Durable Solutions: When Does Displacement End?

Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris Former Brookings Expert, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration - Georgetown University

December 31, 2007

“Displacement shall last no longer than required by the circumstances” (Principle 6.3 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement).

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement stress that displacement should end as soon as possible, but there are many cases where it isn’t clear when durable solutions have in fact been found.

According to Guiding Principle no. 28, national authorities have the responsibility for establishing conditions and providing the means for IDPs to find one of three durable solutions: return to their home communities, integration in the communities in which they sought refuge or settlement in another part of the country. But, particularly in protracted IDP situations, it often isn’t clear whether solutions are in fact durable. When can IDPs be considered to have integrated into their host communities? If IDPs return to their communities but the community is insecure, can they be considered to have found a durable solution? In response to these and other ambiguities, in 2001 the Emergency Relief Coordinator asked the Representative of the Secretary-General on IDPs to reflect on the question of when displacement ends.

Together with Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement launched a study process on this issue, organizing a series of consultations involving a wide range of governments, civil society, and UN organizations. The culmination of the process was the development of a Framework on Durable Solutions which was presented to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Working Group in March 2007.[1] The IASC Working Group recommended incorporation of the Framework into the humanitarian work of international organizations “as a pilot” that should be revisited in one or two years after field-testing.

The Framework is intended to assist governments in devising national legislation, policies and programs that promote solutions to internal displacement as well as provide guidance to international organizations, civil society organizations and donor governments.

Because identification as an IDP does not confer a special status under international law there is no cessation clause as for refugees. For some, internal displacement ends only when IDPs can return to their place of origin. In most cases, such returns can occur only when the causes of the displacement have been resolved. However, because return is not always possible or even desired by IDPs, this can lead to a situation where internal displacement holds little prospect of ever ending. At the other extreme, internal displacement may abruptly be deemed by the government to have ended. It may, for instance, be in the interest of a government to claim there are no longer any IDPs in the country, in an effort to give the appearance of a return to normalcy and to direct international scrutiny elsewhere. Or, resources may dictate who is considered an IDP, with displacement “ending” when funding ends.

In general, internal displacement does not end abruptly. Rather, ending displacement is a process through which the need for specialized assistance and protection diminishes. Sometimes, for long periods after return, those who have been displaced may find themselves in markedly different circumstances and with different needs than those who never left their home communities. For example, claims to their property may not be adjudicated immediately, leaving them without shelter or a means of livelihood in places of return. Similarly, those who are settled elsewhere may require humanitarian and financial aid until they are able to obtain shelter and employment in their new location. Even in the context of a durable peace agreement, insecurity may continue to pose problems for uprooted populations, particularly if there are conflicts between IDP returnees and the already resident population. Under these circumstances, even if the people have returned, they still have residual displacement-related problems and are therefore of concern.

Determining that displacement has ended has both subjective and objective aspects. IDPs may continue to see themselves as displaced long after national authorities and international observers determine that their situation has been resolved. Conversely, IDPs may see their displacement at an end upon returning home, even though a more objective analysis would indicate that they remain vulnerable as persons who have been previously uprooted and who would continue to need protection and assistance as returnees/resettled persons.

Having found a durable solution, formerly displaced persons continue to have all of the rights of citizens and may be eligible for international assistance on the same basis as others in the country. The end of displacement is the full restoration and enjoyment of a person’s human rights, in a non-discriminatory manner vis-à-vis citizens who were never displaced.

To determine whether and to what extent a durable solution has been achieved it is necessary to examine both the processes through which solutions are found and the actual conditions of the returnees/resettled persons. In general, it is important to consider whether 1) the national authorities have established the conditions conducive to safe and dignified return or resettlement; 2) formerly displaced persons are able to assert their rights on the same basis as other nationals; 3) international observers are able to provide assistance and monitor the situation of the formerly displaced; and ultimately, 4) the durable solution is sustainable. There is no magic formula for deciding that displacement or the need for assistance has ended. Rather, the totality of the situation must be assessed and consultation with all relevant stakeholders, must be part of the process.

Based on the framework, the following questions may be useful in determining when IDPs have found durable solutions and internal displacement can be considered as having ended:


Has the IDP made a voluntary and informed decision about the durable solution?

Have IDPs participated fully in planning for return or resettlement? For example, have IDP representatives been able to visit and assess conditions for return or resettlement?

Has coercion – including physical force or denial of basic services – been used to induce or to prevent return or resettlement?

Have national authorities consulted with IDPs and ensured their full participation in decisions about return or resettlement?

Have national authorities taken appropriate measures to establish conditions and provided the means for IDPs to return voluntarily, in safety and dignity, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country and to facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled IDPs?


Do formerly displaced persons suffer attacks or intimidation after their return to their home communities or resettlement in another location?

Are formerly displaced persons subject to discrimination because of their displacement?

Do formerly displaced persons have full and non-discriminatory access to national and local protection mechanisms, including police and courts?

Do formerly displaced persons have access to personal documentation, such as that needed to access public services and to vote?

Do formerly displaced persons have access to mechanisms for property restitution or compensation regardless of whether they return or settle elsewhere?

Do formerly displaced persons enjoy an adequate standard of living without discrimination and in particular, do they have non-discriminatory access to employment opportunities and basic public services, including education, health services and pensions?

Have formerly displaced persons been able to reunite with family members if they choose to do so?

Are formerly displaced persons able to exercise the right to participate fully and equally in public affairs?

Displacement ends when IDPs have found durable solutions to their displacement, but in practice, the process can take a long time. It is hoped that the Framework for Durable Solutions will offer a useful tool to those who are working with IDPs and to IDPs themselves.

[1] The framework and background materials are available at