By the end of 2017, there were close to four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Europe, mostly in Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council of Europe (CoE) said on Tuesday.
While the current patterns of internal displacement in Europe have mainly resulted from conflicts – some of which date back to the 1990s – and instability, some cases of displacement have emanated from the impact of natural disasters and climate change, for example in Italy following the earthquakes in 2016, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to floods in 2014.
Around 200,000 Greek Cypriots remain internally displaced since the Turkish invasion in 1974.
Many IDPs whose displacement has been protracted feel that they are spending their lives “in transit”. Often marginalised, with limited possibilities to enjoy their human rights in reality, and with no durable solutions in sight, it is scarcely surprising that their experience is one devoid of hope. Some of Europe’s IDPs have already remained in this situation for decades, the CoE said.
It said the population of IDPs worldwide is nearly double the population of refugees. At the time of the launch of the UN Guiding Principles, the number of IDPs worldwide stood at 25 million; by the end of 2017, it had increased to about 40 million people. However, the situation of IDPs has somewhat slipped off international agendas as attention was mainly focused on the situation of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who have left their countries.
In order to address this, on 17 April 2018, a multi-stakeholder Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for Internally Displaced People was launched, following a collaborative process involving the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, UNHCR, OCHA, governments and NGOs. The Plan focuses on the following four priority areas for the next three years: participation of IDPs; national laws and policies on internal displacement; data and analysis on internal displacement; and addressing protracted displacement and supporting durable solutions.
“European governments can and should do much more to end the plight of IDPs. For one, they should put in place comprehensive strategies for preventing and addressing internal displacement in line with existing European and international standards,” the CoE said.
Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation Rec(2006)6 to member states on internally displaced persons specifies that “…[c]onditions for proper and sustainable integration of internally displaced persons following their displacement should be ensured”, and that national authorities bear the primary responsibility for providing protection and assistance to IDPs.
One of the key Guiding Principles is that displacement shall last no longer than required by the circumstances.
“However, we have seen many situations where “the circumstances” – as in the case of unresolved conflicts or turmoil – turn out to be protracted,” it added.
“Historically, many governments in Europe have designed their policies addressing internal displacement on the assumption that the situation that led to the displacement would not last, and that the displaced persons would be able and willing to return to their places of origin rather soon. However, over time it became clear that the very nature of the conflicts or disasters at the origin of displacement also required the consideration of other durable solutions and options.”