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ModernDiplomacy.eu: Displacement: The Challenges Of IDPs & Refugees

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 21 March 2018

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As a native from South Sudan and also from Africa, I am well-aware that the U.N. has been responsible for protecting refugees from danger and offering general management of the problem as well. This mandate has been carried on through its specialized agency the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Displacement is commonly characterized by deprivation and want due to the end of war and human rights violation. Therefore, it needs basic assistance from multilateral institutions such as UN the Red Cross and others. Equally, external intervention comes as a result of the violation of human rights or protection of the citizens of intervener.

Unfortunately for the IDPs, they are not recognized under international law and therefore are out of the UNHCR mandate. In 1992, the UN defined IDPs as “…persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights or natural or manmade disasters and who are within the territory of their own country.”  This does not mean they are not helped at all. This help is rare and not under obligation. This means great suffering under IDPs conditions especially where the host state invokes the principle of sovereignty to block external intervention. It should be noted that the UN General Assembly resolution 46/182 affirms the importance of respecting a member’s sovereignty in particular with regard to humanitarian assistance. Due to the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention, states assume responsibility for their own IDPs.

Specifically, refugee issues need the cooperation of the producing state and recipient state. It is the UNHCR that usually helps to coordinate assistance for the refugees. It is worth noting that the aftermath of flight (refugee) and displacement gradually become normal situation for the authorities concerned as the victims struggle to find a place in the social structure of the recipient community. Nevertheless challenges remain.

As earlier stated, it is fundamental to guarantee the safety of a displaced person. He is disorganized, dislocated and endangered. In the particular case of refugees, they are usually in danger of persecution by either the country of origin or the receiving state. The legal regime of the host country might compound the problem. The status of the displaced must be legally established. Besides persecution from the home country, the host might be hostile to the victims. This is why the intervention of third parties like the UNHCR proves relevant. Out of this consideration, repatriation of refugees is normally on voluntary basis for example when victims feel safe enough to return having realized that the original danger is no more. For example several south Sudanese, Somalia’s Congolese etc. remain in Uganda and other states because they fear for their lives.

The displaced usually face lack of shelter. Make shift camps are usually common with IDPs where more problems are created. These camps usually lack water, sanitary facilities and epidemics might break out due to poor sanitation, congestion and poor hygiene. In certain instances large camps have been set up. For example camps for refugees from Somalia, Pakistan, and South East Asia, Rwanda etc. Even then host countries have insisted that they be temporary. Furthermore, it is never automatic that camps will be allowed. Land need to be provided and care must be taken not to set up a camp close to the border of the country of origin.

Food is never easy to mobilize for the IDPs and refugees. So is clean and safe water. In the early days of resettlement in the country of asylum food aid is required. The host government may purchase food locally or seek assistance from international relief agencies. According to the UN Convention on refugees, refugees with legal permission to live in the country of asylum may purchase their own food. Where authorities and weather conditions permit, refugees grow their own food such as in the cases of camps in Tanzania and eastern Sudan. Even then, supplementary food will be provided by local and external actors to people with special needs like children, pregnant and elderly.

Associated with food scarcity is water shortage. Displaced people need clean, safe and reasonable volume of water. Settlements far from water sources and those located in dry conditions have suffered immensely. For example Camps in Thailand, Sudan, Chad and Somalia and the list continues.

In addition medical services are hard to come by. Special and hard challenges are presented by large camps. To make it worse, such camps have poor shelter, sanitation, hygiene, feeding and supply of safe water. Such conditions promote illness some of which might be strange or in epidemic form. To attempt to counter the problem, local authorities in collaboration with external agencies like WHO, UNICEF etc. will often improve existing health services or put up new ones.

Among the displaced are children usually of school-going age. They need education. Problems related to these are several. Besides lack of land and school facilities, scholastic materials are not available. Even when they are available learning might be hindered by language barrier if say refugees study in Arabic while host society uses Swahili. Congolese refugees whose schools use French have suffered in Uganda where English is the school language and similar applies to refuges from South Sudan to Kenya.

Given this, international society needs to provide more substantial aid copped up by efficient and effective management from the countries involved, including the psycho-social aid like counseling and coordinated efforts from the U.N.

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