by Veronica P. Fynn
Veronica P. Fynn is the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Internal Displacement
Migration within borders has become a major global health concern as people are forced to leave their place of habitual residence because of war, internal conflict, development, poverty, natural disasters, modernization, climate change, poor governance and more. Providing protection and assistance to this unique yet complex group of people has become a topic of debate as the international human rights regime grapples with not only whose responsibility it is to protect but also whether the creation of a new internal displacement law is necessary and timely.
To date there is no journal existing to advance debates and scholarship on the plight of internally displaced people around the world, hence the birth of the Journal of Internal Displacement (JID). The JID aims to raise the profile of internally displaced persons by creating a platform whereby both scholars and non-scholars primarily interested in the topic can disseminate and exchange ideas on issues pertinent to this group. Since its launch in July 2009, the JID has attracted a wide range of readership including (but not limited to) academics, researchers, lawyers, doctors, students, psychologists, journalists, advocates, policy-makers, individuals as well as members of diverse public and private institutions.
Migration, though a natural process, is complex and multi-dimensional. Unlike theories advanced by long-standing migration scholars, migrants are not isolated individuals who react to market stimuli and bureaucratic rules, but social beings seeking to achieve better outcomes for themselves, their families and their communities by actively shaping the process of mass movement. Cross border migration has become problematic partly because of neo-liberal and post-modern ideologies characterized by Eurocentricity, discrimination, racism, geopolitics and land disputes. Hence, beyond the restrictions of “cross-border movement” which falls under the rubric of international refugee law is “within-border movement” formally known as internal displacement or loosely referred to as “internal refugees”.
Despite the ambiguity entre classification of the term, fact remains that the number of people displaced is constantly increasing as global refugee numbers dwindle. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Group (IDMC), there are 26 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 52 countries around the world. Africa houses more than half of this number from selected countries. In other words, there are no estimates to quantify the exact numbers of internally displaced persons in Africa; however, IDMC study found that 11.6 million IDPs exist in only 19 countries in Africa. Both IDMC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have confirmed on several occasions that global estimates of IDPs do not usually include people displaced by natural disasters, corporate expansion, development, marginalization, neo-colonialism, or climatic conditions (e.g., the San people in the Kalahari Desert, Turkana in Kenya, Sahwaris in Western Sahara or aboriginals in Canada, New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia).
Associated with inaccurate estimates of IDPs are definitional concerns and legal discrepancies with regards to protecting this group. Unlike refugees whose rights are protected by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, there are no legally binding instruments for IDPs. The 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement was the first global document created to address the plight of IDPs. Though reputed for being highly useful the Guiding Principles is not legally binding. Another issue of grave concern with respect to protecting and assisting IDPs is the long-standing principle known as “state sovereignty”. The international community is often caught between the space of respect for “state sovereignty” and “responsibility to protect” lives, especially of those faced with humanitarian disasters (e.g., Darfur, Sudan).
Apart from the above issues, it is worth noting that women and children are disproportionately affected by the causes of internal displacement, especially when it comes to violence, access to education, health and claims to land and property rights. During their journey of displacement, women and children’s inherent biological make-up often predisposed them to gross forms of human rights abuses: gender and sexual violence, torture, and denial of rights to own land and property (to name but a few). To this end, the physical, health, psychological and socio-economic impact of internal displacement is severe and chronic. Internal displacement may result in disability, child-soldiering, traumatic experiences, family separation, unemployment (amongst others). It is against this backdrop, that the establishment of the JID is much needed to provide a platform for both displaced and non-displaced persons to exchange ideas, advance dialogue and recommend innovative ways in which society can respond to the growing problem of internal displacement globally.
One major topic of concern the JID consciously endeavours to highlight is the ramification of land and property issues that concerns the broad scope of internal displacement. Three of recent articles touching on these issues include:
1. AKM Ahsan Ullah, “Forced or Development Induced Displacement? Occupied Palestinian Territories and International Conscience” (2011) Journal of Internal Displacement 1 at 5-17
Abstract: A massive number of displacements in the eastern part of the city occurred by Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem as a means to solidify the unification of Jerusalem. This paper delineates that the forceful annexation of an occupied territory is ‘illegal’ and that Israel failed to unite the eastern and western parts of Jerusalem due partly to the lack sovereign control over occupied East Jerusalem. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is clearly a disregard for international laws and Conventions to which they are party. There are renewed debates about how Palestinian and Israeli societies will deal with the legacy of human rights abuse.
2. Hane Chung, “Environmentally-Induced Displacement: Identifying the Complexities and Finding Solutions Under the Current International Protection Regime” (2011) 1 Journal of Internal Displacement 1 at 18-46
Abstract: Migration has been a human adaptive strategy to environmental changes for millennia. The current and anticipated environmentally-induced displacement is noteworthy, however, for its scale and intensity. This paper approaches the issue predominantly through a migration/displacement lens and assesses the applicability of existing international law, in particular the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The difficulty of categorizing the wide-ranging types of environmentally-induced displacement challenges existing conceptual and legal frameworks. The lack of distinction between voluntary and involuntary migration associated with slow-onset natural disasters further complicates the provision of protection for those uprooted. This topic is particularly pertinent to the discourse of internal displacement as most environmentally-induced displacement is likely to occur and remain within borders, at least in the near future. A uniquely Canadian perspective is offered to the issue by examining Canada’s response to environmentally-induced displacement, including a discussion on displacement scenarios of Inuit populations in the Arctic. Lastly, an alternative, if not complementary, approach of investing in the resiliency and adaptive capacities of at-risk communities is suggested.
3. Michèle Morel, “Environmental Displacement within Kenya: A Search for Legal Protection Frameworks” (2011) 1 Journal of Internal Displacement 1 at 164-185
Abstract: Human displacement is expected to be one of the main impacts of environmental change in the years to come. This article examines the applicable legal frameworks at the international, (sub-)regional and national levels that serve as protection mechanisms for persons residing in Kenya who have been forced to leave their homes due to environmental problems or changes, but remain within the borders of the country. The second part of the article discusses three specific categories of environmental displacement that occur in Kenya: (i) displacement due to natural disasters, (ii) development-induced displacement, and (iii) displacement as a result of environmental conservation programmes. The article concludes with some recommendations on appropriate strategies for the protection of persons environmentally displaced within Kenya
The above articles are really just the “tip of the iceberg”, when it comes to the scope of issues published on in the JID. Thus, you are encouraged to subscribe to the JID where you will have the opportunity to download full-texts because the JID supports open access to all. For more information visit: http://journalinternaldisplacement.webs.com/