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Forced Displacement


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What is forced displacement?


Refugee tailoring school as part of
capacity building and livelihood projects.
Evaluations indicate that skills such as
tailoring may be problematic as the basis
for sustainable livelihoods.
Credit: UNHCR

Forced displacement refers to the situation of persons who are forced to leave or flee their homes due to conflict, violence, persecution, and human rights violations. There are two categories of victims of forced displacement: refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). By the end of 2008, some 15.2 million people were refugees outside their country of nationality or habitual residence as a result of violence, conflict, and a well-founded fear of persecution; while another 26 million were people displaced by armed conflict, violence and human rights violations, who had not crossed an international border and thus qualify as IDPs. Additionally, millions are displaced every year because of natural disasters, and the large majority of these people remain inside their own country as IDPs. It is likely that displacement will increase in the medium term due to climate change.

Displacement triggered by violence and conflict is not only a humanitarian crisis, but is likely to affect political stability if left unattended or poorly governed, or unresolved politically through peace-building. Particularly in fragile and conflict affected countries the presence of displaced people adds a serious strain on very weak national and local institutions, as well as potentially causing or exacerbating strained relations between the displaced and the host community. In both, fragile and conflict- affected countries, and in countries with robust institutional and governance frameworks, displacement can also become the setting for human rights violations and a breeding ground for serious grievances leading to conflict, crime and violence. Displacement may also have long-term negative development impacts affecting human and social capital, economic growth, poverty reduction efforts, and environmental sustainability.

At the same time, displacement may not only have negative impacts. Where those displaced are able to further develop and make use of their skills and coping mechanisms, displacement may contribute to economic growth benefitting both the displaced and the host region, and may also in the event of return, or successful local integration, or resettlement in third countries bring valuable human and economic capital to the recovery process.

Finding economically and socially sustainable solutions to displacement situations therefore constitute a significant development challenge for the countries with refugees and IDPs, and for the international community, including the World Bank.


Displaced Chadian women collect small
fish in a pool in the waddi near Dogdore.
Credit: Hélène Caux/UNHCR

The Development Challenges of Forced Displacement

During displacement, development challenges include the improvement of daily lives of the displaced by promoting maximum level of self-reliance, building and maintaining skills and, mutually beneficial collaboration with host communities.

The key development challenges to achieve sustainable solutions for displaced people could be summarized as:

  1. Land, housing and property, that belonged to the displaced in many IDP and refugee situations have been taken over by others. How effectively the protection of housing, property and land rights is undertaken often proves crucial for the ability of IDPs and refugees to find solution to their displacement, for both those who chose to return to their former homes and also for those who chose to settle elsewhere. Addressing this issue through mechanisms for property recovery, compensation, exchange or restitution constitutes a major challenge that in most situations is not successfully dealt with. Even where IDPs and refugees choose to settle in another location because they are unable or unwilling to return to their places of origin, the restoration or restitution of housing, land and property rights can provide crucial capital to allow them to build a future elsewhere.

  2. Reestablishment of livelihoods is critical if solutions to displacement are to become sustainable, both if the displaced return home or if they have to integrate elsewhere. Return areas characterized by the legacy of past conflict or low level violence often have limited economic growth and few employment opportunities. If access to former livelihoods is not possible (because land and property cannot be regained, etc), support for the creation of new livelihood opportunities through development interventions that build skills, and provide access to credit and markets become critical for durable solutions.

  3. Delivery of services such as health care (including psycho-social services to deal with the traumas of conflict and exile, and the challenges of adapting to a new life), education, drinking water and sanitation, access to infrastructure and services and often also assistance in obtaining adequate housing is essential for durable solutions both upon return and in places of exile. Often access to public services requires the provision of new identity documentation where this got destroyed or lost during displacement. A critical public service is restoration of the rule of law through redeployment of a well-functioning police and judiciary. Another critical public service involves security, which relates not only to the absence of fighting and violence, but also to issues such as demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of former combatants, demining, and reconciliation.

  4. Accountable and responsive governance, particularly at the local level, is critical to ensure that issues relating to recovery- including land and property, livelihoods, or service provision- are resolved in ways that are viewed as legitimate by both the (former) IDPs and refugees, and the communities where they settle. To provide the displaced with opportunities for equal participation and voice in local planning, alongside host populations or those in their home areas who never left or returned earlier, consultation and participation processes may draw on existing forms of social capital or may require creation of new arrangements that replace social fragmentation with cohesion and reconciliation.

    Information sharing and communication between the displaced and the communities where they are going to settle are critical to the planning of return or integration or local integration in areas of displacement. In fragile and conflict affected countries where government capacity may be weak, a focus area for assistance needs to be resources to support implementation of national laws and policies on displacement, and support to enhance the technical, planning, and operational capacity of the government entities responsible for dealing with both the humanitarian and development dimensions of displacement.

What has the World Bank been doing in this area?


A de-miner uses a metal detector to
locate land mines in a field. He works for
the Cambodian Mine Advisory Group.
Credit: Masaru Goto/World Bank

World Bank Mandate
It has always been possible for the Bank to address issues of displaced people as part of vulnerable groups, and recent Bank policies have made this more explicit providing a clear mandate for addressing the development challenges of displacement. OP 2.30 of 2001 on Development Cooperation and Conflict (2001) has economic and social recovery as the overall objective for countries in transition from conflict, and this includes reintegration of refugees and other war affected populations such as IDPs.

Another operational policy 8.00 on Rapid Response to Crisis and Emergencies came into effect in March 2007. By its guiding principles, Bank support for relief to recovery transitions should be based on its core development and economic competences, and such support should be provided in close coordination with other development partners, including the United Nations. One of the objectives of the policy is to establish and/or preserve human, institutional, and/or social capital including economic reintegration of vulnerable groups such as refugees and IDPs.

In October 2007, the Bank’s President identified fragile states as one of the six global challenges confronting the Bank. In a speech on Fragile States: Securing Development in September 2008, the President further singled out displacement (of refugees) as both resulting from and contributing to the fragility of such states.

Overview of the World Bank Portfolio 
Between the 1980’s and until the end of FY2009, the World Bank has undertaken 94 activities (84 operations and 10 pieces of analytical work) that address forced displacement in different ways with funding from trust funds and IDA operations. These activities are distributed across the six regions of the Bank: 43% AFR, 22% ECA, 14% SAR, 9% EAP, 7% MNA and 5% LAC.

Bank engagement in addressing displacement has been generally modest and declined slightly, although global displacement figures have remained high with most displaced in protracted situations. Operations on forced displacement have been addressing most of the critical development challenges such as post-conflict reconstruction, restoration of livelihoods, community driven development (CDD), delivery of services, as well as reconciliation and peace, women and youth. The wide span of development themes supported in activities addressing displacement indicates richness in approaches and global experiences. However, little has been done so far in terms of evaluating operations addressing displaced people and drawing out the lessons that could inform future interventions.

A recent portfolio review of Bank’s activities on displacement also highlighted the need for systematically incorporating information on displaced populations (both in displacement and when solutions are found) in the household income surveys that provide the data for the poverty assessments. This information is also critical to address forced displacement in key planning instruments such as the poverty reduction strategies and country assistance strategy documents

Looking ahead: current and future activities

Scoping Exercise 
A scoping exercise was conducted by the Conflict, Crime and Violence unit (CCV) in the Social Development Department (SDV) to explore the opportunities for a strategic partnership between SDV, the conflict and fragility group OPCFC, and the Banks regions, as well as with external partners comprising selected bilateral, the UN agencies and key NGOs. A need for activities were identified in the following three areas: (i) analytical work and knowledge dissemination, (ii) partnership initiatives and consultations at the country/region level and, (iii) operational support to country teams at the country/region level.

Based on the scoping exercise, a three-year work program has been designed and a trust fund has been established. The purpose of the work program is to identify potential interventions and address opportunities to improve the Bank’s contribution to an enhanced response to forced displacement. The main elements of the work program are demand driven and focus on support CMU operations through quick and qualified technical assistance.


New settlement for IDPs, Zobuzhug,
Azerbaijan. A 2008 IDMC report found
that IDPs were disappointed with their
living conditions since they have few
opportunities for earning a living in the
new settlements.
Credit: Nadine Walicki/IDMC

Work Program Activities
Ongoing activities supported by the forced displacement program include two strategic analytical pieces: i) the socio-economic impacts and mitigation of forced displacement and ii) an assessment of livelihood programs in displacement situations. The program also focuses on partnership initiatives through active participation in working groups led by UNHCR, UNDP, and OCHA, addressing key issues such as the predictability of the response to integration of returning IDPs and refugees and lessons learned on how to achieve durable solutions for IDPs.

At the operational level, the CCV-SDV forced displacement team supports country units with the preparations of CAS's, poverty assessments, country profiles on displacement, analytical work, and creation of partnership at the country/region level. Such operational partnerships are being initiated in Afghanistan, Kenya, Georgia, Sudan and Iraq.

Concrete examples of technical support provided to CMUs include: i) Expertise to prepare a study on displacement and sustainable livelihoods in the Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan/Darfur triangle. This analytical piece will support the preparation of a regional knowledge project regarding the stabilization and recovery of the war-affected communities in border-land areas, ii) Technical advice and expertise to the Bank’s team in the Caucasus to develop a three-year work program for IDPs. This includes support to expand the Bank’s partnerships on the issue of IDPs by engaging UN, bilateral and NGO partners, iii) Advice to the Middle East region, to start a dialogue with governments and international partners on solutions to Iraqis displacement, iv) Expertise to assist the Philippines country team to review the present IDPs situation looking at the government’s present approach, Bank operations and partner activities, v) In Afghanistan, technical assistance has been provided to assist the CMU in strengthening the country vulnerability assessment in the area of displacement. New activities are emerging regularly following ongoing consultations with Bank country teams and partners.

Future activities will include providing guidance and best practices notes for the use of Bank staff and partners in addressing the development challenge of forced displacement. In addition the team will actively support cross-learning activities with other sectors and teams, particularly in relation to climate change, governance, gender, youth and development induced resettlement.




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