Turning point or wasted opportunity for UN? SAS expert warns on ‘internal displacement’ crisis

Wednesday 6 October 2021
                                                                                                                                                        Image: Shutterstock

The Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) research centre at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS) has taken another important step in its quest to raise the profile and understanding of internal displacement and the situations faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) globally. These people have similar problems to refugees, except they are still in their own countries where they may continue to face the very dangers that drove out the others.

Refugees are defined as people who have ‘fled their own countries due to war and persecution’, and the distinction is increasingly important as international instability has pushed the number of IDPs (55 million) far above that of refugees (26 million). In fact, SAS expert Professor David Cantor and his colleague Dr Gabriel Cardona-Fox warn (see below) that ‘if we neglect this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to scale-up solutions for IDPs, it is difficult to see how the sustainable development goals can possibly be achieved by 2030.’

With the launch of Researching Internal Displacement, a major new online hub for independent analysis, RLI aims to connect researchers, practitioners, policymakers, students, artists and people from displacement-affected communities with cutting-edge research, analysis, creative materials and events on internal displacement. And in doing so, it will continue its work in creating networks that can use local understanding and expertise to build capacity to tackle the pernicious problem of internal displacement.

The online hub, which welcomes new contributions, also hosts the independent research networks in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, and the Health and Internal Displacement Network. Each network promotes research engagement, particularly in countries affected by internal displacement. All host regular events, promote research and publications, and feed into policy and practice.

In tandem, the RLI has launched a free online training course on Internal Displacement, Conflict and Protection developed by its networks on Coursera, the online learning platform. It provides a comprehensive introduction to key issues surrounding internal displacement over six weekly participative sessions through a range of robust and challenging activities, materials and peer discussions.

These new resources, supported by the RLI’s UK Global Challenges Research Fund project, respond to the call for strengthening ‘effective use of internal displacement data and analysis’ in the UN High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement’s just-published report, 'Shining a Light on Internal Displacement: a Vision for the Future'.

The valuable contribution to the UN’s work on internal displacement of the Internal Displacement Research Programme (IDRP, which is hosted by the RLI) was recognised in this long-anticipated independent report. It states that ‘The Panel benefited from research and analysis through a pro-bono partnership with the University of London Refugee Law Initiative’s Internal Displacement Research Programme. The programme facilitates regional networks of researchers in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East on internal displacement’.

‘Shining a Light on Internal Displacement’, which advocates for nationally owned solutions for more than 55 million people displaced within their own countries, also cites research by IDRP and Refugee Law Initiative director Professor David Cantor, the Health and Internal Displacement Network, and IDRP affiliates.

Professor Cantor and Dr Gabriel Cardona-Fox, a senior research associate at RLI, have responded to this potentially ground-breaking panel report with a blog post entitled ‘UN High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement: can a new development-based approach bring solutions to this global crisis?’ In it they welcome the UN review and the panel’s proposals for building development action into the humanitarian response at an early stage and better linking up humanitarian and development approaches in IDP crises. ‘Might this,’ they wonder, ‘be a game-changer for fully reintegrating IDPs into society and thus bringing an end to their displacement?’

Acknowledging that the panel has ‘done its work’, Professor Cantor and Dr Cardona-Fox, conclude that it now ‘lies in the hands of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who established this panel, and UN member states and agencies to dictate whether this will be a turning point for IDPs globally, or another wasted opportunity by the UN and governments.

‘Ultimately, they alone will be judged on whether there is the political will to seize the moment. A word of caution, though: if we neglect this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to scale-up solutions for IDPs, it is difficult to see how the sustainable development goals can possibly be achieved by 2030.’

Find out more about the Refugee Law Initiative’s Internal Displacement Research programme at https://www.researchinginternaldisplacement.org and follow the latest news on Twitter at @RID_networks.