Internally displaced persons

Table of Content

Internally Displaced Persons commonly abbreviated as ‘IDPs’ refers to groups of people who have been compelled to flee from their homes or their usual residences due to armed conflicts or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflicts, violations of human rights, situations of generalized violence, or natural or man-made calamities, and have not crossed an internally recognized boundary.[1] This essay seeks to address the question of Internally Displaced Persons globally, particularly in the absence of an internationally binding treaty to address this issue on the table. The essay goes further to look at some non-binding recommendations for the internally Displaced Persons that are available.

Irrespective of the cause of internal displacement of persons, the common underlying fact is that persons subjected to such kinds of displacement have no choice but to flee from their homes. Such displacement deprives them of the most essential protection mechanism including community networks, access to basic services, and livelihood. The major results of such kind of displacement are reflected in the manner in which they severely affect the physical, socio-economic, and legal safety of persons and should be systematically regarded as indicators of potential vulnerability. Internally Displaced Persons should not be mistaken for refugees. This is because refugees are deprived of protection of their state of origin after crossing an internally recognized border, while Internally Displaced Persons are under the legal protection of their states. Internally Displaced Persons therefore are entitled to same right as the rest of the population[2]

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Internal displacement of persons has lately gained prominence internationally, and this has called for conceptual clarity of the subject. The concept of international displacement has been on the international agenda for only a short time span though it has since been recognized as a legitimate matter of international concern. From the time of international recognition, there has been significant increase in the awareness of the global crisis of internal displacement as well as the plight of the affected population.[3]

Though there is the absence of an international legal treaty regarding internal displacement of persons, a normative framework for addressing the problem has since been developed and its usage is widely being promoted at the national, regional, and international levels. This is clearly reflected in the manner in which international humanitarian, human rights and development agencies have actively been engaged with the internally displaced, both at the policy level and in the field, and a United Nations office has since been established to coordinate their efforts and to ensure an effective international response.[4]

Coining an internationally acceptable definition of Internally Displaced Persons is necessary in facilitating the development of an international framework for addressing this problem. This is because by attempting to merely limit the definition to refer only to that group of persons who fled their homes suddenly or unexpectedly, has tended to overlook a number of situations. For example, in Burma, Ethiopia, and Iraq, internal displacement was not a spontaneous event but rather an organized state policy implemented over decades. At the same time, by limited the movement to forced flight would tend to exclude all other situations in which persons were obliged to leave their usual residences as witnessed in the case of forced evection of ethnic minority groups during the war in Bosnia, and lately in Zimbabwe where home demolition and forced removal of nearly half a million persons took place.[5]

The numerical concept of flight in large numbers also tended to overlook the reality that internal displacement often occur in small groups and sometimes even on individual basis. It therefore became internationally important to eliminate the requirement regarding time and the minimum number of persons affected. This invited the introduction of important nuances. By recognizing the fact that people not only became internally displaced as a consequence of suffering the causes of displacement but also in anticipation of such effects, it became important that reference is made to “people having fled as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of” as part of an internationally acceptable definition.[6]

It has also become important to that reference is not only made to “flight from home” since there could be some persons without homes yet have fled. What was important was to make reference to “habitual places of residence”. The concept of “movement within the territory of their own country” also failed to reflect the possibility of sudden border changes, for example, as in the case with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The clause should thus refer to persons “who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.”[7] Adopting these new definition clauses become important in building and internationally acceptable Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, as an important tool and a standard for addressing internal displacement that could be used around the world by governments, the United Nations, regional bodies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders.

Once internal displacement occurs, it brings about a set of circumstances that make the displaced persons highly vulnerable. This is because such persons have to flee from their usual habitual places, thus depriving them of shelter and the basic protection it can provide. Displaced persons end up cut-off from their traditional livelihood, means of generating income, and compelled to leave nearly everything except a few possessions. Families are broken up and community support networks destroyed. The displaced persons are highly stigmatized and sometimes face hostility and suspicion in the areas to which they flee. All these make the highly vulnerable to acts of violence and human rights violations.[8]

It has become important that proposed International Legal Treaties to address the issue of internal displacement not only recognize the amended definition of Internally Displaced Persons but also but also address the fact that displaced persons may not have the same need to legal protection as other civilians during conflict. The fact that displaced persons are deprived of shelter and their habitual sources of food, water, medicine, and money should be addressed by such International Treaties.[9]

The Internationally Displaced persons have different and more often urgent, material needs that need to be addressed. It is therefore important that the International Legal Treaties identify Internally Displaced Persons as a distinct category of concern so as to ensure that their needs are addressed and their human rights are respected along with those of other persons.


The United States has for a very long time been giving asylum to a large number of immigrants. The history of United States asylum can be traced back to the post World War II period in 1945 during the asylum enforcement with respect to 42 countries of origin during and after the World War.[10] This essay seeks to asses the performance of US asylum enforcement by examining its adherence to international norms governing asylum. It further goes ahead to asses the possible policy changes that the US could make in its asylum policies.

The United States asylum policy decisions are to a greater extent influenced by both norms and interests. The state agents are expected to apply both the norms and interests in arriving at asylum decisions. This has always meant that whenever a conflict arises between human rights norms and state interests, then security and diplomatic considerations are reflected. According to the US asylum policy, normative admissions were primarily a function of procedural democracy during the 1980s, and substantive human rights have been increasingly influential since then.[11]

There is no evidence however to indicates that the importance of norms relative to interests has been on the increase over time. The key question for debate has been on whether normative beliefs should be influential or whether state behavior should be best explained by focusing on material and strategic interests. This debate has attracted two classes of scholars; the realists and traditional liberals on the one hand, and the constructivists on the other hand. The realists are for the opinion that states are rational, utility maximizing actors who only seek tangible benefits. This is contrary to the position taken by the constructivists who consider internalized norms and values to precede and influence instrumental calculations.[12]

The practice of asylum can be traced to the ancient Greece, in which particular altars and holy places offered sanctuary to fugitives, particularly the ill-used slaves. The common theme that thus links the current notions and practices of asylum to those of the classical and pre-modern world is the special status of the would-be asylum seekers against the state of original jurisdiction and the sought-after haven within the state of refuge. The individual’s pursuit of safety from the execution and judicial powers of one authority set stage for the distinctive feature of asylum as it developed in the years since World War II.[13]

The United States was rhetorically created partly as a haven for the oppressed. This has made the United States to be a historical country of immigration. Customary and positive international laws have placed a range of responsibilities upon the United States and all other sovereign states towards refugees, thus making the issue of asylum to become increasingly debated and highly controversial in the United States.[14] Though the United States had initially enforced the policy of forced repatriation, particularly on asylum seekers who are sought for crimes against humanity in their countries of origin, this has since changed over time. The current policy in the United States holds that there should never be forced extradition of a foreign national to a country where his life or freedom would be threatened.[15]

According to the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), aliens seeking asylum in the United States must be in a position of proving that they would be subjected to persecution if they return home upon one of the characteristics including; religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The Act further requires that aliens present in the United States may apply for asylum with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Bureau in the Department of Homeland Security, after arrival into the country. Such provision however excludes aliens arriving at a US port without proper immigration documents, or who engage in fraud or misrepresentation.[16]

There have been advanced several reasons for the possible revision of the United States asylum law and policy. According to the proponents of the change in policy, there are concerns that potential terrorists or any other dangerous group could use the window of asylum to gain entry in to the United States. This fear is more on aliens from trouble spots including the Mideast, South Asia, and North Africa. According to these proponents of change, asylum has become an alternative avenue for immigration instead of the humanitarian protection provided in extraordinary cases. At the same time, the religious, ethnic and political violence in various countries world wide have made it increasingly difficult to differentiate between the persecuted and the persecutors. It is in the face of such circumstances that the current law on asylum is seen as not providing adequate protection for persons fleeing human rights violations.[17]

The present concern on the United States asylum performance is grounded on matters revolving around the extent to which an asylum policy formulated during the post World War II period can still be applicable in the current world. This is because majority of those who received asylum at that time were mainly fleeing communist or socialist countries. For the entire period from 1945 to 2000, the United States offered legal permanent status to nearly 3.5 million asylees and other humanitarian entrants, half of who were mainly from Vietnam, Cuba, and former Soviet Union.[18]

Critics of the change in asylum policy have asserted that the regulatory reforms begun by the first Bush administration and expanded by the Clinton administration had so far corrected the bureaucratic problems that had plagued the asylum process. However, the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 made substantial changes to the asylum process through the establishment of the expedited removal proceedings, codifying many regulatory changes, adding time limits on filing claims, and limiting judicial review in certain circumstances. These did not however alter the numerical limits on asylee adjustment.[19]

The prevailing world circumstances significantly differ from the situation in the earlier days. Key among the issues of interest to the United States is the strengthening of internal security systems as a result of global terrorism threat. Legislative measures that seek to subject asylum seeker to thorough scrutiny should be enacted to help check against potential abuse of the system by terrorist groups.


Answers Corporation, “Asylum”, Britannica Concise Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia

Britannica, Inc 2004) [Database on-line] available from

Erin Mooney, “The Concept of Internal Displacement and the Case for Internally

Displaced Persons as a Category of Concern,” Refugee Survey Quarterly, Volume 24, Issue 2 (UNHCR, 2005) [Database on-line] available from

Marc R. Rosenblum, “Norms and Interests in US Asylum Enforcement, “Journal of

Peace Research, Journal of Peace Research, No.2 (Sage Publication, 2004). 677-697 [Database on-line] available from

Ruth Ellen Wasem, “U.S Immigration Policy on Asylum Seekers”, Congressional

Research Services (2005). [Database on-line] available from

Walter Kalin, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – Annotations,” Studies in

Transnational Legal Policy, No. 32 (The American Society of International Law and The Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement, 2000) [Database on-line] available from


International Internally Displaced Persons Treaty

This agreement calls upon all member states to individually or collectively support and to exercise the necessary pressure on governments with situations of internal displacement which are unable or unwilling to assist and protect their displaced citizens according to this internationally accepted humanitarian treaty, to facilitate the efforts of all relevant agencies and humanitarian organizations in this respect, including by further improving access to internally displaced persons.

That national governments should further foster an all inclusive dialogue with internally displaced persons and those non-governmental organizations both recognized by the state and legitimate by this sector of civil society, for a full participation in the search for a peaceful solution for internally displaced and its causes.

[1] Walter Kalin, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – Annotations,” Studies in Transnational Legal Policy, No. 32 (The American Society of International Law and The Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement, 2000): paragraph 2.
[2] Ibid, paragraph 3.
[3] Erin Mooney, “The Concept of Internal Displacement and the Case for Internally Displaced Persons as a Category of Concern,” Refugee Survey Quarterly, Volume 24, Issue 2. (UNHCR, 2005). 1
[4] Ibid, 1
[5] Ibid, 11
[6] Ibid, 11
[7] Ibid, 11
[8] Ibid, 15
[9] Ibid, 16
[10] Marc R. Rosenblum, “Norms and Interests in US Asylum Enforcement, “Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Peace Research, No.2 (Sage Publication, 2004). 677-697
[11] Ibid, 1
[12] Ibid, 1
[13] 2010 Answers Corporation, “Asylum”, Britannica Concise Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc 2004)
[14] Ibid
[15] Ruth Ellen Wasem, “U.S Immigration Policy on Asylum Seekers”, Congressional Research Services, (2005)
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Ibid
[19] Ibid, 5

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