On Wednesday, Dame Caroline Spelman MP led a Westminster Hall debate to raise awareness of the plight of Internally Displaced People (IDPs). These are people who have been displaced from their homes by conflict or disaster, often for very long periods of time. IDPs differ from refugees in one respect, namely that they have not gone across an international border.
The debate, which was attended by cross party MPs identified the many challenges faced by IDPs who often face great hardship as they are not afforded the same rights and support that refugees have under the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees and that they are often harder for aid agencies to identify and offer support to as a result.
It is believed that up to 40 million people are internally displaced at present.
Opening the debate, Dame Caroline highlighted the challenges faced by Internally Displaced Persons when trying to return to their homes. Often, homes have been reduced to rubble and unexploded ordinance can cost further lives - often prolonging the danger even after the conflict has ended.
She explained, “Twenty years ago, refugees far outnumbered IDPs. In 1998, it was estimated that there were approximately five million IDPs, compared with about 11.5 million refugees. The interesting thing is that that situation is more or less reversed today. There are more than 40 million IDPs, compared with 22.5 million refugees”.
“Many IDPs have been repeatedly displaced for long periods of time, with the average length of displacement for IDPs now being 15 years…[and] estimates suggest that at least one in five women IDPs have experienced sexual violence in displacement.
She later added that, "The principle of supporting people in the region they come from is important, as they are more likely to return home and re-build their local communities but we must be able to support them in achieving this.”
The MP closed by encouraging the Secretary of State for International Development to join such countries as Denmark, Sweden and Austria in supporting the calls for an expert report on refugees and IDPs to be commissioned by the UN Secretary-General.
Recently, Dame Caroline has also sponsored an exhibition in Parliament to raise awareness of the plight of Yezidi Women Women and hosted a meeting between the International Aid Charity Open Doors and the Prime Minister.
Image: Portrait of three Yezidi Women from Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors' an exhibition hosted by Dame Caroline Spelman and artist Hannah Rose Thomas