“Fundamental shift” needed in urban internal displacement response as global urbanization increases

19 April 2021

The global virtual roundtable gathered more than 40 urban and forced displacement experts on 19 April 2021 to exchange lessons and good practices, drawing from the series of local consultations, to inform the work of the Panel. 

Leaders and managers of municipalities and urbanization experts called for a “fundamental shift” in internal urban displacement response in a virtual global roundtable that took place on 19 April 2021. The event, titled “Internal Displacement in an Increasingly Urbanized World: Challenges and Opportunities,” was the culmination of a series of consultations on urban displacement co-organized by UN-Habitat, the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Secretariat of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement.

Building on an earlier submission, the series was designed to help inform the Panel in its exploration of the unique challenges and opportunities presented by internal displacement in urban contexts. It involves six separate discussions, starting in February, with mayors, municipality administrators and other local authorities from Burkina Faso (Kaya, Kongoussi, Tougouri and Dori), Colombia (Medellin), Iraq (Mosul), Ukraine (Luhansk Oblast), Somalia (Mogadishu) and Honduras (San Pedro Sula). Five of the discussions took place prior to the global roundtable. Representing the Panel in these conversations were Panel members Paula Gaviria Betancur, Sima Samar, Pauline Riak and Per Heggenes, and Expert Advisory Group members Walter Kaelin and Alexandra Bilak.

Timeline of Urban Displacement Consultations 

Note: The consultation with the Vice-Mayor of San Pedro Sula took place following the roundtable discussion on 19 April due to a scheduling conflict.

The roundtable brought together some 40 urban and forced displacement experts from municipalities, financial and technical partners and academia, who shared their reflections and experiences on the current urban displacement response, the growing challenges faced by cities and towns, and proposals for the ways forward. Opening the event, Panel Member Bentacur noted that while the majority of internally displaced persons (IDPs) today reside in towns and cities, the attention devoted to the issue was often ad hoc. She called for the reality and extent of displacement in the urban contexts to be duly acknowledged and its nature and dynamics to be properly understood.

“You have amazing people working on these issues at the local and municipal levels. Yet when national humanitarian response or solutions plans are developed, they do not always take into account the unique challenges and opportunities of urban displacement environments,” she said.

The first session of the roundtable was devoted to the rethinking that was called for in the current approach to internal displacement in the urban context. Among other points, participants highlighted the need for changes in development and humanitarian assistance and programming in urban contexts, as well as strengthened coordination across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.

The centrality of local governments in responding to urban displacement was also underlined given that municipality officials are typically the primary responders who serve on the “front lines” of each crisis.

The second session looked into the approaches and technical expertise from non-crisis contexts in support of sustainable and equitable urban development. Participants highlighted the importance of developing and disseminating flexible, fit-for-purpose urban planning tools tailored to different situations including cases of acute shocks.

The complete findings and conclusions from the six local consultations and the global roundtable will be drawn on by the Panel as it carries forward and concludes its work on this question.


Tweets from urban displacement consultations