Monday, May 7, 2007

IDPs and Refugees

This morning I was told that yesterday there was an incident of fighting involving several gunshots fired in Kapoeta. This incident took place between returnees to the area and the original inhabitants that never left during the war. Recently there has been some tension and it was just a matter of time until it came to this level. Some returnees came back to Kapoeta and were not welcomed mostly because they weren’t from the same tribe as the native inhabitants here, leading to the situation that happened yesterday.

The issues as I see them are this:
1. The civil war in Sudan created nearly four million internally displaced people (IDPs) and some 480,000 refugees. Sudan has the highest number of IDPs in the world! These are people who fled their homes during the war but didn't cross any international borders. They don't have the same rights under international law as a Refugee (or someone who fled and crossed an international border). This means that there was no agency such as UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) helping them out as it was outside of their mandate. Sudan is still full of people living as IDPs in all areas of the country. Now IDPs want to return to their homes and no one is helping them, no one is welcoming them, and when they arrive security problems arise.

2. When refugees fled Sudan they arrived in camps in places like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and some even made it to the US. Some in the refugee camps had a better life there than those who stayed behind in Sudan. They had access to food rations, free housing, sometimes to an education, and also being in the camps there was a chance of resettlement to a developed country. Now peace has come to South Sudan and it's hard to leave the things in the refugee camps to come back to Sudan where a lot of the things they got used to in the refugee camps are not there (no schools, no free food handouts, etc). Refugees are returning to Sudan, but also keeping their home in the camps across the border so that they can access these services. People are simply moving to the towns close to the borders and not going back to their hometowns further inside the country.

If the Sudanese cannot get their refugee and IDP issue worked out, I actually don’t see much hope for a lasting peace as populations of people keep moving, causing insecurity and reigniting old tribal tensions that were there during the war.

So what can be done about the unimaginable number of refugees and internally displaced people that are returning expecting a warm welcome upon being back in their country and instead finding hostility aimed at them? Sometimes I think that there should be an organization to deal only with IDPs, refugees, and the population movements in Sudan because the amount of work involved in moving that many people safely is tremendous.