At CTBI’s recent Churches’ Refugee Network conference in London, John Plant and Jenny Brown presented some of Christian Aid‘s early thinking about a campaign later this year that will be focussed on Internally Displaced People.
John spoke first and reminded delegates about the complexity of the causes and drivers of migration. In an earlier session he’d heard one person in the room speak about the way in which ‘churches’ are a part of this global context.
“So often churches are in the places people come from as refugees, in the places they travel through, and in the places they end up in where they kind of find welcome and sanctuary.
Our input and consultation with you is about how these things are joined up? How do we join up the local experience we have of refugees and migrants in our communities in the UK with the wider global context that we are also very aware of?”
Jenny Brown explored the issue and the developing campaign in more detail. You can listen to her and follow the slides in the video embedded below.
“The first thing we inevitably have to think of are statistics. These figures [on the screen] are from 2015 so are now definitely on the lower side of the current situation. We hear a lot about refugees but looking at the figures it’s an even bigger picture than most people in this country will understand. We’ve got a total (two or three years ago) of 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes.
“And of those, we’ve got around about 25 million who are refugees or asylum seekers. That leaves at least 40 million who are internally displaced. The refugees are entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention because they are technically refugees. What distinguishes them from internally displaced people is [that] refugees have gone across their national border. The majority – the 40 million IDPs – do not cross their national border. They’re displaced, maybe just a few miles, maybe hundreds of miles from their homes, but the point is that they are forced out of their homes.
“Nobody talks about them. Not a lot of people who know they’re there at all.
“So that’s why it will be good if we can focus on them for the rest of this morning because we don’t hear about them, and yet there are twice as many as there are refugees of whom we do hear about. And we especially hear about refugees when they come [to quote some newspapers and commentators] ‘dangerously close’ ‘to our own country’.
“Internally displaced people … that is not an accessible, attractive term: it describes what they are. You could call them internal refugees? In a sense it’s just a matter of degree. Technically refugees have crossed the border, but anybody who is seeking refuge is at one level a refugee.
“[They have] exactly the same sort of issues as refugees, the same sort of reasons, the same sort of needs – if you’ve left home and left everything then you’ve got the same sort of uncertainty – the same fear and vulnerability whether you’ve travelled a few miles from home or whether you’ve crossed a border and are in a completely different country.
“For refugees and for internally displaced people, you’ve got the same range of reasons for being forced away from your home, and the highest-profile tends to be conflict (and we think of Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East, we’ve got Columbia, and […] we’ve for Nigeria and South Sudan. So many countries around the world where conflict forces out of their homes.
“Then there’s the whole area of discrimination. Persecution: perhaps on grounds of political views, religious views, sexuality. Climate change is increasingly a cause of forced displacement. When homes are destroyed by floods or hurricanes, or nomadic agriculturists are having to move because drought is destroying the grazing for their cattle or they just can’t grow their crops anymore. And then there’s land grabbing by big companies and […]hydroelectric schemes can flood huge areas and destroy communities. All sorts of reasons all forcing people out of their homes.
“Yet they’re invisible and they’re overlooked and they’re ignored if they don’t actually cross the border. They’re ignored by the international community. And they’re ignored by international law. There is virtually no protection for internally displaced people except for a set of voluntary guidelines that the UN produced 20 years ago – in fact this year is the 20th anniversary of those guidelines – and they’re voluntary so not a lot of people either know about them or do anything about them.
“That’s not acceptable and it’s not fair that just because people have not crossed a border they’re without protection. Their needs for shelter and food and water and dignity and hope are just as great as those of the people who’ve crossed a border.
“But hardly anyone knows they’re there, and if we can quote Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy again, if we do know about them, they are ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’. And they’re in the too difficult category.
“So all of that is why Christian Aid started thinking is there something we could be doing – or should be doing – so that internally displaced people, the forgotten 40 million, cease being somebody else’s problem. The starting point was our experience of supporting refugees and internally displaced people in many countries around the world. We’ve been working with refugees for many, many years and in the last two or three years we’ve supported new partners in Greece and Serbia as they support refugees as they come came in to Europe.
“With internally displaced people, we found as we examined our programmes, not only were we supporting internally displaced people specifically with specific programs, but in many, many other countries we were finding that internally displaced people were part of host communities where our partners were providing support in all sorts of ways, but almost incidentally and almost unwittingly there were many internally displaced people hosted in those communities, so we had that kind of contact and access and experience.
“And it’s actually worth pointing out this unlike refugees the majority of internally displaced people are not in official supported camps, but they are hosted informally by local communities who do it basically out of the kindness of their hearts and out of a sense of solidarity and virtually never will those communities get any support to help them in hosting strangers. That’s remarkable and that’s shocking that they’re not getting any support because they are not exactly the wealthy parts of the world.
“So you’ve got really, really poor people helping people who are even more really, really poor, at the bottom end of vulnerability. Personally – and this is not scripted – I think it’s a total disgrace that we see that level of generosity and commitment among the poorest communities in the world, and then you get a country like ours saying ‘keep out, not interested, not our problem’.
“So we’ve looked at our various programmes and experience over many years in many, many different countries, and we’ve been using that as the basis for a shift to looking and working on the even bigger picture: the idea of migration of forced displacement specifically of every kind. Globally.
“Not just focusing on refugees anymore, though they’re still part of the thinking. Not even thinking specifically about internally displaced people, although those are a huge part of our thinking and motivation, but thinking more generally why are people forcibly displaced, and what can we and our partners and our allies and, we hope, a movement a global movement, what can we achieve together to support some of the most vulnerable people in the world?
“We’re doing this because we see the need, because we are a Christian organization, because this is a moral issue, and it’s a question of justice. And because we as Christians have a responsibility to challenge the ignorance and the ignoring and the neglect.
We have a responsibility to promote the inherent value of every human being, wherever they are, whatever their displacement status. The churches have credibility and authority and a Biblical mandate and requirement to speak out and to challenge the sort of injustices we’re seeing in this country, in Europe, and globally. It’s this prophetic calling that we talked about earlier. And – as Bishop Jonathan said earlier – it’s our problem in particular because we are the churches, we are the Christian community.
“As our thinking has developed […] this is what we’ve come up with in terms of the messages that we want to communicate and the challenges that we want to [tell] the world.
“The first one is that there should be a global focus on everyone who is forced out of their homes, whatever the reason and however far they travel, and move away from the relatively narrow focus on refugees, but including refugees in the bigger focus.
“The second one is that civilians who are displaced but remain within their countries should receive adequate protection.
“The third one – I mentioned the UN’s guiding principles – is that these should be integrated into national laws and policies and then implemented. Something needs to be done with them. We have colleagues who are working in Geneva with the UN’s special rapporteur working into relevant processes on all of this.
“Some of you will be aware of the World Humanitarian Summit a couple of years ago. One of the big things that came out of that was ‘localization’ (which means that decisions, action and support for people who have humanitarian needs, so not just internally displaced, should be implemented at the lowest possible level) so communities and local organizations – rather than big international organizations coming in – getting the decision-making and the implementation done by people who are actually really close to the action and know the issues. And that’s where churches locally in relevant countries have a huge role, and are performing amazing roles.
“So that’s what we’re aiming for and the next question inevitably is the ‘how’ question.
“The first big opportunity comes in September of this year when the UN will be coming together to agree what it’s calling ‘compacts’ which are international agreements on refugees and on migration. What would be absolutely brilliant – and it won’t happen! – is if there was a really good chunk on internally displaced people in one of those agreements. We know for a fact there will not be. We know that already there is sort of tiny mention somewhere in one of them. What we’re aiming for is to get rather more of a mention of the needs and vulnerabilities of internally displaced people to get that somewhere in these agreements.
“But even if that doesn’t happen, it will at least give us, and we hope many, many other people across the world, an opportunity to say ‘actually these agreements are totally inadequate – this is what is needed’. If there were a great wonderful move forward on internally displaced people we could again strategize from that point that we see the UN compacts in September this year as a good staging point so we’re working towards that. We’re working to raise awareness in as many different ways as we can in this country of the existence and needs and vulnerabilities of internally displaced people.
“One of the ways we are doing that is developing a an exhibition which will be available to go around churches around the country which will be interactive and tell stories of internally displaced people, raise awareness, give a lot of information, and then offer opportunities for people actually to do something. So that’s exciting.
“Christian Aid week in May will take the theme of internally displaced people. We have a story from Haiti as the centre of that.
“There’s a lot of momentum in terms of awareness raising. We’re also starting to think about campaigning and getting members of the public out – church supporters and the wider public – to contact their MPs and start asking questions of MPs saying ‘This is important to us. What are you doing? What is the government doing? We want you to do more?’
“We’re aiming to get the UK government to be really actively involved in this global UN process.
“And the momentum is building even now and we’re very fortunate that we’re working with Anglican Alliance, and there is a really good partnership developing there. We’re looking for more and more churches and denominations and church leaders around the world to build this movement so the momentum can be built and the challenges can be communicated.”