How Urban are IDPs and What Does that Mean for Their Economic Integration?

Cindy Huang and Jimmy Graham

Background paper for the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019


Given the economic challenges faced by IDPs in lower and middle-income countries (LMICs), and the wide-ranging consequences of these challenges, there is an emerging consensus that IDPs and refugees should be allowed to pursue self-reliance through local economic integration. Some of the greatest opportunities for expanding IDPs’ economic integration are in urban areas, where economic activity clusters. The authors analyze the known locations of IDPs in LMICs and visualize them in an interactive map. Key observations include:

  • There is a substantial lack of location data for IDPs. The data covers only 9.3 million conflict-displaced IDPs in 17 countries (out of 40 million conflict IDPs at the end of 2017).
  • About half of conflict IDPs are located in urban areas (about 4.4 million out of a sample of 9.3 million in 17 countries). Nearly 1.5 million conflict IDPs are in major urban areas with populations over 300,000. Just under half of these are working aged adults. While the dataset is incomplete, these figures nevertheless provide a useful lower bound.
  • Ten countries have at least 50,000 IDPs in urban areas and 10 countries have at least 10,000 in major cities. Some countries have very large urban populations, e.g. Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Iraq each have over 500,000 IDPs in urban areas and at least 100,000 in major urban areas.
  • There is significant variation in urban-rural composition across countries that may partly reflect a country’s overall urbanization rate. While some IDP populations are mostly urban, others (e.g. Chad, Niger) are almost entirely rural. In some cases IDP populations are disproportionately rural compared to national populations, suggesting a potential opportunity to incentivize urbanization in these contexts.

The authors suggest three policy implications:

  • Support IDPs to capitalize on the relatively large number of economic opportunities available in urban areas. This could include: humanitarian assistance to non-camp urban IDPs to increase access to basic services; vocational training or job-matching programs; involvement of the private sector (e.g. by hiring IDPs and supplying from or investing in IDP-owned businesses); broad development programs that invest in urban planning, infrastructure and services; and specific support for female IDPs who account for about half of working-age IDPs. Governments can ensure that there is an enabling policy environment (e.g. legal permission for IDPs to reside and work). Efforts to support IDP economic integration should also include host communities.
  • Create sustainable growth opportunities in rural areas and/or consider incentivizing IDPs’ voluntary relocation to urban areas. This could include leveraging the economies that grow out of IDP camps, e.g. investing in infrastructure, encouraging private sector investment by offsetting risk, and supporting the development of IDP and host businesses and employability. If there is a skills mismatch between rural IDPs and job opportunities, consideration could also be given to subsidizing or incentivizing some IDPs’ voluntary relocation to urban areas.
  • Invest in collecting more data to inform strategic decisions.