Group photo in front of mountainous landscape

As I write this final director’s letter of 2018, UN Member States have approved the Global Compact on Refugees after two years of intense negotiations, and a week after endorsing the Global Compact on Migration.

The compacts aim to improve conditions for refugees, migrants and states dealing with large movements of people. With 258 million international migrants and 68.5 million forcibly displaced people, including 25 million refugees, in the world today, the impact of these political commitments will be felt around the world. We look ahead to 2019 with enthusiasm when the real test will be putting these guidelines into action. Though not legally binding, it’s our hope that states can use these coherent roadmaps to take effective action.

We mustn’t forget, though, the other 40 million people displaced within the borders of their own countries. While not specifically referenced in either of the Global Compacts, internal displacement is clearly linked to both global migration and the movement of refugees and asylum seekers, as our internal to cross-border research agenda shows. A welcome commitment in the Global Migration Compact, for instance, is the protection of those forced to flee natural hazards, environmental degradation and the effects of climate change.

In 2018, the El Niño weather phenomenon plagued the Horn of Africa with unprecedented flooding following a period of extended drought. We witnessed monsoon flooding hit Kerala and other Indian states. We also saw new violence break out in Ethiopia and enduring conflict in Syria, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to displace millions.

As we approach the end of this 20th anniversary year of the adoption of the Guiding Principles on internal displacement, it’s a chance, too, to reflect on IDMC’s achievements. To celebrate our 20th anniversary as the world’s authoritative and trusted source of data and analysis on internal displacement, IDMC convened an interdisciplinary conference in October. Bringing together researchers, humanitarian and development practitioners and policy makers, the conference explored the multi-dimensional aspects of internal displacement and how it affects progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals at the national level.

IDMC presented initial findings from our research programme quantifying, for the first time, the long-term indirect economic costs of internal displacement, across indicators such as health, education, livelihoods, housing, security, social life and the environment. Preliminary results suggest that internal displacement can cost countries between 1 – 10 per cent of their GDP. We look forward to sharing more comprehensive findings with you in 2019.

This year’s Global Report on Internal Displacement, which we launched in May, looked at why so many countries still struggle to address internal displacement, despite 20 years of international, regional and national policy efforts and investments.

It’s clear that the scale of the phenomenon is not diminishing. We recorded the highest levels of new displacement associated with conflict and violence in a decade, 11.8 million, driven by protracted crises in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even this was dwarfed by the scale of displacement caused by disasters at 18.8 million, mainly floods and tropical storms in East Asia and the Pacific.

We concluded that, in order to make genuine progress, countries impacted by the issue must lead on policy making and make responding to and preventing future internal displacement an integral part of development planning.

We’ve come a long way in data collection and analysis since the introduction of the Guiding Principles. We’re now accessing a multitude of different sources that allow us to report more and more accurately on the global scale, as well as the severity and diversity, of internal displacement worldwide.

Throughout 2018, IDMC hosted data workshops with partners from government, UN agencies, academia and civil society to better understand specific displacement contexts, and to identify gaps and improve the process by which they are addressed in order to build a stronger evidence base.

In April, we convened a workshop with the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD) and the UN Migration Agency (IOM), with support from the German Federal Foreign Office, on best practices for collecting and analysing disaster displacement data. The workshop outcomes will contribute to IDMC’s forthcoming stocktaking report on disaster displacement data.

In June, the Centre for Humanitarian Data hosted IDMC’s roundtable to take stock of current data collection and analysis efforts by international actors and assess where the most critical gaps are. More recently, we’ve been in sub-Saharan Africa leading workshops, in collaboration with IOM and supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, to develop a common understanding of displacement in the specific contexts of drought and violence in Ethiopia, and complex internal to cross-border movement in the Lake Chad Basin.

Better data on internal displacement is essential to helping us better understand the phenomenon. With a common understanding, we can take steps to prevent it. This is why IDMC has partnered with IOM in a global appeal to step up global policy making and political action on internal displacement. The partnership brings together IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix – the world’s largest source of primary data on internal displacement – with IDMC’s expertise in data analysis, research and policy development.

Twenty years ago, states committed to preventing armed conflict, violence, disasters and human rights violations from forcibly displacing people inside their own country, and to providing protection and assistance to them when they did. Much progress has been made but we still have work to do.

In 2019, IDMC will step up our engagement in international policy processes like the Global Compacts, linking our efforts to the broader prevention, peace building and sustainable development agenda. We will continue to monitor displacement situations around the world and develop more innovative tools and approaches to data collection. We will expand our efforts in data training and develop a practical method for countries to monitor progress over time in preventing and reducing internal displacement.

It’s a steep challenge but one we’re entirely committed to.

We look forward to your collaboration and support in 2019 and wish you all the best for a happy holiday.

Alexandra Bilak