More than 41 million people globally have been forcibly displaced within their own countries because of conflict, violence and violations of their human rights, according to U.N. estimates. Another 17 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters and climate-related events.
People displaced within their own countries are among the most vulnerable in the world because they lack the legal international protections accorded refugees when they cross an international border.
In an effort to right this wrong, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has established the first-ever High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement to seek concrete long-term solutions for the beleaguered millions and to raise global awareness of the unending misery in which they are caught.
"The issue of internal displacement tends to be forgotten, while it is one of the major, not only humanitarian, but also, I would say, political crises that our times are seeing,” said Federica Mogherini, the co-chair of the panel and former European Commission High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
"So, our first task will be to keep, or rather put this as high as possible on the agenda and try to provide some good advice on how this can be addressed," she added.
The panel’s eight distinguished members come from all regions of the world, some from countries that have big problems of internal displacement.
They are expected to draw upon their wealth of experience in government, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to map out a realistic plan for improving the lives of the displaced and for garnering greater support for the communities that host them.
"We have been clearly tasked to focus on specific issues. So, we will try to be as concrete and focused on the results that we can realistically achieve,” said Mogherini.
"First of all, we have been tasked to focus on prevention of displacement and mitigation of its effects. On capacity building, to better deal with this issue and how to mobilize at best international support, first and foremost for the states that are affected by this issue,” she said.
Crucially, she said, the panel has been asked to address what she called the three main drivers of displacement: climate change, disaster risk reduction and peace action.
The panel held its first “brainstorming” session on Tuesday in preparation for the complex and challenging work that will get underway on February 26. Guterres has given the group only one year in which to deliver a realistic plan, one that will be “sustainable and durable over time.”
The secretary-general announced the establishment of the panel on October 23, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the African Union Convention on Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, known as the Kampala Convention.
The U.N. refugee agency reports 17.8 million people are internally displaced in sub-Saharan Africa, the largest regional displacement in the world.
Panel co-chair Donald Kaberuka noted that a Convention on Internal Displacement would “ensure that the work, which has been done in the field of refugees and migrants, was completed.”
On December 17, 2018, the General Assembly adopted the Global Compact on Refugees followed by the adoption on December 18, 2018 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
Kaberuka, the former president of the African Development Bank Group and minister of finance and economic planning in Rwanda said he hoped to bring his experience from the development world to find practical solutions to the displacement crisis.
He told VOA it was not possible to separate “development, environment and security,” all elements involved in displacement. He said all three matters must be addressed together.
For instance, he said, “I do not see any solution in the Sahel at the moment… What is happening to the climate and how it has fallen into a social problem and now into a security problem. Those will have to be addressed together.”
The panelists have agreed that they want a positive, productive outcome to their year-long deliberations. They said they do not intend to point fingers of shame or dwell on governmental shortcomings but would try to get countries to work together to meet the needs of the displaced.
Mogherini said the panel would “try to avoid politicizing this issue and try to look at what can help people live better in a situation that is in itself very difficult... We believe that this could be a win-win approach.”