Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by Kimpa Vita Press & Publishers on Dec 8, 2019. Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes.
On 23 October 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General announced the establishment of a High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in an event organised to mark the 10-anniversary of the adoption of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention.
This announcement comes at a time when contemporary migration continues to take disturbing forms, trends, and dynamics. Currently, over 41.3 million people have been uprooted within their own country and away from places they call home. Whereas the push and pull factors are numerous, the majority of IDPs are uprooted by civil unrest, natural hazards, and development-induced displacements among others.
It has been observed that the failure to address long-term displacements risk undermining progress towards the realisation of Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 given that IDPs are one of the most vulnerable categories of forced migrant populations with possibilities of becoming refugees in the future if reasons for their displacements are not appropriately resolved. The vulnerability of IDPs manifests in numerous ways;
- Firstly, IDPs are habitually located in hard-to-reach areas with poor roads and communication infrastructures, and as such, often away from the lenses of national and international media and periodic monitoring and reporting. Combined with limited understanding of the dynamics of internal displacements, the silence of the media can only worsen situations that would otherwise provoke international callouts and responses. In respect to state sovereignty, very little however can be done unless international assistance is sought.
- Secondly, IDPs often receive less international attention because they are ostensibly under the protection of their states – unless the state is unable or unwilling to provide appropriate protection. Depending on the material possibility and political willingness, reliance on states’ services only offer little assistants especially in the context of development-induced displacements and/or where states shove people into gazetted IDPs in the pretext of fulfilling their ‘Responsibility to Protect’.
- Thirdly, IDPs are often trapped in areas closer to active conflicts and therefore grapple with heightened insecurity resulting from the proliferation of small arms, physical attacks, abduction, torture, and sexual violence among others. This among other factors makes the IDP situation hardly visible to the international community.
- Lastly, IDPs often struggle with legal protection. Uganda’s policy definition of IDPs recognizes those in ‘rural areas’ but excludes their urban counterparts yet they have similar challenges. To date, hundreds if not thousands of people remain trapped in various urban centres including Acholi Quarter in Kampala and Forest Ward in Gulu district and are unable or unwilling to return to their original homesteads for numerous socio-economic and personal reasons.
I resided in more than one IDP camp during the violent conflict between the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA); I had the feel of life in Ajulu (Gulu district), Opit (now in Omoro district) and Pabbo IDP camp (now Amuru district) which was the largest IDP camp in northern Uganda in the early 2000s. My experiences therein are worth a documentary, book or both. Having lived there, I can contend that many IDPs experience horrific and hopeless lives – one that no human being should be subjected to let alone children who often suffer wars adults fight.
The announcement of the establishment of a High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement, whereas long overdue, is a huge step forward in the quest for sustainable solutions to the plight of IDPs and a major step forward in addressing causes of internal displacements world over. As we wait for the final composition of the panel and assumption of office in early 2020, I commend the leadership of the United Nations for this major stride towards increasing global attention to internal displacements.
Looking back to recent international events, and specifically to the Wilton Park’s Conference on ‘Internal Displaced Persons: towards more effective international protection and durable solutions’ held in West Sussex, UK from 2-4 September 2019, during which multiple actors from different professional backgrounds gathered to deliberate on the plights of IDPs and in the pursuit for durable solutions, it’s undeniable that a number of actors haven’t given up in pushing for policy and legislative reforms as well as service provision to IDPs – efforts which require collective support to realise progressive transformation in the lives of IDPs.
The above historic conference, organised ahead of a major UN decision to establish a High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement was convened by Wilton Park team with ingenious moderation by Julia Purcell. I’m honoured to have been part of this major deliberation and hopeful that the recommendations generated during the Conference inform the panel’s intervention, other subsequent establishments and discourse on internal displacements in the years to come.
Indeed, the long wait for the High-Level panel is over. However, the wait for the operationalisation of the panel may have just begun. History will judge us all for our complacency or active involvement in addressing factors leading to and fuelling internal displacements world over. I look forward to working with the yet to be established panel in 2020!