Populations at Risk: The Problems Facing Internally Displaced Persons Worldwide ~ Lesson Activities

October 1, 2011


1. Begin class by asking students if they are familiar with the term “refugee.”  If so, ask them to provide a definition, and write it on the board.  (Their definition of the term may include that a refugee is someone that is oppressed, persecuted, or threatened, and has fled from his or her home.  The key part of the definition is that a refugee no longer lives in his or her home country.)  Tell students that the United Nations Refugee Agency classifies a refugee as a person who, because of “a well-rounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside of the country of his nationality and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”


2. Ask students if they are familiar with the term “internally displaced person.”  If so, ask them to provide a definition and write it on the board.  (Similar to the definition of refugee, but without fleeing their home country.)  Once they have come up with their definition, or if they are unfamiliar with the term, tell students that internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are often wrongly referred to as refugees, but the key difference is that IDPs have not crossed an international border in search of sanctuary or protection.  While IDPs often flee their homes for the same reason as refugees, since they remain in their home country they remain under the protection of their home government – even if that government has been the cause of their troubles.  Ask students why they think people would choose to remain in their home countries rather than leave, attaining refugee status and reaping potential benefits and aid?


3. Ask students if they can think of any internally displaced populations in American or world history.  (Native Americans, Japanese-Americans in the US or Jews in Europe in World War II, New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina.)  Ask students what they think are some of the causes of internal displacement.  (Accept all answers.)  Tell students that in the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,” the United Nation’s internal standards document regarding IDPs, considers legitimate causes of internal displacement to be: armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, and natural or man-made violence.  These are broad categories, and may include any specific causes mentioned by students, including ethnic cleansing, civil war, hurricanes, economic development, etc.


4. Write the following questions on the board, or project them on a screen for the class, and give students five minutes to write down their thoughts and responses to the questions.

  • Can internal displacement of persons ever have a justified cause?
  • Are internally displaced people a burden on their government or country?
  • Should women and men be treated differently in situations of internal displacement?
  • Should internally displaced persons expect the same comfort and treatments as they would get in their homes?

Have students log on to the website for the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,” or make copies and distribute one to each student.  (For class purposes, use the English version of the text, as it is the original and authoritative edition however if students speak English as a secondary language and would prefer to read the document in their primary language in order to gain a better understanding of the text, they are encouraged to do so on their own time.)  Ask students to go to page 2 of the document, starting with Section I: General Principles.  Go around the room, asking each student to read one section, paragraph, or principle aloud.  Encourage students to pause for reflection or discussion if they so desire, or have questions.  Stop at the end of Principle 9, “States are under a particular obligation to protect against the displacement of indigenous peoples, minorities, peasants, pastoralists and other groups with a special dependency on and attachment to their lands.”  Have students look at the questions on the board again and think about their answers.  Do they agree with their original answers after reading some of the Guiding Principles?  What, if anything, would they change?  Why?  Discuss.



1. Tell students that there are millions of internally displaced persons worldwide, but the country with the largest number of IDPs is Colombia.  The most current figures, as stated in the 2010 Global Overview of Trends and Development issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, estimate that between 8 and 11.6% of Colombia’s population (3.6 – 5.2 million people) is displaced.  This is due to several of the causes discussed in the Introductory Activity, notably armed conflict and human rights violations.  Tell students that you are going to show them a short video segment from the PBS series Women, War and Peace introducing them to the current displacement situation in Colombia, and some of the notable community activists involved.  Ask students, as they watch the video, to pay special attention to who is being displaced, and why?  Play clip “Cauca’s Most Valuable Resources.”   (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  When clip has finished, review the following questions with the class:

  • Where is Cauca?  (Colombia’s Pacific Southwest coast)
  • Why is it perceived as important/valuable? (because of its biodiversity and richness in natural resources, especially gold)
  • What ethnic/racial group primarily populates this region? (Afro-Colombians)
  • Why are Afro-Colombians being driven from their land? (“Multinationals” and military groups want access to the region and its resources, the government is not defending the Afro-Colombians’ property rights)
  • What role do women play in the community? (Women appear to be equal to men in terms of power in the community, they organize and lead, they are the heads of families, and participate and lead in community councils.)


2. On a class computer, or on students’ individual computers, go to the Law 70 Campaign page at the Afro-Colombian News website.  Read through the page together as a class.  When finished, have students summarize and present a brief overview, in their own words, of what Law 70 is.  (Legislation passed by the Colombian government in 1993 protecting Afro-Colombians’ civil and property rights.)  What protection does Law 70 ostensibly provide for Afro-Colombians?  (Protects ancestral territories, economic development, cultural identity and civil rights, community councils, peaceful and sustainable practices.)  Tell students that you are going to show them another video clip that deals with legal interactions within the Afro-Colombian community in Cauca.  Students should observe anything they perceive to be a violation of Law 70, or of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.  Play clip “Legal Struggles.”   (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  When clip is finished, ask students to share their observations of potential violations of Law 70 and/or the Guiding Principles.  (Answers may include: government not protecting Afro-Colombian communities, not respecting the authority of the community council, discriminating against Afro-Colombians, not exploring feasible alternatives to displacement, not protecting from arbitrary displacement in favor of large scale development projects, not protecting groups with dependency on/attachment to lands.)  Ask students if they agree with Clemencia Carabali when she says that Colombia has some of the best laws to protect Afro-Colombians, but they only exist on paper.  Why or why not?  Discuss.


3. Have students review their copies or revisit the site for the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and review Principles 10 and 11.  Remind students that Colombia has had a long history of civil war and violence, and that both rebel and paramilitary groups have not completely disappeared from the country’s landscape, despite the government’s claims to the contrary.  In the next video segment, ask students to think about how the country’s “cycle of violence is being perpetuated by displacement and/or the threat of displacement.  Play clip “Cycle of Violence.”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  When clip is finished, ask students how they think the culture of violence is being kept alive in Colombia in relation to the displacement if the Afro-Colombian community.  What specific fears or threats does Clemencia Carabali face?  What about Francia Marquez?


4. As students know from the Introductory Activity and the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,” a nation’s government has quite a bit of responsibility when it comes to both protecting displaced citizens, and ensuring that more citizens – especially those in persecuted or discriminated ethnic or racial groups – do not face displacement for illegal reasons.  Ask students, based on what they already know and the videos they have already seen, what they think the Colombian government could do to help both Afro-Colombians that have already been displaced, and those, like the residents of La Toma, who face future eviction and displacement.  (Accept all answers, but encourage answers such as: revoke Hector Sarria’s title to the La Toma mines, cancel eviction, provide services for IDPs, deny requests for mining claims, track down/prosecute those making threats.)  Tell students that you are going to show them a video clip of some of the government’s actual responses to the situation.  Play clip “Return to the Land?”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  When clip is finished, ask students what the government’s responses were to the situation.  (The new president vowed to give land back to poor/displaced citizens, armed police officers were sent to La Toma to enforce the eviction with only 24 hours’ notice but the eviction was cancelled the next day.)  Why didn’t the government’s actions match up with the students’ suggestions for action?  Discuss.


5. Tell students that you are going to play one final video clip from Women, War and Peace.  As they watch this clip, think about how IDPs in Colombia are being affected by government policies.  Play clip “The Cost of Human Rights.”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  Review with students, from what they saw in the clip, how the U.S. aid to Colombia works.  (The U.S. provides financial aid to Colombia but it is contingent on Colombia meeting specific human rights conditions – like protecting the Afro-Colombian population.)  Do students agree that the displacement of Afro-Colombian communities is a human rights violation?  Why or why not?  Do they agree that this is a fair condition for the U.S. to withhold aid to Colombia?  Why or why not?  Discuss.


6. Tell students that ultimately Francia Marquez and the residents of La Toma won their case with Colombia’s Constitutional Court in December 2010, and Hector Sarria’s mining license –as well as up to 30 other illegal mining permits – was suspended.  While this prevents the residents of La Toma and other Afro-Colombian mining communities from eviction and displacement, it doesn’t help people like Clemencia Carabali and her family, and the millions of IDPs living in Colombia currently.  Ask students what they think the Colombian government could do to help its internally displaced population?  Encourage class discussion.



1. While Colombia is the state with the most internally displaced persons, it is by no means the only country suffering this problem.  As of December 2010 there were approximately 27.5 million people displaced by conflict worldwide.  The region most affected by displacement is Africa, and five countries in the world are home to over one million identified IDPs.  According to the Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010 from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, members of minority groups (such as Afro-Colombians) are often at a greater risk of being displaced, and frequently experience additional discrimination during their displacement.  The impact of displacement on populations with a strong attachment to or dependency on their land, such as indigenous or pastoralist groups is “disproportionately severe.”  IDPs also routinely experience violations of their physical security, including sexual and gender-based violence, abduction, forced relocation, and arbitrary arrest.  In urban areas, women and children are especially at risk, as children are recruited into gangs or armed military groups, and women are pressured to engage in “undesirable economic activities.”


2. Tell students that you would like them to research and find more information on other nations in addition to Colombia where minority or indigenous populations are the target of internal displacement and subsequent discrimination and/or harassment.  Divide class into pairs or small groups, depending on class size, making sure that each pair or group has access to a computer.  Give each group a piece of chart paper and markers.  Assign each pair/group a country or territory from the provided Internally Displaced Populations Handout and have them use the link provided to visit that country’s page on the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center’s website.  (Do not assign a country/territory to more than one group.)  Students should try to gain as much information as they can about the internally displaced population in their assigned country or territory, looking at the “At A Glance” page, any IDP News Alerts on the page, statistics, and maps, taking care to note any data or information specifically pertaining to women, minority racial or ethnic groups, indigenous populations, and lower-class or poverty-stricken citizens.  Pairs/groups should use the markers and chart paper to create a summary (using text, graphics or a combination) of their assigned country or territory’s current displacement situation.


3. When students have completed their summary pages, have the pairs/groups deliver brief (five minutes or less) presentations on their country or territory.  As they present, students should consider any violations of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement that are potentially being committed by that country or territory.  Encourage class discussion.


4. Ask students what, if anything, they learned about the treatment of internally displaced persons while conducting their research on the IDMC website.  Are there instances of marked discrimination against IDPs?  Do female IDPs experience more discrimination or face more threats than male IDPs?  Why do they think that is?  How are internally displaced persons treated by other IDPs?  How are they treated by non-displaced citizens in their home countries?  How are they treated by their home governments?  Is this treatment in line with the Guiding Principles?  Why or why not?  Discuss as a class.



1. Remind students that although the primary responsibility for IDPs sits with their home governments, many other nations’ governments, international governing agencies, and NGOs are starting to intervene as displacement situations worldwide become more severe.  What, if anything, did students find in their research regarding international or humanitarian aid to nations or territories with large internally displaced populations?


2. Explain that, ideally, the goal for all of these organizations – local governments, international governments, international governing agencies, and NGOs – is to find “durable solutions” for internally displaced persons.  Distribute copies of the IASC Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Quick Reference Guide (see Prep for Teachers) to each student.  Give students 5 – 10 minutes to read through the Quick Reference Guide.  Once students have read through the Guide, ask them to brainstorm ideas, based on their research, knowledge, and pages hanging in the classroom, of how durable solutions may be reached for the nations/territories presented in the class.  Encourage students to think of solutions that may be of particular economic and/or social benefit to women, who tend to suffer in those areas in situations of internal displacement.  This may be done in pairs, groups, or as a class.  Discuss the ideas as a class.


3. As an in-class or homework assignment, have students select one of the countries or territories discussed in class, and write a letter to that country/territory’s U.S. Department of State Ambassador, their embassy in the U.S., or their UNHCR Field Office.  Students’ letters should express their opinions on the displacement situation in their selected country or territory, and their thoughts on durable solutions for internally displaced persons, once again placing a particular emphasis on durable solutions for internally displaced women.  Students are not required to send their letters as part of the assignment, but are welcome to do so if they choose.