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Lubbers outlines UNHCR efforts for internally displaced

Press Releases, 23 May 2001

OSLO, Norway UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today (Wednesday) identified steps for a more coordinated international effort to help the world's estimated 20-25 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). He said UNHCR was ready to continue its IDP-related work, but other humanitarian agencies should also get more involved.

Mr. Lubbers made the remarks in an address to an international conference on IDP issues in Oslo, Norway.

The High Commissioner said UNHCR's involvement in crises of internal displacement, within a collective UN mechanism, should depend on three basic criteria: formal authorisation from the UN Secretary-General, through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; the consent of the state involved; and the availability of adequate financial resources.

While emphasizing the primary responsibility of states to protect their own citizens, Mr. Lubbers stressed the importance of a clear system for allocating responsibility among UN and other humanitarian agencies for the provision of help to internally displaced people in dire need. He also said humanitarian involvement in internal displacement situations must be accompanied by an effort to resolve the political problems which cause the crises in the first place.

The many civil wars and internal conflicts of the past decade have led to an explosion in internal displacement. UNHCR has been involved in a number of IDP crises, from Northern Iraq and the Balkans to Angola and Sri Lanka. Currently, internally displaced people account for roughly one-fourth of UNHCR's more than 21 million beneficiaries.

Mr. Lubbers noted that UNHCR's previous IDP operations occurred in situations where the beneficiaries were located in the same areas as refugees or returnees; where refugees who had returned to their home countries were later displaced; where helping IDPs in their own country strengthened asylum in an adjacent state; where involvement with IDPs had a stabilizing impact for the prevention or solution of refugee problems; or where IDPs had protection and solution needs similar to refugees.

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Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen