Unlike refugees, internally displaced people (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 assisting millions of them. 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 2010, there were an estimated 27.5 million IDPs around the world. Six countries – Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan – are home today to more than half the world’s IDP population. UNHCR is currently helping some 14.7 million internally displaced in 22 countries.
Millions of other civilians who have been made homeless by natural disasters are also classified as IDPs. Based on its expertise with humanitarian aid after displaced, UNHCR has become more and more involved helping this group where the agency had a presence to carry out such a relief operation. Examples of successful intervention for those displaced were after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, the earthquake in 2005 and the floods in Pakistan in 2010 and the Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar two years earlier.
In Central Europe, there are no IDP populations, therefore UNHCR is currently not carrying out IDP-assistance in the region.