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.