Geneva (ICRC) – More action is needed to assist and protect people displaced within their own countries by armed conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today.
Unveiling a special report on internally displaced people (IDPs), the ICRC drew attention to the fact that most displaced people do not end up in camps but are taken in by host communities and families.
Launching the report, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger described internal displacement as one of the most serious humanitarian consequences of armed conflict and other violence worldwide. He said many of the estimated 26 million* internally displaced people endured extreme hardship, including direct attacks, ill-treatment, sexual violence and the loss of their property or livelihood, and that many displaced were forced to leave their homes because of violations of international humanitarian law committed by conflict parties.
"When people think of internally displaced people they automatically think of tents and camps. Yet the report shows that huge camps like Gereida in the Darfur region of Sudan, which hosts around 148,000 people, are but one part of the problem," said Mr Kellenberger.
"The focus on camps means that what happens to the majority of displaced people – those who seek refuge with host communities – is often ignored," added the ICRC president. "In Pakistan, for example, the vast majority of the two million people displaced by the fighting this year did not go to camps. The report argues that these people are often the most vulnerable as they rely on the support of host communities that may already be extremely poor. The challenge, therefore, is to help not only the displaced but also the people who take them in."
Mr Kellenberger said the ICRC was in favour of setting up camps as a temporary measure to address urgent needs. However, he added that the ICRC's experience had shown that camps often create new problems that compound the vulnerabilities and risks facing displaced people. According to the ICRC president, camps can promote dependency and discourage the displaced from returning to their homes when conditions permit. In addition, tensions may arise between camp residents and people in nearby communities who do not enjoy services like those provided in the camps.
The ICRC considers it important to help displaced people to resume their normal lives and preserve their independence and livelihood. The aim of enabling them to live as nearly as possible as they did prior to displacement is most likely to be achieved in host communities.
"The aim of this report is to call on the government authorities and conflict parties concerned, and on humanitarian organizations and donors, to look beyond camps. They should pay more attention to the needs of the majority of displaced people and the communities that host them outside of camp structures," said Mr Kellenberger. "We also appeal for greater respect for international humanitarian law as a means of preventing displacement and enhancing the protection of those who have had to flee their homes."
The findings of an opinion survey carried out by the ICRC in eight countries, published in a report entitled Our world. Views from the field, show that over half of those directly affected by armed conflict have been displaced. The survey reveals that displacement, separation from family members and economic hardship are among the most common experiences and greatest fears of those surveyed.
In 2008, some 3.77 million internally displaced people benefited from humanitarian activities carried out by the ICRC, often in partnership with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in 36 countries including Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sudan. From January to May 2009, 1.4 million benefited. The ICRC provides displaced people with food and essential household items, livelihood and agriculture support, and emergency water, sanitation and health-care services.
*Number of people internally displaced by conflict or violence as of December 2008 according to an Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre estimate.
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