European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Service tools

Forced displacement: refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people (IDPs)

Refugees by Peter Biko
© European Union/ECHO/Peter Biro

Number of refugees and internally displaced end 2015Each year millions of people are forced to leave their homes and seek refuge from conflicts, violence, human rights violations, persecution, and natural disasters. The number of forcibly displaced people continued to rise throughout 2017, calling for increased humanitarian assistance worldwide. Up to 84% of the forcibly displaced find refuge in low- and middle-income countries.

Over 65.6 million people are in need of protection and assistance as a consequence of forced displacement. Forcibly displaced populations include refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and asylum-seekers. Globally in 2017, over 40.3 million people were internally displaced as a result of conflict (source: IDMC 2017 Global Overview Report), while 22.5 million were refugees and 2.8 million were asylum-seekers (source: UNHCR 2016 Global Trends Report). An estimated 24.2 million people were internally displaced in 2016 alone due to natural disasters. Of the global refugee population, 51% are children under 18 - the highest proportion in a decade.

Finding durable solutions for the forcibly displaced is a challenge. Voluntary repatriation to their home countries is the preferred long-term outcome for refugees; but the lack of political solutions to conflicts prevents many from doing so. Forced displacement is no longer a temporary phenomenon; it lasts on average 20 years for refugees and more than 10 years for 90% of IDPs.

Those who are internally displaced also face challenges in terms of protection, access to shelter, food and other basic services. Both refugees and IDPs in urban areas struggle with poverty, lack of psycho-social support and difficulties in normalising their status.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ – a set of standards that outline the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of IDPs from forced displacement to their protection and assistance during displacement up to the achievement of durable solutions. Although not a legally binding instrument, the principles have gained considerable authority since their adoption by the United Nations (UN) in 1998. The EU strongly supports the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and systematically promotes their inclusion into international and national law.

The European Union's Humanitarian Response

Emergency REsponse Coordination Centre - ECHO Daily Map - Number of refugees or people in refugee like situation by host countryIn 2016, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid gave more than €1972 million, or some 87% of its annual budget, to projects helping the forcibly displaced and their host communities in 56 countries (Turkey, Greece, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan being the top 5). This helps to:

  • meet the most pressing needs of these extremely vulnerable populations
  • protect and support displaced people during their displacement and when returning to their homes
  • increase the self-reliance of displaced people and reduce their dependency on aid

The Commission's assistance to the forcibly displaced is making a difference in the lives of many: Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Greece; Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan; Somali refugees in Kenya; Congolese refugees in the Great Lakes region; Palestinian refugees; Myanmar refugees in Thailand; Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; and Sahrawi refugees in Algeria.

EU humanitarian response has traditionally paid strong attention to internal displacement. Around 40% of the EU’s annual humanitarian funding addresses IDP situations. In recent years, the Commission has provided assistance in, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

  • In South Sudan, EU humanitarian assistance supports humanitarian organisations in offering basic services, protection, and shelter to IDPs.
  • In Afghanistan, the EU supports the reintegration of Afghan refugees into their new homes, or other long-term solutions where the conditions for safe return are not yet met.
  • In Central America, the EU supports protection services for displaced children.
  • In Ukraine, the EU supports the government in better monitoring of IDPs to enable more targeted responses.

EU response to internal displacement has been integrated into numerous humanitarian policies, including food assistance, gender, and protection policies, all of which recognise the specific needs of IDPs. The EU guidelines on promoting compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) also have a strong displacement dimension.

The Commission channels its financial support to forced displacement situations through organisations dealing with refugees, IDPs, vulnerable migrants and (in some cases) host communities. Its main partners include UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Finally, the European Commission has an important role in advocating for and enabling durable solutions for refugees and IDPs, especially with regards to fulfilling their right of return to their countries of origin. The EU recognises that meeting the needs of refugees and IDPs requires targeted humanitarian aid combined with sustainable development assistance. Together with its partners, the EU also advocates for the full recognition of the new opportunities and benefits for national and local economies which forcibly displaced people can create.


Last updated