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Deeply Talks: Lessons From Colombia on Tackling Internal Displacement

Colombia has the world’s most internally displaced people and a landmark IDP rights framework. In our Deeply Talks, Georgetown University’s Elizabeth Ferris and Colombian expert Oscar Ivan Rico Valencia examine how to reset the global agenda on internal displacement.

Written by Kim Bode, Charlotte Alfred Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
A child stands in a house in City 2000, a shantytown that is home to people displaced by turf wars between criminal gangs in Tumaco municipality, Narino department, Colombia, on November 2, 2017. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images

Almost two decades ago, the U.N. closed a major gap in protecting people displaced inside their countries. The 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement became the international framework on the rights of internally displaced people (IDPs) – a population that hit 40 million last year, roughly double the number of refugees.

“The 20th anniversary [of the Guiding Principles] offers an opportunity for stepping back, looking at the big picture and figuring out some alternative ways of moving forward so we don’t lose the successes of this big human rights success story of the last decades,” said Elizabeth Ferris, acting director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University.

For our latest Deeply Talks, Ferris joined Oscar Ivan Rico Valencia, adviser to the deputy director at the Victims’ Unit of the government of Colombia, for a discussion about ways to tackle internal displacement and lessons from Colombia, the country with the highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

Valencia and Ferris were among the experts who contributed to our latest collection of Expert Views on what’s needed to refocus global attention on internal displacement. “We’ve seen a decline of attention in the last five or so years,” Ferris said. “We need to reclaim that interest in and concern with IDPs as a basic human rights and humanitarian issue, and to recognize that we haven’t found solutions yet.”

Valencia discussed the Colombian authorities’ groundbreaking efforts to support the estimated 7.4 million people displaced inside the country and the challenges they have faced.

Colombia has one of the world’s most comprehensive legal frameworks on internal displacement, including a 2011 law establishing the rights of victims of the country’s decades-long armed conflict, including IDPs’ right to reclaim land, return home or be resettled elsewhere.

Valencia stressed that both political will and an adequate allocation of resources are crucial to addressing internal displacement, as well as coherence with the social assistance provided to other vulnerable groups. “We [must not] forget that IDPs are part of the population of the country,” he said. “[My advice would be] to understand that they need the same assistance as the historically poor population, but they probably need it first.”

Ferris agreed: “Yes, the international community has a role to play in supporting work with IDPs, but IDPs should be integrated into national systems, whether it’s healthcare or education,” she said. “A lot can be done on the national level to ensure that IDPs have access to the basic services.”

Listen to the whole episode of Deeply Talks: Tackling Internal Displacement in Colombia and Beyond here:

Deeply Talks is a regular feature bringing together our network of readers and expert contributors to critically examine the latest developments in refugee policy and examine emerging trends in displacement. To join future Deeply Talks, make sure you are signed up to our newsletter below.

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