Inside Out

How to Help Internally Displaced Refugees

An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Jordanian city of Mafraq July 18, 2013.  Mandel Ngan / Reuters

Last December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that 2015 saw record-breaking levels of forced migration; over 60 million individuals were pushed from their homes. Roughly speaking, the number of people subjected to forced migration last year was equivalent to the populations of Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio combined.

Syrian refugees, in images of capsized boats and dead children on the shores of Greece, have captured the world’s attention, bringing media coverage to the plight of forced migrants. But the reality is that the world is paying attention to only one subset of the issue: cross-border refugees. The plight of internally displaced people has gone less noticed, simply because these migrants do not land on our shores.

Refugees who cross international borders to flee violence, persecution, or environmental crisis not only receive the bulk of the world’s attention; they also receive the majority of international assistance dollars. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, has budgeted about 80 percent of its overall biennial program budget for 2016–2017 toward refugee-related activities all over the world. The majority of the 60 million intended recipients of UN aid are not technically refugees; they are, rather, “internally displaced persons,” and programs specifically targeted for them receive about 20 percent of the budget. Although emergencies should receive attention, these people are in danger too; they do not have the means or ability to exit the country, and aid groups have the hardest time reaching them within the borders of a sovereign state whose government has mistreated them. 


The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that 38 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence, but have either opted to stay within their country or have not been able to flee to another state. Perhaps the best-known internally displaced people are those in Syria. Rough estimates suggest that there are 6.5 million internally displaced Syrians still within the nation’s borders. Far less attention has been afforded to

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