Internally Displaced People


According to the UN OCHA’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, “internally displaced persons [IDPs] are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” IDPs remain within their own country – even when that government is responsible for their displacement. They may be unwilling or unable – physically or financially – to leave their homeland and instead migrate within their country to another area.

Refugees are different from internally displaced people who, while also forcibly displaced from their homes, cross an international border. They are also different from migrants who choose to travel to another country for work, education or to reunite with family.

Who is an Internally Displaced Person?

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Millions of people are forced to flee their homes or places of habitual residence each year, including in the context of conflict, violence, development projects, disasters and climate change, and remain displaced within their countries of residence. Millions more live in situations of protracted displacement or face chronic displacement risk. As of the end of 2018, 41.3 million people were living in internal displacement because of conflict and violence. These numbers show that internal displacement is a crisis of enormous proportion and yet, the world is largely unaware.”

In 2018, 28 million people were new displacements, associated with conflict and disasters. Of these, 10.8 million were from conflict while 17.2 million were from disasters. Disasters therefore represent nearly two-thirds of new displacements. Of the disaster displacements, 16.1 million were weather-related disasters (i.e. storms, floods, extreme temperature, drought) while 1.1 million were geo-physical (i.e. earthquakes, volcanic eruption). The countries with the largest number of disaster-related new displacements were the Philippines and China at 3.8 million people each; India, at 2.7 million and the United States at 1.2 million. A study by IDMC in 2015 showed substantial numbers of people still displaced 5-10 years after significant earthquakes (Haiti), cyclones (Bangladesh), volcanic eruptions (Papa New Guinea) and other natural disasters. It is unknown how many people remain displaced overall because of disasters.

Regionally, the IDMC reports the following new displacements for each region:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa – 7.4 million for conflict and 2.6 million for disasters. Millions of people were forced to flee their homes as a consequence of ongoing and new conflicts and violence, as well as droughts, floods and storms. Internal displacement in Sub-Saharan Africa was higher than in any other region. Africa is the only region with a convention protecting the rights of IDPs.
  • Middle East and North Africa – 2.1 million for conflict and 214,000 for disasters. Conflict and violence continued to drive internal displacement in the region, with more than 2.1 million new displacements in 2018. Almost 11 million people were living in internal displacement as of the end of that year, accounting for more than a quarter of the global total.
  • East Asia and Pacific –236,000 for conflicts and 9.3 million for disasters. Over a third of the total new global displacements were recorded in the region; most were triggered by disasters. From highly exposed countries such as the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Japan, to small island states and territories such as Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Vanuatu, the impacts varied significantly across the vast region.
  • South Asia – 544,000 for conflict and 3.3 million for disasters. Large-scale displacement in South Asia was once again triggered by a series of floods, storms and droughts, as well as unresolved conflicts and violence. Nearly 14 percent of global internal displacement was recorded in this region.
  • The Americas – 404,000 for conflict and 1.7 million for disasters. Weather-related disasters once again impacted several countries in the Americas in 2018. In addition, unresolved conflict, criminal violence and social and economic crises continued to push people to flee.
  • Europe and Central Asia – 12,000 for conflict and 41,000 for disasters. A total of 53,000 new displacements were recorded across this region in 2018. In addition, almost 2.9 million people were living in internal displacement as of the end of that year, the result of old and unresolved conflicts and territorial disputes in several countries.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Extreme weather events provide the most direct pathway from climate change to migration” but in the longer-term “sea level rise, coastal erosion, and loss of agricultural productivity … will have a significant impact on migration flows.” In anticipation of worsening conditions, “moving and settling people to new locations might become an increasingly viable protection option,” as reflected in the Brookings Institution, Georgetown University and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guidance report on protecting people from disasters and environmental change through planned relocation.

It is understandable for funders to be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers—and potentially put off by the violence, political situations and other complexities often involved. However, here is the challenge: those who have been displaced—even within their own nation’s borders as IDPs—can face unimaginable humanitarian hardships. And when it comes to IDPs in particular, there is no binding international law or agency with the full authority/formal responsibility to ensure they receive the assistance they need. (See Kampala Convention for more information on what actions could help.) It is especially challenging for those internally displaced due to conflict rather than natural disaster. In some cases, the ruling government could be responsible – directly or indirectly – for the displacement and actions they take may continue to perpetuate ongoing displacement and further movement.

Key Facts

  • Much progress has been made in ensuring care for IDPs in recent years; the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, for example, was a strong start. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has been at the forefront of collecting statistics and keeping track of the protection and assistance needs of IDPs throughout the world.
  • In attempting to help those displaced, lack of access can be the biggest issue. IDPs typically are located outside of camps in either remote or urban areas, making them harder to reach and assist. In addition, if conflict is involved, they may be in areas that are considered unsafe.
  • If conflict is involved, humanitarian assistance may need to remain fluid. This means funders must be more flexible since they will likely need to put more trust in partnering nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) than they are accustomed to doing. Programs may be managed remotely and therefore may be less transparent.
  • Those who are displaced are often the poorest or most vulnerable from the outset. This is especially true with IDPs; the more money available, the farther travel is possible—including to another nation, where refugee status may help with access to services.
  • Roughly three of four people who are displaced are women and dependent children. As a result, issues such as health care, nutrition and education must remain at the forefront.
  • Acute natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods are often the cause of displacement. But slow-onset natural disasters, such as persistent drought and rising sea levels, on the rise due to climate change, are bringing new questions about assistance for those affected. Many governments are already contemplating and implementing measures to move vulnerable populations out of harm’s way. However, the relocation of at-risk populations to protect them from disasters and the impacts of environmental change, including the effects of climate change, carries serious risks for those it is intended to benefit, including the disruption of livelihoods and loss of cultural practices.
  • Displacement may result in major population shifts. After a disaster, even when an area is inhabitable again, people may choose to continue living in their new location, especially if housing or job prospects are minimal in their place of origin. Gentrification following disasters may make their original home unaffordable. IDPs in international contexts (e.g. Syria, Venezuela) may be displaced for years. Domestically, displacement is usually shorter but it should be noted that approximately 25 percent of Hurricane Katrina IDPs did not return to New Orleans.

How to Help

  • Recognize that IDPs in conflict situations are among the most vulnerable persons in the world. As a funder, it may still be possible to be involved in providing humanitarian assistance without “taking sides” in the conflict itself. In any event, humanitarian aid should be provided impartially and be seen as nonpolitical and based on need alone.
  • Build capacity of—and increase advocacy for—those already working in the field. This is especially needed, as there is no lead international agency with oversight for IDPs, in contrast to refugees who are under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Support education programs that will prepare the next generation for working on humanitarian issues. Foundationally, build compassion among youth for those who are different from them. And, recognize that as the challenges grow, so too must the skills and expertise of humanitarian workers—many of whom are facing life-threatening situations in assisting and protecting refugees and IDPs.
  • Support ongoing efforts to implement international principles, policies and laws concerning IDPs. In addition, work to ensure those displaced are recognized as citizens with rights. The Kampala Convention – aka the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa – recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and has been ratified by 28 countries on the continent. However, it is the “world’s first and only continent-wide legally binding instrument for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons.”
  • Continue studies of climate change and its impact on natural disasters. Of special concern: slow-onset natural disasters such as drought and environmental degradation, as they impact food security and therefore compound issues.
  • Fund entrepreneurial and sustainable livelihood efforts for those displaced. Many IDPs are educated, professional citizens with much to offer their host communities.
  • Increase understanding of land tenure issues and how they affect those displaced. The restoration of land and property rights, for example, is a key component of long-term recovery.
  • Incorporate solutions for IDPs into emergency planning from the very beginning. Even better, ensure that IDPs, host communities and area civil society organizations are involved in planning and program delivery. Those displaced are able to help make informed decisions.
  • Support efforts to better document and identify IDPs. Not only will this help ensure access to services, it could also help reduce the number of IDPs turning to “negative coping mechanisms” in the case of an emergency, such as early/forced marriage, prostitution, child labor etc. Some populations are particularly vulnerable, such as children, the older adults, and those with disabilities.
  • Give to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, our exclusive Fund for international disasters. This fund provides an efficient, flexible solution to expedite a donation to address medium- to long-term recovery at sudden on-set disasters or protracted humanitarian emergencies.

What Funders Are Doing

  • The CDP Global Refugee Crisis Fund distributed six grants totaling $486,441 in 2016 and 2017. The fund focused on capacity-building efforts to protect people forcibly displaced within Syria. It was used to strengthen community-based protection initiatives for women and adolescents struggling through the ongoing conflict, as well as programs to improve adolescents’ psychological well-being through leadership training, education services and trauma support. Most of these grants are listed below. The remaining grant is listed in the Refugees Issue Insight.
  • In 2016, Concern received a $122,000 grant from the CDP Global Refugee Crisis Fund to build the capacity of networks and groups around the protection of vulnerable groups displaced by abuse and exploitation. In 2017, Concern was given an additional $100,000 to support the expansion of two child-friendly spaces supporting nearly 500 children and their caregivers a year.
  • Mercy Corps received a $123,000 grant from the CDP Global Refugee Crisis Fund to provide gap funding to support two No Lost Generation Community Centers providing education and trauma support to more than 360 adolescents, their families and communities in Syria. In 2017, Mercy Corps received an additional $100,000 to provide a safe space for adolescents to gather and to provide access to education including life skills training, language lessons, debate sessions and computer classes.
  • In 2017, Maram Foundation for Relief and Development received a $37,691 grant from the CDP Global Refugee Crisis Fund to undertake facility and capacity improvements for the school they run for internally displaced children.
  • In 2016, the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund gave the Feminist Initiatives Foundation (FIF) a $5,000 grant for their “Improving Employability Skills in IDP Women and Girls” in Gori, Georgia. They also granted FIF $5,500 in 2018 for the same type of activities.
  • In 2017, Hickey Family Foundation gave International Medical Corps a $250,000 grant to support reproductive health activities for IDPs in Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo in response to natural disasters.
  • In 2016, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gave a grant of $100,000 to Goreniye for comprehensive support to internally displaced persons and others affected by conflict in Ukraine. Through a network of legal advice centers, Goreniye provided primary and secondary legal assistance to displaced victims of conflict in four regions.
  • Global Greengrants Fund Inc., gave Unypad-Ranao a $2,696 urgent action grant in 2017 to provide psychosocial first aid and play therapy for affected children and parents in the Marawi siege. The grant addressed post-trauma stress to enable affected parents to become more effective in securing their needs and concerns as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Learn more