NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Refugees And The "Internally Displaced"

May 1, 2000

An international debate is brewing over the status of people displaced within their own countries. They are not officially refugees, because that term implies someone who escapes to another country to avoid persecution, war or other threatening events. Those who are uprooted but remain in their own country are called "internally displaced persons," or IDPs -- and their numbers are growing.

IDPs cannot receive the full aid and protection offered bona fide refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke is pushing for the creation of an international mechanism to assist IDPs. "States cannot use sovereignty to justify abuse of their people," he says.

  • UNHCR counts a worldwide population of refugees and asylum seekers of 13 million people -- and keeps watch on a total of 21 million people in different states of distress worldwide.
  • Experts say the addition of IDPs to refugee rolls would double the UNHCR's case load overnight.
  • The U.S. spends about $842 million annually responding to refugee crises.
  • For every $1 spent to bring a refugee to America for resettlement, about $6 are spent on refugees under the care of the U.N. and international relief agencies.

Experts say that compared with other immigrants, refugees have difficulty adjusting to life in America because they did not plan to emigrate and probably departed their homelands without preparation, under emergency circumstances.

Nevertheless, data show that those arriving in the U.S. in recent years are better able to cope than their predecessors. These most recent arrivals are more adept at learning English, finding employment and leaving public-assistance rolls.

Source: Philip Peters, "13 Million Across Globe Seek Asylum From War, Tyranny," Washington Times, May 1, 2000.


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