Expert Opinion

While the migration agenda moves forward, IDPs keep getting side-tracked

Last week I attended the first International Forum on Migration Statistics. The event was put on by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the International Organisation for Migration, and I was eager to hear what some 700 participants, including leading figures in the field of forced population movement, would have to say about data and analysis on internal displacement.

The first sessions discussed the need for more information on human mobility to work on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They talked about migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, but, disappointingly, made little or no mention of internally displaced people (IDPs). Of 38 sessions, only one was dedicated to the issue. When I tried to raise it during a session on monitoring progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, I was shocked by the answer: “We are only looking at data that is relevant for the SDGs”.

I realised that, even among this group of migration experts, the case is yet to be made about the links between internal displacement and the 2030 Agenda. And this despite the agenda’s clear mention of IDPs as a vulnerable group that should not be left behind. Governments have committed to pay particular attention to vulnerable groups, meaning they should collect disaggregated data and design specific programmes to support their development. So far though, only a handful of countries have considered internal displacement in their SDG monitoring framework.

It’s true to say that the SDGs do not include specific targets on the issue, but several are directly related. Target 10.7, to “facilitate orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” should clearly include internal displacement, as should target 17.18, “to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics”.

Goal 13, to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, includes “strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity”, with progress to be measured by the reduction in the number of people affected by disasters. The vast majority of the millions of people who flee disasters each year are displaced internally.

What’s more, every SDG is relevant to internal displacement, and vice versa, as illustrated in the table below. And the phenomenon impedes progress toward their achievement in a much broader but even less considered way. It represents a significant cost to national economies.

That cost has never been quantified systematically, and this is something IDMC will focus on in 2018, but anecdotal evidence leaves little doubt as to the burden it represents. The cost of providing assistance and support to IDPs and their host communities, not to mention the loss of productivity and economic potential displacement causes, mean that fewer resources are available for development.

The first International Forum on Migration Statistics was a much-needed step forward in the global discussion about human mobility and development. It confirmed the international community’s growing interest in reducing forced displacement and reaping the potential benefits of migration. Its success will surely lead to future events, where it will be essential to ensure that internal displacement is given the consideration it requires and deserves.


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IDPs tend to be among the poorest people in their countries. Many were forced to leave their belongings and work behind when they fled. Supporting them also involves significant costs for host communities and aid providers.

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Internal displacement may affect food security if IDPs stop producing food in their region of origin, and if their arrival strains their hosts’ resources in areas of refuge.

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IDPs’ physical and mental health is often affected by the events that lead to their displacement. Health facilities may also struggle to cope in host areas, and service coverage and quality may diminish.

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Internally displaced children may go months or years without school. Children in host communities may also experience a drop in education quality if there are not enough resources for all.

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Internally displaced women tend to suffer most from the lack of basic infrastructure in temporary settlements. The trauma of displacement can also increase gender-based violence.

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Displacement camps often provide only limited access to water, sanitation and energy. Basic infrastructure in host communities may also be put under stress, leading to shortages.

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IDPs often leave their income-generating activities behind and have to find new ones in their host areas, putting pressure on the local labour market. Lost productivity and reduced consumption, exports and taxes harm economic growth.

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Resilient infrastructure and sustainable industries may help limit the scale of displacement associated with disasters.

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IDPs should be able to exercise the same rights and enjoy the same opportunities as their compatriots, but they often suffer inequality and discrimination.

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The sudden and unplanned arrival of IDPs in cities contributes to the establishment of informal settlements and slums. Urban displacement is a key issue in many countries.

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The unsustainable use of natural resources, environmental degradation and climate change have already started to push millions of people from their homes. Slow-onset disasters and humans’ impact on the environment are likely to cause increasing displacement in the coming years.

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Conflicts and violence displaced more than 40 million people in 2016. Internal displacement, in turn, can feed violence and facilitate recruitment by armed groups among IDPs.

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Development policies that are sensitive to internal displacement, greater national accountability, the participation of a broad range of stakeholders in development and humanitarian programmes, and monitoring frameworks that include data on internal displacement can help reduce its scale and intensity.