Breaking the Impasse: Reducing Protracted Internal Displacement as a Collective Outcome

Walter Kälin and Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat

OCHA Policy and Studies Series, 2017


This study describes the impact of protracted internal displacement and proposes steps to address internal displacement where durable solutions remain elusive. This analysis draws on case studies of protracted internal displacement in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Philippines, Somalia and Ukraine. Key messages:

  • An increasing number of IDPs are in situations of protracted displacement, characterized by entrenched vulnerability, impoverishment and marginalization. Rather than focusing on duration of displacement (which can affect displaced groups differently across contexts), the authors define protracted displacement as “situations in which tangible progress towards durable solutions is slow or stalled for significant periods of time because IDPs are prevented from taking or are unable to take steps that allow them to progressively reduce the vulnerability, impoverishment and marginalization they face as displaced people, in order to regain a self-sufficient and dignified life and ultimately find a durable solution”.
  • Protracted displacement can be found in six general contexts: ongoing conflict and violence situations; ‘frozen’ conflict situations (absence of a peace agreement preventing return); post-conflict situations; mega-disaster events; long-lasting, repeated, small-scale or seasonal disasters; and mixed situations. Addressing protracted displacement requires actions that allow IDPs to progressively reduce their vulnerability, impoverishment and marginalization and take steps towards a self-sufficient and dignified life.
  • Protracted displacement leaves IDPs in a situation of vulnerability that exposes them to various protection problems that often increase over time including: risks relating to safety and security; restrictions on freedom of movement; greater difficulties in maintaining an adequate standard of living including access to food, drinking water, basic shelter and housing, health, education; impediments to securing employment or livelihoods; challenges asserting housing, land and property rights; difficulties obtaining or replacing lost documents; inability to fully participate in public affairs; and heightened social, cultural and economic marginalization and stigmatization.
  • Protracted internal displacement can severely impact host families, communities, local governments and host countries.
  • Major causes of protracted internal displacement are: prolonged conflict; lack of political will and inadequate frameworks at the country level to address internal displacement; limited engagement by international actors to move beyond the provision of humanitarian assistance; and lack of dedicated financial resources to address protracted displacement or prevent new displacement from becoming protracted.
  • Addressing protracted internal displacement is not a purely humanitarian concern, requiring far-reaching changes in how governments and the international community address internal displacement, i.e. working towards collective outcomes that reduce the particular needs, risks and vulnerabilities of IDPs and increase their resilience. IDPs should not have to wait until a conflict is fully resolved or all impacts of a disaster have ceased before they can begin rebuilding their lives and move towards self-sufficiency in accordance with fundamental standards of human rights and dignity.
  • Achieving collective outcomes requires: (a) creating an evidence base (on causes and impacts of protracted internal displacement, and capacities of IDPs and host communities); (b) defining collective outcomes; (c) ensuring a strategic outlook by formulating a common problem statement; (d) integrating collective outcomes into relevant planning tools, e.g. national development plans; (e) promoting and creating normative and institutional frameworks (i.e. adequate laws and policies); (f) implementing multi-year collaborative interventions (rather than mandate-driven projects); and (g) securing transversal financing (i.e. transcending humanitarian-development divide).
  • Governments should lead efforts where possible, prioritizing action to ensure IDPs’ and host communities’ access to livelihood opportunities, adequate housing with security of tenure and basic services. This should be done within National Development Plans, with adequate normative and institutional frameworks, and support to municipalities (based on population including IDPs).
  • International development and humanitarian actors should support government efforts by integrating concrete and measurable outcomes into their own planning and activities, prioritizing actions that strengthens the resilience of IDPs and host communities through investments in livelihoods, housing and services, and support to strengthen government capacity. In urban areas, comprehensive urban planning approaches should be promoted and supported.
  • Donors should provide more flexible and long-term funding.