Publication Date: March 2005
Internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable victims of conflict, and constitute arguably the largest at-risk population in the world. The abstract term "internal displacement", created to distinguish IDPs from refugees, fails to convey the immense human suffering most internally displaced people are forced to undergo. The act of displacement itself often is accompanied by violence and the most serious human rights violations such as arbitrary killings, torture, kidnappings and rape.
IDPs remain largely dependent on their governments who have the primary responsibility to protect and assist them, but often lack the interest or means to do so.
Consequently, large numbers of IDPs remain at high risk of further violence, malnutrition and diseases, and many are forced to flee several times. Without access to employment, farmable land, social services or even informal support networks, many IDPs, in particular those living in camps, have to rely on humanitarian aid to survive.
It is estimated that women and children comprise between 70 and 80 per cent of internally displaced populations forced to leave their homes owing to armed conflict or human rights violations. Yet national and international IDP policies and strategies still do not reflect this reality.
The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement specifically recognise that "children and unaccompanied minors'shall be entitled to protection and assistance required by their condition and to treatment which takes into account their special needs". Internally displaced children are among the most at risk of waraffected children. The process of displacement in itself puts in danger many of the human rights guaranteed to the child in international law.
Displacement frequently results in the breakdown of family and community structures, the disintegration of traditional and social norms, and an increase in female-headed households which places displaced children at greater risk of infringements of their physical integrity and psychosocial well-being, including death, abuse, malnutrition, poverty, discrimination and other human rights violations.
In protracted situations of displacement, internally displaced children may spend their entire childhood in camps or temporary shelters. Although they may survive the stage of displacement, internally displaced children encounter other threats to their well-being during the process of return and reintegration. For example, displaced children returning home after confl ict are regular victims of landmines.
Health and nutrition are the most important indicators to assess the well-being of a population as well as to measure the severity of the effects of war or natural disaster. While the vulnerability of IDPs is widely acknowledged, in most countries no surveys have been carried out to monitor and assess their nutritional and health status, not even in some of the most serious humanitarian emergencies such as Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Indonesia (Aceh), Iraq or Nepal.
In Nepal, fighting resumed, accompanied by a sharp increase in human rights violations, after the breakdown of peace talks between the government and Maoist rebels in August 2003 ended a ceasefire agreed in early 2003. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people have been displaced since the conflict started in the mid-1990s.
The sharp deterioration of the general human rights situation in Nepal prompted a group of independent experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights to express their serious concern regarding the situation in the country in July 2004. In early 2004, it was reported that the government had started setting up civil defence groups, causing concern among human rights organisations that this initiative was likely to further polarise Nepalese society and increase the level of violence. Displaced women and children often faced particularly difficult conditions. Many children, traumatised by the violence and destruction they had witnessed, moved to urban or semi-urban areas with unhygienic living conditions and hostile environments. Some live on the street, without access to education and exposed to a variety of threats, including sexual exploitation and forms of child labour. Lack of employment opportunities in the urban areas has reportedly forced many displaced women to join the sex business, in particular in Kathmandu.
the only international assistance welcomed by the Nepalese government was
the provision of military equipment and training to its armed forces. The
government has not developed any IDP-specific strategy and has only taken
limited steps to acknowledge the displacement crisis caused by the fighting.
Limited assistance has been provided to those displaced by the Maoists,
but those displaced by the actions of the security forces were not recognised
as IDPs, nor did they qualify for any assistance from the authorities.
In October 2004, the government announced the creation of a relief package
for IDPs, although most observers agree that it cannot be considered as
an appropriate response to the problem of the displaced. The vast majority
of aid agencies were implementing development programmes, without specifically
addressing the emergency assistance needs of IDPs.
Norwegian Refugee Council, Chemin de Balexert 7-9CH-1219 Châtelaine (Geneva), Switzerland