Choosing in the absence of choice: Protracted displacement and integration

by Rhodri C. Williams

This week, my blogging is likely to suffer a bit as a result of my participation in a timely and interesting meeting on protracted displacement. The conference – or more accurately, the “Second Expert Seminar on Protracted Internal Displacement” – is supported by a dedicated webpage at IDMC with a good overview of what will be discussed and a useful selection of background documents.

The prior ‘first expert seminar’ in 2007 addressed the problem of protracted internal displacement quite broadly and provided an important service by simply defining it. The definition selected departed somewhat from those proposed in the past for for protracted refugee situations in that it dispensed with minimum durations of displacement or numbers of people affected in favor of focusing on the obstacles posed to internally displaced persons’ (IDPs’) rights and dignity by the sheer fact that prospects for voluntary durable solutions remain indefinitely remote.

The current seminar focuses on local integration as a solution to displacement. As described in my background paper on Serbia, as well as the five other highly informative case-studies commissioned for this meeting, local integration may often be inevitable but is rarely a popular political choice. For instance, in conflict-related displacement situations, integration may be seen by the authorities and even IDPs themselves as undermining policies meant to ensure the reintegration of breakaway regions through mass return.

As described in last year’s IASC Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs (posted on here), a recent humanitarian response to such concerns has involved the promotion of ‘interim integration’ measures. Such measures are in practice similar to permanent integration measures, but are undertaken in cognizance of the possibility that return may become an option someday, and that return policies will only be successful at that time if IDPs have been permitted (or encouraged) to regain (or attain) a degree of self-reliance.

The conference will provide an opportunity to parse out some of these issues based on the concrete experience of a number of countries affected by protracted displacement. Greater clarification of the role of integration in internal displacement settings would be an important achievement and would also complement parallel efforts to respond more effectively to protracted refugee situations. As noted last year by UNHCR, protracted conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia is leading to ‘quasi-permanent’ displacement both within and across borders.

Indeed, the issue of protracted refugee situations is sobering not only in terms of the sheer numbers affected and the resulting vulnerability, but also in light of the political dynamic involved. As described recently in a helpful overview of the international response to protracted refugee situations by the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, proposals to encourage greater resilience on the part of refugees by allowing measures of integration are, if anything, more controversial than calls for the interim integration of IDPs. The reason given for this – perceived threats to the security and sovereignty of host nations – bode ill for the type of solidarity that may yet be required in the face of phenomena like global climate change.

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7 responses to “Choosing in the absence of choice: Protracted displacement and integration

  1. Filiep Decorte

    Hi Rhodri
    It is a pity that Somalia has not been included as a casestudy. We led a very interesting exercise of local integration in Bossaso (Puntland/Somalia), which basically focused on mobilising local communities in a discussion on minimum ‘acceptable’ standards in temporary settlements (access to sanitation, densities), the economic ‘constructive’ role of the long term IDPs and landsharing opportunities for local integration that would help organise urban growth and, through infrastructure investments, raise property values for local landowners (win/win). Tenure solutions provided did not exclude a return to their home in the South. The end-result of the public process was that locals started selling land to IDPs in order to settle and be able to build more durable shelters. One of the basic principles was that concentration of IDPs settling down would not outsize a ‘soccer’-field in order to avoid the creation of ‘ghettos’ and to promote social integration. In other cases, IDPs themselves were moving their temporary settlement to sites where land-‘owners’ agreed on minimum standards. An article was posted in FMR 34 on this. In order to overcome the ‘power’ of those local landlords that were exploiting and abusing their presence, we organised town hall meetings that were aired on local TV and radio, set-up committees that involved a broad section of society (incl. religious leaders), etc. The public nature of the process was very important. Time for a post-evaluation in Bossaso to see where it stands now as successful local integration evidently can only be measured in the long term.

  2. Filiep, many thanks for your comment. The Bossaso exercise has definitely not received the attention it deserves. There is a bit of information out there about it but I agree that a post-evaluation would really help to establish it as potentially replicable practice. Is such an evaluation concretely in the works at this point? Feel free to revert with a guest-posting with more updated details on this anytime.

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