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Solutions to internal displacement

Solutions to internal displacement

There are considered to be three durable solutions to situations of displacement voluntary repatriation, resettlement in a third country (or third location), and local settlement (also termed local integration). The main idea behind the durable solutions, originally devised by the UNHCR in relation to the plight of refugees, is to help the displaced to become self-sufficient, independent from aid, and to enable forced migrants to participate fully in social and economic life, either in their new home or back where they fled from (Stein 1986). Discourse on durable solutions was out of fashion between the late 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, but has recently gained renewed prominence.

For both refugees and IDPs, the most accepted solution to displacement is considered to be repatriation, since most crises of displacement, even protracted ones, are regarded as temporary (Frelick 1999, Jacobsen 2001). However, due to limited prospects of a safe return, repatriation is often a poor alternative in many of the protracted conflicts generating internal displacement and the emphasis on repatriation as the preferred solution may create false expectations with long, frustrating and dangerous waiting games in which uprooted people insist upon their right to return (Frelick 1999). We have also experienced - for instance in the South Caucasus - situations where the focus on return is strong amongst both the authorities and the IDPs themselves, but where the reasons for this differ greatly. The authorities encourage return as a political tool for reclaiming territories, while the IDPs seek only to reclaim their homes and livelihoods.

When return is possible, returnees often face a number of challenges relating to land and property rights, infrastructure and social services. Socio-economic status and livelihood opportunities have often suffered as a result of displacement, and new disputes between social groups have emerged. People do not generally return to the exact life and community they left behind, thus making return an ambiguous solution.

Because of the numerous protracted situations of displacement, many IDPs find themselves in circumstances where their needs cease to be addressed long before a satisfactory durable solution has been identified. In such cases, when people can neither return nor continue to live in the dire camp or other temporary shelter conditions, resettlement to a new and safe area within the country could be a third alternative.

A main question arising from discussions of the solutions to internal displacement is when does displacement end? Unlike for refugees, for whom the cessation clauses contained within the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees detail the circumstances in which their need for international protection comes to an end, there is no formal process for recognising that IDPs are no longer regarded as displaced (OCHA 2003:98).

Peace is a precondition for the end of internal displacement. However, it does not in itself guarantee its end. Nine years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, for example, some 310,000 people are still living as internally displaced in Bosnia and Herzegovina (IDMC 2005b). Other preconditions are therefore necessary. OCHA (2003) defines the opportunity to establish a stable existence in an area of relative peace as an ingredient. In other words becoming 'ordinary citizens' - with some degree of both legal and physical safety, some land and property rights and access to a sustainable livelihood - is the main precondition for the end of displacement.

One problem with much of the debate on when internal displacement ends is that it is largely focused on the policy point of defining when the internally displaced are no longer in need of special protection and assistance (see, for example, Bonoan 2003, Cohen 2003, Frelick 2003, Kälin 2003, Mooney 2003b). The debate only to a very limited extent takes into consideration the experiences of the internally displaced themselves, and fails to examine how the IDP category develops particular local meanings and often becomes its own social category or identity (see Mooney 2002 for a discussion of this).

Forced Migration Review (Bonoan, 2003)
Forced Migration Review (Frelick, 2003)
Forced Migration Review (Mooney, 2003)
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC),
UNHCR, New Issues in Refugee Research (Jacobsen, 2001):
ReliefWeb, OCHA
Last updated Aug 17, 2011