I beg to move,
That this House
has considered a strategy for internally displaced people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I thank the Speaker’s Office for granting this debate. I am particularly grateful to my colleagues for giving up time on such a busy afternoon—mid-week, on a Wednesday—to address the important issue of internally displaced people.
I have no doubt that many hon. Members who are here in Westminster Hall now will have called in this morning to Christian Aid’s big breakfast meeting; if they did not, they really missed out on an excellent breakfast. That meeting was designed to draw attention to the issue of internally displaced people. I take this opportunity to thank Christian Aid, both for hosting that event and for its wider campaign to raise the profile of the issue. That will also help to give a focus to Christian Aid Week, which comes up very shortly, in May.
Internally displaced people, or IDPs for short, are people who have been displaced from their homes by conflict or disaster, often for very long periods of time. That might sound like an appropriate definition of refugees, but IDPs differ from refugees in one respect, namely that they have not gone across an international border. They have been displaced within their own country. Precisely because of that fact, they are not afforded the same rights and support that refugees have under the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees .
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN’s own guiding principles on internal displacement. Those principles were established to address some of the concerns about IDPs and their exclusion from the earlier UN convention on refugees. However, at the time that those principles were conceived, the problems that IDPs faced were very different from those that IDPs face today.
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. Both categories have increased in number, but their proportions have been almost exactly reversed.
Many IDPs have been repeatedly displaced for long periods of time, with the average length of displacement for IDPs now being 15 years. Just imagine being a child in a family that has been internally displaced; most of a person’s childhood, up to adulthood, would have been spent in this limbo position.
Lengthy internal displacement has become a global phenomenon and it must be properly accounted for when we consider how we can support and protect those who become the victims of forcible displacement. With that in mind, it is concerning that the zero draft of the UN’s global compact on refugees, which was published in January and will provide the basis for formal talks about how the international community should respond to refugee crises, contains little discussion of the unique and huge problems faced by IDPs.
IDPs are often excluded from the support offered to refugees. That is partly because, having not crossed a border, they are actually quite hard to identify. The vast majority of IDPs do not enter camps, as refugees do. Instead, on average, 75% of IDPs stay in host communities. In Iraq, the figure is as high as 90%. IDPs in host communities are not as well documented as refugees in camps, and they are therefore much harder to find and identify. If IDPs go undocumented, it is difficult to provide them with the proper support that they need.
A further reason for the exclusion of IDPs is that, because they have not crossed an international border, they remain the responsibility of the state within which they have been displaced. Unsurprisingly, this can prove incredibly problematic in cases where states have been ravaged by conflict; it may even be the state that is causing the displacement, as we have seen in Syria. The state may, in fact, be further abusing and exploiting its citizens once they have been displaced.
In 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than half of the Syrian population lived in displacement—that is really quite an astonishing fact—either across the border into another country or within their own country. As the civil war in Syria goes on and on, large swathes of the population continue to be displaced. In recent weeks, the Syrian Government forces in eastern Ghouta have been busing people to camps that are surrounded by other Government forces and then allegedly demanding that they surrender any form of ID.
Local journalists have reported that that is part of a broader Government plan to make drastic demographic changes, whereby property is handed over to pro-Government supporters. In such situations, the people who have been displaced must feel a real sense of hopelessness. Under international law, they remain the responsibility of the state that seems intent on persecuting them.
A further example of significant incidence of internal displacement can be seen in neighbouring Iraq, where it is estimated that there are around 2.2 million IDPs. Since the cessation of hostilities and violence in Mosul in 2017, many Christians from that area now wish to return, although they face significant difficulties in doing so.
I have not forgotten the most recent visit by a Christian pastor, whose church in Mosul had been burned down. He actually came over to Britain, at the investigation of the Open Doors charity, and he brought with him a scorched Bible, which he had asked to present to the Prime Minister, as one of the most poignant reminders of just how terrible the situation is for the persecuted minorities in Iraq. He explained how he and others had been displaced and how he had set up a new church, but, almost before he knew where he was, more than 300 families had come to seek refuge within the compound where the new church was situated.
The pastor explained how hard it is to return to Mosul and to try to start rebuilding one’s life all over again. We should not overlook the fact that the ISIL fighters have gone back to their original homes, so they are living in communities and making it very hard for the neighbours of Christians to welcome back their former Christian friends. The Christians are not made welcome again in the communities in which they once lived.
My own experience of visits to South Sudan is that IDPs get the worst treatment. They stayed within the country, which means that the SPLA—the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—does not trust them, because it organises the refugees. The SPLA blamed the people who remained in the south for being part of the regime of the north, and out of everybody they got the worst treatment.
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman’s point will be made over and over again. One of the long-standing principles of international development is that, as far as possible, assistance should be given in the region so that people can remain in the region and rebuild war-torn places. However, when it comes to IDPs, that principle meets with the most incredible difficulties, and that problem must not be underestimated in any way.
The pictures that we see of both Syria and Iraq—sadly, those of us who have been to the conflict zone in Sudan will have seen similar things—show that when IDPs return to their homes, those homes are nothing more than a pile of rubble. Debris fills the streets and makes it difficult to navigate through the communities that IDPs used to live in. Sadly, uncleared and unexploded ordnance can cost lives, and certainly limbs, among those who return to these areas. They remain a very dangerous environment to return to.
The Government of Iraq and the UN agencies are working hard to try to make these areas safe, but given the level of destruction in a place such as Mosul and the high risk of unexploded devices, it cannot happen all that quickly. People are being secondarily displaced by the lengthy clean-up operation; on their return, they find that they cannot stay, and they are displaced all over again to camps or host communities while they wait for the area to be made safe so that they can return and start to rebuild something that looks a bit like normality. In January and February of this year, more than 23,000 people in Iraq were secondarily displaced to IDP camps.
Even for the IDPs who can make the journey home, and whose houses have not been destroyed, their return is often far from straightforward. They often encounter disputes over property; it is a common problem. Often, they are unable to provide the necessary documentation, and the relevant authorities are so overwhelmed by trying to resolve the large number of land rights disputes that many IDPs remain unable to return. Property disputes are an issue shared by refugees returning from other countries in which they have sought refuge, but because IDPs have not crossed an international border, their status is not as clear cut. These issues are therefore more hidden and more complex.
I want to touch on the plight of women and girls as IDPs. In the 100th year of our hard-fought battle for women’s suffrage in the UK, it is entirely appropriate to dwell for a moment on how women are disproportionately affected by internal displacement. They are at greater risk from sexual violence and trafficking. Girls suffer higher levels of early marriage. In many contexts, women have weaker property rights than men, or no property rights. Those things make returning or seeking compensation for land losses even further beyond their reach. For displaced women, even simple activities such as going to fetch firewood or water can see them fall victim to physical or sexual attack.
It is important to note that women often do not find personal security following displacement. Instead, they suffer violence as they flee and frequently continue to experience high levels of violence while living in displacement. I am sure Members will remember the haunting pictures of Yazidi women in the Upper Waiting Hall. They reminded us all, in their brief life stories, of what they have had to cope with. Estimates suggest that at least one in five women IDPs have experienced sexual violence in displacement. In South Sudan’s IDP camps, UN investigators found that 70% of women had been raped, typically by soldiers and police officers. The one place where a woman is hoping to find safe refuge can turn out to be a dangerous environment for her to reside in. Given the great work that the Government have been doing to support women and girls in developing countries, I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could assure me that IDPs are firmly on the Government’s radar. Given the sheer number of IDPs today—there are more than 40 million globally—we must take steps.
The right hon. Lady is making an eloquent case about the situation of women, but is it not true that people with disabilities are also affected? They cannot make the long journeys to other countries, whether they have been disabled because of the conflict or were already disabled. Do we not need to make a special case and special provision for people with disabilities?
The hon. Gentleman makes a poignant point. I will never forget, during the war in Afghanistan, going to see internally displaced people and those who had fled just over the border into the federally administered tribal areas, sometimes to completely unofficial camps. Some were carried on the backs of their relatives. A person can move only very slowly if they are carrying another human being, especially an adult, to a place of relative safety. Those with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. Sadly, they often get left behind and fall prey to all the threats to life that pertain to any conflict zone. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the plight of the disabled in this debate on internal displacement.
There have been some notable successes in tackling internal displacement over the past 20 years, such as the Kampala convention, which was agreed in 2012. It was the world’s first continental instrument that legally bound Governments to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee their homes from conflict, violence, disaster and human rights abuses. However, much more needs to be done. Not everyone has signed up to the Kampala convention, including some of the countries we would very much like to see as signatories to that commitment.
The Department for International Development is certainly a leader in trying to promote other countries signing up to the convention. It is also a leader in its longer-term country programming in places suffering drawn-out, protracted, complex conflicts. For example, in answer to a written question relating to humanitarian operations in South Sudan, the Minister of State wrote:
“The UK is at the forefront of the international response to the crisis. Through the Humanitarian and Resilience Building in South Sudan programme, the Department for International Development will provide £443 million in humanitarian aid between 2015 and 2020 to support the provision of food, emergency shelter, and nutrition and health services, including our response to famine and severe food insecurity.”
Famine and food insecurity is a big problem in South Sudan. That level of support for IDPs is very welcome, and I commend DFID for it, but beyond the provision of aid, will DFID consider developing a broader strategy for IDPs that sets out how they can be supported and their status safeguarded globally? Such a strategy would stand DFID in good stead to be a global leader on the issue of IDPs and displacement more broadly.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently spoke of her support for a high-level panel to look into IDPs at the United Nations, and I was delighted to hear that. It would go some way to addressing the lack of global oversight of IDPs in the current drafts of the global compact on migration and the global compact on refugees. It is worth noting the comments of Foreign Office Minister, Lord Ahmed. He said:
“The UK—alongside partners—remains committed to the UN process to develop both a Global Compact on Migration and a Global Compact on Refugees. The decision by the United States to withdraw from the former does not alter the UK Government’s commitment to engage fully and work towards the successful delivery of these compacts. We believe that the Global Compact on Migration should offer an effective international framework to ensure that migration is safe and orderly and that it should balance the rights and responsibilities of both states and migrants.”
Those are incredibly important words for anyone who has seen the general chaos and risks associated with people fleeing at speed from conflict. It is incredibly important to try to bring order to that chaos and safety for the most vulnerable among those who flee.
I encourage 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. Such a report would serve as a useful precursor to any high-level panel on the topic. Furthermore, the UN has set up a plan of action around the 20th anniversary of the guiding principles this year. That multi-stakeholder plan of action aims to resolve and reduce internal displacement through prevention, protection and solutions for IDPs. Its purpose is to strengthen and galvanise support around the guiding principles and to add greater weight to them. I urge the Government to consider supporting that initiative alongside other such UN processes, including the high-level panel and the expert report.
I conclude by thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister for attending the debate today. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. He is knowledgeable on this subject matter, but so are those who have taken the time to come to the debate, and they will make other useful contributions to the discussion.
This debate is on a terribly important issue, and seven Members have indicated they want to speak. I apologise, but I am going to have to impose an immediate time limit of three minutes.
I congratulate Dame Caroline Spelman on securing this debate, and welcome the work of Christian Aid. As she rightly pointed out, the majority of displaced people around the world are internally displaced rather than refugees. Some 65 million people are displaced globally, of whom 43 million are displaced internally. I highlight one example, which is the Rohingya in Burma. Many Rohingya are internally displaced, so do not qualify as refugees. The Select Committee on International Development recently visited Bangladesh and saw the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, but we were refused visas to visit Burma, so we were unable to meet the internally displaced. It would be great if the Minister talked about the work that the UK is doing to support the Rohingya and other minorities within Burma who are internally displaced.
As crises in such places as Syria, Iraq, Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan become more protracted and complex, it is vital that the world system responds. I echo what the right hon. Lady said about the importance of the UK giving support to the call for the UN Secretary-General to commission an expert report looking at the position of IDPs around the world and how humanitarian systems can be improved to help them.
The sustainable development goals—the global goals adopted in 2015—are very relevant here. For example, goal 13 is about tackling climate change. Some 25 million are displaced by natural disasters, and minimising the impact of climate change is a powerful tool of prevention. SDG 4 is about education. This morning we were in this Chamber talking about the protection of children. The Select Committee recently published our report on global education. It is vital that internally displaced children have access to education, not least when, as the right hon. Lady reminded us, they are likely to be displaced on average for 15 years. Thirdly, goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies is the goal for which the UK rightly fought. Within that, we need to ensure that religious minorities, women and girls, disabled people and others are fully protected.
The International Development Committee has decided that we will hold an inquiry later this year on displacement in Africa. We will focus on both IDPs and refugees. The inquiry is topical because, as the right hon. Lady said, it is the 20th anniversary of the guiding principles on internal displacement. It will give us an opportunity to look at the work of the Department for International Development; the work of the UN, particularly following the adoption of the new compacts on refugees and migration that are due in September; and the important Kampala convention, to which she referred.
Let us work together in this House to ensure that the very real needs of IDPs are fully reflected in UK policy.
Thank you, Mr Davies. I have redacted some of my speech, so will keep it short anyway. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman on securing this important debate.
The number of internally displaced persons in the world is both staggering and unacceptable. As has been mentioned, about 40 million people worldwide have been made IDPs by conflict and violence alone. More than 24 million new displacements were caused by natural disasters and meteorological events in 2016 alone. Africa and the middle east account for the majority of displacements due to conflict and violence, and over in South America, Colombia is the single country with the most people—more than 7 million—who are internally displaced for those reasons. South and east Asia have the most displacements due to disasters. Even Europe has millions of IDPs, especially Ukraine. In 2016, 1.7 million people had been displaced there, in large part due to Russian aggression.
I must declare an interest at this point. My wife is originally from Azerbaijan, where 600,000 people were internally displaced. Compared with some of the numbers I have been reading, that is still a large number, but it is not as large as in some of the other countries that I mentioned. Nevertheless, those 600,000 IDPs mean that Azerbaijan still has one of the highest numbers of IDPs per capita—I think the population of Azerbaijan is about 10 million.
IDPs are faced with a unique range of challenges and difficulties. They are in their own country, but they are not at home. They are, in general, citizens in the countries where they are displaced, but in many cases they are denied their rights as citizens. Their Government may even be the reason they have been forced from their homes in the first place.
I applaud the action the UK Government have taken to help IDPs around the world. In Syria, for example, the UK is one of the largest bilateral donors—I think we are the second-largest. The UK has put large amounts of funding towards providing IDPs with a range of support, including food, water, healthcare, and shelter, and has supported UN efforts to ramp up international support for Syrian IDPs. I am also pleased that the UK Government are committed to diplomatic efforts around the world to end conflict, restore peace and pave the way for the return of IDPs to their homes. However, it is crucial that we redouble our efforts and take a lead in supporting IDPs so that we can stop this grave issue from growing.
Such efforts would certainly be complex—from working to end conflicts, to developing credible solutions to cases of displacement, promoting human rights, preventing conflicts from developing in the first place, and to working with countries to make communities more robust to natural disasters. Despite that complexity, we need to act. The problem is simply too big and too tragic for us to allow it to continue growing. I trust that the UK Government will continue to lead and work hard for a brighter future for the tens of millions of IDPs around the world.
Thank you, Mr Davies. I reiterate what you said about welcoming interventions. It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, and I thank Dame Caroline Spelman for securing this important debate. I also thank staff at Christian Aid and the Refugee Council for their help in preparing for the debate.
I do not intend to repeat what has already been said so eloquently. I want to add a specific aspect to the debate, which is the human aspect. I will read a short quote:
“One of the earliest and most prominent slogans during the Syrian uprising and the subsequent conflict was ‘The Syrian people will not be humiliated’…It should therefore come as no surprise how, after the outbreak of conflict and the subsequent massive forced displacement, many Syrians have expressed their dismay at experiencing humiliation not only by those who hold power in Syria but also by those who now control their lives in displacement.”
Those are not my words, but those of a Syrian—Kholoud Mansour—writing in a recent edition of Forced Migration Review. He is currently a researcher at Lund University, and he further writes of being ignored by decision-makers, even in situations where he is there as an expert, and should be in a position of equality. In the article he also quotes a Syrian woman, a founder of a Syrian organisation for education, aid and development, who said:
“I, like all Syrians attending meetings with international humanitarian agencies, feel so humiliated.”
That woman, and the author of the article, are challenging us to look very hard at how we talk and think about displaced persons, and I am challenging us all in today’s debate to think very hard about how we make connections with internally displaced persons, which is even harder than connecting with those who are externally displaced, and how we involve and integrate them into our policy making. The author is directing his article mainly at humanitarian organisations, but I argue that we, as policy makers, are setting the tone and the context. Unintentionally—in fact, often with very good intentions—we set them slightly at odds with what Syrian people and others who are internally displaced want.
In my role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, I have focused particularly on Syria, partly because my constituency has a link, but also because of the current crisis in which more than 0.5 million Syrians have died, 5 million are refugees, and 6 million are internally displaced. I am repeating what has already been said because that is three quarters of the population of Greater London, and six times the population of Birmingham. That is the equivalent of six Birminghams being forced to flee their homes within their own country.
I will leave hon. Members with one thought. I have struggled but am managing to learn Arabic. It has taken me a year and a half to get to conversational level. That is one of the ways I am trying to take the initiative—to hear the voices of people in the middle east who are in conflict, and who are internally and externally displaced. I urge all hon. Members to think about how they might include, involve, recognise and value the voices of internally displaced people, in policy making, as the Minister will say, and in our work.
Some people might think I was speaking in Arabic, but it would be Ulster Scots, which is very different.
It is always a pleasure to speak in such debates. I commend Dame Caroline Spelman for presenting her case so well, as she always does. Her compassion, knowledge of, interest in and love for other people always comes out in her speeches. I wanted to put that on record, and thank her for it.
Along with others, I received a briefing from Christian Aid earlier this year. Today we received an update on where we are. We should thank Christian Aid for all its does. Its staff have been very industrious in ensuring that we all have the facts and figures for this debate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—I pulled out to give more people time, as there were too many speakers. I commend to anybody watching this debate the briefing from Christian Aid. For further background, I would direct people to Christian Aid’s website, where they can learn a bit more. I also commend Christian Aid’s ideals of a FAIR solution—one that is funded, ambitious, inclusive and respectful. Those are great headings under which to work.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. His words are very much what we are all thinking in this House today.
More than 40 million people are currently displaced within their own country due to conflict. That is the equivalent of 60% of the population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Women account for 50%, and a further 40% are children—so 90% of the displaced are women and children.
There are internally displaced people in Syria, Sudan, Colombia and Iraq, as has been said, and the number of internally displaced has more than doubled since the creation of the guiding principles in 1998. Oh that the guiding principles had been adopted by all those countries, and we would be a step further on. Internally displaced people represent more than twice the number of refugees in the whole world. It is simply heart-breaking.
I will make some brief comments as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the freedom of religious belief, and on the persecution of Christians across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in countries in the middle east, with families who have had to leave their homes and businesses, unable to return. People had worked their whole life for all they had and had to walk away.
Women are disproportionately affected by internal displacement, and are at greater risk from sexual violence and trafficking. Girls suffer higher levels of early marriage and women have weaker or no property rights and no recourse to compensation for land losses. They can be subject to physical or sexual abuse when carrying out simple activities such as fetching firewood or water. Women often do not find personal security following displacement. I make a special plea for the women and children.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent case. Is he aware that a compounding problem for internally displaced women and children is the lack of documentation, particularly if children are born without the location of the father being known, or without a living father? In certain countries, that makes documentation impossible.
The hon. Lady always adds to any debate she takes part in and adds a significant point to this discussion, which we would all endorse.
We are fortunate. We know that the Minister is an exceptional person, not just because he is here, but because his interest in this subject is renowned. We are all hopeful that his response will encapsulate the points we all make. Not to leave her out, I have got to know the shadow Minister personally, and I know she is also committed. What we are saying, we are saying together.
In South Sudan, UN investigators have said that 70% of women have been raped, typically by soldiers and police officers. Some 80% of IDPs live in urban areas. The countries most affected by internal displacement are some of the most afflicted by child marriage. I do not know how anyone else feels about child marriage, but it really nyarks me, to use an Ulsterism. I am very uneasy with it. In the Central African Republic, as many as 68% girls are married by the age of 18, and in South Sudan, more than 50% are. Such things should never happen. I do not know whether we have to address the culture in those countries or whether they just need a lesson on where we are. The levels are higher among IDP populations.
All those issues need to be dealt with and I look to the Minister to see how we can influence these things for the better—how we can use our embassies, our international development aid programmes and diplomatic pressures to bring about reform and change. How can we better work with the UN and non-governmental organisations to bring about a different and safer way of life for those who are internally displaced? Will the Minister tell us how his Department believes we can do things differently to promote a different result?
I believe we have a duty of care and an ability to help, and I would like to know that today is the first in a progression of steps in making a difference for people whose lives have been torn apart. It is our duty to be a voice for the voiceless and to speak out today for those who have no voice.
I am pleased to see you in the chair, Mr Davies. I dispense with the usual niceties because there is not enough time, but I congratulate Dame Caroline Spelman on securing this debate.
I was made aware of the difficulties of helping internally displaced people through speaking to Iraqis and representatives of the international community when I led an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Iraq in February. We were told repeatedly that rebuilding infrastructure and the restoration of services in areas recently won back from Daesh—some 40 cities in two and a half years—was the priority, so that IDPs could return home. Managing expectations about what could be done was, however, challenging.
We were told that reconciliation would be crucial in allowing thousands with family ties to militants to return to their homes. Yet the Financial Times recently reported:
“Aid groups and western powers all acknowledge the importance of suturing Iraq’s divisions, but few are willing to co-ordinate with Baghdad”.
They worry, the article continues, about some of the Government’s methods,
“like walling suspected ISIS relatives in displacement camps, while forcing other families to return home before they feel safe”, sometimes when the area is not even cleared of bombs.
Would my right hon. Friend accept that one of the problems is that, whereas refugees often come under the accountable control of international agencies, including the military and the police, IDPs are often subject to national agencies and therefore subject to the conflict and repression that they have tried to flee from, and they get put back into that situation?
Indeed I would. That is a very good point. The Financial Times article also points out such methods
“violate international law and is a recipe for another round of radicalisation. That leaves much of the work to civil society groups, tribes and politicians with competing interests.”
There was an incredible account in The Times last week about the work of a young nurse in Mosul who now collects the remains of dead bodies with a small team of volunteers, which highlighted how little reconstruction has been carried out so far in the old city, though some rebuilding has begun in less damaged parts of west Mosul. Even more worryingly, the report highlighted the feeling of some there that the authorities are now enacting a form of collective punishment on Mosul, Iraq’s largest Sunni city, which was seen as a hotbed of radicalism even before Daesh took it on in 2014. There is a very real difficulty in fostering the reconciliation that will be required to ensure that many IDPs can return home and stay there.
I would like to talk about the tragic situation that colleagues have talked about in Syria, Yemen, the DRC and Colombia. However, I will conclude by calling on Governments with IDPs and the international community to do more to understand and address the challenges faced by IDPs and to engage with them. Last, but not least—who has the primary responsibility to protect and assist IDPs when their home state will not or cannot do so? Will the Minister tell us today what action the Department for International Development has taken to develop and publish a departmental strategy to support IDPs around the world, and what has been done to deliver on commitments on IDPs made at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate Dame Caroline Spelman on an important and deeply passionate speech. I congratulate all Members of this House who share a common cause in seeing a rapid reduction in the numbers of internally displaced peoples and an increase in protections for them.
We always think of displaced people as those who have fled their home country due to natural disasters or conflict, but we often underestimate those who are displaced within their own country, as we have heard today. These are people who have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home. The displacement of millions of people within the borders of their own countries has become a pressing global concern. It disrupts lives, threatens communities and affects countries as a whole, resulting in serious humanitarian, social and economic concerns.
Worldwide, there are now 65 million people displaced; around two thirds of that total are displaced within their own countries. The number of internally displaced people has increased by 10 million in the last four years alone. In 2016, it was equivalent to one person being displaced every single second. Everyone here today should be shocked by those figures.
As we have heard, people forced to leave their homes are generally subject to heightened vulnerability in several areas. They also remain at high risk of physical attack, sexual assault and abduction, and frequently are deprived of adequate shelter, food and health services. The overwhelming majority are women and children, who are especially at risk. More often than refugees, internally displaced people tend to remain close to or become trapped in zones of conflict. They get caught in the crossfire and are at risk of being used as targets or human shields.
I will give a few examples of countries with high numbers of internally displaced people. As we have heard repeatedly today, Syria has the biggest internally displaced population in the world—6.5 million people, which is 1 million more than the entire population of Scotland. Since 2011, 50 Syrian families have been displaced every hour of every day. The pace of displacement remains relentless.
The comparison with Scotland is really helpful. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, like the population of Scotland, those people are teachers, nurses, architects, builders and engineers, and should be engaged? They have remained on the spot, and will be critical in the rebuilding of Syria. They need to be integrated into any peace process that we hopefully support.
I completely agree. They must also be involved in peacebuilding. The people who have seen acts of war and heinous crimes of war on the ground are those who will build the future peace in Syria.
The devastating famine across east Africa, combined with ongoing violence in parts of the continent, has forced so many people to flee that east Africa now rivals Syria in having the world’s largest displacement area. There are almost 2 million internally displaced people in South Sudan. In Sudan, almost 5 million people need humanitarian assistance, half of whom are internally displaced.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about Africa. All African countries had the opportunity to be part of the Kampala convention of 2012. Some that signed up and committed themselves to the process in ink and on paper have not delivered on it. Is it not time that those who have committed themselves to a process actually take action?
I completely agree. We need to speak about this issue in Chambers such as this all across Europe and beyond to make that point. If I am not mistaken, one of the signatories is Nigeria, which has 2 million internally displaced people itself.
The numbers continue to grow, but there has been an absence of effective and lasting strategies for the millions of internally displaced people in Syria, Africa and across the world. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN guiding principles on internal displacement, which set out for the first time a definition and some of the vulnerabilities. This year, a joint plan of action is looking at what further steps can be taken to support internally displaced people. That work is being led by the UN special rapporteur, countries, NGOs and UN agencies. The purpose of the plan is to prevent more arbitrary displacement, improve protection and rights, and develop durable solutions to support the informed choice of those who cannot return to their homes in their own countries. The UK Government must fully support that global plan, which is particularly pertinent in the light of the recent airstrikes undertaken by the UK Government in Syria. I therefore ask the Minister to confirm what action his Department will take to support and deliver the recommendations in the plan of action. Will his Department produce and publish its own strategy on how DFID will support internally displaced people around the world?
The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit made a number of extremely important commitments. For example, it committed to pass more humanitarian funding to local and national actors, and to reduce internal displacement by 50% by 2030. Will the Minister explain how the UK is delivering on the commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit?
The refugee migration crisis is probably one of the most important issues of our time, and it is getting worse by the minute. Our vision of Scotland is of an open country that looks outward. We believe the UK Government must live up to their moral obligations through action and leadership. They must lead the way in putting internal displacement back on the global agenda and developing an effective and lasting strategy for the many millions of internally displaced people at risk. We cannot stand by as the numbers continue to grow.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Dame Caroline Spelman on securing this important debate.
We have heard some excellent contributions. My hon. Friend Alex Sobel highlighted that displaced people with disabilities struggle to make the journey and need specific support. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby talked about the Rohingya who are internally displaced, and about some of the challenges in the camps. My hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire outlined the human side of internal displacement, and said that we as policy makers set the tone. I am proud to hear about her initiative to learn Arabic to connect with others; it is so inspiring. I thank my hon. Friend Dr Drew, Jim Shannon, my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, and the hon. Members for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), for their contributions and their concern about the plight of the internally displaced. This is one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues.
Although refugees fleeing famine, persecution and disease across borders understandably grab diplomatic and media attention, we must not overlook or forget those who are displaced internally within their own countries. We have heard that, of the 65 million people currently displaced from their homes worldwide, more than 40 million are displaced within their own countries, and 90% are women and children. It is sobering to think that, since the United Nations introduced its guiding principles on internal displacement some 20 years ago, the number of IDPs has more than doubled. Ultimately, that means we are not going far enough and fast enough in tackling the problem.
In 2016, natural disasters caused an additional 24 million internal displacements. Every year, an estimated 15 million people are displaced by development projects. Millions more displacements, including from land grabs, criminal violence and drought, are not systematically recorded. Colombia, Sudan, Iraq and Syria have the ignominious honour of topping the list of countries with the most IDPs. Colombia, where conflict has eased and the slow, painstaking process of reconciliation is beginning, reminds us that it takes only a heartbeat to displace millions, but a whole generation to recover and rebuild lives.
It is right that the UK treats the symptoms of displacement. Just last week, the UN launched its plan of action for IDPs, entitled GP20. It promises to tackle internal displacement through prevention, protection and solutions for IDPs. Will the Minister spell out exactly what the UK will do to support that plan, how we will support it financially and politically, how we will align DFID’s migration and refugee work with its priorities, and by when we can expect the UK to spell out clearly its full support? As with so many multilateral plans, the faster the UK gets behind the plan and the more vocal we are, the more likely other countries are to follow suit.
Let me turn to the second area where the UK can surely add value. The United Nations guiding principles for internal displacement identify good data as key to providing support to IDPs, yet 20 years on that data is not good enough. Indeed, UNICEF found that only 20% of data on IDPs is disaggregated by age, compared with 50% for all refugees and 77% for migrants. That is something the UK could lead on by providing technical expertise and insights to countries with high IDP populations, and enabling them to collect and monitor data on IDPs more effectively. That could form part of the global cross-Government UK strategy on IDPs. Will the Minister outline what steps his Department has taken to increase the volume and quality of data collected on IDPs?
I have spoken briefly about the importance of the Government addressing the symptoms of displacement, and look forward to hearing the Minister’s remarks, but let me turn briefly to the wider context. The lives of IDPs and the issue of internal displacement cannot be improved by humanitarian responses alone. As Christian Aid argued, humanitarian efforts need to be conducted in concert with sustained investment by states and development actors to resolve the underlying causes of internal displacement, be they related to conflict, natural disasters, large-scale development projects or extreme poverty.
I am sure we all agree that, if we want to reduce and resolve internal displacement, we need to tackle its root causes, not just its symptoms. Labour has recently launched its own plan for Government, called “A World for the Many, Not the Few”, in which we commit to an approach that targets action on what we believe to be the five biggest drivers of poverty and inequality. That includes a commitment to building peace and conflict prevention, pivoting the UK’s approach from being one preoccupied primarily with national security in conflict settings to one preoccupied first and foremost with peace and development. It also includes a commitment to take action on climate justice, which threatens to be one of the biggest drivers of internal displacement.
It is easy to say that we will tackle root causes, but the devil is in the detail. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the Government’s strategy on internally displaced people gets buy-in and ownership from across Government, and that it is not dwarfed by the concerns of other Departments? For example, does the media and political focus on migration and refugees into the UK—driven by the Prime Minister’s “hostile environment” and the Home Office—risk shaping the UK’s priorities more than it should? With European donor agencies including DFID seemingly channelling more of their migration support into dissuading people from leaving their countries and coming to Europe, does the Minister agree that the job of political leaders is to rise above nasty rhetoric and keep the focus of our humanitarian support on those who need it most?
The Secretary of State argued in her keynote speech that the purpose of UK aid was to act as a
“shield against uncontrolled and unsustainable economic migration”.
Does the Minister think that that type of language is constructive or projects the desired image of the Government’s so-called global Britain?
To conclude, I call on the Minister to ensure that his Department produces and publishes a departmental strategy on how DFID supports internally displaced people around the world. The strategy must outline how the UK is delivering on the commitments made at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit by the Government on internally displaced people, and it must ensure that DFID does all it can to support and deliver on the recommendations made in the joint plan of action devised by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs with states, NGOs and UN agencies. More than that, the strategy must bring the whole of Government to bear on the problem with a clear joined-up plan, and it must ensure that the priority in our displacement work is not to be a shield against migration or a hostile environment, but the lives of the 40 million people at risk.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. First and foremost, I thank my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman for securing the debate and for her courtesy in passing me a copy of her speech so that I am better able to respond to her questions.
In this debate, the majority of colleagues have again discussed similar things, speaking warmly and knowledgeably as they always do, and asking far too many questions—as Preet Kaur Gill on the Opposition Front Bench did—for me to answer conveniently in the seven or so minutes that I have. I also need to leave a moment for my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden to conclude. However, let me say one or two things in response.
The debate is opportune, with 2018 being the 20-year anniversary of the international guiding principles. I very much thank Christian Aid for their work on the subject, informing Members of Parliament and bringing forward the “Big Brekkie” breakfast briefing on IDPs, which my noble Friend Lord Bates was able to attend. I am grateful that colleagues have brought the subject forward as well. Christian Aid policy officials met my noble Friend last year and are in regular touch with my Department, but my officials are happy to consider those conversations further and to meet them again.
As Stephen Twigg said and as others have mentioned, more than 65 million people globally have been driven from their homes by conflict or violence—that is equivalent to the entire population of the UK. It is staggering to look back over the past 20 years and see the change in the numbers and how many of them are related to conflict.
I was particularly struck, as I have been a number of times, by Thangam Debbonaire and the way in which she framed her comments and spoke about individual experiences. The particular vulnerability of IDPs needs to be put on the record. They are in transit from one place to another, which is disorientating in itself, and the social organisation that they have come from has been replaced—the psychosocial distress of heads of families who can no longer provide for their families, instead becoming supplicant to aid agencies and the like. That is a sense of loss and potential humiliation of which none of us has experience, but it has a profound effect. To look at the situation in human terms, beyond the large figures, is important, and the hon. Lady did that particularly well.
IDPs suffer the removal from sources of income and livelihood, and from schooling, which we now try to replace not only for refugees to other countries but for the internally displaced. There is also the deprivation of access to facilities. All that is a vulnerability and, as colleagues have remarked, IDPs are not refugees. The whole point of the internally displaced is that they remain within their countries. Therefore, in answer to the question of who is primarily responsible for them, the state is, yet the state might be the perpetrator of the very distress from which those people are fleeing, which colleagues mentioned.
Ann Clwyd, who understands this well, spoke about how, unless IDPs are dealt with effectively, and if we do not resolve the issues, we will have a recipe for future conflict. The emphasis on peace building, which Preet Kaur Gill mentioned, is about looking forward and not about only our policy—peace building for the future means that, to deal with an issue, we need to look forward to ensure that we have taken out the reasons for problems to recur. That is most important, and that is where the difficulty has been in dealing with IDPs.
Let me try to put some of that a bit more in context. We are strongly committed to meeting the needs of IDPs. Our work is part of a wider strategy to shift our approach to protracted cases, to do more to protect people in such crises, to find ways to improve humanitarian access and to mitigate the effects of forced displacement. That means doing more to effectively meet the long-term needs of internally displaced people, and the communities that host them, through sustained access to education, health and jobs. Fundamentally, IDPs should not have to wait until a crisis is fully resolved before they begin to rebuild their lives.
The specific vulnerabilities of women and girls, which were mentioned by a number of colleagues, are very much on our radar screen. The empowerment of women and girls in emergencies was a priority for the UK at the World Humanitarian Summit, where we committed to put gender equality at the heart of humanitarian action, going beyond protection to make further commitments to ensure that women and girls have a voice, choice and control even when crisis hits. In many contexts the UK is working to prevent and address the effects of gender-based violence for displaced people, which includes a £25 million research initiative that is delivering innovative new programmes.
To answer the question of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston on data, we work closely with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. A new report is out soon. We cannot have too much data in such cases, but sometimes it is very difficult to get.
I will now move on to what colleagues are looking for us to do, because we are short of time. We are exploring new options with the UN, including the idea of launching a UN high-level panel on IDPs. That would help to galvanise political and operational action by bringing together a wide range of experts to make recommendations that cut across humanitarian, peace and security, development and human rights issues. It would not solve all issues that IDPs face, but it could set out a blueprint for reducing displacement and driving a more effective response. Ultimately, learning what has worked, addressing the root causes of crises and delivering a more comprehensive global approach are firmly in the interest of those forced to flee their homes, the countries that host them and the UK itself. On our own humanitarian strategy published last year, which contained information on IDPs, we look forward to ensuring that our actions are relevant to mitigating displacement and responding to it more effectively.
We could have done with a longer debate, but I want to give the last moments back to my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden. A number of issues have been raised, and more can be raised in questions and further debates, but I am grateful for this opportunity. IDPs are an important issue and should not be neglected. All of us who have come across them, and those who work with them, are always profoundly impacted by what we have seen and heard.
I thank the Minister and all hon. Members. We are all on the same page. We have sounded the alarm today. The media focus definitely does not get the plight of such large numbers and the growing problems presented. My last experience of a high-level panel was that it gave rise to SDGs. Some things need to be elevated right at the top to draw attention, but we also need solutions that are right down on the ground. That is where agencies such as Christian Aid and others come in. It will take all of us working together to address a problem of this scale.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (