10 Dec 2020.  The Urban Thinkers Campus on “Forced displacement in cities” concluded its three-part virtual series with a session on internally displaced people (IDPs) in urban settings. Speakers advocated for evidence-based decision-making that supports durable solutions.

Evidence  shows that many IDPs who moved to urban areas are likely to stay and local authorities are in the front line in terms of fostering their social and economic inclusion and enhancing social cohesion between communities. Human-rights based approaches, including granting land housing and property rights as well as inclusion of IDPs for planning of services, housing and infrastructure need a whole-of-government as well as a whole-of-society approach – and strong cooperation between all actors in the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.

The experience of IDPs is often a protracted issue that needs both humanitarian and development interventions. With most IDPs migrating to urban areas, cities are at the forefront of the response. The webinar explored how cities and their partners – from both humanitarian and development side - are taking practical and policy-oriented actions to integrate their IDP populations.

Hosted by UN-Habitat and Cities Alliance, the session featured speakers from international organizations (such as IDMC, JIPS and IOM), UN-Habitat, the Secretariat of the High-level Panel on Internal Displacement, the city of Dhaka, and Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre.

Several key messages emerged from the presentations, including that IDPs must be viewed as citizens, and securing Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights for them is crucial. There is also a significant need for evidence on the needs of urban displaced and understanding specific vulnerabilities so that suitable responses can be found that benefit both host and displaced populations in vulnerable situations, as Dyfed Aubrey, UN-Habitat’s Interregional Advisory underlined in his opening remarks. The question remains how to leverage short-term humanitarian successes for long-term sustainable development, but advancing cooperation between relevant actors – from different government levels as well as sectors and including civil society and private sectors – has been proven to be promising, based on UN-Habitat’s country experiences in displacement contexts.

The first speaker, Scott Lloyd of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) shared how IMDC is building an evidence base on internal displacement. The IDMC uses data from different sources – including local partners, social media companies, and mobile phones – to get an accurate idea of peoples’ mobility. The local efforts to monitor and analyze information on displacement provides a much-needed perspective for inclusive and integrated programming and evidence-based recommendations.

“This localized work is counteracting the global picture on internal displacement so we can get really informed and inclusive local policies.”
Scott Lloyd, IDMC

Picking up on multi-level governance approaches, Greta Zeender as member of the secretariat of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement discussed the Panel’s work on how to prevent displacement and support durable solutions for IDPs. The High-Level Panel is consulting with urban actors, IDPs, and cities to develop formal recommendations on IDPs for the UN Secretary General. UN-Habitat, together with JIPS, IIED and other partners, will be supporting the High-Level Panel on increasing visibility of sustainable solutions for urban displacement, and advancing the development of recommendations, bringing in specific urban knowledge and operational experiences.

“It is clear that cities really are at the forefront as they are the face of the government when it comes to responding to internal displacement. Cities can lead the way to responding and finding practical solutions to responding to displacement.”
 -- Greta Zeender, member of the secretariat of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement

The experience of one city that the High-Level Panel had consultations with, Adama, in Ethiopia, was also described more in detail by Dr. Evan Easton-Calabria, Senior Research Officer for the Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre. She noted that Adama led a coordinated cultural, social, and governmental response that successfully met the needs of IDPs in the emergency phase. The issue now was how to leverage that initial assistance effort and build on what worked for longer-term development.

“IDPs talked with us about increasing the platforms for connection and discussion, extending some of the saving groups to IDPs, or asking that the municipal government offered increased communication between local and IDP communities.”

Dr. Evan Easton-Calabria, Senior Research Officer for the Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre

Mohammad Sirajul Islam, Chief Urban Planner for Dhaka South, Bangladesh, shared how his city is responding to large numbers people due to climate-change induced migration, bringing the voice and experience of local actors in the discussion. The city has various initiatives to integrate displaced people, notably a city-funded shelter that provides housing, medical services, childcare, and other services to help migrants transition into life in Dhaka. But more is needed, as flooding and other impacts of climate change will continuously increase migration and displacement in coming years.

“We need to invest new and additional funds to lessen the impact of climate change on our people.”

 Mohammad Sirajul Islam, Chief Urban Planner for Dhaka South

Ibere Lopes, IOM’s HLP Advisor to the Global Shelter Cluster, stressed the importance of addressing land and property issues early while providing humanitarian aid, especially in conflict contexts. The time to deal with land property issues is when the conflict is beginning to subside, when land values increase and IDPs are thinking about returning or integrating locally.

“One of the interventions that can be done in the humanitarian context is recording possession, gathering available records, working with multiple informal sources to document occupancy, and mapping to provide a route to eventual validation.”  

Ibere Lopes, HLP Advisor to the Global Shelter Cluster

Muslim Qazimi, HLP Rights Sub-Cluster Coordinator and Program Manager for UN-Habitat Iraq, underlined the importance of land and property rights for longer term development and shared how UN-Habitat is documenting land rights in Sinjar, Iraq, where many Yazidis were forcibly evicted to enable return as well as allow longer-term investments. UN-Habitat used tools such as the Secure Tenure Domain Model (STDM) to document and register property claims on behalf of both husbands and wives – a first in Iraq, and an important step for empowering women. It has also designed an advocacy component to help the initiative survive political changes.

“Through the UN-Habitat HLP program, Yazidis’ HLP claims and rights are registered, mapped and they receive their land occupancy documents for the first time in their lives.”

Muslim Qazimi, HLP Rights Sub-Cluster Coordinator and Program Manager for UN-Habitat Iraq

Dr. Isis Nuñez Ferrera, Head of Field Support and Capacity Building for the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) introduced how JIPS uses urban profiling to map needs of IDPs and advance durable solutions. In Darfur, a pilot program assessed the impact of 15 years of protracted displacement on IDPs and host communities, which, in cooperation with UN-Habitat, led to evidence-based recommendations for further interventions. The profiling revealed that displaced people in peri-urban areas in Sudan were often more vulnerable than people in the camps, which benefited from humanitarian assistance, and Dr. Nuñez Ferrera underlined that urban displacement needed tailored solutions.

“Urban profiling is a powerful tool to inform joint action, for but it needs to involve all relevant stakeholders from the very beginning for the data to be actionable … Communities, both displaced and host, are not sufficiently involved in key discussions and decisions. Participatory processes such as urban profiling can be used to capture the voices and knowledge of all urban stakeholders, including displaced communities.”

Dr. Isis Nuñez Ferrera, Head of Field Support and Capacity Building for JIPS

It is clear from the rich variety of experiences presented in the webinar that cities and communities are already working on the local integration of IDPs, specifically in protracted displacement contexts. It will be important for development and humanitarian partners to work with cities and local authorities to build on their knowledge and expertise and strengthen these responses for durable solutions in coordination with other government actors as well as civil society and key urban players.

For more information on UN-Habitat’s approaches and work on migration and forced displacement in Cities, please contact stephanie.loose@un.org and check our website.

Please find more information on UN-Habitat’s flagship on migration Inclusive cities: Enhancing the positive impacts of urban migration or download the publication on selected migration and displacement projects

Third session Internal displacement in urban settings