Discussion Thread: Forcibly Displaced Non-Refugees

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Discussion Thread: Forcibly Displaced Non-Refugees
Please use the following questions as a starting point for discussion:
  • What challenges do non-refugee populations forcibly displaced by violence face?
  • How are these challenges similar to those faced by refugee populations?
  • How are they different?


Strategies & Situations
    • What strategies can be implemented to ensure support and protection for forcibly displaced people across many different experiences and situations?
    • What are some potential repercussions of these strategies and how can they be addressed?
    • How do different situations and classifications (stateless, IDP, refugee, ect.) intersect?
    • Does this intersection further complicate efforts to provide support and protection?
    How do different situations and classifications (stateless, IDP

    In domestic contexts a person's access to human rights is often linked to whether they are recognised as a citizen of any State (particularly the country in which they live).  This is because, in domestic contexts, citizens are usually afforded rights that are not afforded to non-citizens.

    Therefore a person who is stateless (i.e. not recognised as a citizen by any State) or who is at risk of statelessness often has limited access to basic human rights such as education, employment, housing and health services.

    Because stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness are often undocumented, they also face difficulty proving who they are and as a result are at heightened risk of exploitation, human trafficking, arrest and arbitrary detention.

    Such individuals are also often unable to engage with the institutions of a State to pay taxes, buy and sell property, open a bank account, or register a marriage, birth or death. 

    Therefore, statelessness restricts affected persons from accessing the most essential services and protections of the State and from fully participating in society.

    Migration (within and across borders) can be both a cause and consequence of statelessness. 

    For example, the discrimination and human rights violations experienced by stateless people and those at risk of statelessness can be so severe that this can result in forced migration (both within and across borders).  Therefore, this is an example of where statelessness is a cause of forced migration.

    What is one population for which statelessness is a leading cause of forced migration, and is this population largely IDPs or refugees?

    What is the leading cause of statelessness for this population?

    Statelessness and forced migration

    Sometimes, of course, a state will deliberately deprive an ethnic or other group of citizenship under its domestic law and render them stateless in order more easily to force them out.  The Rohingya are a case in point. 

    Western countries like Australia are also starting to engage in citizenship stripping in the case of 'undesirable' individuals which again is a device for forcing them out.

    Persecution and statelessness leading to forced migration

    An example might be the Rohingya, who lack citizenship in Myanmar, which has led to both internal displacement and to migration to other countries. In some places to which Rohingya have fled, they are not recognized as refugees either --Bangladesh has not ratified the UN convention and does not recognize Rohingya who have fled there as refugees. The underlying problem for the Rohingya in Myanmar is not statelessness; statelessness is a symptom of a refusal to recognize Rohingya's human rights and of their perseuction in many ways. I urge those interested in learning more to read the excellent report by Dan Sullivan, my colleague at Refugees International, about the current situation for Rohingya in Mayanmar and in Bangladesh:https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2019/4/24/abuse-or-exile-m...

    Andy Anonymous's picture
    Uighur Minority Group

    I would also like to include the example of the Uighur populations in Northwestern China. Being heavily surveillanced and thrown into re-education camps to totally overhaul their orthopraxies and orthodoxies, this muslim ethnic minority group struggle to find equanimity and physical security in their state. A big problem with this situation are the complex economic and geopolitical factors which further increases the precarity of the Uighurs and prevents them from attaining their full human rights. For example, in 2009, Cambodia repatriated 20 Uighurs and not coincidentally, signed a massive $1.2 billion economic deal with China two days later https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/07/thailand-china.... With a state that won't let them be and other states that are so willing to return them, no place may ever be truly safe. What are the frameworks to think about the Uighur situation?

    Anonymous Anonymous's picture
    Uighur Minority Group

    Unfortunately I am not as familiar with their plight, as I would like to be. Given the significant restrictions on local civil society to engage with this issue, we need to find ways to increase international awareness and to support diaspora groups. If you are working directly on this issue, I would love to hear your ideas on how we all might be able to support such efforts.

    Uighur Minority Group

    Unfortunately I am not as familiar with their plight, as I would like to be. Given the significant restrictions on local civil society to engage with this issue, we need to find ways to increase international awareness and to support diaspora groups. If you are working directly on this issue, I would love to hear your ideas on how we all might be able to support such efforts.

    Thanks for this link. I often

    Thanks for this link. I often use RI's reports when compiling submissions for refugee protection applicants. Yet, another benefit of RI's important work. I look forward to following Dan's continued and fearless advocacy for the Rohingya.

    It might be interesting to focus in on an issue that is often confusing regarding statelessness as experienced by the majority of Rohingya.

    That is, it is often misreported that Myanmar’s citizenship law expressly denies Rohingya of Myanmar citizenship and that this is the cause of their statelessness.

    However…. Rohingya could, in theory, acquire and confirm Myanmar citizenship via a number of provisions of the 1982 Citizenship Law.

    But in actual fact it is the discriminatory application of the law that deprives the majority of Rohingya of citizenship.

    Although the outcome is the same – in that the majority of Rohingya are stateless and they suffer significantly as a result - I raise this with the idea that understanding the true cause of statelessness is important when considering what change is needed to support Rohingya's right to a nationality.

    It would be interesting to hear of other common misconceptions regarding statelessness, which we could discuss further.


    Thanks for the clarification re the content of Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law, Davina. 

    Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (SNAP)

    Hello Davina, I suspect you are asking questions to which you already know the answers... I'd be interested to know how SNAP is going.   Are you collaborating much with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network on issues of common interest? (For anyone following this conversation, you can find out more about SNAP here https://www.statelessnessnetworkasiapacific.org/about-#about-us-1 and more about APRRN here https://aprrn.info/).

    Statelessness Network Asia Pacific

    Hi Savitri, Lovely to be in contact.

    Our work with SNAP is going well and we have some exciting work planned over the coming years.

    SNAP's goal is to promote collaboration on addressing statelessness in Asia and the Pacific. We pursue this goal because we know that for certain populations, statelessness has been resolved through collaboration between civil society, UN agencies and governments. In pursuit of our goal, we focus on three main areas of work. 1. Developing resources for evidence-based action 2. Providing technical support to our members 3. Facilitating capacity-strengthening opportunities.

    Some of this work has included developing submissions to UN human rights mechanisms and a publication on nationality in Myanmar through a gender lens "A Gender Analysis on the Right to A Nationality in Myanmar". These resources can be accessed via our resources page (thank you for sharing the link before). We have also held a number of regional and national level meetings, aimed at coalition-building and strategizing action. Over the next couple of years, our work in these areas will continue, but we will also have an added focus of further expanding our reach and bringing “non-traditional” members and partners into our work.

    APRRN is an amazing organisation, with significant impact in the region. APRRN has been part of SNAP since the beginning, and over the last couple of years there have been a number of opportunities where we have worked together. We look forward to further collaboration into the future.

    On a personal note, thank you for all of your support. I think you were one of the first to welcome SNAP to twitter :) 

    Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (SNAP)

    Great to hear that SNAP is going strong. 

    Definition of "refugee"

    It's worth keeping in mind that definition of "refugee" set out in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (as modified by the 1967 Protocol) is not necessarily the most relevant in a given situation.  States parties to the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/about-us/background/45dc1a682/oau-convention... have accepted a definition of refugee which extends also to "every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality"  (article I (2)). Similarly, several Latin American countries have chosen to adopt the definition of "refugee" contained in the non-binding 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/about-us/background/45dc19084/cartagena-decl... into their domestic law.  UNHCR's mandate also covers a broader population than falls within the Refugee Convention definition of "refugee".

    Defining IDPs

    Of the approximately 70 million displaced people, 40 million are internally displaced people. It wasn't until the 1990s that advocates began trying to define IDPs and how best to protect them. Roberta Cohen was involved in this effort and helped define IDPs as: "Persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of, armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border." As she writes in this essay about the effort, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4c51531f2.pdf

    "The two crucial features are being coerced to move and remaining within one’s national borders. Economic migrants were not included because the element of coercion was not considered to be so clear. However, those uprooted by floods, earthquakes, famine, or nuclear plant erup- tions, or forced by development projects to relocate, were included, in addition to the more traditionally accepted IDPs—those uprooted by conflict and human rights violations. Not all humanitarian or human rights groups wanted to include these other groups, preferring to limit the IDP definition to those subject to persecution or who would be considered refugees if they crossed a border. But the overriding opinion was that persons uprooted by natural and human-made disasters or development projects are also displaced and in need of attention; moreover, they can be neglected or discriminated against by their governments on political or ethnic grounds or have their human rights violated in other ways.

    If there can be said to be a philosophical foundation behind the principles, it is the concept of sovereignty as a form of responsibility, devel- oped by Deng and other scholars. Besides positing primary responsibility for the welfare and safety of IDPs with their governments, the concept also considers it an obligation of the international community to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to IDPs when the governments concerned are unable to fulfill their responsibilities. In such an instance, governments are supposed to request and accept out- side offers of aid. If they refuse or deliberately obstruct access and put large numbers of persons at risk, the international community, under this concept, has a right—and even a responsibility—to step in and assert its concern."

    I'd be interested in knowing what others think of this definition now. Has it been effective? Should it's parameters be expanded? 

    Defining IDPs

    When you ask whether the IDP definition should be expanded, are you also asking whether the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/protection/idps/43ce1cff2/guiding-principles... should be amended?  As Roberta Cohen notes the Guiding Principles are a soft law success story because they have been taken up in state practice.  There is reason to be cautious about messing with success. Any endeavour to do so may have unintended consequences.

    Effectively protecting IDPs

    I just meant to get the conversation started about how the guiding principals define IDPs and the responsbility to protect them. They are, as you say, soft law, meaning there is no binding convention and the principles give national governments the primary protective role (which can be a problem when governments are unwilling to respond or actually causing displacement). Also, it has been 20 years since the establishment of the guiding principles regarding IDPs and there is an effort afoot by the UN and others to improve application of the Guiding Principles given that the people affected by internal displacements is increasing, some states have exhibited limited capacity and willingness to respond, and humanitrian response has been inconsistent and unreliable.   A colleague at Refugees International has looked closely at the IDP situation in the Central African Republic, which is a good case study of the difficulty of getting in needed humanitrian aid: https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2019/2/20/leaving-the-embe... . Sometimes countries dealing with major refugee crisies are also, simultanrously, dealing with IDP crises. A good example of this is Colombia, which has a long had many IDPs but is also now the major destination of Venezuelans. https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2019/1/10/crises-colliding...

    The "economic migrant" label/phrase is generally unhelpful

    I think that Cohen's discussion of IDPs is fairly good. But, one needs to read the excerpted portion above with some background context and clarifying distinctions in mind. I just have time to make one point about it now, and then another point later today. My first point it this: although it is commonly used in the media and even in some UN documents or development agencies, the category of "economic migrant" is simply a broad catch-all label and not a formal category of law. I think that this bears emphasis because using that label can seriously confuse matters. Cohen notes that economic migrants were not included in the IDP definition, but that begs the question of what an economic migrant really is.... and this is precisely where things get really blurry. For instance, let's consult the related context of refugee law. In that context, those who flee economic deprivation and cross an international border can actually be refugees (provided that they were persecuted through economic means, and the persecution is among the 5 relevant types specified in the refugee convention: race/ethnicity, religion, political opinion, social group, nationality. Michelle Foster has a great book on this subject which shows how, as a matter of law, one can be a refugee even when one is fleeing economic deprivation). So, the lesson is that not everyone fleeing bad economic circumstances is accurately described as an "economic migrant" who falls outside of the definition of a refugee. I would assume that this point also translates to the IDP discussion such that some of those who are fleeing economic deprivation should be seen as IDPs and not "economic migrants". My only point here is that our descriptive labels and categories matter. If we describe persons who are fleeing their homes due to economic deprivation as simply "econmic migrants", then we are less apt to realize that some of these persons might have a legitimate refugee claim, or that they might have a claim to be classified as IDPs eligbile for assistance.

    "economic migrant" label

    I completely agree that the "economic migrant" label is unhelpful, especially since it is always used in a context which implies that "economic migrant" and "forced migrant" are mutually exclusive categories.  As you've noted Michelle Foster's book International Refugee Law and Socio-Economic Rights: Refuge from Deprivation https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/international-refugee-law-and-socio... establishes that economic deprivation can give rise to a refugee claim as long as the other elements of the Convention definition are also met.  Even where the other elements are not met, i.e. a person is not a "refugee", I think Alexander Bett's concept of "survival migration" https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt32b5cd is useful in dispelling the misconception that those moving for economic reasons are always voluntary rather than forced migrants.  In a similar vein, do others think it is helpful to insist, as UNHCR does, that refugees are not migrants?  I prefer Jorgen Carling's position that "Refugees are also Migrants. All Migrants Matter" https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/cent...  

    Mixed motives

    Thank you for this great discussion of "economic migrants." What I find really pernicious about the sharp distinction drawn between economic and forced migrants in the US context (which I know best) since especially the 1990s, is how misleading it is about Cold War era refugee migration to the United States, and particularly the mixed motives (economic and political) almost all of the refugees resettled in the US had between the late 1940s and the late 1980s. It is my sense, but would appreciate others weighing in on this, that the strict economic/political divide is more enforced regarding asylum seekers (who come to the border) than in refugee resettlement determinations (where people are vetted overseas). The US has a divided system.  There is a lot of interesting case law in the United States from the 1950s and 1960s about sailors from Poland and Yugoslavia who asked for what we would now consider asylum after arriving in the US. They had a harder time proving they were genuine refugees, rather than economic migrants, than did Yugoslavs and Poles coming from the same context (and sometimes even the same families!)  but applied to resettle in the US from a refugee camp or third country in Europe. 

    expanding protection for all forcibly displaced persons

    I do not think that the line UNHCR attempts to draw between "refugees" and "migrants" is tenable. UNHCR pursues this out of a concern that if refugees are seen as a subcategory of migrants then protections for refugees will be watered down (UNHCR also objects to the term "forced migration").  I don't share this concern. "Refugee" has a specific meaning, defined by international law and state practice, with a correlative set of internationally recognized rights. These are not, I think, threatened by seeing refugees as one group among many "on the move."

    To my mind, the important definitional issue is expanding the category of forced migrants recognized as entitled to international protection.  IDPs are an obvious example; so too are victims of gang violence and domestic violence (some of whom may come within the definition of refugee, according to UNHCR, but only under particular circumstances).  And of course persons forced from their homes because of the effects of climate change are the looming forced displacement problem for the 21st century.  Our norms and practices must be expanded to cover these groups.  Here is some shameless self-promotion: in a forthcoming book, Leah Zamore and I argue that all persons who are "fleers of necessity" should be entitled to international protection--without the need for a showing of targeted persecution.  Rather, the relevant question would be whether the person had reasonable and justifiable grounds for concluding that flight is necessary.

    assistance and protection

    I completely agree that the most important definitional issue is to expand the catalogue of forced migrants (I like Betts' terminology of "survivial migrants") who are legally entitled to international protection or assistance. This might be a rather picky terminological point. But, to my mind, this latter phrase ("protection or assistance") is important...since not all those who are "survival migrants" actually require long-term protection. For many cases (e.g. climate change migrants, victims of truly "natural" disasters, etc) what is needed is either assistance to rebuild their lives or some sort of adequate compensation, not "protection" in the traditional sense of that word (which often connotes something like asylum or UN peacekeeping missions). Granted, this phrase could be abused to only offer asisstance when protection is also needed. However, at least at a conceptual level, I think it is important to keep these two modalities of aid distinct... since many newer institutional innovations and proposals for climate migrants and other forced migrants place greater emphasis on mechanisms of international assistance.

    assistance and protection

    I agree with the point about the importance of distinguishing assistance and protection. But I am not confident that Betts' definition of "survival migration" really works. He never really works out the definition, suggesting that it might involve threats to "basic rights" (referring to Henry Shue's work)--but basic rights is an undefined term and not the same as human rights.  In his book with Paul Collier he appears to move away from this interpretation (which I find needlessly restrictive) but I think they still fall short.

    assistance and protection

    For those following along, the book by Betts and Collier to which Prof Aleinikoff refers is Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/300/300094/refuge/9780141984704.html. I must say I am not a fan of the Betts and Collier framing of the problem or their solution.

    Basic Rights are key (whatever definition we use)

    I agree that Betts' definition of "survival migration" is in need of a great deal of further fleshing out. I was unaware that he backed-off this definition in his new book. That is too bad. Depsite the fact that his definition needs a lot of further elaboration his references to Shue's work are actually what attracts me to his definition. As a political philosopher, it strikes me that Shue's work on basic rights is precisely where any definition of "the type of forced migrants entitled to international protection or assistance" [catchy name to be determined!] needs to be rooted. Without specifying an appropriate conceptual threshold (a la Shue's basic rights or some other standard) that underpins the definition then I cannot see how any new definition could succeed. Betts' definition was simply the only one I was aware of in this vein (and, for a variety of reasons, I generally think that approaches which simply try to exapnd the definition of a refugee [e.g. Shacknove's 1985 article in Ethics] are the exact wrong way to go). I'll be interested to see the definition (and its conceptual threshold) on offer in your new book! I was unaware until now that draft vesions were available online.

    Expanding protection for all forcibly displaced persons

    For those following along, the book to which Prof Aleinikoff refers is The Arc of Protection: Toward a New International Refugee Regime.  It is available in draft form here https://cic.nyu.edu/news/arc-of-protection-refugees-zamore  

    Expanding protection for all forcibly displaced persons

    I think the problem one always comes up against in the negotiation of both international and domestic assistance/protection regimes is the fear of large numbers. The broader the proposed definition of a beneficiary group, the more minimal the obligations that states are willing to accept in respect of the group. Of course, the perception of what constitutes a large number is not necessarily justifiable in objective terms.  Western countries like my own (Australia) go into crisis mode at a very low threshhold compared to some of the major host countries of the developing world.

    Expanding protection

    As much as large numbers, states fear the extension of the guarantee of refugee rights to new categories.  I think these issues can be separated. To say that a person or group is entitled to international protection (and assistance) is not necessarily to specify the rights that apply.  One may think that refugees--as de facto stateless people--may need guarantees that persons termporarily displaced because of a natural disaster (and whom their home state would welcome back) do not.

    those fleeing gang and domestic violence (reply to comment 17)

    Thank you for raising these particular forced migrants who, right now, make up a significant percentage of those seeking asylun in the United States and, despite UNHCR inclusion of some of them within the defintion of refugee, have an incredibly hard time meeting the required standard to receive asylum in the US. Though US asylum attorneys have been focusing much of their attention trying to find creative ways that these folks can be deemed persecuted based upon political opinion or particular social group, the vast majority of those fleeing gang and domestoc violence do not have attorneys to help them frame their claims in these terms, which, to them, are not intuitive. I myself have had the difficult time explaining to a woman who fled domestic abuse how she needed to frame her story. There was a consiousness raising aspect to this endeavor, as I helped this particular woman see that she was not alone in the kind of violence that forced her to flee.  How we understand social group now is so different than in 1951, 1968 or in 1980 (dates of US ratification of the Protocol and passage of the US Refugee Act). I do think a pragmatic approach--especially thinking of expanding the categories of forced migrants recognized as entitled to protection-- is crucial.

    "social group"

    One additional related point: my understanding is that when the Refugee convention was drafted, what perseuction based upon social group actually meant was left vaguer than the other grounds, and that it was seen then as a catchall category--perhaps building in flexibility and possibility of expansion. Still,  I think what is desperately needed now, in expanding the definition of who is entitled to protection, is clarity.

    social group

    You are right about the (last minute) inclusion of the category of "membership in a particular social group" in the Convention. Unfortuantely in the US, the administrative authorities and courts have adopted a standard that is harder to meet than the standard endorsed by UNHCR and recognized in courts in other countries.  Furthermore, Attorney General Sessions, in a last act of spite, issued a decision just before being fired by President Trump that purported to make it  very difficult for victims of gang violence or domestic abuse to get asylum in the US. That decision has been put on hold by courts that are now considering its legality.

    R2P not necessarily the philosophical foundation to IDP category

    The second point of clarification I'd like to make with respect to the Cohen excerpt above is about the way she construes the "philosophical foundation" behind the UN's guiding principles which define IDPs. She is correct that those principles are founded upon a "concept of soverignty as a form of responsibility". However, she then goes on to articulate "sovereignty as responsibility" in a way that seems to make reference to the so-called "responsibility to protect" doctrine (R2P). Linking the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (and their definition of an IDP) to the R2P doctrine in this way is somewhat controversial. So, I'd simply like to flag that here. One could develop the concept of "sovereignty as responsibility" in other ways that do not necessarily make reference to the R2P doctrine. It is not that I'm against R2P, but rather that R2P isn't the only game in town when we are unpacking this concept (particularly in light of what one might see as the abuse of the R2P doctrine in order to induce regime change in Libya in 2011... and then leaving the country to founder on its own after regime change). There are multiple ways to conceptualize the back-up responsibilities of the international community towards IDPs without necessarily endorsing military (or other forcible types of) intervention under the third pillar of R2P (the most controversial part of that doctrine). So, I guess I'd like to see more work done on the philosophical foundations for the guiding principles and their definition of an IDP that doesn't refer to R2P.

    Invisible majority

    As was mentioned above, there are nearly double the number of IDPs than refugees. Yet on a global scale, refugees receive the bulk of attention: IDPs are the invisible majority. At the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), we have been researching the relationship between internal displacement and cross-border movements in an effort to draw attention to the importance of resolving internal displacement.

    Our research shows that many IDPs become refugees when they are unable to achieve durable solutions in their country of origin. Research with Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Sweden, for example, showed that many had been displaced multiple times inside Iraq before seeking refuge abroad in the face of lack of security in their country of origin. Likewise, a lot of Burmese refugees in Thailand were displaced multiple times before crossing the border.

    At the same time, many returning refugees become IDPs after they return to their country of origin. Many Iraqis returning from refugee camps in neighbouring Syria now find themselves in IDP camps in Iraq because their homes were destroyed, because they lack necessary documentation, or because they do not have the financial capital to travel back to their areas of origin. Similarly, in Nigeria, refugees returning from Cameroon often end up in IDP camps because of fears of attacks by Boko Haram in their areas of origin. Colombian refugees returning from Venezuela because of the crisis may also be unable to return to their areas of origin due to continued fears of persecution. People who return prematurely because of poor conditions in host countries are at particular risk of becoming internally displaced.

    It is impossible to truly resolve refugee crises without addressing internal displacement. If causes of displacement are not addressed, IDPs will continue to become refugees, and returning refugees will continue to become IDPs. Instead of considering these populations in isolation, efforts should be made to promote durable solutions along the entire displacement continuum.  


    Invisible Majority

    Will the omission of IDPs from the Global Compact on Migration https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/migration-compact and the Global Compact on Refugees https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/the-global-compact-on-refugees.html be an obstacle to the proposal that these populations not be treated in isolation? 

    IDPs in the Global Compact on Refugees

    The Global Compact on Refugees does mention the need to avoid further forced displacement (both internal and cross-border) upon return to countries of origin, and the importance of taking into account internal displacement. We welcome this recognition of the relationship between internal displacement and cross-border movements, but it really doesn’t go far enough.  Addressing and reducing internal displacement should have been a bedrock of the compact. 

    Despite the limited discussion of internal displacement, I think there is hope for a more holistic approach to durable solutions that integrates planning and policy for IDPs with that for returning refugees. Afghanistan is an example of good practice, on paper at least. The country’s national policy on IDPs has a broad definition of IDPs that includes returning refugees and deported migrants unable to resettle in their original homes.



    IDPs in the Global Compact on Refugees

    Thanks for pointing out that there is some language re IDPs in the GCR. Pleased that there is some reason to be optimistic about a more holistic approach.


    I am wondering whether it might be better to address the protection gap for IDPs by focusing on climate change (rather than trying to meke the Guiding Principles hard law etc).  The issue is, of course, of surpassing importance, and it should be possible to make a persuasive argument for norms for persons forced to flee because of the effects of climate change--most of whom will be IDPs. 


    It is often difficult to untangle who has been displaced as a result of climate change. Often, environmental factors intersect with socio-economic factors and conflict. An IDP in Somalia, for example, may say they were displaced by Al Shabab. But digging deaper, perhaps they were displaced because they were unable to afford illegal taxes required by Al Shabab, as a result of the loss of their livestock due to drought. Conflict and violence, slow and sudden-onset environmental hazards, food and livelihood insecurity, weak governance and underdevelopment have all played a significant part in past and current displacement in Somalia. In 2017, IDMC estimated that drought led to 892,000 new displacements in Somalia - but because of difficulties in monitoring and reporting on this type of displacement, we have only been able to obtain verified data on a handful of displacement situations associated with the phenomenon. We are investigating displacement in the context of slow onset events further through a series of case studies this year, in the context of a new thematic series: http://www.internal-displacement.org/research-areas/displacement-in-a-ch...

    It is also important to keep in mind that IDPs displaced by sudden-onset hazards and conflict are also in need of protection. As a result, norms focusing only on protecting people displaced by climate change would leave significant protection gaps.

    focusing on climate migrants makes sense

    Going forward, I do think that institutional efforts specifically focused on “climate migrants” represent the most pragmatic strategy for creating a new category of person that is legally entitled to international protection or assistance. I also think that the philosophical or principled case for burden-sharing among wealthy industrialized countries is fairly strong. The real trick would be in hashing out the funding commitments between those countries—since not all of them have contributed to global warming and climate change in the same measure.

    As a conceptual matter, I think the right way to think about this issue is through the lens of a dramatic “limiting case”. This clarifies the underlying responsibility structure as well as the appropriate response…and then we can translate those insights into less dramatic cases. So, I think it is helpful to focus on small island states that are being submerged and rendered uninhabitable due to climate change and rising sea-levels. If we take this limiting case as our starting point, I would agree with Matthias Risse that we can establish a right to relocation for those people who are being displaced due to climate change (see his “The Right to Relocation” in Ethics and International Affairs from 2009). In this limiting case, relocation must take place across borders since the territory of an entire state is being submerged. However, the right to relocation here is a right that arises out of global collective irresponsibility among the largest polluters and greenhouse gas emitters (wealthy industrialized states). It is not a right that citizens of disappearing small islands states primarily hold against their government, but instead a right they hold against the international community at large.

    In less dramatic cases where climate change means that, for instance, people living in coastal areas must relocate internally the right is still held against the international community. But, since the remedy in these situations doesn’t need to involve relocation to another state, we could simply say that the appropriate remedy is to have the relocation paid for by assistance from the international community. What mechanisms might we use to arrive at the payment figure (and to negotiate which countries pay what portion of the internal relocation)?

    One proposal I find attractive is Justin Donhauser’s innovative suggestion to use Probabalistic Event Attribution studies (PEAs) within the “losses and damages” clause of the Paris climate agreement for this purpose (see “How New Climate Science and Policy Can Help Climate Refugees” in Journal of Ethical Urban Living; sections 4.1 and 4.2 in particular). Donhauser discusses how PEAs could be used within the “losses and damages” provision to come up with funding determinations to implement Risse’s proposal, as well as another proposal that I find interesting: a new “Nansen passport system” for the territorially dispossessed (see Heyward, Clare, & Ödalen, Jörgen. 2016. "A free movement passport for the territorially dispossessed." Climate Justice in a Non-Ideal World: 208–226).

    While these routes of implementation may be rather idealistic, I absolutely think that focusing on climate migrants (Donhauser has some interesting things to say about our terminology with respect to climate vs. environmental migrants) and institutional responses to them is the way to go.

    Climate migrants

    The Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement held in June 2011 came up with a set of principles to guide responses to the displacement challenges raised by climate change.  It was followed by a consultation process called the Nansen Initiative https://www.nanseninitiative.org/secretariat/ which ran from December 2012 to October 2015. The Nansen Initiative culminated in 109 countries endorsing the Nansen Protection Agenda which is  a “toolbox” for use in dealing with disaster-induced cross-border displacement. The Platform on Disaster Displacement https://disasterdisplacement.org/ is the follow up to the Nansen Initiative. It focuses on implementation of the Nansen Initiative Protection Agenda. (We have drifted away from the "displaced by violence" parameter but I assume a New Tactics person will intervene if they think this is a problem.)

    great resources

    Thanks so much for pointing out these good resources. I'll have to familiarize myself with the "toolbox". The sources you mention are all soft law, correct? One attraction of using the Paris agreement "hook" via the losses and damages clause is that it would have more bite in terms of implementation--though, admittedlty, the agreement lacks hard enforcement. But, as you correctly pointed out before, there can be major softlaw success stories over time as well!

    Great resources

    Yes, everything associated with the Nansen Initiative is non-binding as a matter of international law.    

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    Connection between violent displacement and climate change

    Hi all - the connection between violent displacement (war, gangs, government persecution, etc) and climate change is becoming more intense and prominent. The case of people fleeing the northern triangle in Central America is one such example.  I'm providing here a link to a recent article.

    She writes, [T]oday’s Central American migrants – most of them asylum seekers fearing for their lives – are fleeing gangs, deep economic instability (if not abject poverty), and either neglect or outright persecution at the hands of their government. But these things are all complicated and further compounded by the fact that the northern triangle of Central America – a region comprising Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and the largest sources of asylum seekers crossing our border in recent years – is deeply affected by environmental degradation and the impacts of a changing global climate.
    At the end of the article she states, Today, there are 64 million forced migrants around the world, more than ever before. They are fleeing war, persecution, disaster and, yes, climate change. The UN estimates that by 2050, there will be 200 million people forcibly displaced from their homes due to climate change alone. [emphasis mine]
    The economic pressures put on vulnerable communities by climate change will certainly create conditions for more violence as well, as people "compete" for livelihoods and survival.
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    forced displacement of non-loyalists in Syria

    Thank you so much for this insightful discussion! I wonder if you could speak to the situation in Syria right now where the vast majority of those living in areas that had been held by the opposition have been forcibly displaced to Idlib--though it has happened under the guise of a reconciliation agreement. 

    Gender dimensions of statelessness & IDPs
    I am interested to learn from those participating in this conversation what your experience is regarding gender dimensions of statelessness and IDPs. 
    For example, in the current conflict in Syria, there are a number of factors further complicating the status of different displaced populations both within and outside of Syria including a significant gender factor. Children that had been born in the territory of Syria that had been taken over by ISIL are currently stateless. This situation is further complicated by women being excluded from giving their nationality to their children. These women may also not know who the father of the child is or have no desire or ability to access the nationality of the father. 
    This condition of nationality discrimination does impact women and their children who are not displaced (e.g., Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians do not have the right to provide their Jordanian nationality to their children). However, I'm interested to know if there other displaced populations experiencing similar complications regarding gender discrimination and nationality rights and if there are examples where this has been successfully addressed to provide children with the nationality status of their mothers.
    I'm interested to learn from the participants regarding your experiences of addressing gender and gender based violence as a driving force for women to flee their communities. How have proposed solutions to internal displacement or cross border movements of populations addressed gender dimensions?
    Gender Dimensions of statelessness and IDPs

    Dr Linda Bartolomei https://socialsciences.arts.unsw.edu.au/about-us/people/linda-bartolomei/ and her colleagues have done a great deal of impactful work on the gender dimensions of displacement over many years. You may wish to reach out to her.  If anyone following this conversation is doing work on the gender dimensions of displacement, you may be interested in providing input into the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants' report on  gender-responsive migration legislation, policies and practices. The SR has circulated a questionnaire which I'm afraid I am unable to upload here. However, I can forward it by email on request. The deadline for submissions is 24 May.

    Gender discrimination and statelessness

    Thank you for bringing a gender dimension into the conversation. I'll share my experiences with respect to Asia and the Pacific, because that is what I am most familiar.

    In the AP region, the laws in four states - Brunei, Kiribati, Malaysia and Nepal - expressly do not afford women equal rights in conferring nationality to their children. As you point out above, when women are unable to pass on their nationality to their children, this may result in childhood statelessness if the father is stateless, or absent, unwilling or unable to confer nationality on the child.

    However, women may also be unable to confer nationality on their children as result indirect gender discrimination in nationality laws, policies and practices, as well as gender discrimination in other laws, policies and practices.

    This was a key finding of the report – A Gender Analysis of the Right to A Nationality in Myanmar - https://www.nrc.no/resources/reports/a-gender-analysis-of-the-right-to-a...

    The 1982 Citizenship Law and Rules of Myanmar require an applicant to prove the citizenship status of both of their parents in order to acquire or confirm nationality. This indirectly discriminates against single mothers (including widows, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking) and their children. Single mothers in situations where the identity of the child’s father is not known or he is otherwise absent will face difficulty in proving the citizenship of the child’s father and therefore face difficulty in conferring citizenship to the child.

    Another example is the criminalization of sex outside of a legally recognised marriage in Brunei, which may discourage parents from registering their children in such circumstances. Without birth registration it is difficult to prove the relationship between the parents and the child and as a consequence confer nationality.

    More information about this the linkages between gender discrimination and statelessness can be accessed on the websites for the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights http://equalnationalityrights.org/) and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (http://www.institutesi.org/)

    Gender and statelessness in the US

    In the US context I know best,  the historians Linda Kerber and Candice Bredbenner have written profoundly about the evolving relationship between statelessness and gender.  I just want to share two interesting books that speak to this issue and also children: 

    Children Without a State: A Global Human Rights Challenge, edited by Jacqueline Bhabha


    Citizensip in Question: Evidentiary Birthright and Statelessness, ed. Jaqueline Stevens https://www.dukeupress.edu/citizenship-in-question

    Gender - rape as a weapon of war & plight of women/children

    This recent article sheds light on the complexities and ongoing trauma faced by Yazidi women and the children that resulted from their forced enslavement to ISIL fighters. https://www.voanews.com/a/yazidis-divided-over-children-born-of-islamic-state-rape/4896530.html?ltflags=mailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=extremism-watch-t161&utm_source=newsletter

    These women are caught between the Yazidi traditions and Iraqi laws that do not address the horrible violence perpetrated upon these women and now create another level of trauma, discrimination and violence on these women and their children.  

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    the nature of the internal displacement at issue is important

    In discussing definitions of and policy responses to internal displacement, I think it is important to keep sight of the specific nature of the internal displacement at issue in a given instance. There cannot and should not be a unitary definition or response to internal displacement (at least, not as unitary as the refugee definition and the 3 possible durable solutions). This is for the simple reason that the causes and dominant patterns of internal displacement are so varied, as are the needs generated by internal displacement crises. If we don’t keep an eye on the nature of the underlying displacement then our policy responses might not only be ineffective but might even make things worse. 

    So, for instance, Hathaway has argued that during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, Western European countries “Successfully co-opted [UNHCR] to proclaim the 'right to remain' of would-be refugees in former Yugoslavia, granting the agency lead competence (and major funding) to minister inside former Yugoslavia to the needs of at-risk involuntary migrants…These persons would in most cases have qualified for refugee status had they not been encouraged, and at times compelled, to remain inside their own country. As we now know all too well, enforcement of what often amounted to a duty to remain exacted horrific costs” (Hathaway 2007, Journal of Refugee Studies p. 356). This would be an example of seemingly laudatory international efforts on behalf of the internally displaced that are, in fact (if Hathaway’s characterization is correct; I know that some people think his characterization is unfair), simply tools of containment.

    Moreover, there need not be any unseemly ‘co-opting’ for the international community’s policy responses towards internal displacement to fall short. I think Phil Orchard has persuasively argued that the provision of “protection through humanitarian agencies and peacekeeping rather than through asylum – increasingly the default international response – fail[s] to provide effective responses” to situations of regime-induced displacement. This is because such a response “requires the consent of the government concerned, something unlikely to be given during the worst periods of crisis”, because “humanitarian actors…on the ground they have little capacity to protect individuals facing direct violence” (they may at most displace it), and also because the “presence of humanitarian actors may be used as an excuse by the international community to not take more forceful actions to protect the displaced.” (Orchard 2010, Refugee Studies Quarterly 29 (1)). This would be an example of a boiler-plate policy response arising over time, and then simply being followed out of habit despite the fact that it is poorly tailored to many (though not all) situations of internal displacement. 

    For me, the lesson to take away from examples and insights like these is that our definitions and policy responses for internal displacement are likely going to have to be extremely varied given how much internal variation there is to the category which we refer to by the phrase “internal displacement”. I’m not necessarily saying that “there is no ‘there’ there” when it comes to internal displacement, but rather that we must be particularly vigilant to always keep an eye on the underlying nature of the displacement at issue in a specific case… as this will in large part factor quite heavily into what constitutes an effective policy response. Just because person X and person Y are both IDPs (whatever definition we use or think is appropriate), this doesn’t then mean that their entitlements (to either protection or assistance) should be the same.

    Climate displacement

    Following from our discussions on climate displacement, the work of Refugees International in documenting the experiences of populations in Myanmar displaced by flooding in 2015 might be of interest - https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2015/11/12/myanmar-floods-... & https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2016/myanmar

    new report on internal displacement