Internally displaced persons
UNHCR's mandate is to protect refugees people who cannot rely on the protection of their own government, and who have crossed an international border in the process of fleeing persecution, war or human rights abuse. Many other people are also forced to flee these dangers, but they either cannot or do not wish to cross an international border. They are internally displaced within the borders of their own country. Legally, they fall under the sovereignty of their own government, even though that government may not be able or willing to protect them.

In recent years, because of its expertise with emergency mass movements of people, UNHCR has been involved in programs for internally displaced people as well as for refugees. The agency can only act to help these people at the request of the U.N. Secretary General or a competent principal organ of the United Nations, and with the consent of the government of the country involved.

It is difficult to determine the number of people living in interior exile within their own country. Estimates usually place them at least 30 million. Today, of the 22.4 million people presently under UNHCR responsibility worldwide, nearly 6 million are internally displaced.


UNHCR and the internally displaced: questions and answers - a distillation of the issues currently confronting UNHCR, taken from . . .

"Internally Displaced Persons: The Role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees" A UNHCR position paper which is being discussed with other organisations, in the context of the overall review of protection of and assistance to IDPs. (March 2000)

IDPs: The Hot Issue for a New Millennium (Refugees Magazine Issue 117, winter 1999)

Map: Major situations of internal displacement worldwide
From "The State of the World's Refugees 1997-98 - A Humanitarian Agenda", published in December 1997

"Internal Conflict and Displacement" (Chapter 3, "The State of the World's Refugees 1997-98 - A Humanitarian Agenda", December 1997)

A difficult problem for UNHCR (108, II - 1997)
As many as one million people have been internally displaced in Afghanistan in the last five years. This IDP population poses a tricky dilemma for UNHCR

A lost teenager (107, I - 1997)
Sixteen-year-old Milana discovers what it means to be displaced three times within a few months in Chechnya.

International action on behalf of internally displaced people (The State of The World's Refugees - In Search of Solutions, 1995)

Assistance to internally displaced persons from Chechnya (106, IV - 1996)
As a result of the fighting in Chechnya, it is estimated that some 400,000 persons have had to leave the country for locations throughout the Russian Federation. Many of these persons have been displaced several times during the 20 months of conflict.

The hidden face of the refugee problem (103, I - 1996)
Although its focus is on refugees, UNHCR has been involved in numerous operations on behalf of internally displaced persons since the early 1970s. Sadly, the humanitarian needs of the world's millions of internally displaced all too often fall into oblivion.

So close, yet so far (103, I - 1996)
The agony of six years of civil war is evident everywhere in Liberia, even in the heart of the war-ravaged capital, where hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people try to survive in the midst of continuing violence, poverty and disease.

Interview: Dr. Francis M. Deng, advocate for the uprooted (103, I - 1996)
Dr. Francis M. Deng, the U.N. Secretary-General's Representative on Internally Displaced Persons, says it is easy to be "overwhelmed into despair" by the magnitude of the problems of the internally displaced, but stresses that the international community must try to do everything possible to ease their plight.

Danger: safe areas (103, I - 1996)
As the example of Srebrenica showed, care must be taken to avoid naive assumptions about the degree of protection which can be provided by an international presence operating without effective enforcement. But there are some obvious reasons to continue exploring ways in which people's safety can be preserved within their own country.

Back to the future (103, I - 1996)
Of all UNHCR programs involving the internally displaced, former Yugoslavia has perhaps been the most problematic and by far the biggest and most high-profile of them all.

Home is where the hurt is (103, I - 1996)
There are an estimated 30 million internally displaced people in the world today double the number of refugees. In Latin America, for example, there are few refugees, but up to 3 million internally displaced in the region.

Out of sight, out of mind (103, I - 1996)
The number of internally displaced persons in the Horn of Africa could be as high as 5 million some 4 million of them in Sudan alone.

Interview: Cornelio Sommaruga, blue hands, Red Cross (103, I - 1996)
Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, talks about ICRC's responsibility for protecting and assisting the victims of armed conflict.

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