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Internally displaced persons: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2011

02-11-2011 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 66th session, Third Committee, Item 62 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 2 November 2011.

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions

Mr. Chairman,

The impact of forced displacement on groups of people affected by armed conflicts and other situations of violence remains as severe as ever. The overall numbers show no sign of declining, and the ICRC has not observed any falling off in the number of internally displaced people across the countries where it operates around the globe.

The ICRC believes that it is important to focus more on preventing the various circumstances and events that cause people to flee their homes. These include:  

  • direct violations of international humanitarian law and acts of abuse (for instance: attacks, looting, murders and rapes
  • formal orders to leave, targeting communities and individuals
  • poor access to essential services and disruption of economic activities that prompt people to flee in search of humanitarian assistance.

Many of the 4.3 million or so internally displaced people that the ICRC assisted in 2010, in partnership with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, were suffering the effects of both recurrent violence and extreme environmental conditions. The combination of violence and natural disasters such as we are witnessing in Somalia today often leaves communities totally unable to cope. In 2010, similar challenges were encountered in Pakistan, where local and federal authorities engaged in massive relief operations with the support of national and international bodies such as the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. In such complex and critical situations, it is essential to provide emergency assistance and, at the same time, help people regain their self-sufficiency. The year 2011 began with two major crises, in Côte d'Ivoire and Libya, both of which made people flee their homes, sometimes massively. In these two very challenging environments, the ICRC developed substantial neutral, impartial and independent operations from the early stage and has been able to help displaced people as well as other affected groups, including host families whose livelihoods are also put at risk.

The ICRC's approach to internal displacement is derived from its mandate under international humanitarian law to protect and assist persons affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. Its assessment process is based on a consolidated analysis of the needs of the civilian population as a whole, and combines various disciplines such as protection, health, economic security as well as water and sanitation.

In all its operations, the ICRC's objective is to support people and communities towards recovery and resumption of normal life. The displacement of populations is a constantly shifting phenomenon and leads to inherently unstable situations for the people concerned. The ICRC carries out a careful and specific analysis of each situation and assesses the way it is likely to evolve, in order to decide where and how best to respond. Over the year, a range of countries experiencing armed conflict, civil unrest or uprisings have received humanitarian assistance from the ICRC. From January to May 2011, some 2.85 million internally displaced people benefited from ICRC relief activities in some 30 countries including Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Ivory Coast, as well as Sudan and Colombia and many others.

The ICRC, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have the advantage of being able to build up a holistic needs-based approach, based on proximity and presence on the ground, with the consent of, and in full transparency with, the public authorities. Together, they implement the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Policy on Internal Displacement adopted in Nairobi in 2009. The ICRC is committed to supporting and strengthening its partners' capacity to act locally. This is particularly relevant for activities such as restoring family links, delivery of relief items, and management of camps.

Operational responses combine various modes of action aimed at convincing the authorities to meet their obligations and mobilizing other actors, as well as distributing direct assistance and strengthening the capacity of displaced groups to protect themselves.

The ICRC engages in dialogue with all authorities and other stakeholders of influence from the onset of the crisis in order to assist people not only in regaining their livelihoods, their autonomy and their dignity, but also the chance to live in safety. Indeed, the people and communities affected by displacement have various types of needs, which have to be recognized and addressed. That is why it is vitally important that State authorities and non-state actors support the provision of both assistance and protection activities from humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC, and engage in addressing not only the consequences of displacement but also its root causes.

Mr. Chairman,

Preventing large-scale displacement is possible, and would reduce the suffering and vulnerability of millions of people who flee their homes because of armed conflict and violence. This is dependent on better respect of international humanitarian law. If we could achieve that, we would not only reduce the needs that cry out for humanitarian responses but also scale back the high demand for assistance which comes at a time when the international donor community is under extreme economic pressure. Tight coordination with other entities on the basis of their capacities and possibilities for access are key to a continually improving response. The ICRC remains deeply committed to helping the authorities of the countries affected to meet this challenge.

Thank you.