Invisibility of Urban IDPs in Europe

By Montemurro, Marzia; Walicki, Nadine | Forced Migration Review, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Invisibility of Urban IDPs in Europe


Montemurro, Marzia, Walicki, Nadine, Forced Migration Review


Some IDPs in the Balkans, Caucasus and Turkey seek 'invisibility' for security reasons. Others become invisible when they are forced to move again within the city by the actions of city authorities or property owners.

Where displacement to towns and cities is itself a coping strategy, IDPs may prefer not to display any features that may differentiate them from other urban inhabitants in an effort to avoid becoming targets. Choosing private accommodation over government-sponsored housing can also contribute to their 'invisibility', as can barriers to registration.

Displaced for an average of 15 years, IDPs in Europe, for example, have gradually moved from government accommodation to private accommodation - that they rent, own or share - in towns and cities, or continue to reside in informal settlements at the periphery of urban centres. The fact that they have adopted behaviour similar to that of other urban residents, including economic migrants, are interspersed with them and are searching to integrate has discouraged any effective profiling and monitoring of their needs.

IDPs' accommodation, in particular when informal or collective, is often precarious; IDPs are more prone to forced evictions on the basis of discrimination or because owners decide to reclaim the space to sell it or use it for other purposes. This accrued risk of intra-urban mobility increases pressure on IDPs to keep a low profile, while evicted IDPs usually disappear even further into the urban landscape.

In some cases, government policies have exacerbated their invisibility by creating legal barriers. In an effort to manage increasing urbanisation, governments in Russia and Azerbaijan, for example, have limited people's choice of residence, rendering IDPs in many cases 'ghost residents'. Similarly, Roma IDPs in Serbia must, like other citizens, produce a contract for their accommodation to apply for personal documentation, social assistance and free health care, which they are often unable to do. As they face significant obstacles to changing their official residence from their place of origin to their place of displacement, IDPs join the ranks of urban residents without any formal recognition and struggle to enjoy their rights on a par with their non-displaced neighbours. In other cases, especially in instances of secondary displacement, IDPs may choose not to change their place of residence in order not to lose benefits already secured. Government policies have also created social barriers. For instance, in Turkey, Kurdish IDPs continue to face difficulties with limited recognition of the Kurdish language in public fora and in schools. The societal barrier leads to further marginalisation.

In such circumstances, different groups co-exist with varying degrees of representation in the urban arena but all with the aim of fulfilling their fundamental rights and needs. Invisibility may be an obstacle but it is also a coping strategy. The Tufts-IDMC profiling study of IDPs in urban areas1 showed how the implementation of a household survey - requiring no IDP self-identification - can not only produce IDP population estimates and patterns of distribution within the city but can also contribute to a valuable understanding of how IDPs and non-IDPs may differ with regard to some key elements, such as housing, education, employment and their experience with forced evictions. Among other considerations drawn from carrying out such a study, three become apparent.

Firstly, the question of who is or is not an IDP needs to be carefully considered - not only in light of the definition provided by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement but also so as to have a common approach among all actors involved for who will and who will not be included in the final count. …

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