Countries should "design a clearer system of responsibility" for internally displaced people to "ensure their protection," "achieve durable solutions" to the situations they are facing and "save lives," Archbishop Gabriele Caccia told a high-level U.N. panel on internal displacement March 11.

"The struggles of internally displaced persons are, as Pope Francis recently recalled, 'an often-unseen tragedy that the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated,'" said the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations in addressing the panel's virtual meeting.

"While respecting national sovereignty," he said, the Vatican encourages countries to "consider adopting legislation that recognizes internally displaced people," or IDPs, "while promoting policies that provide them with the protections they deserve, consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law and the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement."

By definition, these individuals are displaced within their own countries "and have the same rights as other citizens," Archbishop Caccia said.

Legislation then "should encourage their integration back into society," he explained, "including through the promotion and provision of security, housing, employment and livelihoods, education, and the preservation of family unity."

"This would greatly contribute to protecting IDPs, and provide the foundation for more durable solutions," he said.

As of the end of 2018, a record 41.3 million people were living in internal displacement due to conflict and violence, according to the Global Protection Cluster, which is a network of nongovernmental organizations, international organizations and U.N. agencies.

This number is nearly two-thirds more than the global number of refugees, and "an unknown number of people remain displaced as a result of disasters," the network said in a fact sheet posted on its website,

"Internal displacement describes the situation of people who have been forced to leave their homes but have not left their country," it said. "Millions of people are uprooted from their homes or places of habitual residence each year in the context of conflict, violence, development projects, disasters and climate change and remain displaced within their countries' borders."

In 2019, an estimated 11 million people were newly displaced. While 2.4 million sought protection outside their country, 8.6 million were newly displaced within the borders of their countries.

Archbishop Caccia said countries should promote coordination of "existing mechanisms" that could provide an "early warning" to prevent internal displacement.

These mechanisms, he said, must be guided by the principle that "all people have the right to life, liberty and security in their country of origin and should be able to remain in their homes in peace and security without the threat of being forcibly displaced."

"In conflict situations, however, IDPs should be able to relocate and integrate freely," he said.

If internally displaced people must be relocated to camps, "when no other solution is possible," countries need "greater resolve" to ensure these camps "are transitional, located in safe areas and are secure from conflict."

"All camps should be safe places, including for women and children, lest they become places of desperation and desolation," Archbishop Caccia added.

"Ways to promote engagement and partnerships with religious organizations and faith-based communities" to address the needs of the internally displaced "should be strengthened and encouraged," he said.

"Around the globe, these organizations and communities are often on the front lines, assisting both the forcibly displaced and the local populations that host them, providing them with food and housing, psychological and spiritual assistance," Archbishop Caccia noted.

"In conflict or post-conflict situations, faith-based organizations, together with other key stakeholders, are often among the few providing IDPs with sound and reliable information and working with national and local authorities to promote reconciliation among ethnic and religious groups," he added.

"To respond not only to the challenges posed by internal displacement but also its root causes," he said, "the international community must work toward reconciliation and sustainable development within countries, especially in those areas of the world where situations of conflict and humanitarian crises continue to increase."