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High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges, 2013

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Protecting the Internally Displaced

The sixth High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges took place on 11-12 December 2013 in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. With chronic internal displacement becoming the norm in too many countries, the theme – “Protecting the Internally Displaced: Persisting Challenges and Fresh Thinking” – highlighted the distinct challenges surrounding protection and solutions for the internally displaced persons (IDPs).

This was the largest Dialogue ever organized. Well over 400 people attended the event, including representatives of UN member states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academics, national and local officials, and individual experts. The one and a half day gathering fostered a lively exchange of ideas on topics such as responses to internal displacement in out-of-camp and urban settings, protection-based solutions, the legal and institutional dimensions of protecting IDPs, and partnerships.

Despite considerable progress in developing tools, policy, legal instruments and legislation on internally displaced persons over the last decade, there remain numerous ‘implementation gaps’. Moreover, there are many situations in which the needs of the internally displaced go unmet or where humanitarian access is actively hindered. The Dialogue therefore had a strong operational focus, and generated a better understanding of current humanitarian and development challenges in diverse contexts of internal displacement. The participants identified a number of practical ways to enhance engagement and partnerships in the protection of IDPs.

Participants strongly agreed that the issue of internally displaced persons needs to be placed higher on international, regional and national agendas. There was also broad recognition that inherent in the principle of national sovereignty is State responsibility to ensure that the needs of all citizens, including the internally displaced, are met and that their rights are respected. Internally displaced persons are right-holders, like any other citizens. There were strong calls to keep solutions in mind from the very outset of an emergency. This requires development actors to work with humanitarian actors from the outset of emergencies. There was also a call to focus on situations where displacement has been protracted and to give high priority to addressing the root causes.

During the Dialogue, UNHCR renewed its commitment to engage in situations of internal displacement and to improve its own performance in support of national efforts, and in cooperation with a wide array of stakeholders, especially the internally displaced themselves, in line with the Transformative Agenda. There were also repeated calls to ensure that the post-2015 development agenda contain provisions that fully take into account the needs of the internally displaced and their communities. Protecting IDPs was described by many participants as UNHCR’s core business.

A number of concrete suggestions were made during the four breakout session discussions: on protecting IDPs in emergencies, particularly in out-of-camp and urban areas, durable solutions, legal instruments and policies, and partnerships. Reports of the breakout sessions were presented in a panel discussion at the closing plenary session and were followed by a further exchange of views and recommendations. The High Commissioner then delivered his summary of the discussions and highlighted elements for follow up. His closing remarks, along with the reports of the breakout sessions together constitute the record of the Dialogue.