Monitoring internally displaced people

Informing about internal displacees
Knowing exactly the number of internally displaced persons, country by country, is a strategically important but very difficult question. The lack of presence in areas where there are internally displaced populations, combined with insufficient understanding of what internal displacement means, has often made it difficult to know the numbers of internally displaced populations and their specific assistance and protection needs. Conceptual and technical issues also need to be resolved: for example, how long should displacement be considered to last ? Should people still be included among the displaced when they have found alternative settlements ? How does one classify people who live anonymously and who are dispersed in different parts of the country ? Since there is no one institution charged with collecting information about internally displaced persons, there is no consistent methodology applied by the various groups collecting the data.

The NRC survey has found that most agencies do not establish independently the number of internally displaced persons in a given country. Often they draw upon UNHCR statistics, which rely heavily on government figures, which in turn are contested on the ground that they may be manipulated for political or economic reasons. Governments, for example, may minimize the numbers for political reasons or increase them to attract international assistance. In some countries, United Nations agencies and NGOs acknowledge that no estimates are available.

The adequate assessment of the needs of the internally displaced in a particular situation is of course a prerequisite for any effective attempt to address them. Without assessments, it is difficult to know which options for response are available or which types of assistance and protection programmes should best be applied. No "standard" assistance or protection approach or package for the internally displaced currently exists. The assessment of needs requires a ground-level capacity and the pooling of information provided by governmental and non-governmental sources. In some regions, NGOs have been called upon by intergovernmental agencies to carry out needs assessments. In other areas, however, only a fraction of the local NGOs have sufficient operational capacity and expertise required by UN agencies for assessment operations. In still other locations, there is such limited presence that assessments are not made. The trend, all the same, is to establish more and more institutional linkages between the international and the local levels for assessment purposes, with national, regional, and international NGOs as important components. The development of methodologies for collecting information and making needs assessments should be an important part of the global strategy for dealing with the internally displaced.

In conjunction with the Latin American Demographic Centre (CELADE), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) implemented an information system relating to displaced persons in Central America in 1989 and 1990. The system developed specific information about the socio-economic background of the displaced population in the region. IOM and the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua have been striving to set up national information systems on displaced persons since 1991.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Centre for Documentation on Refugees (CDR)/Country of Origin Information Project was established in 1985, when 3 information centres, International Refugee Integration Resource Centre (IRIRC), Refugee Law Centre and UNHCR Secretariat Information Centre (SIC), where integrated to form CDR. In 1986, CDR became the UNHCR Centre for Documentation on Refugees HCR. Activities include among others, coordinating the International Electronic Refugee Network (IRENE), which links UNHCR to more than 2,000 NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, institutions and other users interested in refugee matters.

Other organizations informing about displaced peoples include [inter alia]: UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs/Working Group on Early Warning of New Flows of Refugees and Displaced Persons; European Community (EC)/Statistical Office (EUROSTAT); UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions