May 21, 2018

Open Letter by Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, on the need for better solutions for IDPs

Written by Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, UN OCHA

A South Sudanese woman stands next to Mark Lowcock in a doorway. Other people are standing behind Mr. Lowcock.

During a visit to South Sudan, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, met with Government representatives, Opposition leaders, humanitarian agencies, and those most affected by the conflict – many of whom have fled their homes and are relying on aid for survival. Photo: UNMISS / Eric Kanalstein (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last year, conflicts and disasters caused an additional 30.6 million people to flee their homes and become internally displaced, bringing the number of IDPs to over 65 million, the highest number in a decade. In light of this, on the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, I call on ­­­­Governments to sign up to the Mission Statement of the GP20 campaign calling for more engagement on internal displacement: to deliver emergency assistance, better solutions for IDPs, and to urgently adopt national laws and policies on IDPs to enable them to fulfil their potential and regain their autonomy, dignity and resilience.

Often fleeing without their identity papers, having lost their homes and separated from their communities IDPs are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Many languish in the margins of society, their suffering largely unnoticed. They struggle to access basic services like education, health care or housing, and often face resentment from existing communities who themselves may be struggling to survive. They are #InvisibleCitizens.

To outline to the world the rights of IDPs to protection, assistance and durable solutions, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law, 20 years displacement experts launched the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.  Today, on their 20th anniversary, I call on Governments and their partners to reaffirm their commitment to these principles.

Many government,s international organizations, and civil society groups have stood behind these principles. At least 27 states have already enacted laws, policies or other national instruments specifically on internal displacement. And several more are in the process of developing some. The General Assembly has recognized them as the seminal international framework for IDP protection, and encouraged all to use them when confronted with situations of internal displacement. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also called for renewed efforts to prevent and respond to internal displacement, address the root causes and support durable solutions.

By adopting a new approach, Governments and their partners can help IDPs regain their autonomy at the earliest possible stages of displacement, as shown is OCHA’s 2017 Study, ‘Breaking the Impasse: Reducing Protracted Internal Displacement as a Collective Outcome’. This requires integrating internal displacement into national development plans as well as budgets, policies and laws.

We see evidence of these efforts all around us. In Colombia, home to 7.2 million IDPs, the Government is identifying ways to legalize and expand irregular IDP settlements n towns and cities. And in the Ukraine, the Government and its partners launched an IDP strategy in December 2017, outlining a holistic approach to internal displacement.

I pledge OCHA’s support to Governments in developing strong policy and practice to better protect, assist and advocate for IDPs. And I commit to continuing to put IDPs at the heart of global humanitarian response, resource mobilization, advocacy, and policy efforts.

Renewed action from across the international community is vital if we are to deliver on our collective commitment to on IDPs and to “leave no one behind” – as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals.

I urge Governments, world leaders, thought leaders and the public to unite behind this cause by signing the mission statement today.


Yours sincerely,


Mark Lowcock

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, UN OCHA

We all have a role to play in supporting internally displaced people. Check out the GP20 Campaign Mission Statement, and add your name to the growing list of supporters below: