Letter to the Secretary General on the High Level Panel on Internal Displacement

The Honorable António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General
United Nations
United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mr. Secretary-General:

In the lead-up to the public release of recommendations from the High Level Panel (HLP) on Internal Displacement, we are writing to urge you to ensure that the work of the panel results in strong action from member states, from funds and programs and other entities within the UN system, from the UN Secretariat, and from other international organizations. We believe you have a key role in promoting that outcome. 

As you know, tens of millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world continue to face a range of challenges that remain largely unaddressed. The compelling issues that the panel is considering have been on the public agenda of governments and international organizations for decades. Thus, even before release of the panel’s report, we wanted to share perspectives on key issues impacting IDPs, based on our collective backgrounds and experience.

First, we encourage you to amplify the message that states are first and foremost responsible for the well-being and the rights of IDPs, and must therefore include IDPs in national development planning. IDPs must be a whole-of-government priority, and the response to their displacement one that is nationally-owned. As you know well, without the greater support and engagement of states, any effort to enhance solutions for internally displaced people—whether humanitarian or development-oriented—will not succeed. And, of course, states must include IDPs in national vaccination campaigns against the spread of COVID-19.

Second, given that most IDP situations are protracted, states and international organizations must place far greater focus on the linkages between humanitarian responses and long-term solutions. Millions of IDPs remain displaced for years, sometimes even generations. We therefore hope the report will result in your strong support of tangible measures to ensure early engagement in IDP situations—not only by states and humanitarian actors, but also by development and international financial institutions, as well as civil society and the private sector. 

Third, we hope you will promote and lead efforts to encourage greater inclusion of IDPs in planning, decision-making and execution of programs, funding, and strategies. This would lead to more effective programs and responses to displacement, as IDPs are best-placed to make decisions about the policies and programs that affect their lives. They also have skills, knowledge, and experiences to contribute that can not only help to solve their problems in displacement, but strengthen host communities as well.

Finally, whether or not it is a panel recommendation, we urge that you establish the position of Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) to focus solely on internal displacement. A Special Representative (SRSG) could engage with states and other stakeholders around solutions, and—more importantly perhaps—this position would help to move IDP issues closer to the forefront of the world stage. We believe the office holder and a well-resourced office would result in additional and effective diplomacy with states and international organizations to work toward solutions to internal displacement. The SRSG would also be a focal point for stakeholders on issues of coordination and advocacy, and a champion of IDP rights at the global level.

Thank you again for establishing this important panel, and we look forward to supporting your continued efforts to promote a brighter future for the tens of millions of people who have been displaced within their countries of origin.


Arthur (Gene) Dewey
Former Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (2002–2005)
Former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (1986–1990) 

Nancy Lindborg
Former Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (2010-2014)

Phyllis Oakley
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (1994–1997)

James N. Purcell, Jr.
Former Director General of the International Organization for Migration (1988–1998)
Former Director of the Bureau for Refugee Programs (1982–1986)

Susan Reichle   
Former Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (2009–2010)

Anne C. Richard
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (2012–2017)

Eric Schwartz
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (2009–2011)
Former UN Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery (205-2007)

PHOTO CAPTION: 19-year-old woman is internally displaced and pictured at the headquarters of the NGO ‘Haro – Cameroon’ in Yaounde on February 7, 2020. Photo Credit: AFP via Getty Images.