To Protect or Prevent – When Splitting Hair over who is an IDP in Afghanistan leads to further displacement

Stream: Panel 94 - Human Rights & Democracy: Elusive Justice and Rights Vacuums for Mobile Populations; New Issues and Debates
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm


A lot of international attention recently has focussed on the need to improve the profiling of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in order to improve evidence-based advocate for the fulfilment of their rights. Although it is true that the protection of IDPs has been hampered by the fact that they increasingly are blending into sprawling urban centres among the general urban poor, this paper problematize our decision on singling out urban IDPs in a context where lacking assistance to urban population may continue to drive refugee exodus regardless of the exact status of the individual. Thus, while IDP rights matter, we might need to move from narrow definitions to simply embrace the fact that in certain contexts, making distinction is not only difficult, but perhaps even counter-productive, especially if we wish to prevent larger-scale displacement abroad. In Afghanistan, where nearly one-third of the entire population lives in urban centres and a majority (70%) within informal settlement making a distinction between who is an IDPs and who is urban poor is often difficult. In most cases it is more a matter of how long ago a person arrived in the city vs. whether or not he or she was displaced. If displacement only ends once durable solutions have been found – then a context such as Afghanistan where nearly two-thirds of the population has been displaced at one point in time, resources might be better spend on assisting urban poor than on profiling who is truly an IDP or not.


Susanne Schmeidl (Presenter), UNSW
Susanne Schmeidl holds a PhD in sociology and joined UNSW Australia in 2015 as Lecturer in Development Studies. A scholar-practitioners, she has two decades experience working with and consulting for a variety of organizations in Europe, Eastern Africa and most recently over a decade in Afghanistan, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, swisspeace, donor agencies and Afghan grassroots organizations. She has published widely and for a variety of audiences (academic, policy, practitioner) in the areas of forced displacement, early warning, conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding, with a cross-cutting focus on gender and human security.