Displacement can be a means of escaping violence but it can also bring great suffering. Displacement is not inevitable, so what can we do to prevent it?
The many existing fragments of law relating to arbitrary displacement have a common thread running through them, revealing a human right not to be displaced. The existence of such a right might seem obvious but it has not yet been recognised in any international legal instrument.
The repertoire of survival actions of at-risk civilians includes both avoiding and attempting displacement. But there are also overlaps, combinations and tacking back and forth between the two, while trying to mitigate the risks that any choice entails.
A harmful action that is looming and has not yet taken place is difficult for third-party states to denounce or counter. Nevertheless, a whole range of measures and methodologies is at their disposal enabling them to contribute to the prevention of forced displacement.
The issue of the role of explosive weapons in generating displacement in urban areas has recently risen up the international agenda.
In order to prevent or reduce disaster-related displacement, we need to address some clear gaps in both knowledge and capacity by improving research on and awareness of disaster risks and associated human rights, and the capacity to address them.
There exists a set of inter-related normative texts for the protection of the environment and for the prevention and reduction of disasters, as well as for ensuring respect for human rights in all circumstances. Taken together these standards constitute an effective legal and operational framework and should not be interpreted independently or in isolation.
The severity of recent flooding in Thailand and the probability of future flooding have triggered a re-assessment of coping mechanisms employed by both the Thai population and the government.
Many of those who have fought against displacement now find themselves being advocates for resettlement and relocation. Knowing that displacements will occur as a result of climate change, the humanitarian community will need to work pre-emptively with communities identified as likely to be threatened on the land-based solutions that may be available to them.
Current global trends are putting increasing economic pressure on land and natural resources, raising the risk that new waves of internal displacement may be caused by the combined forces of climate change and large-scale investment in agriculture.
In hazard-prone developing countries, shelter interventions are an important way to prevent or mitigate natural disaster-induced displacement. To be effective, however, they need to be multi-faceted and carried out with the involvement of the communities affected.
The ‘choice’ to remain rather than flee is often in effect not really voluntary.
The International Committee of the Red Cross prioritises the need to prevent displacement-triggering events when possible. Their experience from around the world of working in this ‘pre-displacement’ phase – preventing violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), undertaking protection activities and providing assistance – highlights the complexity of the challenges and the central role of working in partnership to serve communities at risk.
There is no international human rights law standard that expressly prohibits businesses’ arbitrary displacement of persons. Businesses do, however, have the responsibility to avoid infringements of human rights that could lead to displacement and also to take actions to remedy their human rights violations that might lead to displacement.
Development projects remain one of the primary causes of displacement worldwide. Evictions are commonly involuntary. The case of a proposed coalmine in Bangladesh clearly illustrates the potential for human rights violations in such projects, the need for stronger safeguard policies that uphold people’s rights and prevent displacement, and the power of local protest.
Respecting the prohibitions against forced and arbitrary displacement could significantly reduce the risk of, or prevent, displacement in situations of armed conflict, as could insisting on accountability for violations of these prohibitions that amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The UN Security Council has only partially addressed these issues.
Displacement is often part of a cyclical process of conflict and displacement. Preventing displacement, therefore, is not only about preventing new displacement but about ensuring that people do not get re-displaced.
For many in northern Uganda, access to land and property remains an unresolved issue that threatens peace and sustainable returns.
If education is seen as a factor that keeps refugees in camps or host communities rather than encouraging them to go back home, it should be systematically included as part of return to prevent re-displacement.
Women in Colombia are increasingly being attacked because of their efforts to defend human rights and to bring an end to the conflict and displacement in their country.
Fragility of land tenure and property rights has both caused and exacerbated displacement in Colombia. In response, the government has established a legal framework to address the problem and, ultimately, to prevent further displacement. The rebuilding of community relationships and institutional trust are central to the success of this approach.
Those seeking to understand and address the reasons for growing numbers of displaced indigenous people in Bolivia should consider the relationship between traditional knowledge and the impacts of climate change.
Prevention has become a strategy increasingly adopted by the humanitarian community in addressing forced displacement in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as responding to immediate emergency needs for families displaced or at risk of displacement.
This article reflects on the first-hand life experiences of refugees of East/Horn of Africa origin on arrival in the UK. The experiences – some of which could be seen as humorous or sad – may be informative and relevant for other practitioners.
As stateless Rohingya in Burma face containment in IDP camps and within their homes and communities in what is effectively segregation, their human rights are on the whole being ignored by countries keen either to support reform in Burma or to return refugees who have fled to their shores.
In the face of continuing persecution of North Koreans who are forcibly returned to their country of origin by China, the international community needs to reconsider how it might better work towards securing protection for North Koreans. Some may be political refugees, others ‘refugees sur place’; they may not have been refugees when they left their country but become refugees because they have a valid fear of persecution upon return.
A new communications platform for use in humanitarian emergencies made its debut in January 2012 in South Sudan, and is now being deployed elsewhere. Emergency.lu aims to be a global inter-agency tool.
Displaced women need opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families but these opportunities should not increase their vulnerability. Understanding risk factors and protection strategies allows practitioners to ensure appropriate programme design and implementation.
Forced evictions are a prominent challenge facing developing world communities, and a major driver of forced migration. A study of forced urban eviction in Tanzania shows that grassroots mobilisation alone may be unable to confront the challenges of displacement and that there are risks when mobilisation around displacement is premised on unrealistic expectations.
The Nansen Initiative launched in October 2012 aims to build consensus among states about how best to address cross-border displacement in the context of sudden- and slow-onset disasters.
The notion of the ‘refugee burden’ has become firmly rooted in the policy vocabulary of governments and humanitarian actors. Understandably, governments emphasise the negative impacts and costs but these, although undeniable and well documented, are only part of the picture.
Despite widespread participation in cultural orientation programmes, resettled refugees often have misconceptions about their potential for self-sufficiency in the United States, and experience adjustment problems after their arrival. Making changes to these programmes could improve outcomes of the refugee resettlement process.
Organisations that provide legal services to refugees and asylum seekers face the challenge of responding ethically to clients’ requests to be assisted by foreigners as opposed to by nationals in country offices.