Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs are often classified as refugees. But they are not really so. They are refugees who remain within their country of origin for a variety of reasons. The number of IDPs in the world today exceed that of refugees, yet there is little awareness about them, or little international concern. The UNHCR which should be concerned about them is loathe to do anything, as it feels that it will have to divert men and resources from it's principal work with refugees. This means that there is no concerted mechanism to deal with IDPs. The international community has exacerbated the problem by trying to create 'safe areas' within countries of origin (and persecution) and promising international protection, which has often proven to be a hollow promise. This has resulted in the massacres seen in northern Iraq where Kurds were slaughtered by Saddam Hussein as the Operation Provide Comfort personnel withdrew and in Srebrenica.

The difference between a refugee and an IDP is as follows:

a)The distinction between a refugee problem and internal displacement is sometimes direct and clear eg. when refugees and displaced persons are generated by the same causes as in the Kurdish crisis in Iraq.

b) In many situations the effective re-integration of returnees may involve assistance to be extended to the internally displaced, e.g. Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Guatemala.

c) Finally refugees have often sought asylum across the border in areas where they are also internally displaced.

However, there may be situations where the link is not quite so explicit. Refugees may be a minor component of massive internal displacement as in Colombia and Chechnya. Conflict in Tajikistan led to the creation of 600,000 IDPs while one-tenth of that number fled to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Second, internal conflicts of a secessionist nature have uprooted people within national boundaries, which then have become international borders as in Yugoslavia and East Timor.

At present according to the World Refugee Survey 2000 there are at least 21.1 million IDPs worldwide. The number of internally displaced jumped nearly 25% during 1999, a dramatic increase. Between 1995-99 the number of countries with significant internal displacement grew from 32 to 40. During 1999, the number of countries with half a million displaced persons jumped from 12 to 18. The problem is that 7 countries are producing half the world’s internally displaced: Sudan, Colombia, Angola, Iraq, Bosnia, Burundi and Congo.