The U.S. Government and Internally Displaced Persons: Present, But Not Accounted For

November 1, 1999


In light of the U. S. Government’s long-established leadership role in emergency response, especially in refugee situations, the Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement and the U.S. Committee for Refugees consider it timely to evaluate U.S. policies and programs with regard to the large-scale, immediate problem of internal displacement.

The paper, prepared by James Kunder, analyzes the U.S. role with regard to internal displacement and makes a series of recommendations to promote a more integrated and effective response to this problem.

We are most grateful to Mr. Kunder for his expert research and analysis. We would also like to thank Donald Krumm for undertaking initial research for the paper.

Roberta Cohen and Francis M. Deng
Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement

Roger P. Winter
Executive Director
U.S. Committee for Refugees


James Kunder is former director of the U.S. Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). He is currently an advisor to UNICEF on issues of internal displacement and recently completed a guide on Field Practice in Internal Displacement, to be published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 1999. Mr. Kunder is founder and principal of Kunder/Reali Associates, an Arlington, Virginia- based consulting firm, a senior fellow at The Fund for Peace and an adjunct staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses.


A Global Crisis of Internal Displacement:

A Global Crisis of Internal Displacement: The burgeoning world-wide crisis of internal displacement is amply described in a growing literature devoted to the subject,1 and need only be outlined in this paper. In short, it is becoming increasingly evident that internal displacement is one of the most pressing humanitarian, human rights, and political issues now facing the global community.

In more than thirty countries, an estimated 20 to 30 million internally displaced persons struggle to survive, having been driven from their homes but not reaching or crossing an international boundary to become refugees. These individuals, families, and communities have been displaced as a result of a variety of causes: generalized violence; violations of human rights; natural or human-made disasters; and, most frequently, by armed conflict. The internally displaced appeal for protection from physical attack; for assistance to survive; for non-discriminatory recognition of their rights; for a basic livelihood; and, most of all, for a chance to return home. Regrettably, in many instances, both national authorities and the international community are ill-equipped to meet basic needs for protection and care of internally displaced persons, or even systematically to register their appeals.

In 1997, there were 23 countries with populations of more than 300,000 internally displaced persons each. Four countries—the Sudan, Angola, Afghanistan, and Colombia—had populations of more than one million displaced persons each.2 But the internally displaced are differentiated from other populations in need by more than just large population counts. Internally displaced persons are: