People who seek refuge from conflict, but do not cross an internationally recognized border, have attracted increased attention from the international humanitarian community since the end of the Cold War. While refugees who flee the country may obtain a legal status and protection under the Refugee Convention, IDPs are still under the jurisdiction of their own state, and should in principle have the same rights as other citizens of the country. The article aims at analysing local consequences of people being designated as IDPs, exemplified by Sri Lanka's protracted crisis of internal displacement. Locally, ‘internally displaced persons’ becomes a social category and the meaning of the category is modified from the original definition made by the humanitarian regime. War and the forced and voluntary movement of people within Sri Lanka create unequal access to citizenship rights. The IDP status is often regarded as essential in order to secure special needs for assistance and protection. However, the article shows that the IDP status in Sri Lanka also separates IDPs from other citizens, and may restrict rather than secure rights.