Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
I'm a professor at McGill University, where my work focuses on questions around refugees and forced migration. In this capacity, I very much appreciate the chance to share some reflections with you on how Canada can improve its performance and make a bigger difference in responding to displacement.
As we often hear, there are now more people forced from their homes than at any point since World War II. We tend to hear most about the very small minority who manage to make it to Europe or North America, but the vast majority of refugees, as I imagine you know, some 86%, remain in developing countries.
I am very happy to answer questions on refugees, but in the time I have, I'm going to focus on a group that we hear even less about, a group that I think should really be central in a conversation like this, and that is those who are displaced within the borders of their own countries. Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, make up the invisible majority of forced migrants worldwide. Because they remain within their own countries, they typically receive much less media attention and international support.
Improving international responses to internal displacement is, I'll argue, critical to effectively addressing the global refugee crisis, but this issue has been almost completely sidelined in the negotiation of the new global compacts on refugees and migration.
There are key, and as yet untapped, opportunities for Canada to improve its response to internal displacement. So I will address some of the key challenges facing IDPs and make some recommendations for moving forward.
Just by way of context, of the some 68.5 million people who are displaced worldwide by conflict and human rights violations, well over half, some 40 million, are displaced within their own countries. These are individuals who are in a situation that's often much like that of refugees in that they have lost their homes and livelihoods. Many have experienced extreme violence and have been separated from their families. But unlike refugees, they haven't crossed an international border.
As IDPs are citizens of the state in which they are displaced, in theory their own governments have primary responsibility for protecting and assisting them. But for many IDPs in countries like Syria and Myanmar, it's in fact their own government that is responsible for their predicament in the first place. In other cases, national and local governments lack the capacity to respond effectively.
In theory, this is where the international community would step in to help, but there is no high-level official or international agency with clear and reliable responsibility for protecting and assisting IDPs. The UNHCR has a mandate to protect and assist refugees and stateless persons, but its involvement with IDPs is much more scattergun. In international debates on the global displacement crisis, there has been no clear flag-bearer for IDPs, and consequently this is a population that has typically been pushed to the sidelines.
In fact, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the UN guiding principles on internal displacement. This is the international framework that is the touchstone in efforts to protect and assist IDPs, so I think this is an opportune time to take stock and identify how best to move forward.
Canada is a long-time supporter of the guiding principles, but our rhetorical support hasn't typically translated into an explicit and practical strategy for improving responses to IDPs. So, a strengthened Canadian strategy for addressing internal displacement should respond, I think, to three key challenges pertaining to resources, the resolution of displacement situations and international leadership.
First, in terms of resources, there is a need for increased but also more strategic and equitable deployment of resources in support of forced migrants. This is, of course, a time when humanitarian budgets are already stretched tight, and so it's hard to hear or argue that more funding is needed. However, the reality is that IDP situations are chronically underfunded, with dramatically lower amounts spent in support of IDPs compared to refugees facing similar situations.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, donor states such as Canada spend far more on refugee status determination and refugee resettlement processes, which are accessed by less than 1% of refugees worldwide, than they do on support for the millions who remain in developing countries. This lack of support means that many forced migrants who would in fact prefer to remain closer to home have little option but to make dangerous and often very difficult journeys to seek shelter abroad.
Of course there is no substitute for refugees' right to seek asylum. Increasing support for IDPs certainly doesn't mean that refugees can be turned back. Rather, this is a matter of recognizing the complexity of motivations, capacities and preferences in massive displacement situations.
Some people will need to flee across international borders as refugees, but many simply lack the resources to be able to make it across an international border in the first place or are unable to do so for health or security reasons. Protection and assistance need to be available on a more equitable basis for those who remain within their own countries. I would argue that Canada should review its support for IDPs and publicly release the findings alongside a plan for more systematic, equitable and strategic support for IDPs.
Second, in terms of durable solutions, worldwide both refugees' and IDPs' situations are becoming increasingly protracted. These are individuals who are unable to access a solution to their displacement, whether through returning to their homes, locally integrating where they've sought shelter or resettling or relocating elsewhere.
Because IDPs are usually not as visible a population as refugees, there's been massive underinvestment in support of durable solutions for IDPs and neglect of the connections between the search for solutions for refugees and IDPs. In 2016, for example, some 6.5 million IDPs returned to their homes, many in fragile circumstances, in countries like Iraq, Syria and South Sudan. UNHCR in fact supported less than half of these returnees, which dramatically undercut their sustainability.
Too often we see that efforts to support solutions for refugees focus only on refugees themselves and ignore the connections between other groups involved in this process, like IDPs. This is an approach that's just divorced from reality. These groups aren't sealed off from one another, but they're connected by family ties, political dynamics and socio-economic concerns. Many refugees themselves risk becoming internally displaced when they return to their home countries, and this is another reason that we need to think more holistically about the connections between these groups.
More concerted political and development support is needed to increase access to durable solutions for both refugees and IDPs. I would argue that Canada should co-operate with key actors, including UNHCR, other donors and states that face internal displacement situations, to ensure that durable solution strategies are holistic and that they are appropriately resourced. Canada should insist that UNHCR explicitly address related internal displacement issues in its efforts to advance solutions for refugees.
Last, in terms of international leadership, as it stands in the UN system there's no high-level prominent flag-bearer for IDPs, who can hold states, UN agencies and other actors accountable for their efforts, or lack thereof, in support of IDPs. There's also a lack of states that are willing to stand up as champions for the IDP issue. At present, we have a special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs. This is an important role, but it's a voluntary role and an unpaid one, and it lacks the influence and resources commensurate with the scale of the problem.
To address these concerns, Canada should make improved protection and assistance to IDPs an explicit priority in its interventions in the humanitarian system. As a key pillar in this strategy, Canada should push for the prompt appointment of a new special representative of the UN Secretary-General, with a specific mandate for IDPs. This official could advance co-operation and promote accountability towards IDPs at national and international levels, and Canada, I would argue, should ensure that this new office is appropriately resourced and review the mechanism to ensure that it is effective.
To conclude, Canada, through its support for refugee resettlement, has demonstrated, I think in a very concrete way, an ability to make effective and innovative contributions to protecting and assisting forced migrants. By more strategically and concertedly standing up in support of those who are displaced within their own countries, who often remain invisible, Canada can build on this track record and make a bigger, stronger contribution to strengthening responses to the millions of refugees and IDPs who will never manage to make it to the shores of a wealthy western state like Canada.