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Is the IDP label useful?

Is the IDP label useful?

Labels determine the rules of and access to particular resources and privileges. In order to secure these entitlements and be successful in their dealings with the institutions involved, individuals often have to accept and adjust to categorisation and conform to existing humanitarian labels (see, for example, Stepputat and Sørensen 2001). Bolton et al. (2005) summarise the unintended and undesirable consequences of labelling and thus isolating people in need or people of concern :

The homogenising effect of the label - the sense that it reduces the diversity of individuals to a single characteristic that they themselves would not normally use to identify themselves

The stigmatising effect of the label - the possibility that IDPs may, by virtue of their being defined in terms of their displacement, be regarded as people who do not belong where they are and do not have a right to stay there

The localising effect of the label - that it promotes and lends credence to the idea that people are naturally rooted to a single place of origin and that the lasting solution to their displacement is to return to the place of origin which is based on a simplistic understanding of the meaning of 'home' and 'locality' in human social life

The privileging effect of the label - the potential effect of diverting attention from others in comparable or even greater need.

Highlighting such negative effects might make it difficult to see the usefulness of the IDP-category. But according to Zetter (1985), a non-labelled solution cannot exist: there is no escape from terms like 'refugee' and 'IDP' if we are going to assist people forced to migrate from their homes. And there are reasons for maintaining some sort of labelling system. The use of the term forced, for example, helps to prevent the normalisation and even romanticisation of the forced migration experience, which is in danger of becoming viewed as normal in todays globalised world. .

Rather than doing away with labels, Zetter suggests redefining policy-making perspectives so that the focus is on the people covered by the label rather than the label itself. Others suggest increased participation from the 'labelled' (Mazur 1988, Wood 1985). According to Mazur (1988), displaced populations should be actively involved in defining their needs, collaborating in the generation of resources, and improving access to essential goods and services. However, as Harris argues, participatory approaches assume consensus and collectively prioritised needs, and ignore points of divergence and root causes of problems.

In order to most effectively assist the millions of forced migrants worldwide, the tone of current policy, terminology, and focus must be questioned, challenged and changed.

Last updated Aug 17, 2011