Housing, land and property issues obstruct integration of IDPs in protracted displacement

by Nadine Walicki

Nadine Walicki is a country analyst and advisor on protracted internal displacement at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). As previously reported on TN, the reports referred to below as well as other key relevant documents are available on the IDMC durable solutions web page.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in protracted displacement in some 40 countries. These are situations where solutions to displacement are absent or inadequate and IDPs cannot fully enjoy their rights as a result. Housing, land and property issues are usually central to the resolution of protracted displacement. This applies to the homes IDPs leave behind and the new ones they build after fleeing. Many IDPs have yet to receive a remedy for property lost or destroyed at their place of origin, while they live in substandard housing and struggle to access land in their area of displacement.

In early 2011, displacement experts gathered at an international seminar to discuss the potential of local integration as a solution to protracted displacement. Case studies on local integration of IDPs in Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Serbia, Sudan (southern) and Uganda were prepared to serve as the basis for the discussion. The result was a Statement of Principles and a compilation of good practices and recommendations, which were recently published in the seminar report. Among other key issues, seminar participants outlined several housing, land and property challenges that obstruct local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement. These include tenure insecurity, lack of effective mechanisms to restore property rights, limited access to land, inadequate housing, as well as lack of legal frameworks and access to justice.

A key challenge to local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement is tenure insecurity. In Burundi and Sudan, supposed owners of the property where IDPs are living have claimed the property after more than a decade. These IDPs fear eviction as they rarely have documentation to confirm their housing rights and they have not been able to turn to informal practices for recognition of their claim to the property. Efforts to close IDP collective centres in Georgia and Serbia have also often exacerbated the tenure insecurity of displaced families. Alternative housing was not always provided and many displaced families were left in worse living conditions, feeling displaced for a second time. IDPs who rent, share, and, in some cases, own accommodation also often face weak security of tenure. Where IDPs prefer local integration, the tenure security of their housing and land is essential.

Another challenge to local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement is the lack of effective mechanisms to restore property rights. In the absence of a political resolution to the conflicts in Georgia and Serbia, IDPs cannot use their land and property left behind to improve their current living conditions. While mechanisms exist in Burundi, Sudan and Uganda to restore the property of IDPs, other challenges have presented themselves. These include the lack of documentation confirming land rights, lack of professional capacity and resources to implement the mechanism and backlogged and ill-equipped decision-making bodies. Cases have also become more complicated over time as a result of informal land practices, which has sometimes led to violence and can threaten post-conflict stability. Restoration of property rights also applies to those who own the properties where IDPs are living, and it has often been a delicate exercise to balance their rights with those of IDPs.

Limited access to land is also a hurdle to the local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement. In Burundi, those who live far away from their original land or whose land has been taken over by others have a harder time earning a living, particularly older IDPs. In southern Sudan, there are currently no newly zoned plots and the draft procedure for allocation of new plots privileges locals. As a result, IDPs try to secure temporary tenure of a non-registered plot through chiefs or illegally occupy plots. Local authorities in some rural areas in Georgia have rejected IDPs’ requests for land for more than a decade, which is an obstacle to earning an income, though some non-displaced have informally offered their land plots to IDPs. Some IDPs have access to land in Colombia, but it is not titled in their names and the original owners have later reclaimed it, or the land is far away from local markets on roads that are not always accessible. Limited access to land prevents IDPs from providing food for their family and earning an income.

Substandard housing is also obstructing the local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement. While the wealthier and more socially mobile categories of IDPs are believed to have secured durable housing, less wealthy IDPs found themselves in substandard shelter in collective centres, makeshift shelter, abandoned housing or with host families. Displaced ethnic Batwa in Burundi and Roma in Serbia are marginalised and live in particularly difficult conditions set apart from other IDPs. IDPs in Burundi, Georgia and Sudan have not always maintained their housing due to lack of resources, but also possibly as a result of uncertainty regarding their future in their current location and tenure insecurity. While IDP housing may resemble some housing of their non-displaced neighbours, it remains a displacement-related need to be addressed in order to resolve displacement.

Seminar participants highlighted some good practices to address these housing, land and property issues for IDPs in protracted displacement. In Burundi, peace villages were established where residents, returnees and IDPs locally integrating live closely together, facilitating the provision of basic services. Legal rules and assistance were put in place in Uganda for IDPs to rent or buy property in their area of displacement, and local governments acquired land for lease to IDPs. In Georgia, some IDPs have secured housing ownership through housing vouchers and refurbishment and transfer of ownership of collective centre units. Through the village housing programme in Serbia, IDPs have purchased private property with a subsidy and receive livelihood support at that location. Similarly in Colombia, IDPs may receive a subsidy to purchase a home with only small payments required thereafter. While these programmes were not discussed in detail at the seminar, they might be useful to other contexts. Seminar participants concluded that:

…the way forward [on housing, land and property issues] would need to include: national policies which support vulnerable people; durable housing solutions throughout the emergency and protracted phases; and urban planning remaining a priority between emergency and development phases of assistance.

Participants had other recommendations to support the local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement through housing, land and property initiatives, including:

  • Collection of accurate data on the location, size and composition of IDP settlements
  • Measures to ensure security of tenure in the absence of comprehensive land policies
  • Support to municipalities with significant IDP populations in planning and implementing housing and land solutions
  • Selection of beneficiaries for housing support on the basis of vulnerability
  • Effective information strategy on housing, land and property rights, and procedure and redress options for the wider public and community leaders
  • Access to legal aid advice, information and counseling, particularly to understand land rights and enable informed decision making

Housing, land and property issues present one of the greatest barriers to local integration and other settlement options during protracted internal displacement. This not only holds true for IDPs seeking durable solutions, but for property owners who have hosted and might continue to host IDPs. While provision of housing and land is a central component of a full durable solution as defined in the Framework on Durable Solutions, housing assistance alone does not amount to a durable solution. Such assistance should therefore be considered among other durable solution components to ensure its sustainability.

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3 responses to “Housing, land and property issues obstruct integration of IDPs in protracted displacement

  1. Notes on influence of attitudes towards integration of idps

  2. Pingback: From shelter to housing: New NRC publication on tenure security and displacement | TerraNullius

  3. Pingback: Say it with a resolution: The UN marks two decades of work on internal displacement as new challenges emerge | TerraNullius

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