A Rights Based Approach to the issue of Displacement

What is ‘displacement’?

Refugees are people who have crossed an international frontier and are at risk or have been victims of persecution in their country of origin.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled their home, perhaps because of war, famine or persecution, without crossing an international frontier.

Almost half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are children and many spend their entire childhood far from home. Whether they are refugees, internally displaced, asylum-seekers or stateless, children are at a greater risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or forced military recruitment. They may also have witnessed or experienced violent acts and/or been separated from their families.

Human rights standards

Refugee children are protected by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the Geneva conventions of 1949 and article 22 of the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) that requires state parties to ensure that a refugee child, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, receives “appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of the applicable rights”.

There is no convention for IDPs equivalent to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law (in times of war) protects internally displaced children under the general protection provided to the civilian population.

What can be done?

Developing a rights-based approach to programming requires an emphasis on the special attention that displaced children need and that different situations and age groups have different needs and vulnerabilities. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes that displaced children should not be treated as a homogeneous group. Distinctions may need to be drawn, as for example between unaccompanied and separated children (read more on the difference between unaccompanied and separated children). Similarly, different ages bring with them different threats.  While younger children may be more susceptible to diseases, older children are preferred targets for military recruitment and sexual abuse.

Individuals and organisations working for the rights of displaced children should also focus on putting an end to the growing number of restrictions to refugees' rights. States today are imposing many restrictions in response to the increasing number of refugees in recent years and claim to be overburdened with asylum applicants. These restrictions include limiting access to refugee status determination procedures and employing an increasingly restrictive interpretation of the refugee definition. States should be urged to respect their legal obligation arising from international human rights standards.

Download the Inter-agency guiding principles on unaccompanied and separated children.


Example: Refugee’s right to education

Youth Education Pack is an education program developed by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) for youths who have not attended school due to war and displacement.

The education program consists of three parts; reading and writing-skills, job and life skills training, and lessons on health, human rights and other important topics.

YEP gives training on jobs related to house building, farming, cloth production, etc.

In Hagadera refugee camp in Kenya, Pål Stensaas and Jan Vincens Steen have started a newspaper project supported by NRC. Thirteen boys and 13 girls have joined the project that will hopefully make Newsletter Hagadera a viable commercial newspaper, allowing young people from the camp to express themselves. Read more.