of the importance of partnerships to improving humanitarian responses to internal displacement. Work with coordination bodies such as the Interagency Standing Committee a forum involving both UN and non-UN humanitarian organizations had helped make the assistance to IDPs more predictable and timely, he said. And he reaffirmed UNHCR's commitment to further such collaboration.

The High Commissioner also urged those attending the Dialogue among them representatives of governments, NGOs, observers, academics, and inter-governmental organizations to help elevate the plight of the internally displaced on the international agenda.

"Finding solutions for them [IDPs] requires political will to address the root causes. Stronger advocacy is therefore needed from the international community to ensure that peace processes take account of the concerns and needs of the internally displaced as well as their host communities," he said. "Resolving displacement also requires humanitarian agencies to incorporate a solutions orientation into their programmes from the very onset of the emergency. This means ensuring that internally displaced persons participate in development planning and decisions... It also means putting in place strong sustainable and organic links between humanitarian and development programmes, and closer collaboration with national authorities, civil society, and affected communities, as well as their political representatives."

UNHCR launched its first High Commissioner's Dialogue in 2007. Since then they have been an annual event, always focused on protection challenges and designed to encourage open and informal exchanges among participants. The 2013 High Commissioner's Dialogue runs between 11-12 December and will include focus on protection of IDPs in emergencies, notably in out of camp and urban settings; promoting peace and durable solutions for IDPs, legal instruments and policies to protect IDPs and strengthening partnerships.

High Commissioner Guterres' full speech



Faces of DisplacementPlay video

Faces of Displacement

New records for population displacement could be broken in 2013, a year when millions more people were forcibly displaced within Syria and elsewhere in the world. Here are some of the faces of those who left their homes behind.

The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th High Commissioner.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen medal to Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi in Geneva, Switzerland.

Asifi, 49, has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi - a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992 - has guided over a thousand refugee girls through primary education in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan.

Before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home. But she was determined to give these girls a chance and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. Speakers and performers at today's award ceremony include UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany, Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and singer Angelique Kidjo and visual artist Cedric Cassimo.

Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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On World Refugee Day the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, along with Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, travelled to southeastern Turkey, the home of hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They were in the midyat refugee camp to see conditions for these people and to issue a warning to the world.