Since the last all-members meeting of the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics (EGRIS) in Ankara, in February 2019, we have put substantive work into further shaping up the International Recommendations on IDP Statistics (IRIS). We are proud to see the IRIS “become real”: the feedback from the ongoing process of global consultations amongst members of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) will help us further advance the recommendations ahead of their official submission for formal endorsement by UNSC, in March 2020.
This article will provide you with a snapshot and a “look behind the scenes” at two particularly challenging topics:
Through the voices of the IDP subgroup lead, its supporting members and the subgroup coordinator, we will discuss why these topics were so challenging and what solutions the group came up with.
Note: this article consolidates conversations held individually with the co-authors and facilitated by Corina Demottaz (JIPS).
Devora: When we met in Kampala in December 2018, we had already elaborated a comprehensive draft of the statistical recommendations on IDPs. However, two key issues yet remained to be fleshed out: 1) how to determine when an IDP could be taken out of the IDP stock; and 2) how to coordinate the production and dissemination of official statistics on IDPs at global level. We decided to establish two dedicated sub-working groups to further work on these pending topics. The groups were composed of self-nominated, interested country members, international organisations, and subject matter experts.
Vibeke: It is still somewhat common practice to take IDPs out of the stock as soon as they have returned to their places of origin. However, this in and by itself doesn’t mean that IDPs have overcome all key vulnerabilities linked to their displacement.
Adrián: The central and most important consideration for us at IDMC was that displacement-related vulnerabilities were properly assessed before making any decision on how to account for them. Whilst we acknowledged the concerns from a statistical perspective, such as operational considerations because a stock that just goes up and up isn’t effective for a country’s resource management, we wanted to prevent premature removals. So, it was important to develop clear guidance on when a person could be removed from the IDP stock.
Devora: The recommendations were developed based on research, consultation with members of the sub-working group, as well as piloting with existing datasets from three different displacement contexts as follows:
Adrián: The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and common conceptual frameworks such as the IASC Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs build the backbone of the approach, but they are rather aspirational concepts. So, for the purpose of statistical recommendations, we had to find ways to translate these into tangible, measurable, universal statistical indicators that would allow to measure things like “local integration”, “adequate standard of living”, etc. in any given displacement context. The Interagency Durable Solutions Indicator Library and the SDG indicator framework was a useful resource in this context and helped us think it through.
Devora: The result are two distinct complementary components: one is the so-called “progress measure”, which suggests a comprehensive analysis of a displacement situation as well as progress over time towards solutions, building on the eight criteria from the IASC framework. The other is the “composite measure”, which focuses on five criteria from the IASC framework considered key for statistical purposes of determining whether IDPs had overcome key displacement-related vulnerabilities and protection needs, and could hence be taken out of the IDP stock. We have not yet been able to break these criteria down into an agreed-upon, standardised set of indicators, so for the time being countries who wish to apply the IRIS may refer to existing tools such as the interagency solutions indicators.
Vibeke: Splitting out the progress measure as a separate element is of critical added value because it allows us to analyse whether the overall situation in a country is improving for internally displaced people, even in cases where the IDP stock is increasing. It offers a somewhat standardised and yet practical way of statistically measuring whether IDPs have overcome key issues linked to their displacement, beyond their physical location. and it gives us a chance to better understand, in a standardized way, which key-displacement related vulnerabilities most are suffering from. We believe this can be a valuable standalone input to decision makers.
That said, for many IDP subgroup members it proved challenging to develop recommendations on something that they felt hadn’t been sufficiently field-tested yet. The members also bring in different perspectives, with some having a statistical background and others bringing more operational experience and policy expertise related to internal displacement. At times we had heated discussions, but working through EGRIS has the advantage of moving the conversation away from individual operational concerns into focusing on developing a common approach for official statistics on IDPs.
Adrián: The whole discussion around the two measures really brought forward the very collaborative nature of EGRIS.
Natalia: EGRIS created an incredible momentum, particularly when it comes to country involvement. At JIPS we have been working on ways to measure solutions for IDPs for the last eight years – not only in the framework of EGRIS but also through the interagency durable solutions project and, in parallel, various exercises to test the solutions analysis approach in different country contexts including Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Uganda, Somalia. We are hugely excited and also relieved about the upcoming submission of the IRIS for endorsement by UNSC. This is going to be a pivotal moment.
Having said that, there is more work to do: with the ground work done and the right launch pad in place, we will need to move to the next stage. The measurement still requires more refinement and indicators need to be tested and agreed upon by the wider statistical community.
Vibeke: During the 2017 meeting of the IDP subgroup in Geneva, several national statistical offices expressed the need for such a custodian agency. They wanted someone they could report to internationally, to get more attention to (and justification for) the production of IDP statistics and to help secure the necessary funding. This triggered the discussion on who might be able to take on this role and what would be the specific responsibilities associated with it. The group highlighted the need for a neutral reporting approach that didn’t entail any additional modelling or estimation of the reported data.
Devora: However, while there is a clear custodian for refugee statistics at global level – UNHCR – there currently is no single, clearly mandated agency for internal displacement and hence no obvious candidate to hold and manage all IDP data.
Adrián: So, unlike refugee data in the case of IDP data there is a lack of clear governance. Various existing actors were considered, including UNSD, UNHCR, IOM and some also mentioned IDMC, and we also discussed having a custodian group rather than just one single actor. But there wasn’t consensus amongst EGRIS’ IDP subgroup members; clearly, we needed more time for proper consideration of the different options.
Vibeke: One of the reasons for that is, there is only a handful of countries currently able to provide official statistics that are in line with the recommendations of the IRIS. Another reason is that we haven’t seen all of its elements put to practice yet and don’t know to what extent countries will actually apply them. So, we decided to wait to see how things evolve and to revisit the decision when it felt more appropriate.
Natalia: Actually, this space creates exciting potential to make connections with work at national level on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically how to ensure that vulnerable groups – including IDPs – are visible within them. There is significant momentum in both of these areas and potential to use this momentum to advance IRIS implementation.
Devora: The rich exchanges and the experience sharing were challenging at times but ultimately, led to outlining realistic and tangible recommendations. Looking forward, the solid platform created through the EGRIS is best placed to advocate and drive the implementation of the IRIS in countries, and to help further refine the recommendations as we go.
Vibeke: At the Statistical Commission in March 2020, members of EGRIS will be asking for a mandate to continue the work. This would help us sustain the collaboration and coordination, which is particularly critical to further advance the IRIS and test key parts. It would allow us, for instance, to agree upon indicators for the measurement of progress towards solutions and work on a common questionnaire module. We could also use the EGRIS to continue sharing experiences and good practices regarding the implementation of the IRIS.
We have already been receiving a lot of positive feedback, from both members of the UN Statistical Commission and outside including from new voices and perspectives. There is a lot of interest from countries. The latest example of this is the 13th session of the African Union’s Committee of Directors General of Statistical Offices that took place in Tunis in November 2019. The committee not only called for inclusion of refugees and IDPs in the 2020 round of censuses, but also invited member states to participate in the EGRIS and to support the endorsement of the IRIS by UNSC in March 2020. This is really encouraging and I feel proud to see how far we have been able to push things with the IRIS, not least thanks to the sustained efforts of the EGRIS membership.
Adrián: For me the EGRIS has been a steep learning curve and a fascinating journey. What I like about it is the collaborative element and the fact that we are all working together on a very tangible issue that we are trying to bring a very concrete solution to. The international recommendations might not be the perfect outcome, but they are the results of a truly joint and multi-stakeholder effort, and this is something we rarely see when it comes to data on IDPs and displacement situations.
Natalia: We embarked on this journey back in 2016, together with over 40 countries, as well as international actors and subject matter experts. It has been incredibly enriching and rewarding to work with the diverse membership – national statistical offices, international agencies, displacement experts, academics, and other actors. The EGRIS has contributed significantly (and continues to do so) to the growing impetus around improved statistics on forcibly displaced populations, also reflected in the recent push for an SDG indicator on refugees and the just-launched UNHCR-World Bank Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement.
At JIPS, we are currently exploring ways to integrate recommendations from the IRIS in our work – at field as well as global levels in terms of tools and capacity building. We are especially excited to contribute to support implementation of the recommendations through capacity building and dissemination – starting with a joint conference on the topic of “Building Capacity to Improve Statistics on Forced Displacement” at the end of June 2020. Stay tuned for more!