New programme puts in-country IDP research to the fore

Scholars from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East should have new opportunities to guide internally displaced person policymaking

July 12, 2020
Source: iStock
Research should illuminate how those displaced within their own countries by conflict or disasters often suffer as much as those who manage to escape

A new programme is aiming to provide vital insights to help address a neglected humanitarian crisis and build in-country research capacity in affected regions across the globe.

The Internal Displacement Research Programme (IDRP) − which is hosted at the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI), School of Advanced Study, University of London − has been created to address the “extremely under-researched” area of people who have been displaced within their own countries by conflict or natural disasters, according to David Cantor, professor of refugee protection and forced migration at the University of London and director of the RLI.

While there is much research on refugees, there is a notable gap in the research agenda on internally displaced persons (IDPs), despite evidence that those affected are “far more traumatised than others in their populations and than refugees who have crossed the border”, he said.

The IDRP will be based on “a very different model from what we have seen in refugee studies and other fields”, since it is built around “networks led by people on the ground in [affected] countries”.

With funding from the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund, the programme has set up three research networks for Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East, headed by scholars based in Colombia, South Africa and Jordan.

The team in London, explained Professor Cantor, merely “provided support and guidance where that is useful” − for example through “free online training courses, which we hope to translate into French, Arabic and Spanish, so that everybody participating in the networks has the same key points of reference and basic levels of knowledge”.

The central aim of the IDRP, continued Professor Cantor, is to “build up a body of research and researchers in countries affected by internal displacement, since they are the people who can help lead societal debates about what to do and keep putting it on the syllabus, so future generations of students also have a good understanding of how those processes might impact on their country”.

This could also help ensure “continuous engagement with these issues by feeding them into public news media and debate – and connecting those debates across the regions”.

Funding had also been provided, Professor Cantor said, specifically to “bring policymakers into the networks, through workshops and a process whereby they identify issues of pressing relevance to feed back to researchers. This is very much designed to help policymakers address the questions they find most difficult in relation to protection, assistance and development.”

There is also an international dimension. Last year, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, concerned that humanitarian issues around internally displaced persons were being comparatively neglected, established a high-level panel to come up with recommendations.

This, according to Professor Cantor, was “probably the most important process on internal displacement over the past 20 years” and the IDRP currently had eight research teams – principally drawn from those in the new networks – producing papers to guide Mr Guterres’ recommendations.

Such “vital, sustainable networks”, he added, could prove “a wonderful bridgehead for facilitating overdue social policy changes to transform the lives of internally displaced persons”.

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