By Geneva Centre Staff
GENEVA (IDN) – The forced displacement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Middle East cannot be left unaddressed by decision-makers in the context of the refugee and migrant crisis, stressed a group of human rights experts during a panel debate at the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The debate entitled “Protecting people on the move: Internally displaced persons in the context of the refugee and migrant crisis” was held on March 21 at Palais des Nations in Geneva on the margins of the 37th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council. The debate was arranged by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Centre) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to UN Geneva.
The aim of the panel debate was to discuss the issue of internal displacement from a global perspective, offering insights into how it fits within broader policy debates on refugees and migration.
It addressed the challenges in protecting and ensuring the safe return and reintegration of IDPs through several case studies, including Iraq and Syria. Azerbaijan offered practical insights on the lessons that could be learned from assisting and supporting IDPs in protracted conflict situations.
Situation of IDPs in Middle East remains an issue of major concern
The unprecedented rise of armed conflict and violence in the Middle East has further exacerbated the human rights situation of IDPs. It is estimated that more than 40 million people are considered IDPs, which exceeds the number of refugees.
In 2016, IDMC reported that there were 31.1 million new internal displacements worldwide. One-third of conflict-related IDPs worldwide are located in the Middle East, illustrating that forced displacement of IDPs has become an issue of growing concern to the region.
In light of these observations, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre, Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, stated in his inaugural address that the discourse regarding the migrant and refugee crisis cannot afford to ignore the human rights situation of IDPs, noting that neglect of the human rights and humanitarian situation of IDPs in countries with large-scale internal displacement could give rise to a new wave of people on the move.
Isolating the situation of IDPs in the context of the lasting migrant and refugee crisis, he said, would be “counterproductive as internal displacement share the same causes as cross-border movement … Today’s IDPs could become tomorrow’s refugees.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, observed that the migration and refugee crisis and IDPs are interwoven and related to one another. The protection of IDPs is an essential matter of implementing international obligations to protect the human rights of people on the move, she said.
In her recent country visit to Libya, it was concluded that IDPs “were considering crossing the Mediterranean Sea”; indeed, recent arrivals in Italy were increasingly composed, among others, of IDPs from Libya.
In Iraq, the military defeat of ISIS has resulted in the forced displacement of nearly one million people. Although some returns of IDPs are possible, “many other IDPs from the conflict are facing protracted displacement conditions in remaining camps and host societies, sometimes since after their very initial displacement,” said Jimenez Damary in a video statement.
In neighbouring Syria, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Policy and Advocacy Advisor at its Syria office, Rachel Sider remarked that an estimated 2.9 million new displacements were reported in 2017 alone. Some 600,000 Syrians had already returned to their home societies in an attempt to rebuild their lives and their country.
However, for every Syrian refugee or IDP who returned home in 2017, “a further three were newly displaced.” Protracted internal displacement was therefore a direct cause of the precarious and volatile security situation in Syria.
“Those areas most likely to receive returns are the same areas where IDPs in protracted displacement are most likely to congregate,” said Sider. “The global experience is that the longer refugees and IDPs remain outside their home country or home areas, the lower the chances of them returning.”
The moderator of the panel debate – the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy – complemented these observations stating that greater solidarity is expressed to sufferings of IDPs that are decibel-related than those that are silent.
IDPs dying from a “silent death” – as witnessed in Syria – are no less cruel than those deaths associated “with high levels of decibels,” said Jazairy, suggesting that it is thus key to steer clear from the politicisation of issues related to the human sufferings of IDPs,.
Achievements of Azerbaijan applicable to countries in Middle East
The panel debate referred to the endeavours of Azerbaijan to identify durable solutions to enhance the integration of IDPs within Azeri society. Owing to the Nagorno-Karabakh military conflict, more than 600,000 Azeris have been forcibly displaced.
The Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to UN Geneva, Ambassador Vaqif Sadiqov, said that his country hosts one of the largest proportions of IDP population per capita in the world, numbering one million people which is equivalent approximately to the number of forcibly displaced people located in Europe.
Despite this, Sadiqov remarked that “in the last 20 years, Baku has invested six billion dollars to alleviate the plight of IDPs,” which demonstrates the commitment of the government of Azerbaijan to address the human rights situation of forcibly displaced people.
In a statement to the panel, Vice Rector of ADA University Fariz Ismayilzada highlighted that the government of Azerbaijan has made it a key priority to enhance access to “accessible housing, employment, livelihood options and education for IDPs” in the country.
In this regard, “free education at universities and secondary school level” is provided to IDPs in Azerbaijan so in order to enhance their social status within Azeri society. “Close to 400 decrees and 35 laws have been adopted by the government of Azerbaijan to enhance the rights and social status of IDPs,” said Ismayilzada.
The oil revenues of Azerbaijan have been directed towards housing projects aiming to offer affordable housing to IDPs in line with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s vision to alleviate and address the plight of IDPs. The latter are exempted “from gas, water and electricity payments” as utility costs are borne by the government of Azerbaijan. Baku has also supported the peaceful return and reintegration of IDPs to communities that were once under foreign occupation.
Ismayilzada concluded that the achievements of Azerbaijan to address the human rights situation of IDPs are applicable to countries facing large-scale internal displacement, such as Iraq and Syria.
Government leadership needed
Although responding to the protection needs of IDPs is of vital importance, the panel heard that identifying solutions to address the root-causes of such forced displacement must receive increased attention.
Involved actors were called on to resort to concerted and comprehensive efforts in their implementation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement to address the triggering factors.
In this regard, Jimenez-Damary noted that she had sent an open letter to stakeholders participating in the UN Global Compact for Migration and on Refugees in which she recommended that a solution to the migrant and refugee crisis address the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs.
IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak stated that forced displacement of IDPs must receive increased political attention. “There is a solid recognition that the issue of internal displacement is not just a humanitarian challenge, but needs to be treated as a fundamentally political and developmental one as well.” However, protecting and assisting IDPs lie on the shoulders of national sovereign governments which makes forced displacement of IDPs an internal matter.
Bilak warned that neglecting internal displacement and letting it linger for a long-time “is going to take its toll on individuals, societies and national economies.” The adverse impacts of IDPs must therefore be addressed through the lenses of poverty reduction, development, climate change and disaster risk reduction.
Recognising these elements could make governments more inclined to address causes of internal displacement and take action to avoid that politics prevail over human solidarity and justice, said Bilak.
Jazairy added his voice to this discourse suggesting that decision-makers identify a common framework to address the plight of IDPs. “A constructive and open dialogue about the solutions required to enhance the protection of IDPs in the context of the migrant and refugee crisis” is of central importance.
Sider also called for a strengthened role of governments in addressing the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs, saying that “without government leadership to ensure respect for and protection of the displaced, it will be a much longer road towards distant durable solutions.”
The moderator of the panel debate concluded the debate reiterating the importance of facilitating the exchange of views between decision-makers of the Global North and the Global South to address issues of mutual concern. “Building bridges, finding common language and joining forces” is key to identifying mutual win-win solutions on issues of broader interest.
The panel debate on IDPs was attended by ambassadors and other representatives from the Permanent Missions of Egypt, Norway, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, the Maldives, Sweden, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Iraq, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Armenia, Oman, Malta, Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria. Representatives from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Sovereign Order of Malta were also present. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 March 2018]
Photo credit: Geneva Centre
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